CDT2024 – Cuba to Ghost Ranch

Day 1 – escape from Cuba

Since I had texted Girly Girl the picture I took of her and the others, we were in each other’s phones.   First thing in the morning I get a beep that she and Switchblade were heading to the diner for breakfast. I was in no hurry to leave, I joined them.   A nice little roadhouse of a place, with good pancakes.   I slipped the waitress 10 bucks when we left because it was all separate checks, multiple orders, refills, re-orders.   And we rowdied up the place for an hour and a half.  At the next table was Boomerang, a girl from Germany, who joined us at the end and we all chatted about options around the Indios Fire.  The trail was closed at the highway, and the “official” reroute was a 36 mile roadwalk.  The USFS was letting hikers camp at the Ranger Station only 1.5 miles down the road from the trail closure.   With many a “no way”, and a “fuck that”, we all decided we weren’t walking the road.   We also talked about “the shortcut” – where you left town on the road/trail, but then took a side road called Eureka Mesa Rd.   It cut a mile or so off the highway, AND was dirt towards the end, AND dumped you onto the trail past the giant copper mine.   All good things.

Boomerang shared a story about hitchiking; when she went to Santa Fe to visit a friend and take a break from trail (she was too fast and too far ahead to enter the Big Stuff in Colorado), she had been sexually assaulted by the person who gave her the ride.   Sobering.

Eureka Mesa Rd

I ended up leaving town just after lunch, just after hitting the Dollar store for some snacks, and the library for a last minute bathroom break and phone charge.  Walking north through Cuba, the town didn’t get too much better.  The highway went to the east, about 5 miles, before we could pick up the trail that went through a giant copper mine.   It didn’t sound great.  But we had found a shortcut – Eureka Mesa Road, it left the main road BEFORE the mine, and tied into the trail just before it entered a Wilderness area.

I walked out through a neighborhood, past a school, throwing out my thumb and best smile as each pickup truck drove by.   I noticed a truck parked on the side of the road up ahead, stray dogs circling it, as a woman rummaged through the back seat for something.   As I got there she called out to me, “I’m trying to feed the dogs but can’t find the food, do you need a ride?”   We rode along in air-conditioned comfort.   She was the caretaker at the Clear Creek Campground in the Santa Fe National Forest.  She had just driven someone up to that site, where they then hiked up to the CDT and continued.

Note: don’t use if you can help it, its run for profit by Booz Allen, and does shady things like take deposits and then not reserve sites.

The great thing about hiking the CDT is that there’s no real route.   I mean, there is A route, but if you do things around it, or near it, and connect the dots your own way, everyone agrees that its “valid”, nobody gives you tiresome crap about it.  And sometimes it’s cooler than the official route, which is often stuck on paved or dirt roads.

Eureka Mesa Rd
Trail Magic!

I caught up to Boomerang shortly after getting here.   She had walked all the way out, because of the whole hitchiking thing.  We did a mile or so and then took a good break in the shade and enjoyed some Trail Magic.   After that it was great to move off the road, and out of the desert up into the pines.   It was still high, dry forest, very much like the Idyllwild area of Southern California, but better than dust and junipers and dead grass.  I saw my first actual running water on the trip.   Nearly cried.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
— T.S. Elliot, The Waste Land


San Pedro Parks Wilderness

I climbed and climbed and entered the San Pedro Parks Wilderness, and took a nice dinner break at San Gregorio Reservoir.   No camping, and very few people.   No “Yogi” possibilities though.  After eating I pushed on another mile or so towards 7pm, crossed Nacimiento Creek, and plopped down.    At this point it was all grass and pines, and cool air, very Adirondack like.   I had a nice wash in the stream, and listened to elk calling in the meadow just north of me.

Plopped down next to this fire ring.

Day 2 – into the fire

I slept poorly, colder than I had anticipated so there were some clothes changes at midnight.   Since I was in a stream valley, it acted as a natural channel for cold air sinking down the slopes.   And because it was in a valley, there was still a bunch of snow, so all night, snow-chilled air flowed down on me.   Remember the word microclimate, kids.

The trails were soaked, and soon my feet were too.

