CDT Update: Grants, NN

The view of thunderstorms from the Narrows Rim trail.
The view of thunderstorms from the Narrows Rim trail.
We have hiked the 85 miles from Pie Town to Grants. About 70 miles of that was road walking (jeep, dirt, or paved).

We have now hiked more than 400 miles since starting our hike one month ago today.

The section did have several very nice areas. The Cebolla Wilderness, the El Malpais lava fields, and The Narrows Rim trail in the El Malpais. Plus Bonita and Zuni canyons.

The highlight of this section was The Narrows Rim Trial with its great views. Unfortunately, shortly after we hiked up to the rim thunderstorms rolled in and lighting started striking nearby, sending us and several other hikers scurrying down to the relative safety of lower elevation. We then navigated cross-country a few miles to a place identified on the Ley maps where you can bush-whack down what’s almost a 200 foot cliff to a natural arch. The route was a bit sketchy especially because it was rain-soaked (and steep despite Ley’s comment that it was a more “gentle” descent! – Deb’s interjection!!)

After two days of rain, we awoke on the fifth morning to freezing temps. Everything that was wet seemed frozen or icy, including our shoes. But with clear skies we made good time the final 16 miles into Grants.

All the road walking in this section has caused my shin to hurt. We going to take a double zero here in Grants in hopes that the pain clears up. We really aren’t in any hurry to reach Northern New Mexico which still has plenty of snow. And we are enjoying good food, hot showers, and rest – all much appreciated right now.

CDT Update: Pie Town

Walking Highway 60 into Pie Town, NM.
Walking Highway 60 into Pie Town, NM.
First of all, a big, big thank you to Shirley and Dennis who gave us a 28-mile ride into Reserve from the trail crossing 4 days ago. These trail angels actually gave rides to 7 hikers that day and were staying at an RV park about 10 miles east of the town so they went the extra mile for all of us.

We departed Reserve, NM for the three-day hike to Pie Town. Hiking the official Continental Divide Trail, which for the most part was a pleasant 50 mile walk through wooded rolling hills, and then across a grassland to Highway 60. Unfortunately the final 12 miles into Pie Town is a road walk along Highway 60. The highway walking got a bit monotonous although we did stop for ice cream and WiFi at the Top of the World market three miles before Pie Town.

We decided to take a zero day here, staying at a hiker hostel of sorts called the Toaster House. We have been sampling the pie and meals at the three small cafe’s here and all have been excellent.

Deb’s new shoes that she picked up in Reserve (Altra Lone Peaks 2.5’s) are working very well for her. Lon is now making seam repairs on his shoes. There is a wall of abandoned hiker shoes on the porch here at the Toaster House.

We leave tomorrow after breakfast for the jaunt to Grants.

CDT Update: Gila River Alternate

Hiking along the Middle Fork of the Gila River.
Hiking along the Middle Fork of the Gila River.

After departing Silver City we took the Gila River alternate. The alternate is not actually on the official Continental Divide Trail but the hike is so awesome that about 90% of CDT hikers choose it over the official trail.

We did not have cell service during this section, so here is a condensed update of the last eight days:

5/2: Departed Silver City, the scenery is very pretty. Interestingly, we encounter our first natural water source on the CDT, a small creek about 160 miles into the hike. All the previous water sources have been man-made windmills and cattle troughs. Starting tomorrow we will literally be wading in a river.

5/3: We have reached the Gila River. It’s a very pretty river in a canyon with steep rock walls that rise sometimes 100 feet sometimes 500 feet overhead. Often the rock walls block the trail and you must wade across the river to the other side to continue walking. Over the next five days we will wade across the Gila River 232 times.

5/4: We continue hiking the Gila River. In the afternoon we reach Doc Campbell’s, a small store where we have shipped a resupply box, and we camp in a nearby RV park. We crossed the Gila River 57 times on the way to Doc Campbell’s. Doc’s is known for its home made ice cream and aFloat (aka Deb) indulges in two cups, chocolate and coconut, for lunch.

5/5: Today we took a side trip to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Very interesting walk through the cliff dwellings. The Pueblans built and resided in these cliff dwellings for only one generation, to the perplexion of anthropologists.

