A CDT emblem is mounted on a tree

It must've been much harder when there was no bridge, just water

Day 18, CDT Mile 360.9 to Valle Tio Vences Campground

Friday, April 30, 2021

Compared to the other three trails I've hiked using the Guthook app, it has been by far the worst for the CDT. So far, I've finished just ten percent of this trail, and I've already found several inaccuracies and omissions in the app.

Despite the errors, it is hard to imagine not using Guthook and the other apps I have on my smartphone. They are invaluable.

I often think about how thru-hikers navigated before mapping apps, smartphones, and GPS devices. There's no question we have it easy compared to them.

Weather Clear sky, temperatures from the low-30s to low-60s
Trail Conditions Mostly gravel and dirt roads, which were sometimes rugged
Today's Miles 16.5 miles
Trip Miles 279.3 miles

At least the thru-hikers of years ago could use maps and guidebooks. Explorers, settlers, and Native Americans who first traveled across these lands didn't always have those, yet somehow they managed to find their way.

When I first thought in the early 2000s I wanted to hike a long-distance trail, there was a lot of resistance within the hiking community against using electronics. Today, that sentiment is gone.

The fear then was hikers would become too reliant on technology, which was prone to failure. Batteries could die, devices could fail if they got wet or too cold. All of that is still true today, yet no one seems willing to give up their smartphones.

I know how to use a map and compass, but my smartphone is better. Apps allow me to instantly know where I am and how near I am to water sources, campsites, and roads. Comments in Guthook provide additional information, such as the reliability and quality of water sources and recommendations on the best place to stay in towns.

My phone allows me to focus more on the enjoyment of walking and less on the logistics of getting somewhere.

A frosty meadow

Zigzag and I left camp this morning at 7 a.m. We saved a little time because we didn't eat breakfast before leaving. This was done to conserve water.

We were both running low and knew a substantial water source was less than five miles away. Once again, the Guthook app helped us make an informed decision and removed a worry from our hike.

The sky was bright and clear this morning as we left our campsite. There was frost on the grass in a meadow, but only where it was still shady.

Wagontongue Mountain

The open meadow gave me a clear view back toward Wagontongue Mountain. This is where the trail came down late yesterday.

The Place Names of New Mexico doesn't offer any explanation for that mountain's name. It would seem the long and narrow ridge made white settlers think of the wooden shaft that attaches to a team of horses or oxen for pulling a wagon. If this is so, though, how did the settlers know of the mountain's shape without a topographic map, airplane, or satellite?

Descending to a valley

We still had more descending to go before reaching the bottom of the valley. This was the same valley I saw yesterday from high on a ridge.

Near the bottom, the trail left Gila National Forest. This federally-managed land covers more than three million acres. It's so big, we have been walking in this national forest for all or parts of 11 days.

A squiggly footpath

At first, the trail was a narrow footpath across a broad and flat meadow. From the looks of it, this was originally a cowpath. There was no reason otherwise for the trail to be so squiggly.

A gravel road

The cowpath/footpath only went for a half-mile or so before reaching a gravel road. From here, the official CDT route continued on a marked footpath, but Guthook didn't show this trail. The app plotted the route on the road.

While it's usually preferable for a trail to be moved off a road, it was a little hard to understand why that was done here. The trail should have remained on the road in this case because the road went past a reliable water source. If we had stayed on the official route, we would have bypassed the water.

We very much needed water by now. Our last reliable source was Dutchman Spring, and that was more than 20 miles ago.

Zigzag sits against a cow tank

Zigzag and I followed Guthook's route on the road to Aragon Well. This was a large, iron tank with a trough at one side for cattle and hikers to get water. We stocked up on water and cooked breakfast here.

Green water in the cow tank

The water was a little green, and to our surprise, we spotted goldfish swimming in it. My filter began to run very slowly with this water. Maybe it was clogged by a fish, but I doubt it.

I was taking so much time to filter a couple of liters, I told Zigzag he didn't have to wait for me. We both knew where we planned to stop for the night. He also said he would stop at 1 p.m. for lunch.

A note from Taxilady written on a water jug

Two miles farther, I arrived at State Route 12. There was a small parking area here, with a water cache nearby. The water jugs were left by Doggone and Taxilady. A note written on them offered rides into the town of Reserve. Taxilady's phone number was included.

The town was 25 miles away, and without a ride from Taxilady, hitching there would be difficult. Zigzag and I never thought about going to Reserve, and it didn't seem necessary now. Besides, Zigzag was already well ahead of me, so there was no point in entertaining the idea of going into town.

Never wanting to pass up water in a desert, I guzzled nearly a liter of the water I had collected back at Aragon Well. I then topped off my water bottle from the cache.

Continuing on a gravel road

On the other side of the highway, the trail continued on a gravel road and re-entered Gila National Forest. I didn't go far, however, before turning from the CDT and onto the Pie Town Alternate.

Walking on the Pie Town Alternate

The alternate also followed a gravel road, though this one was much rougher. Zigzag and I wanted to take this route instead of the official route because there were two good places to camp this way.

The first one was where we were headed for tonight, Valle Tio Vences Campground. It is maintained by the Forest Service.

We intend to stay tomorrow at Davila Ranch. The owners of that operating ranch have constructed a donation-based facility for hikers and bicyclists.

I started looking for where Zigzag stopped for lunch at 1 p.m., but 40 minutes later I still hadn't seen him. I was getting hungry, so I decided to stop and eat.

While relaxing and eating my lunch, a turkey walked by. It gave me several minutes of lunchtime amusement.

The turkey stopped what it was doing whenever it heard the slightest noise. Seeing this, I coughed two or three times just to see its reaction. This went on for 20 minutes before I was ready to resume hiking.

Back on a better gravel road

The alternate route eventually began to follow a better gravel road. Without any more turkeys to amuse me, this stretch of road was boring, so I listened to podcasts while walking.

Cheshire Cat and Storm Mocker

When I arrived at the campground shortly after 4 p.m., Zigzag was there. He was talking with a hiker named Storm Mocker and the trail angel we saw before and after Silver City, Cheshire Cat.

Storm Mocker hiked the CDT in 1982 and had an unsuccessful attempt in 1975. I asked him about his previous hikes, particularly the contrast of navigating without electronics. He admitted he found hiking with electronics a challenge because he was still learning how to use a smartphone.

Navigation wasn't for him the most noteworthy difference of hiking in the 70s and 80s. The trail was much more lonely then, he told me. Few people knew about the CDT, and almost no one wanted to hike the whole route from Mexico to Canada.

Our campground's facilities were minimal, just a privy and a couple of picnic tables. That's not counting the partially-eaten carcass of a cow near our tent site.

An older gentleman was car camping nearby. He took a lot of interest in our hike and gave us some coffee and candy bars.

Four hikers arrived around 7 p.m. They set up their tents at least 100 yards away. We didn’t recognize them, and the evening was turning chilly, so I decided to wait until tomorrow morning to say hello.

Standing on a bridge, watch the water passing under me
It must've been much harder when there was no bridge, just water
Now the world is small, remember how it used to be
With mountains and oceans and winters and rivers and stars

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