CDT 2021: Day 26, Grants to Gooseberry Springs Trail Junction

Get your kicks on Route 66

I woke up in the middle of the night and then had difficulty falling back to sleep. That turned out to be a good thing. Among the many thoughts that wandered through my brain while wide awake at 1 a.m., I realized I hadn't yet glued Velcro to my new shoes.

I always wear Dirty Girl gaiters to keep sand and pebbles out of my shoes. A small strip of Velcro is necessary on the heels to hold the gaiters in place. The Velcro that comes with the gaiters has an adhesive back, but that's never sufficient to remain stuck to the shoes. A small amount of super glue takes care of that problem.

I got out of bed and glued the Velcro strips to my shoes, then went back to sleep. By taking care of that now, there was plenty of time for the glue to dry.

DateSaturday, May 8, 2021
WeatherClear, then gradually becoming partly cloudy, with temperatures from low-50s to mid-70s
Trail ConditionsAsphalt road, then well-maintained trail
Today's Miles18.8
Trip Miles396.8

Zigzag and I went to Denny’s for breakfast, just as we had done after we stayed at the same motel two nights ago. We then finished packing and headed down the highway to get back on the trail.

Zigzag wanted to stop at a grocery store on the north end of town. I wanted to go to the post office to mail home a pair of shorts. I bought a new pair yesterday at REI because the hem of the shorts I had been wearing was causing some chafing. Oddly, I wore the same shorts on most of the PCT with no problem.

I think the chafing had more to do with sun exposure or trail dirt than it did with the shorts. Anyway, the new pair was made of softer fabric, and I hoped that would be more comfortable.

Before Zigzag and I split to go our separate ways, we were stopped by a woman in a small sports car. She asked if we wanted a ride. We politely declined, explaining that we were currently walking on the trail and needed to continue doing that to keep our footsteps connected for the entire distance.

She said she understood but was disappointed. "I keep seeing hikers, and I've wanted to do something to help them," she explained.

We thanked her again and assured her that there will be hikers who will be happy to accept a ride.

The CDT goes directly through the town of Grants. The first part follows the former route of U.S. Highway 66, perhaps the most famous highway in the country. It was often called the "Main Street of America."

As I walked along the old highway, I saw mostly crumbling, abandoned buildings. They were remnants of a once-popular overnight stop on the 2,448-mile highway from Chicago to Los Angeles.

One such building was identified with a sign that said Historic Route 66 Motel, but its original name was the Western Host Motel. Like most of the buildings along this stretch of road, the motel was constructed in the 1950s. Postcards from the era boasted the motel had a heated swimming pool and TVs in every room.

The pool was filled in long ago. I don't know when the motel closed, but I learned that an attempt was made to restore it back to operating condition. The owners gained a $12,500 grant from the National Park Service in 2016, which was used to replace all of the exterior doors in the building. It appears a new roof was also added.

The owners said they hoped to re-open in 2017. I noticed the new doors and roof as I walked by, but couldn't see any additional improvements had been made. This motel and many of the buildings along Old Route 66 were in a neglected, uninhabitable state of decay. Some have been vandalized.

The Desert Sun Motel and the Franciscan Lodge were two more examples of motels that were built in the 1950s. They remained in use into the 1970s and 1980s. A postcard for the Franciscan Lodge claimed there was "none finer on 66."

Sadly, none of the motels, diners, gas stations, and tourist gift shops on Old Route 66 could compete for customers when the interstate highway pulled travelers away from town. New Mexico legislators foresaw this problem in the 1960s and passed a law that prohibited the construction of a bypass around any city or town that opposed it. The law was repealed in 1966 when the federal government threatened to withhold highway funds.

The stretch of Interstate 40 that bypassed Grants was completed in 1974. It may not be entirely fair to blame the decommissioning of Route 66 for Grants' economic woes, however. It was also dealt a severe blow when a nearby uranium mine closed in the 1980s. The Great Recession of 2008 was bound to also have an economic impact, just as COVID-19 is having today.

