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Posts Tagged ‘Ghost Ranch’

** From October 2015**

We walked out of Pie Town full and happy meandering along listening to podcasts. Right at the split between the route for the Black Hills and the Gila River route, we got a facebook message from Patch.
Patch: Where are you guys at? And where will you be in a week or so? I want to mail you guys something!

Me: We are just hitting the Gila alt. Will probably be in Lordsburg in a week. How are you and where are you?

Patch: Jesus, you guys are flying along. I’m doing well! I’m in Ghost Ranch. I took several days off with my Dad. Hoping to catch Das Boots and maybe Scally.

Now we were curious! For the next week, we pondered what it could be. We had several theories of interesting proportions going.

When we were pondering oneoo of the theories, we were all bushwhacking down toward Snow Lake when Wonderer dropped his phone in knee high grass somewhere. We all threw our packs down and fanned out trying to help him cover more ground to find it. Back and forth we went. Wonderer shooed us, taking a map from The Darkness and we started bushwhacking down when we heard a loud cry of joy. We looked up to see Wonderer grinning from ear to ear in a power stance holding his phone high above his head. We cheered from below in relief.


At Snow Lake, the cold started to set in. We wanted to get a few miles further down into the Gila canyon before we found a campsite. When we bailed into the privy south of Grants for that massive round of thunderstorms, this was where Whistle bailed out ahead of us and Scallywag had bailed back to Cuba behind us.

We put on shorts to save the leggings for later and walked past an ominous sign telling us to be prepared for a lack of trail, storm damage, and flooding. We got to the first crossing. The Gila River was a creamy dark color which obscured the bottom. The water rushed fast and the “trail” on the side was hit or miss. We used hiking poles to test the depths before getting in the icy water. The sun had already set out of the canyon and the shade added to the cold sinking into us. We began using the Crosby-o-meter to test for depth further than the banks of the river. Being 6’4” it was easier to tell how deep it was on him than us.

It was icy. It was rushing. Hiking poles necessary. And it was deep.


The shallowest crossing came up to my knees and I still couldn’t see the bottom. Most crossings reached mid thigh deep or more. Before each step, I’d plant a pole in the water to keep three points of contact with the unknown bottom at all times and my poles quivered from the water rushing at them. I started to not feel my feet anymore. Lucky for me, they seemed to know where to step anyway.

We found a great campsite that night. Everyone peeled off the wet layers as fast as possible in order to get into sleeping bags. I had to sit crossed legged for a while with my feet wedged in my knees to warm them up.

In the morning, we packed up and began walking as soon as it was light enough. We had discovered the difficulty of finding shallow crossings at night and decided to keep pushing as much as we could in the daylight. The ground and all the grasses were completely frost covered. The trail sometimes existed, other times it didn’t. At the minimum, we crossed the Gila once per third of a mile. My feet were already numb from the frost before even dipping into the icy water.

The Darkness, Crosby, and I walked without stopping. I ate to keep warm. At least warm enough. We all had several layers on and the cold seeping in from our feet and legs was rough. We paused to talk to some hunters and Wonderer caught up.

Wonderer: E.D. hiked up on the last trail. She said she was too cold and she’d take the higher routes over to Doc Campbell’s and meet us there.

We were grateful that she sent a message so we wouldn’t get caught up waiting and not seeing her. The four of us stuck together taking turns bushwhacking ahead and finding better crossings. The progress was epically slow. My feet were numb still and I was munching though food faster than normal to keep my metabolism going.

We took the shortest lunch break ever, then kept crossing. We knew we had to cross even if there was no trail because if we didn’t we’d run into a tall cliff wall. The canyon was beautiful beyond words, but with the extra waves of thunderstorms the past week, the water had risen significantly and as we got further down, it became harder and harder to find spots to cross below mid-thigh deep.

Wonderer watching The Darkness cross.

Eventually, toward dusk, we came to a crossing that none of us could agree on the best way to cross, so we went in slightly different places and watched each other. The Darkness chose a spot which looked awesome until the middle where it got expectantly deeper. Wonderer, Crosby, and I watched as her face change drastically as she went up higher than her waist getting the lady bits wet. But her feet held and she crossed to the bank.

She looked at all of us on the bank.

Me: Sooooo, next available campsite?

The Darkness: Yes.

None of us talked much as we had to cross a few more times before I found something that would work. Not ideal, but functional if we cleared a few dead branches and flood debris from the big flood in 2013. We made it work and made a campfire to boost morale as we ate dinner.

The morning brought a repeat of cold, frost, and icy water crossings still increasingly difficult to find suitable crossings. We had seen another trail heading steeply out of the canyon in a few miles to the higher routes that E.D. had hopped up to. We contemplated it until it started raining on us while thigh high deep in icy water with numb lower extremities. As we pulled out umbrellas and crossed again, we all looked at each other and knew we were bailing up and out. Once we found the trail, it was easy to follow. The link between the bottom of the Gila canyon and it was obviously not used much and very obscured.

