After several days last week dealing with crowded airplanes, airports and metropolitan Detroit traffic, a hike today in one of New Mexico’s desolate badlands reminded me once again of why our state is The Land of Enchantment. The stresses and cares of every day living in these hectic times melt away when you slip on your hiking boots and set out to trudge through this land that time seems to have forgotten.
On a sunny August Saturday it’s a safe bet that hiking trails in the mountains around Albuquerque and Santa Fe will be popular destinations. But by driving a little over an hour to Cuba and then heading down one of the many dirt roads outside of town it’s possible to spend a pleasurable day hiking on BLM land without seeing another human being. Maybe one or two cows occasionally appear along the road, but, otherwise it’s just us and the vast sky stretching over miles of eroded rock formations interspersed amongst sagebrush, pinon, juniper and even some ponderosa pine.
I’m a numbers person and enjoy keeping a GPS track of our hikes to look at mileage and elevation. I don’t concern myself with our hiking pace, but by looking at how far we’ve gone and how much uphill we’ve done, I can make comparisons that help prepare us for how difficult the hike will be. I found out this week that sometimes there is a lot more to factor into the difficulty of a hike than just the distance and elevation.
Last Tuesday we set out to put the missing piece into a section of the CDT that crosses the lava beds at Malpais National Monument on an 8-mile trail connecting Hwy. 53 and Hwy. 117. The trailhead at Hwy. 177 is called Acoma-Zuni; at Hwy. 53 it is the Zuni-Acoma. Back in April we started a hike at the Acoma-Zuni trailhead to see how far we could get. We knew we weren’t quite to the halfway point when we turned around. We left the missing piece for another day and Tuesday was that day.
I had a different track for the Zuni-Acoma with the halfway point labeled, as well as our previous track that would show us when we reached the point where we had turned around on the Acoma-Zuni. We did make it to the halfway point, but not to our turnaround point. As tempting as it was to push on and go that extra mile, my body was reminding me of how difficult it was to walk through the lava beds we had just come over. I knew it would be very unpleasant to add more of that struggle to what we still needed to do when we turned around. I was totally exhausted when we got back to the car and thankful that we turned around when we did.
Contrast that hike to the one that we did yesterday on a section of the CDT north of Cuba, New Mexico. Yesterday’s hike had more elevation change and was about 7 miles, while the hike on Tuesday was nearly level and a little over 8 miles. But yesterday was a walk in the park compared to Tuesday. Literally “a walk in the park” because we were hiking in the San Pedro Parks Wilderness. Mileage and elevation cannot tell the whole story about how difficult a hike will be. Walking through forests and meadows on soft ground is soothing to the soul and body. Stumbling through jagged, broken beds of lava rock is a constant battle to keep from twisting an ankle or slipping into a crack.
The numbers also cannot measure the joy that comes from being in God’s creation and marveling at his handiwork. Lava rock is difficult to walk over but the weird shapes and formations are fascinating. From a distance it doesn’t look like anything could live out there in that black barren landscape. But getting closer you see the plants, the cacti and the desert creatures that have made a way to survive.
San Pedro Parks is a lush oasis perfect for an escape from the summer heat that has now settled into the Rio Grande Valley. As well as walking south on the CDT to connect with the section we had hiked last month, we walked north from the parking lot for the short section that passes by the San Gregorio Reservoir.