What beautiful scenery New Mexico offers! I had visited Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos before, but what a treat it is to walk through the vast landscape of this gorgeous state. The wild west seems to be alive in New Mexico.
From the Mimbres Valley, where I was thoroughly charmed by the weather-beaten cowboys, mule packers and farmers in boots and cowboy hats eating ice cream cones at Julie's store, we moved north towards the Gila Wilderness. Here we followed first the Lower Gila river, then the Middle Fork. The river flows through a narrow canyon of high walls. To follow the river, we walked along one bank until the river meandered and we hit a cliff wall or ran out shore. At that point, we'd simply walk through the river to the wider bank and so on. We didn't keep count in the Lower Gila, but we counted at least 160 crossings in the 30 plus miles of the Middle Fork!
We saw our first bear along the Lower Gila. We were camped on the shore and watched the bear splash around across the river just before nightfall. We are told that the dry conditions in New Mexico this year have brought the animals to lower elevations in search of water. Indeed, most of the springs listed on our maps are dry. We rely on information that hikers ahead of us kindly email to the CDT-L listserve to plan for water. We have carried as much as six liters apiece, but often carry three or four. Much of our water comes from BLM wells and from ranchers who are interested in the CDT and want to help.
The Thomases are one such family. Their ranch is a known CDT water source. A sign on their gate welcomes hikers and provides directions to their pump. We followed the directions to the building on their ranch and knocked on the door to say hello. Anzie welcomed us in and told us to wash up-- it turned out that we were just in time for a delicious lunch of taco salad, cake and tea!
We enjoyed the Thomases and their neighbors who were also at the table. We asked about the many subdivisions that look to be available along their road that leads south to Pie Town. The neighbors laughed, telling us that most of the lots are sold over the internet sight-unseen and have no water access. They told the story of a new owner who drove out to see their property and asked advice as to where to site their home and well. "You site the well where the water is," the neighbors replied. The catch is that there is very little water in New Mexico, and often it is many hundreds of feet down if it is there at all. Even then, such a well won't produce enough for the scores of ranchettes in the subdivisions. The new landowners were shocked that they had been sold land without water access. I pictured a sort of reverse swamp land scheme.
Pie Town, south of the Thomas ranch, was a delight. There's not much left in this boom town that came about as homesteaders settled the area to escape the hard times created by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Here is a great Smithsonian article about Pie Town now and also then as captured by New Deal photographer Russell Lee.
Pie Town is home to Nita and her Toaster House. Sadly, Nita was out of town when we arrived, but she left her house open and her fridge full for the hikers and cyclists who make their way through town. Nita has been hosting hikers for at least 20 years. The Toaster House, so-called because of the defunct toasters adorning the gate, was a welcome luxury with hot showers, laundry, and our first sighting of other thru-hikers! Here we met Andy, Opto, Tumbles and Tikka!
Once we'd cleaned up enough to be fit for company, we headed directly for the Pie-O-Neer. We ate some regular food, then moved on to... pie! First, a slice of New Mexican Apple, made with apples, pinons, and hatch chili peppers. Spicy, and delicious and new! Then, French Pear and Ginger. And then... wonderful proprietress Kathy sat down at our table to chat and welcome us and to make sure we were being well cared for despite Nita's absence. And then... we got to talking about my pie fantasy.
Now, being out on the trail with limited amounts of the kind of food that hikers eat, a hiker often falls into a state of food fantasy. It isn't hard to start dreaming of ice cream, a big salad full of fresh veggies, or, in sight of so many cows, a juicy steak. Reason dreamed up the food radar gun: juniper tree? boom - gin and tonic to cap off the day. Wild turkey? Boom - a nice roasted turkey with all the fixings. Elk? Boom - elk steak with wild mushrooms. We can go on and on! And on the way to Pie Town, I don't have to tell you that I was what you might call inspired.
The trouble with food fantasizing is that it doesn't always come true. Not so in Pie Town! Kathy listened earnestly as Reason described the pie I had envisioned. It was almost as if I were ordering a wedding cake. Notes were taken, ideas were exchanged. And an hour later, Kathy invited us into her kitchen to watch as she filled a freshly baked shell with dark chocolate chips, pecans, chocolate coconut cream, and topped the whole thing off with an enormous puffy meringue browned in the oven! Needless to say, the pie did not survive long in the Toaster House!
Getting back to those elk and wild turkeys, Reason and I have seen much wildlife on this trail. Everyone who has hiked the CDT has told us that this has been their experience. In Southern New Mexico, we saw countless lizards including horny toads, a thorny lizard whose bark is much worse than his bite. Dozens of jack rabbits zigged past, leaving trails of dust. Quail officiously speed-walked away from us, bothering to take wing only once well out of range. We saw our first bear and elk in the Gila Wilderness. Since then we've seen herds of elk nearly every morning. Once, one young bull elk nearly plowed into us. He came galloping across a saddle, took our trail in our direction, rolled his eyes and thankfully veered off course. All before breakfast!
We've seen plenty of deer, a band of wild horses, and a fantastic skunk with a bushy tail at least the size of his body. I think we saw two antelope. On our way up Mt. Taylor, the highest point on the CDT in New Mexico, a brave and curious fox crossed our path. He stopped, came towards us, moved down wind to give us a good sniff, then posed for a picture until we moved on. We've heard packs of coyotes many nights. Five rattlesnakes so far, almost all of whom politely informed us of their presence in plenty of time for us to yield a wide berth.
Of course, we see cows almost daily. The Wilderness land designation does not exclude grazing permits out west. I don't know what to say about an animal that poops in its water source and is afraid to cross lines painted on a road. I'm even less impressed when we come across a group and elicit what we've dubbed a bovine diaspora. No matter how many miles of open pasture we cross, cows have a tendency to take to the jeep road or trail we are following and flee us, often for several miles. Occasionally, a cow or two will become distracted by a particularly tasty looking patch of grass or a mud puddle and realize that we come in peace as we pass them by, but these peculiarly rectangular animals will otherwise walk for miles in front of us, all the while turning back to see if we are still on their tails!
Team Creason is nearly done with New Mexico. In about 100 miles we'll be in Colorado. Here at Ghost Ranch, once home to Georgia O'Keefe and the site of a large deposit of dinosaur fossils, we have about 575 miles behind us.