Despite the rain, hiking up out of the canyon got our blood flowing and warmed up more than we had been in almost three days. We cruised along the top toward the west fork of the Gila River which we’d have to cross a few times before getting spit out at the Gila Cliff Dwellings. That was also cold. But there were only four crossings bringing our crossing total to 81 times on the middle fork and 4 on the west fork. Burrr.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings.

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**From October 2015**

We lingered at Ghost Ranch while Crosby and Memphis planned to hitch over to Santa Fe for the balloon festival. Memphis, having finished his flip and went a little extra, would head out after the festival, while Crosby found a way back to the trail.

Extra fiber…?

The Darkness, E.D., and I set out meandering through the desert, attempting not to run into the increasingly numerous plants sporting large spike devises. Eventually we followed the Rio Chama over to one of the more entertaining water sources we’d seen yet. It boasted a cow trough hidden slightly off trail amongst high grasses and a dead coiled snake near the easiest spot to grab water after we scraped the green slime to the side.

After grabbing some water from the trough, which tasted surprisingly good despite its outward appearance, we hiked on into canyons and on mesas. I found myself surprised at the amount of trees in northern New Mexico. I somewhat expected a desert more like the first 700 miles of the PCT, but I am quickly learning that the different areas of desert have significantly different characters.

For example, this desert boasted quite a few tarantulas. So many, in fact, that I purposely set up my tent each night simply for the peace of mind that I would not wake up with one on my face. Fascinating to watch, I found that the tarantulas photographed quite well and did not seem to mind my phone hovering near them.

I had heard through the thru-hiking grapevine (mostly from nobos) that to be free of the big snow potential, we needed to get south of Ghost Ranch. However, we still had to climb up and over the San Pedro Peaks to get into Cuba which reached 10,500 feet. We climbed up towards the end of a day looking for a flat campsite. Right as the sun had set and dusk began getting dark, we narrowly missed a turn in the CDT. One of those where the obvious trail goes one way and the CDT breaks off to the side. Just down in some trees off the trail, we found an excellent campsite.

San Pedro peaks, which we camped on that night, resembled more of a large mesa instead of mountains. When we woke up, the large grassy, swampy, fieldy areas were covered in frost. Cue: frosty feet. Meaning: very cold feet.

My feet did not warm up until we hit a dirt road at the bottom of San Pedro peaks which would take us into Cuba. We went from lots of layers straight into tank tops. With a several mile meander into town, we made some of our necessary town phone calls, then went straight into El Bruno, a popular Mexican restaurant.

Stuffed full of Mexican food and margaritas, we stumbled into a motel room where we proceeded to have a TLC binge for “My Strange Addiction.” Coming from the mesas and frosty feet straight into five hours of reality television was a shock. However, it gave us fodder to quote incessantly for the rest of the trail. Our favorite included a couple and their very strange addiction to coffee enemas.

Man: I thought coffee enemas were disgusting. Then I tried a coffee enema. Now I’m addicted to coffee enemas.

You can imagine how the rest of that show went.

We continued watching TLC the next morning until we had to leave with several hours of 90 Day Fiancé. Not as entertaining.

The Darkness’s new leggings.

Of course, leaving town took forever. But The Darkness had bought a Melanzana skirt to match the ones E.D. and I picked up in Leadville as well as some French Fry leggings. We had a several mile road walk out of town, which went right past the Cuba Café. By that time, it was noon and we decided lunch should happen.

Finally, we stumbled out of town in absurd heat. Once we got off the official road walk and onto a trail, we found patches of shade to take a break under. The trail between Cuba and Grants had very diverse landscapes to go through. Some looked like Mars. Some had amazing petrified wood. Others had thick piñon pine forests.

On some BLM land, The Darkness found a piece of petrified wood that she became rather attached to and decided to carry. E.D. and I took turns guessing how much it weighed.

Me: Five pounds.

E.D.: Six pounds.

The Darkness: No, it’s not that much. Maybe four pounds.

Me: At least four and a half.

E.D.: At least five.

The Darkness: Maybe I shouldn’t carry it.

Me: No, you should definitely carry that, it’s super cool.

E.D.: Yeah, I agree.

That evening, we found a spikey-plant free location. We set up our tents without rain flies to see the stars without having unexpected tarantula visits.  This location also had just enough cell service to get a text from Crosby that he was doing his best to keep up.  Due to our lingering and his not lingering, he was closing in.  We texted him our location and our plan for Grants, the next town.

In the morning, we had another extremely hot day. Despite starting early, we hit one of the main water sources for the day right at lunch, before a large climb. We sat at a questionable tank.

E.D.: Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

The Darkness: I feel like an arm is going to come out of it and pull one of us in.

Me: It’d be another good horror movie set.

The color of the water discouraged us from drinking it, however, we did anyway. We decided to update the source for sobos because all of the water sources had notes from and for the nobos. We gave it a Halloween twist because that was coming up in about two weeks.

