Wednesday, May 13, 2009

CDT: News from the Mimbres Valley, NM

Reason and I had what seemed like a relatively short bus ride to Deming, NM. It only took two days - a two book ride! Coincidentally, fellow PCT hiker Ninja Tortoise was on our bus from Atlanta to Deming, making for a much more pleasant ride. He had been out for a trek on the AT.

We arrived at Deming to find that trail angel Keith was waiting for our bus! He had offered to drive us to the border south of Columbus, but I didn't expect to be met at the bus station. Keith gave us all the updates on water and route finding for the trek from the border to his house in Deming. On our way to Columbus, he stopped and talked with the Border Patrol to let them know what we are up to. It was so nice to have a personal escort to the border!

The border below Columbus is an actual crossing and check point. It is quite different from the Mexican border on the PCT where people illegally cross to get to the big SoCal cities. Here there don't seem to be many places to go if you simply want to get into the US. Drug smuggling, however, seems to plague the area. We never saw anyone but cows, but the Border Patrol successfully tracked us down in the middle of the desert on our second night at 9 pm! We heard ATVs and hoped they would just pass us by, but five guards on spiffy 4-wheelers followed our tracks right up the sandy wash where we were camped. They seemed to deflate a bit at learning that we were just hiking.

The desert is hot! The temperatures have easily been in the 90's during the day, and only somewhat cooler at night. Water and where to find it is crucial. We pass few people, but those we do see always ask us if we need water. Twice on our way north of Columbus we were stopped by two teenagers enjoying the freedom of being behind the wheel. Both times they asked us if we needed water. The second time they peppered us with questions, including how we kill rattle snakes without a gun or a knife. Some very kind folks just north of Columbus welcome hikers to take water from their ranch, which was very helpful. They recommended that we head to the windmill behind their house to rest in the shade of the few trees. We gladly obliged, scaring away all of the cows who were seeking the same.

The route from the border to Deming was comprised mainly of jeep roads and paved roads. Blacktop is tough on the feet because it is hard and hot. On the road walk into Deming, we stopped at a new general store and cafe. The lady there rushed to greet us at the door with huge cups of iced water! We sat in the cool store for a while, talking with owner Gary and his friend who were planning a mock shoot-out to celebrate the grand opening of the store. As they planned, these two western men in jeans, big belt buckles and cowboy hats perused a collection of pistols on the table between them. I'm sorry to miss the grand opening!

In many cases, there are no roads. We simply cut across country. We have yet to see a trail marker and we only followed a true trail on our seventh day. Navigation by map and compass has so far been quite easy as the desert is open and landmarks are easy to see.

Often we hike from windmill to windmill, these being easy to see from a distance and also offering the benefit of water pumped fresh from the ground. Windmills are frequently accompanied by corrals full of cow patties, stock tanks, salt-licks, vats of brown gooey protein blends, and molasses mills. I had never heard of molasses mills before. They are large vats full of molasses with lids. Four or five wheels come through the lids and reach to the bottom of the vat. As the cows lick the wheels, they turn and bring up more molasses from the reservoir. Apparently, molasses makes the cows thirsty and induces them to drink more water. While sitting inside a corral one day, cowering under the shade of our silly sun hats, rancher Omar turned up with a huge tanker from which he refilled the molasses mills.

Though technically we were trespassing on private land, Omar welcomed us to take water and just asked that we be careful to leave all gates and water valves as we found them. Because the CDT isn't complete, we often cross ranches and other private land. In fact, Reason and I are now quite adept at shimmying through barbed-wire. I did have one argument with a fence - it won and I now have a hole to patch in the knee of my pants!

I don't know how the cows can take the heat. I've never seen so many cows, nor so many cow patties! One day we crossed the Hadley Draw and the China Draw with no shade in sight. Draws seem to be open ranges that draw water from the mountains, sloping down from canyons and drainages. I could make out in a few places where these scorched and parched grass lands had once been flooded with water, though now the ground is powdery and the grass pale yellow. The cows are welcome company in our lonely hike, but they aren't too good for directions.

Two days ago we finally began to climb out of the hot desert. We started at about 4,000 feet at the border and slowly made our way up to 6,000 feet over the course of five days. Our first real day of climbing took us up through a remote canyon to Hillsboro Peak at 10,000 feet. The cool air and cooler nights were most welcome! It was during this climb that we finally encountered a trail - after only 100 miles of hiking.

Navigating through narrow canyons is a bit tricky. It is hard to see exactly where we are. The only danger is that we take an off-shoot canyon and have to backtrack a number of miles, which we do not want to do. Though we are willing to hike thousands of miles, we are not willing to hike or walk any more than we have to if it doesn't get us to our destination. Reason is very good at reading the topo maps and connecting to the landscape. I'm much less patient and much more quick to try and make the landscape fit the map. We are vigilant about navigation, checking the map and compass every twenty minutes or so and at every intersection. In the vast, open draws we would take a bearing on a distant mountain and connect the dots with the bushes in between to stay on course. So far, we haven't made any big mistakes and have hardly backtracked more than a quarter mile or so. We'll see if we can keep this up!

There is so much to say, and we've only been on the trail a little over a week. We thoroughly enjoyed Columbus, once raided by Pancho Villa in 1916. This was the last time that another country attacked contiguous American soil.

People in New Mexico are so friendly and generous. We had a wonderful time with Keith and his wife Mary in Deming. They welcomed us into their home and took good care of us. We helped put a coat of primer on their house. Keith took us out to a great Mexican restaurant where we had our first bowl of menudo, a Mexican soup made of beef tripe, pig's feet and hominy. But most of all, we enjoyed getting to know Keith and Mary. It is wonderful to make friends on our journey, and to know that people are looking out for us. Keith sent us off towards Mimbres with loads of information on water sources and route finding. Thanks, Mary and Keith!

Here in Mimbres/San Lorenzo, we've met Julie at the Corner Market and Deli and Ed at the Mountain Spirits RV Park. Keith gave us Julie's number so that we could call her from the trail head at NM highway 35. We gave her a call and she sent Pete to pick us up. Freshly grilled sandwiches were waiting for us when we arrived. After cooling off with some lemonade, we headed over to the RV park. Ed checked up in for a tent site and we went about the business of cleaning up. We spent the evening in the company of Ed and friends, talking over just about everything. Thanks, Julie and Ed!

Our next stop is Gila Hot Springs, then on to follow the middle fork of the Gila River where we will see primitive cliff dwellings.

Our best to all!


sage said...

Greetings to you both from the flat lands of Massachusetts! Its comforting to hear that your route finding has gone so well thus far.
I got the books and your helpful trail advice, thanks. Interestingly, I may be heading out to Rocky Mountain National Park in early July to hike the CDT section and make an attempt on Longs Peak. So much country see. Keep on truckin'. Sage

Chief chi-hungry said...

Hooray Team Creason.
keep walkin'.

Kate said...

Hi Guys,

I've just read the beginning of your journey, I'll be following you from now on.

Travel Safe

Kate and Terry
Camphosts, Ghost Ranch

wardmundy said...

Your S.C. brother-in-law sends greetings from the beach house. Great read. I just love blogs. :-)