It’s called San Pedro Parks Wilderness, because of the “parks” – high upland meadows that break up the trees.   Almost all have a stream running down the middle, and almost all had elk.   (This is why so many places in CO have Park in the name, or places like “Spray Park” on Mt. Rainier).  I stopped counting elk there were so many.   One cool thing about it being a Wilderness is basically no camping restrictions, other than your standard Leave No Trace stuff.   A few of these big meadows had tents in them, tastefully pitched WELL away from water and the trail.    It would be nice to spend a night or a weekend up here, just sort of chilling – and knowing you only had an 8 or so mile hike back to your car!

The day got hotter, and around noon I hit the height of land, around 10,500 feet (aka “ten-five”) , then gradually descended through an increasingly dry, piney forest.   The heat really started to build as I dropped down.   I knew there was a stream crossing, and a road about 4 miles later, so I was liberal with my water.   Plus I knew I was getting a maildrop at Ghost Ranch in a day or so, so I was liberal with the electrolyte tablets (my Amazon link).  After leaving the Wilderness I started seeing the ubiquitous barbed wire, random cow poops, and occasional cattle guards.  After a good break near a stream, I moved down through some more ranch land and paralleled the road for a few miles.  It was slightly frustrating, knowing that as soon as I hit the road, I was walking to the ranger station – and then never getting to the road!

The trail gradually angled over and down to the road though, and I did come out on the nice, hot, empty asphalt of Rt 96.

The upside down exclamation blaze is an old CDT marker.


Coyote Ranger Station

I assume that if we were on the PCT or AT, there’s no way the USFS would let hikers inconvenienced by a fire camp at the ranger station.   Nor would they provide water, snacks, power for phones, Wifi, and a 7am shuttle.   Its nice to hike a trail that’s not yet been overrun and burned through any local goodwill.   I got to the station at about 5, where there was shade, a picnic table, 2 “cubies” of water, and a huge box of snacks.   Some sort of catering service was set up for the guys fighting the fire (equipment, incl a helicopter, were parked across the street).

Because we were thruhikers, we all clustered at the picnic table.  It’s just a thing.   There was a guy named Crush who I had seen earlier, along with Wildebeast.   Shortly after Boomerang rolled in followed by a guy named Cash.   We had a nice chat and a bunch of laughs at the table, with dinner and snacks and all the water we wanted.   Boomerang broke out a deck of Uno cards, and we played a few hands, politely and hilariously arguing about the rules and the etiquette of which cards go on top of which.

Around 7 the station manager came over and we chatted with him.   The previous manager (now retired) had a van, and agreed to shuttle us down the valley, through Abiquiu and then up to Ghost Ranch, saving us a 30-something mile roadwalk.   The road “was real windy and had no shoulder in the canyon”, so none of us but Cash were interested in THAT.   He was taking the “continuous footpath” approach, meaning it didn’t matter if he was or wasn’t on the official CDT, but he was going to walk the entire way to Canada.   HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike) and more power to him.

As Crush pointed out, “hitchiking is still hiking”.   He in particular was done with roadwalks, having just done the Florida Trail, which has 100s of miles of either actual highway walking, or endless “trailer park, stray dog” road walking.  No glamour there.

Day 3 – the Christmas Route

Up at 530, packed, ate, snacked, charged up the phone.   Cowboy camping next to a parking lot wasn’t the most private place, but when you’re tired, and there’s nowhere else to go, it gets the job done.   We all drifted over to the picnic table, and loitered, as only thruhikers can loiter.

A van rolled in.  “Are you the shuttle?” I asked.   “Yep, hop in!”

We drove without incident down through the little thorp of Abiquiu, where we stopped for coffee and burritos.   Neither for me.   In short order we were at the entrance road to Ghost Ranch, having passed road signs that read “Hikers in road.  Do not report.”   I asked the shuttle driver if he had time to take me a few miles up the road so I could rejoin the CDT, and he didn’t, as they needed to get to church.

My plan was to hike the “Christmas Route”, a combination of the CDT (red) and the Ghost Ranch Alternate (green) on the phone app we all used.  The official reroute had you just get back on at Ghost Ranch, but I wanted to do more miles, AND I wanted to hike along the rim of the mesa.  Looking at the map it looked very cool.   I figured I’d walk or hitch up the highway to the CDT, then hike BACK, technically southbound, until I reached the closure.  Then in the morning I would hike east on the Ghost Ranch Alternate until I got to Ghost Ranch, where I could pick up my maildrop and continue.