From the water source, we plugged up one of the big climbs in this stretch. At the top, The Darkness did some talking that ended up extending this section by about half a day at least…

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**From October 2015**

As we were hitching and not getting picked up, a mini bus pulled over. A tour mini bus. With older people. We thought there was a mistake. Until Memphis popped out of the window and the driver opened the doors and told us to get in. Only Memphis could yogi a ride from a paid tour group full of people in nice shoes and cardigans. In exchange for the ride, the driver had us talk about our hike until we got to Chama.

Hoping out of the tour mini bus, we set our packs down in the bar. E.D. and I had both sent packages to the post office, so we ran over there before it closed while The Darkness, Crosby, and Memphis got a head start on beers. Technically, E.D. finished her flip in Chama, but The Darkness, Crosby, and I had been trying to convince her to just keep hiking and become a true sobo. What’s another 700ish miles? Why not, right? We had celebratory beers anyway, partly because Platoro had none.

Full of food and beer, we heading toward the Y, the best, cheap, hiker friendly motel in the area. It was about a mile away, so we threw our thumbs out just in case. At an intersection, a very large man in camo pants and a neon green shirt waved us down and ran across the street. He was giving out New Mexico bandanas to passersby. When he heard we were hikers, he offered us a ride in his monster truck to the motel.

We climbed up and got there lickity split. As we piled out, we saw the front desk lady laughing and shaking her head. Leaving our packs outside, we meandered in to see what spaces she had.

Front Desk Lady: I knew you were hikers the second I saw five of you jump out the back of that thing! Haven’t seen to0 many of you since April!

She hooked us up with a good deal on two rooms between the five of us and we set about the normal chores plus a few extra ones. In The Darkness’s absence from us, she had decided to stop brushing her hair and had formed a single dread under her hat with all of her hair somehow in it. One job was to brush that out.

The weather had begun to look nasty again as we managed to sneak in the laundromat right before it closed with a six pack. We snagged that and decided to leave the next day late morning or so, hoping it might have a chance of improving in the morning.

However, when we woke up, the weather in town had cleared, but we couldn’t see the ridges in the slightest. We took our time leaving the rooms and ultimately decided to road walk to Ghost Ranch as we heard thunder cracking. In short time, we were trudging along the road in full rain gear plodding away.

Apparently we looked odd enough that a cop turned around. We dutifully took off our sunglasses and chatted politely. She seemed simply curious. We pointed where the trail actually was and her reply was:

Cop Lady: Yeah, I wouldn’t want to be up there either.

Thunder clapped again.

Cop Lady: Hmm, yeah, definitely not. Have fun.

We proceeded over to a store on the side of the road where we enjoyed sodas and chips and scoped out the maps for possible stealth sites. Loitering until we finished our snacks, we headed back out and found a slightly stealth spot off the side of the road near a fence. We stayed on the roadside of the fence.

Suddenly, I woke up to dogs. Loud dogs. Sniffing. Great. We probably shouldn’t have camped where we did, but we weren’t trespassing either. The dogs went away eventually, although not silently.

The next day, we had a fun activity planned. Walk 14 miles to a bar on the side of the road. On the way, a car slammed on it’s breaks and pulled over.  All of us paused.  Then Axel popped out of the car excited having finished his flip.  We met his sister who had taken him to Ghost Ranch for a massage and they passed us sodas.  We meandered along finding odd bits of trash, license plates, and other questionable roadside items until we found the bar.

The $2 bill.

The Bar, El Cuerno, had five bar stools. The bar itself had no food, however the gas station convenience store attached had a microwave in which one could put frozen pizzas and other classic convenience store items in to heat up. The bartender also ran the convenience store and conveniently believed in tabs. El Cuerno had $1, $5, $10, $20, and a few $50 bills plastered to the walls and ceiling.

About three hours into our patronage of El Cuerno, we decided to put a bill for the CDT up. The Darkness looked smug and pulled a $2 bill out. We wrote “CDT SOBO 2015” with all of our trail names.

Eventually, we meandered on to find another stealth campsite when we ran into the spot where the trail crosses the road. Conveniently, it had a wonderful campsite near some questionable water.

Coming into Ghost Ranch.

We meandered into Ghost Ranch just in time for lunch the next day and were greeted well. They reminded us that lunch was not AYCE like our guidebook (Yogi) said. We just said ok and loaded a tray up each. Probably higher than most, if not all, but we did not need seconds after that.

Snagging a campsite, we split the cost and headed for the shower room where we could charge devises and do some laundry. Underneath one of the sinks, we found Whistle’s discarded and decrepitated Altra shoes. We knew they were his because we had been following his tracks for close to 2,000 miles.

Whistle’s discarded shoes.

We used plenty of their wifi and hoped to watch a movie in a room ED remembered with great fondness. However, when we wandered that way, a religious meeting of some sort had staged a coup of the movie room for the entire evening. Instead, Memphis downloaded some comedy podcasts and we enjoyed them over the picnic table at the campsite.

In the morning, we plotted our route to into Cuba, New Mexico.

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