We returned back to the CDT via a slot canyon called Little Bear Canyon, a very impressive passageway which delighted us with its cliff walls. We are now hiking the Middle Fork of the Gila River which is not quite a deep as the Gila River we had been hiking although the canyon walls seem higher and more impressive.

We crossed the Middle Fork 17 times and had an enjoyable soak in Jordan Hot Springs at the end of the day. This is a little gem in the middle of nowhere, with clear turquoise waters.

5/6: We continue up the amazing Middle Fork of the Gila crossing it another 89 times today.

We were only able to hike 14 miles today. It’s difficult going with the constant river crossings, only short sections of actual trail, with loose sand and grapefruit-sized rocks.

It felt like we had the river all to ourselves. We did not see a single other person today although we did see footprints of other hikers.

5/7: Crossed the Middle Fork of the Gila 69 more times. Today we saw elk, deer, javelina, and a very large black bear rolling around on its back bathing in a muddy spot in the river, apparently to cool off.

We camped at Snow Lake with a dozen other CDT hikers. More hikers than we have seen in one place since Lordsburg.

5/8: We woke up to a very cold morning. One hiker with a thermometer reported the temperature dropped to the low 20’s during the night. My shoes were still damp from yesterday’s river crossings and they froze solid. Fortunately they were frozen into a shape that I could still get my feet into them.

Later in the morning we encountered a large herd of elk (probably 40 or 50). They all galloped in unison, then all stopped and looked at us before galloping off again.

We are still officially on the Gila Alternate, but this portion is now well past the Gila River and making its way back to the official CDT. We hiked 21 miles today, the biggest daily mileage of this trip. In six more miles we will be back on the official CDT.

5/9: Back on the official CDT, we hiked 19 miles today. Saw 6 elk this morning, climbed to 9300 feet, our highest elevation yet. We never really knew that New Mexico had such tall mountains. The wind blows fiercely in the afternoons and there isn’t many places to hide.

5/10: Today was a short 10 mile hike to Highway 12 and a trip into the small town of Reserve, NM where we ate, cleaned up, did laundry, bought groceries, ate some more, relaxed, had beers and dinner and retired to our room to finish our ice cream. Deb has new shoes that were mailed here and she tested them out around town. Thumbs up so far for the new Altra Lone Peaks.

Tomorrow we will resume hiking to Pie Town, after a leisurely breakfast and 28-mile shuttle back to the trail.

CDT Update: Day 9 -12

A collection of toilets along the Highway 90 road walk.
A collection of toilets along the Highway 90 road walk.

Shortly after passing the 100 mile mark the Continental Divide Trail changes. The trail has climbed to over 6,000 feet. The terrain is no longer desert but now more of a juniper forests. Instead of cross country routes we now have actual trail. Very pleasant and beautiful walking.

Over the next two days of hiking we meet a fat tire mountain biker on his way to a rainbow gathering in Maine (not sure how a southbound ride on the CDT fits into this), have a pleasant chat with a rancher putting out protein blocks for livestock and wildlife, climbed to over 8,000 feet, and walk a dreaded 12 mile road walk along Highway 90 into the town of Silver City, NM.

On Sunday we took a second zero day in Silver City which is a great little town. It was easy to buy food for the next three days of hiking, has lots of good restaurants and they even have an outfitter. Deb tried to find replacement shoes for her Hoka Ones, which have a too-soft sole for thorny trails but ended up having new shoes sent to Reserve, NM.

Tomorrow we will hike on and plan to take the Gila CDT alternate which passes near the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and crosses the Gila River more than 100 times. More fun times await!

CDT Update: Day 7 & 8

Cactus blooms outside of Lordsburg, NM
Cactus blooms outside of Lordsburg, NM

We had a relaxing zero day (day off, zero miles hiked) in Lordsburg, NM.

Lordsburg is hiker central, at least in Southern New Mexico. Every day, five or ten fresh faced hikers arrive on the Greyhound or Amtrak and five or ten tired sunburned hikers walk in across the desert from the Mexican border.

And so, we returned to Lordsburg as tired hikers and checked back in to the Econolodge for a day off.

