Continental Divide

Continental Divide marker on Hwy 550 near Cuba, NM
Continental Divide Trail Sign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In our many travels throughout the American West it is not uncommon to see a road sign informing us that we are crossing the Continental Divide. Unlike imaginary boundaries such as state lines or city limits, the Continental Divide is an actual physical feature of the landscape. Viewed on a map it is a squiggly north-south line running the entire length of North America from the Bering Strait in Alaska to the Strait of Magellan in southern Chile. As a physical feature it marks the point where rivers or watersheds on the east side of the Divide eventually flow into the Atlantic Ocean, while those on the west side flow into the Pacific Ocean.

Some of our favorite Western States, including our home state of New Mexico, contain a portion of the Continental Divide. Coolidge, New Mexico, where I lived for a year in the mid-1970’s, was a short 5 miles from Continental Divide, NM.  It’s not much more than an exit off of Interstate 40, but it was noteworthy as the place that I lived when my daughter was born. That may be the reason that the Continental Divide has a special place in my heart.

If not for highway signs that indicate when the road is crossing the Continental Divide, there really is no way to know when you are on the Divide. Although it is generally following the line of mountain ranges, it doesn’t always go over the highest point on the landscape. A number of years ago an effort was begun to create a hiking trail from Canada to Mexico that would, as closely as possible, follow the line of the Continental Divide. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT) is now about three fourths complete and a good portion of its 3100-mile length passes through New Mexico.  Although the idea of the CDT was to have it follow the line of the divide, this is not always possible. For example, in New Mexico portions of the divide are on private lands or Native American lands that the owners don’t want to sell or donate to the public. This summer we enjoyed two different outings that involved the divide, one on the actual divide and one on the CDT.

Memorial Day this year Lee suggested a hike on BLM land just north of Cuba, New Mexico, where Highway 550 crosses the Continental Divide. A couple of months earlier he’d explored the area on his own and was wanting to see if he could map out an informal hiking trail on the divide. I was more than happy to check it out.  We wandered up an interesting overlook and then through some scrub junipers, eventually coming out on a dirt road that lead back to where the car was parked.  It’s hard to say how much of our 5-mile trek was on the divide but it was an enjoyable exploration, anyway.

Interesting overlook.
Interesting geology.
Rough life for trees.
Dry spring so very few cactii in bloom but we did see this one.
Hardy mariposa lily that bloomed in spite of the drought.
Look closely to see Lee on the overlook.
From a distance the hill looked interesting. Basically just a mudpile when we got there but Lee did climb to the top.

Later in the summer, on a nice day at the end of July, we did an out-and-back 7-mile hike on a portion of the Continental Divide Trail north of Mount Taylor in the Cibola National Forest near Grants, NM. We have been on portions of the trail at other times but this section was new to us. It was a nice day to be out in the woods even if it wasn’t the most scenic place for a hike.

La Mosca Peak in the distance.