Days 32-35: Last days in New Mexico

June 21-24, 651 miles hiked 

We woke early in the morning at the top of the canyon a few miles outside Ghost Ranch. It was about 100 miles to Chama, our last stop in New Mexico. The trail actually crossed into Colorado before Chama, and then we would hitch back into New Mexico to get our resupply box. We hiked with Tatu-Joe most of the day, gradually ascending higher and higher to steep grass-covered plains and small green mountains. The trail followed a confusing network of dirt roads, and we kept missing turns and having to cross large cow pastures back to the trail. It was a nice distraction and change to hike with another person, especially after being virtually alone for much of New Mexico. 

Late in the afternoon, Joe continued on while Phil and I relaxed by a creek. The trail followed more dirt roads and then became a trail through a damp, mosquito-infested forest. This would be the first of MANY days of mosquitoes. It started to rain, both our phones died, and before we knew it, we were lost. We continued following a trail and rock cairns that seemed right, but by the time it got dark, we really had no idea where we were. The mosquitoes swarmed around us as we frantically set up our tent on a dark hillside. In the morning, we waited until the sun was bright enough to charge our phones with the solar charger, and found that we were at the top of Mt. Canjilon, far west of the trail. This was pretty typical for the CDT. We got lost all the time, and were always dependent on our phones/GPS. It was frustrating, but just a fact of life on this trail.

We followed a dirt road that would lead us back to the trail, winding through green meadows and forest. It rained for about two hours, but then finally cleared up. We walked uphill on a dirt road and passed two mountain bike racers speeding down the road in the opposite direction. There is a self-supported race on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route called Tour Divide that had started about a week before, and we’d heard the riders pretty much didn’t sleep and rode 200 miles a day. The winner typically did the 2,745-mile route in 12-14 days. The two bikers we saw were wearing bib numbers and looked miserable enough to be competing in this race. We camped at Hopewell Lake that evening, a luxurious experience that included running water, TRASH CANS, and a picnic table!

I wish I could say we did something more interesting than hike along dirt roads the next day, but that’s exactly what we did, for 30 miles. We saw several herds of elk in the morning. The trail climbed into the forest, then along a creek, then along a ridge at 10,000 feet, where it stayed for the rest of the evening. It rained and stormed, and it was fascinating to watch the lightning flash across the sky and the clouds morph into various dark shapes. We met a sheep herder who spoke only Spanish and his three dogs, and had a conversation in our broken Spanish that both parties probably only half understood. The sky cleared as the evening wore on, becoming a beautiful sunset. Ahead, we could see the beginnings of big mountains.  Colorado! 

As usual, we were almost out of food the next morning as we hiked the last 15 miles to Cumbres Pass, where we would hitch to Chama. We passed through meadows with more elk, then climbed into a hilly forest. With two miles to go before the road, we passed a fallen-down sign that read “Rio Grande National Forest, Colorado.” Finally, we were officially in Colorado!

We hitched a ride to town with the usual type of person who picked us up – a middle-aged guy in a pickup truck filled with guns. We satiated our hunger with burgers, then spent the afternoon doing town errands and finally renting a room in a very strange but cheap hotel above the saloon.

Days 28-31: Ghost Ranch

June 17-20, 552 miles hiked

We woke up fully intending to leave Cuba, but we told ourselves we’d have a leisurely morning and wait out the heat. I worked on the blog and talked to my sister on the phone. Around mid-afternoon, we gave in to the siren song of town comforts, and decided to stay another night. It’s so hard to leave town sometimes. We had tacos at a strange gas station convenience store/restaurant and fell asleep early. The next morning, the trail climbed on a dirt road for several miles, then became a pleasant forested trail climbing into the woods. Suddenly, we looked around and noticed the desert was gone. We were surrounded by trees, there was a creek (a creek!) running next to the trail, and we were at 10,000 feet. The climb culminated in a wide, beautiful, flat meadow. Then, a long descent, early evening hiking through some nondescript woods, and finally camping near a highway. 

We woke early the next day because we wanted to get to Ghost Ranch, our next stop, by dinnertime at 5, and we had 25 miles to hike. The trail climbed steeply to the top of a mesa, then descended to a small creek. I could see the beginnings of colorful rock layers in the distance. We followed the creek until it opened into a wide valley surrounded by the most amazing, colorful cliffs I’d ever seen. The layers were pink, yellow, and orange, like a prehistoric rainbow sherbet. We walked through sagebrush to the Chama River and the dirt road that would eventually take us to the highway and Ghost Ranch. The desert had returned, at least for a day, and it was blisteringly hot. One of the hottest days on the trail so far. 

We walked along the river, the red and orange cliffs rising up along it. My mom had given me a set of Georgia O’Keeffe cards and one of them was a painting of the Chama River, so I’d had an idea of what the river looked like, but it was far more beautiful in real life. The water was a deep blue, mixing perfectly with the green and yellow of the hills and red of the cliffs. Pickup trucks and vans towing rafts passed us, and boats passed in the river. I longed to be one of those rafters, to sit there and be carried by the river instead of walking on that dirt road in the 100 degree heat.

We navigated our way through a cross country section over the bare hills, then onto a confusing trail. The biting flies were back and by then we were desperate, hungry and sweaty, practically running from the flies and towards the promise of food. The landscape was changing again, and we were surrounded by amazing orange mesas and rock structures, like something out of a movie. 

We finally got to Ghost Ranch at 5:30. Ghost Ranch is now a beautiful Presbyterian retreat center with a green lawn and adobe buildings, but the land and ranch have a soap opera-esque history, complete with murders, poker games and ghosts in the Wild West. Georgia O’Keeffe also had a home there, which is now owned by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.  

In our haste to arrive in time for dinner, we had forgotten to eat during the day. We walked into the cafeteria wildly hungry, seeing nothing but the path to food and water. The room was full of families at the ranch for various retreats, all sitting at long tables, summer camp style. People stared at us, but we had become animals, and didn’t care. I made a beeline for a juice machine that, miraculously, dispensed ready-made juices of all kinds, and gulped down several glasses of fruit punch. We sat in silence eating chicken and wild rice and probably 20 pieces of toast and jam, going back again and again to the juice machine. Phil ate so much that he threw up in a nearby trash can. The fruit punch sugar went straight to my head, and I began to feel a little crazy. Thankfully, the Presbyterians were extremely kind, and helped us find the showers and camping area after our feeding frenzy. 

We spent most of the next day at Ghost Ranch doing laundry, writing postcards, sorting food, and relaxing. Lunch was pizza with ice cream for dessert, and a similar feeding occurred, though not as crazy as dinner. During lunch we met Tatu-Joe, another CDT hiker. Joe is a legend in the hiking community. He is working on his quadruple triple crown, which means that when he’s done, he will have hiked all three long trails in the U.S. (PCT, AT, CDT) four times each. He had already hiked the AT this year, finishing in less than three months and then hopping immediately to the CDT. We had lunch and dinner with him, and then hiked out that evening through an amazing canyon, officially leaving the desert behind. A family staying at Ghost Ranch hiked with us for a few miles, and I was overwhelmed by the community and love that surrounded us. I wanted to stay there forever. 

Note: my phone did not like the Colorado rain a few days ago and now it’s not working at all. Sadly, for the time being, this means I can’t access any of the pictures I took during this section. Here are some of Phil’s pictures! 

very hot road along the chama river

Ghost Ranch by night

hike out of the magical Ghost Ranch canyon