Deb immediately spotted a large carton of Epsom Salts in the hiker box and proceeded to soak her feet. It seems to have helped too. She is hiking pretty well now, although her feet do have an odd patchwork of tape all over them.

There is not much to the town of Lordsburg. A few motels, gas stations, and fast food places along the interstate highway. If you venture beyond the interstate you can find two Dollar stores and a small grocery store.

As you wander around town you often see other hikers and catch up on the latest hiker gossip — somebody hiked the 85 miles from the Mexican border in 2.5 days, how far is the hike really from Lordsburg to Silver City (various guides say it’s either 59 or 76 miles), and every store in Lordsburg is sold out of Moleskin blister pads.

On Wednesday we packed up and resumed hiking northward toward Silver City. The weather was cooler and the first 10 miles were relatively flat so we made pretty good time even with our taped up feet. The desert was filled with colorful cactus blooms. We passed the 100 mile mark in our journey and are camping at mile 102 tonight.

CDT Update Two: Lordsburg, NM

Deb hiking on the Continental Divide Trail.
Deb hiking the Continental Divide Trail.

We have now hiked the first 85 miles of the Continental Divide Trail from Crazy Cook to Lordsburg, NM. It’s been a great adventure so far with plenty of beautiful scenery. It reminds me a little of the Anza Borrego area in Southern CA. The terrain and vegetation is somewhat similar and the CDT is often a cross country route like many of the trips I made in Anza Borrego with my Sierra Club friends.

The CDT section in the New Mexico bootheel often crosses vast flat areas between small mountains. The land appears to be mostly BLM grazing land leased to ranchers. Almost no people live out here. Hikers share the water in the occasional troughs and solar windmills with the cattle. Except for three border patrol agents off in the distance, we saw no one except for a few other hikers the past six days.

The actual trail, much of the time, is not a trail at all. Often it is just posts every few hundred yards or few tenths of a mile marking a cross country route. Hikers can follow the posts or pick their own route as they see fit.

They may have the largest jack rabbits in the world here. You see lots of them, especially as you hike early in the mornings.

Early one morning we spooked a small herd of antelope that galloped off with amazing speed.

Odd things happen on the trail too. On our last day before reaching Lordsburg we were taking a break in the shade of a small bush. We had taken off our shoes and a bee landed on my sock clad foot. The bee walked around on my sock for about a minute and then fell dead on the ground. I’m not sure what that means.

The CDT has been hard on our feet. It must be the combination of heat, dirt, and rocks. Deb has many blisters and I have one. We plan on taking a day off from hiking tomorrow to give our feet time to recover.

It’s not just our feet either. The small hiker box here at the Econolodge has two pair of discarded shoes. After only 85 miles of hiking they are not worn out, but caused so much discomfort hikers decided to give them away. Another hiker was waiting in the motel lobby for the 3 pm UPS delivery of new shoes. Everyone’s advice here is to stop and shake out sand and small rocks sooner to keep abrasions low. And sweaty socks don’t help either.

Our CDT Adventure Begins

Deb hiking past an Ocotillo on the CDT.
Deb hiking past an Ocotillo on the CDT.

Our day began in Lordsburg where we caught the early morning shuttle run by the Continental Trail Alliance. The shuttle makes starting the Continental Divide Trail much easier since there is basically no other way to reach the southern terminus of the trail at Crazy Cook (in the boot heel of New Mexico) unless you happen to have a friend in the area with a high clearance vehicle. The last part of the road is pretty bad. Ten other hikers started with us, which is a large group for the CDT. We departed Lordsburg about 6:45 AM, arrived at Crazy Cook about 10 AM, and began hiking about 10:30 after some picture taking at the monument.
On the first day we hiked 14 miles of the CDT which was some cross country (marked by occasional signs), some abandoned roads, and some following dry washes. I’m glad to be wearing more supportive hiking shoes (instead of trail running shoes). Deb complained a little about the roughness of the trail, and walking on tennis ball size rocks in places or loose gravel does slow you down, but it was nothing compared to what we faced the next day.

PS – Our sincere thanks to our friend JJ for driving us to Lordsburg so we could begin this hike.

RV life

Camping in Goliad State Park.
Camping in Goliad State Park.