Screenshot from the FarOut app showing the Ghost Ranch alt
Screenshot from the FarOut app showing the Ghost Ranch alt

So I put the pack down, and put out the thumb.   And waited.   After about 30 minutes where only 10 or so cars passed me, I figured it was time to start walking.   It was 15 miles or so along the mesa rim, and about 5 miles to walk on the road.   I could still get down to the river by dinner time.   So I trudged up the hill.  About a mile later, I had another great hitch – ANOTHER person turned around and came back for me.   When the guy found out I was only going a few miles up the road he was a little disappointed; he was heading up to Pagosa Springs in CO and was hoping for company.   Three for three on good hitches this trip!

Mesa De Las Viejas

smoke drifting down the valley from the Indio Fire

Because the trail had been closed for a bit, and because nobody was doing the weird loop I was doing, I had the entire thing to myself.   Nothing but me, amazing views, and what I think were lion tracks.   They were pretty old, and pretty faded, but they were AWFULLY BIG for coyote.   Late afternoon I made it down to the Rio Chama, a Wild and Scenic River – a special designation meaning no development, and in a pristine area.   Once I left the Rio Chama Canyon Wilderness area, I stumbled down onto the road.  I had a 2.5 mile walk ahead of me.  There was also a USFS campground, meaning it had trash, and pit toilets, and fire rings, but no other amenities.

More trail magic!  Two different jeeps on the dirt road stopped and gave me bottles of cold water.

I found a spot near the river.  I had planned to swim, but the Rio Chama moves FAST and was cold, and was very murky.

Its considered bad form to beg for food or water, the true “Yogi” requires that the folks volunteer their stuff for you.   But in this case, the people next to me had one of those popup trailers, so I knew they had a water tank.   I asked, and they agreed, if I could fill up my water rather than ruin my Sawyer Squeeze filter.

Later, as I was going to sleep, they came over and asked if I wanted food – no hot dogs, thank you, but they did have salad, and cherries.   I sat with them at their site for a bit in the growing dark, chatting about trails and Alaska and mosquitoes, while their little kids clamored for attention.   Well past sundown (aka “hiker midnight”) I finally bad them farewell and crashed in my quilt.

Indio Fire, and a big bend of the Rio Chama

Day 4 – slouching to Ghost Ranch

I woke up sick.   I wasn’t sure if it was breathing in all the smoke, or sleeping on the ground for too many nights, or what, but I did NOT feel well.  Screaming sore throat, and just general yuck.  I had a 7 or 8 mile hike ahead of me, so I saddled up and moved out.

After about 6 miles, Forest Road 151 meets the highway.   From there I roadwalked south until I got to an old abandoned museum.   It was I suppose a “folk museum’, it had some farm things, and a lot of information about the original settlers of the area from way back in the day.  And how they were later swindled out of their deeds to all the ranch land, and given just the deeds to their specific homes.   By Congress.

I had 2nd breakfast in the shade of the old abandoned building, then threaded my way through and under some barbed wire, through the old museum botanical displays, and onto some dirt trails heading in the general direction of Ghost Ranch.   In short order I crossed the bridge (the sign was on the far end), and saw the outbuildings.   I was still feeling like crap.

You enter the suspension bridge from the other side. And yes, it was sketchy.

The more nice clean people I saw at the resort, the dirtier I felt.   Wildebeast, Extra, and some other dude were there, soaking up the shade and the 1 outdoor power outlet.  I scooped up my mail drop, bought ice cream, and did the same.   When it got to about 90 in the shade of the porch.  I started to feel worse and worse, so I went in and got a room.   The original plan was to spend $35 at the campground there.  I ended up paying significantly more, for a non-airconditioned room that REEKED of Lysol.  I guess they made sure all the rooms were clean; my neighbor a few rooms down had the same experience.   Would not repeat.  Any hikers reading this, be prepared to overpay.

I ate dinner, and laid in my room with some wet towels and a fan blowing on me.  Fever?  Heat exhaustion?   Or was it just hot?   All three?   I felt gross, and dehydrated.   Still I got a good nights sleep in an actual bed, and it included breakfast in the morning.   From here it was 90 miles to the border, and 94 miles to my finish line.

Next up – heading to Colorado!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Patti says:

    Thank you for your post, I enjoy reading your adventures.
    I hope you are feeling better.

    1. smokebeard says:

      Thanks, a few days after I got home I was better. Maybe allergies?

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