CDT Alternate

We have long been interested in hiking on the 800-mile section of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) that passes through New Mexico. Since we aren’t backpackers, we just pick up sections of it here and there on days when we are looking to explore something new. I’ve written about our experiences a number of times, and have gathered up photos and pieces from previous posts on this page.

A section of the CDT west of Cuba around Mile 634 that ascends Eureka Mesa continues to elude us. After unexpected events interfered with plans we had discussed earlier in the week for a hike there, I was sure that we were finally going to be hiking on it Wednesday. We got an early start and headed up Highway 550 to Cuba.

The app that I have on my phone showed the trail leaving Cuba on Highway 126 following the highway for several miles and then making a left turn to head up the Mesa. We didn’t know the details of what to expect and I was surprised to see that the turn off from Highway 126 was not on a trail but on a dirt road. That meant we could keep driving on the dirt road which eventually turned into a Forest Road and then at some point we should see a CDT marker where we could park and start our hike.

As with most Forest Roads we soon reached a point where the road was impassable in our car. According to the app, we weren’t too far from the point where the trail would leave the road so we pulled over and parked. The road had become impassable because of the erosion from what I assumed was spring runoff. There was still a small trickle of water running down one side of the road.

After walking a short distance up the road the reason for the water became evident. There was an irrigation ditch with a massive flow of water coming with such volume that some of it was overflowing into the road. I had noticed on our way into Cuba that a number of the fields along the highway were flooded with irrigation water. San Gregorio Reservoir is located up in the mountains, not too far from where we planned to get on the CDT, and Lee guessed that the water was being released from the reservoir for downstream irrigation to the farms around Cuba.

I think the planning that went into constructing this section of the CDT failed to account for what would take place here in the spring. We had barely turned off the road and started to trek up the trail when we encountered our first obstacle. A feeder stream going into the irrigation ditch was a rush of muddy water with no apparent way for us to cross. We eventually found a way to jump across, barely missing a fall back into the water as we landed on the steep bank opposite. It would be a challenge to cross it again from the opposite direction.

I was relieved that we had made it across but barely had time to catch my breath when we discovered a second stream branch that needed to be crossed. I was all for just taking off my shoes and wading across but Lee wasn’t about to agree with that plan. So we set off through the woods, backtracking and hoping we could cross somewhere down by the road where there was a culvert and then go back to find the trail. When that didn’t pan out we decided that this section of the CDT was going to have to wait for another day.

Since we were already in the Cuba area we drove a few miles south along Highway 11 for an alternate hike off another Forest Road to an obscure spot I’m thinking should be called “Lee’s Overlook.” There aren’t any trails and we have gotten to it several times in the past by bushwhacking up the wooded slope. This time Lee had another idea that it could be reached by an unmarked dirt road from what appears to be a campsite used by hunters. Walking on a dirt road may not count as doing a hike but for the entire 5 miles of the hike we never saw a vehicle or another person.

I told myself it would be the same as if we were on a section of the CDT with the added benefit of getting to the overlook. There may not have been any overlooks on the trail we were originally planning to hike. A good reminder to myself that circumstances may not turn out the way we want but with the right attitude it’s possible to enjoy the alternative.

A post that doesn’t share some scenic photos can’t capture the experience very well. Since we had been to the overlook a number of times before I didn’t take any photos this time. But a picture is worth a thousand words and beautiful National Forest scenery remains the same from year to year, so I am posting some of our photos from previous hikes to the overlook.

I also looked up some photos from a previous hike that went around the San Gregorio Reservoir, the source of that irrigation water that blocked our way on the CDT.

Life on the Range

One of the cover stories on the front page of this morning’s Albuquerque Journal caught my eye.  The picture showed a cowboy driving cattle across rangeland in the shadow of Cabezon Peak.  It was right in the area where we had hiked twice this week.  The subject of the article was a high school senior who is the son of one of the ranch owners whose cattle roam throughout the vast emptiness of the Rio Puerco Valley, one of my favorite hiking destinations.

Cabezon Peak in the distance.

I started thinking about what “Life on the Range” means to me and how different that is from what it means to others.  Because it is rare to see another human being when we are out there wandering through the eroded landscape, admiring weird rock formations and vistas that stretch for miles in every direction, I feel my spirit come alive with awe and admiration for the beautiful world that God created.  The hardworking high school senior featured in the news story says that for him, “cowboying is both his life and his way of life.”  He has college goals at present but eventually plans a life of ranching out here where he was raised.

Although we hike on public BLM land we often come across scattered groups of cows that stare at us with that look of suspicion wondering if we are going to herd them somewhere.  What is life for them on the range?  As brown and barren as the ground is, I can’t comprehend how they even survive in such “pasture.”  I was heartened in the article to read that one of the cowboy’s jobs is to dispense feed to the cattle in the form of scattered hay cubes.  So they do get fed somewhere out there.  Even so, what is their life, ultimately, except to, sooner than later, end up as a beef patty in someone’s Burger King Whopper.

And then there is the life of the poor, struggling “wildflowers” that Lee is anxious to photograph on our hikes now that spring is here.  He didn’t expect to see much on the hike yesterday and his expectations were fulfilled.  Even if a bit of greenery were to poke through the dry sand I’m sure one of those cows would eventually find it and gobble it up.

Plant life is transitory, cattle life is brief and human beings will also disappear from the landscape.  But the one enduring thing that will remain out there is the dirt and rocks.  I find such majesty and beauty in these tall, eroded spires. I’m grateful for agencies like the BLM who manage these public lands. The weather may eventually change the shape of the formations but as long as man and his machines can’t come in and interfere with the land those rocks will be there long after you and I leave this earth.

Our hike was following a track from the ASCHG web page but for lunch we went off the track and climbed a nearby rock ledge and ate in front of this “arch.” It made me wonder how long ago, if ever, another human being might have sat where we were sitting.
We found quite a bit of petrified wood on many of the slopes. How long before the dead wood laying there will become petrified wood? Most people think billions of years, but science has shown that with the right conditions, petrified wood can form quickly.

Happy Easter to everyone. He is risen and because of His resurrection we have hope that goes beyond this temporal life.