A blog post from Deb:

So, how do we rate our RV life to date? We give it a 6 out of 10 so far on the adventure scale. The weather has been somewhat cold, rainy, or overcast most days ever since we left California, and that accounts for the lower score. We did have a few sunny days, near 70 degrees, in the McKinney Falls state park and in the Goliad state park. Still, when that wind blows across the flat open land, we shiver in the bright sunshine. That is why we are headed even further south, to the Gulf coast. We want to explore the islands before working our way back to family in Austin sometime in February, just in time to finish those taxes!

Our daily routine hasn’t changed too much from our time in the Idyllwild cabin. We lounge around in our comfortable bed until one of us (usually Lon) jumps up to turn on one of the heaters. We have been using the gas heater only in the early mornings since it warms the RV up quickly. We also have a small electric heater that sits on the floor which we use the rest of the day when necessary, if we are hooked up to electricity. In the evenings when we are watching over-the-air TV or a show on our iPad we are comfortable with blankets and pillows arranged on the dinette seats and turn on that small heater periodically. If it’s an extra chilly night, the floor heater may run all night on a low setting, but that is not the norm. Our down comforter is amazing even if Deb struggles to hang onto her share of the bedding every night.

Meals are the same too. Lon uses a Coleman gas grill outside to cook our meats and veggies. Deb finally learned how to use the convection microwave a few weeks ago by making pita pizzas one night and baked chicken the second time (when it was too wet outside to grill.) But we tend to stick with minimal-cooking techniques which the microwave handles easily. And after all the holiday pies we’ve eaten lately we really don’t need to try to bake more treats for a while. We brought a lot of packaged food that was left over from last summer’s Colorado Trail backpacking trip. It’s still mostly left over. Dining out or buying fresh is much more appetizing to us.

We boon docked (without hookups) some of the days during December, but none so far in January. Lon’s sister Holly gifted us a Texas state parks pass, a wonderful gift to have in Texas where the state parks charge daily per person entrance fees in addition to the RV site camping fee. Using it, we stayed in McKinney Falls state park in Austin for 2 weeks over the holidays. The upper falls portion of the park and some bike and walking paths are still closed and under reconstruction until February, but it was nice to get back into our exercise routines while staying there. Lots of walking, jogging (Lon), and bike rides. So far in January, we’ve stayed at two private RV parks along the San Marcos river: Pecan Riverside RV park in San Marcos, and Riverbend RV park in Luling. Both nice enough parks but lacking good walking or biking trails along the actual river (towns missing the point !) So we have resumed staying at state parks: three nights at Goliad state park where we enjoyed trails again and touring some historic sites and biking into town in time for the monthly farmer’s market and some tasty award-winning jalapeño soup at the local deli. Yesterday, we traveled to the Texas gulf coast and found the lovely Goose Island state park, which promptly welcomed us with another chilly afternoon and now a downpour. Winter time in Texas……

The RV is running great for us, surprising us with 10 mpg when we expected less than that. We have noticed that the mpg seems to go down slightly when we travel with an empty fresh water tank, which seems illogical. Of course we use Gas Buddy to find the lowest gas prices and are paying mostly under $2 gas. We like that. When we left Austin, we took the RV in for normal maintenance service in nearby Buda and came out of there much lighter, wallet-wise. We are learning from our experience and from other RV blogs that normal RV maintenance is a major budget item. Luckily we are not experiencing any significant problems with our RV. We had the fluids and filters changed and the “slop” in the steering wheel adjusted and the brakes serviced and inspected. We have recently noticed damp carpets under the floor mats but think that is from condensation forming inside the RV at night (sounds just like a tent problem….) Lon is doing most of the driving, but we are not doing big miles and we make a lot of stops on the way to wherever we are going. Deb has driven the RV exactly twice and has not yet backed it up nor tried to level it over blocks when parking it at a camping site. Lon took to leveling like a pro. But we needed some lessons before our communications skills were working for the backing up parts. Deb remembers all the proper hand signals from long ago from helping her dad back the boat into the garage every week….maybe Lon never had a boat?

We are mostly traveling back roads, at 55 mph, and avoiding the bigger cities for now. We both think we made a good choice in our RV selection. We made really good selections when choosing our traveling partners too.