We are now in Cuba New Mexico after 515 miles of walking from the Mexican border. We had a 500 mile sing song to a certain Proclaimer’s song whilst walking along a cliff top mesa yesterday. This last 100 miles has had some of the most varied terrain and weather of our trip so far. From wild wet wind and cloud over the Mt Taylor mountains to dry arroyo and mesa country later on. We have enjoyed the scenery particularly of the desert mesas with lots of cactus bloom, twisted juniper trees, slick rock sandstone and endless vistas. We saw a group of 3 jeeps pass us in the last 6 days, the rest of the time we were on our own. We have been accompanied by the yelping of coyotes each night and morning but have not managed to capture them on camera yet. The lizards and skulls have been more photogenic so far and we hope the photos below give a flavour
brian 27-05-09 Cuba NM (no relation to Fidal Castro’s Cuba !)……
415 miles Grants New Mexico.
Quick update from the Grants library. They have blocked the USB ports so I’m afraid no photos- boooh.
I (Brian) broke the camera a couple of days ago by falling on it in Sand Canyon. The shots are ok but the camera is knackered. Funny enough it survived an immersion in the Gila River a week previously . It wouldn’t work after a fall in the river but after a day strapped to the top of my rucksack it spluttered into action. The super-hot , dry weather has its uses! I have bitten the bullet and bought a replacement in WalMart, Grants.
Yesterday we crossed Route 66 which I liked- yes we got our kicks on Route 66!
We have been walking through a recent (1000 yo) lava zone called El Malpais. A nice varied stretch for us. Previous to that we walked through Pie Town- well, we walked 26 miles in a day into Pie Town driven on by the target of eating as much pie as possible. Unfortunately we made it there at 16:30, dry, dusty and hungry, only to see the ‘closed ‘ sign on the cafe – the PIE-O-NEER. We sat there on the wooden porch, heads in hands, wondering what to do next when Stan from the cafe opened the door, took pity on us, and let us in. Hoooorrraaah. We both had double pie and ice cream washed down with diet coke and coffee.
Today it rained in Grants. Thats a seriously significant event for them here and we are glad to see it. We might just see some more water out there on the hills. It looks like we might get more rain too.
We have about 230 miles more in New Mexico, in about 18 miles we will reach Mt Taylor at 11, 300ft our highest point yet.
Just a quick note on Pie Town: it is really called that! There are about 10 houses in Pie Town and 2 Pie Shops and a post office (where we sent ourselves resupply food for the next 90 mile stretch). Some bloke moved out there in the 1930’s and started selling pie to passing tourists. He changed the name of the town to Pie Town (with resistance from the post office who considered it a silly and undignified name) and it became a famous place to stop and eat pie.
The current owners of the Pie-O-Neer have revived this fame and their pie is incredible – never seen a crust as fluffy as that! They have been subject of articles in many foody magazines and even been covered in a TV documentary on a US TV channel dedicated to food. There is another restaurant in town that also does breakfast and burgers as well as pies: the “Daily Pie”! We ate at both.
In Pie Town a lovely woman called Nita has made her old house available to hikers (she and her family moved to another house in town) including shower, washing machine, kitchen and a lovely porch to sit on in the evening. We stayed there with Ted and Richard and also met Jim and his dog Slick who are long-time Divide travellers (on horseback though) and are currently looking after the place (Jim fixed the bathroom door while we were there).
Brian managed to stash some water a day up the trail with the help of Gordon and his van (Gordon was there to support another set of thru-hikers). We left Pie Town quite late (15:20), aiming to get to a ranch which has a tap in the garden for hikers to get water – 16 miles down the trail. Richard came with us and Ted decided to stay another day in Pie Town.
We hiked hard on dirt road and made it to the ranch just as the light began to seriously fade! Ranchers have guns. They have big yard dogs. They might not expect a bunch of dirty tramps (that’s us) walking up their drive in the dark … we were a bit nervous as we approached the big steel shed at the Thomas Mountain Ranch.
But as we timidly “hallo-ed”, a small door in the shed opened and a friendly man in his 70’s asked us in, overtaken by his even friendlier wife who immediately ordered us to put down our things, make ourselves at home, we would be sleeping in the shed tonight. The shed contained a whole household (kitchen, living room, dining room, big TV and huge fireplace with a roaring fire in it). Did we want some bread and butter pudding? John and Ainsi Thomas made us completely at home and were splendid company over dinner. The previous day had been their 58th wedding anniversary!
Suddenly there was a knock and a voice outside the door. Ted had changed his mind as he saw the three of us hike up the road and had come after us. So that night we slept in the shed and in the morning we got real coffee.
The kindness and hospitality of people here is quite incredible!
