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

One thought on “Days 28-31: Ghost Ranch

  1. Loved this posting and your descriptions of the colors of the Chama River valley and your feeding frenzy at Ghost Ranch.


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