Two days ago we stopped as usual around 17:30 next to a pathetic excuse for a water source (a few greenish puddles forming in an otherwise dry stream bed) and started pitching our tent. We noticed 7 ravens flying above, two vultures and some sort of raptor bird. The ravens kept flying over the campsite and back to somewhere just East of us. “Maybe there is a dead animal there” suggested Brian.
Being keen on ravens, I (M) suggested that there would be a good chance of wolves being nearby, too, because any wolf documentary I have ever seen also has ravens in it and it is a well established fact that ravens co-operate with wolves in the North West to guide them to carcasses or sick animals or even to herds in winter, so as to ensure that there will be food for the ravens once the wolves have made a fresh kill or openend up a carcass (which the ravens can’t do very well with their beaks).
We have our dinner (Mac&Cheese) and crawl into our sleeping bags, doze off after a long day’s hike. And it gets dark … and then suddenly nearby a beautyfully plaintive voice rises and is joined by 4 or 5 others to a harmony of high notes, deeper than the coyote and without the comical yodelling. A perfect howling pack of wolves! And closer than any coyote we have heard to far. It only lasted a few minutes and I had to wake Brian up to hear it … but I am very happy now. One of the aims of this hike has been to hear wolves and I thought this wouldn’t happen till we got to Yellowstone!
In the morning we heard some coyote singing in the same direction as the ravens and vultures had been patrolling over the previous evening, so I assume that the coyote got the remains of whatever delicious dead thing once the wolves had moved off.
We have now hiked about 290 miles north of Mexico and are in the (very small) town of Reserve, NM. Our best scenery has been on the 50 miles of the Gila river (lower and middle fork canyons for those who know the area) . Its been exciting- hot , dusty, too much water, too little water (!) and some coyotes , wolves and very few people on the way.
We have met only two other hikers and we are now hiking with them! Richard and Ted are from Florida & Indiana respectively and are both retired but are hiking hard. Ted hikes in sandals and has no stove. Richard bivvies.
5:30 am – the wristwatch alarm bleeps inside a 2 meters oblong bubble of green fabric that has sprouted overnight between the Yukkas and spiny bushes. The dark night sky is being pushed away by brightness in the east and a few late coyotes are having a final sing along in the distance.
Birds are singing joyfully in the thorny bushes, doves are cooing softly. Rustling of down sleeping bags, groaning. Then the hissing of a camp stove and water poured into pots. The sky is growing lighter by the second. 30 minutes later the sun’s rays are hitting the tent and we finish our tea and start packing up for another hot day walking in the desert.
Birds are singing, quail are hooting, ravens and vultures are out, checking if anything has died in the night. We start walking at 6:15 while it is still reasonably cool. By 10:00 it gets hot. By 12:30 -13:00 we stop to rest in whatever shade is available. It doesn’t cool down again till darkness falls at 19:30 but we start walking again between 14:30 and 15:30 just because we need to make the miles.
The route goes between water sources which have mostly been tanks and troughs installed by cattle ranchers for their cows. Groundwater pumped by windmill or solar energy to the surface. Not always great: one time we had to lift green fibrous algal matting off a low trough to get to the murky green water (see photo below). Another time a swarm of bees had taken up residence in the opening of a tank and water had to be got with a cup tied to a long stick (and a steady nerve)- see photo above. On two occasions, the friendly people of New Mexico who live in these remote parts (a weathered cattle farmer and a couple of very friendly self-proclaimed “Hillbillies” with a Harley Davidsons in their living room – I am NOT making this up) have allowed us to use water from their private supplies (garden hoses) which was deeply appreciated.
Only the last couple of days have we been getting out of the desert and up into the hills. As we were uphilling, the junipers got taller, were joined by different types of pine and finally aspen. Cactus gave way to shrub oak.
We even saw some flowering strawberries and lupins. The trails turned from jeep dirt roads into single file paths, it got cooler and shadier. We even found a towel size patch of snow near our highest stop so far : a fire look out on Hillsboro Peak at 10,010 feet (or so the sign said).
On Hillsboro peak we slept in a bothy and were very kindly received by the fire warden for coffee in the morning – AND he made us sandwiches to take for lunch that day!
Thank you Phil!
Yesterday we were excited by our first running water in a stream bed.
The two times we have hitch hiked (to Hilsboro to resupply and into the town we are in now) the first car going our direction has stopped. People are incredibly friendly and helpful. It has been almost overwhelming!
Now we are in Silver City, NM, where a bike race is going on (the Tour of the Gila). Apparently Lance Armstrong is amongst the riders. The town is lovely and has lots of cafes. We are hoping to continue on Monday towards the Gila river (lots of WATER!!!).