As I continued on my way to the post office, I passed an example of attempts Grants citizens are making to revitalize their town. It was a clever project begun in 2018. The street was lined with recycled old satellite dishes that were painted to look like Native American baskets and pottery bowls.

I took a selfie at another spot that was created as a draw for tourists. An 18-foot-tall neon sign in the shape of a highway sign was designed for cars to drive through.

Motorists can place their camera on a nearby stand, then run back to their car for a timed photo underneath the sign.

Another example of efforts to pull Grants out of its dilapidated state could be seen when the trail turned from Old Route 66 and headed north through the center to town. The entire street was torn up to be rebuilt. I had to walk around barricades to continue following the trail.

I was disappointed to find no CDT signs along the trail. The local people we met were friendly, but there didn't seem to be any outward recognition that the trail was in the middle of their town.

On the way out of town, I could see far north to where Zigzag and I would be heading. Mt. Taylor stood about 14 miles away. We planned to take an alternate trail later today that will lead us over the mountain's summit tomorrow.

I met Zigzag at Smith’s Grocery Store on the edge of town, then we continued our road walk.

A sign warning motorists to not pick up hitchhikers was posted along the highway. This would be unfortunate for any thru-hikers needing a ride into town. The sign was there because two large prisons are located in Grants. The highway we were on went by one of them.

About the time we left the city limits, we saw the same man who stopped yesterday to ask if we needed anything. He stopped again to give us some information about trail conditions and where to find water.

By noon, we were at the trailhead where the CDT finally left the highway. Zigzag and I topped off our water bottles from a cache left by Doggone and Taxilady. Then we found a shady spot for lunch.

While we were eating, we met another thru-hiker. His name was Money, and he said he completed the PCT last year.

As soon as we started walking again, the trail began a long climb. The first 1.8 miles went up 950 feet as the trail scaled the side of a mesa.

Today was a warm day. It was also the first day in several days we've had any significant elevation change. Still, I didn't feel tired by the climb. Instead, I felt noticeably stronger.

Admittedly, that should have been expected by now. I've been hiking for nearly a full month. I probably just recognized the difference more today because we had been doing nearly all road walking at lower elevations. The last time we had a real climb was on Day 19 when we went up Mangas Mountain.

When the climb reached the top of Horace Mesa's rim, we could look back to Grants and beyond. We watched a large dust devil twist up on the other side of Interstate 40, maybe seven or eight miles away.

The trail then flattened as it crossed the mesa. At 2:30 in the afternoon, this could have been a blisteringly hot place to be. Today, the temperature was only in the low-70s, and there was a breeze.

Money stopped to take a break in a shady spot on the mesa, and we passed him. It wasn't long before he passed us.

A bell was mounted on a pole in the middle of the mesa. There was no marker to explain why it was there. We rang it because it seemed like that was why it was there.

Mt. Taylor came into view again as we continued across the mesa. The mountain is a dormant stratovolcano.

From the trail, Mt. Taylor looked as if a large part of its 4,094-foot prominence was above treeline. That wasn't the case, however. When I looked carefully, I could see a line of trees on one side that ran up to the summit. The exposed area was where the caldera was eroded.

We knew we wouldn't make it to the top of the mountain today but expected to crest the peak tomorrow morning. We just wanted to get to a water cache that was reported to be about three miles from the top. The man we met again today on the road said it would be there.

The trail entered a forest of pine trees at the other end of the mesa. It continued to be well marked and easy to follow, which was a pleasant change from the last few times we've been on a real trail and not on a road.

From the other side of the mesa, the trail began another climb, this time up the flank of Mt. Taylor. Before long, we made a turn and left the official CDT route again.

We were now following the Mt. Taylor Alternate, which goes over the mountain's summit. Most thru-hikers prefer to follow this alternate for that reason. The official route goes around the mountain and would only be better if the weather was bad.

We were still hiking among trees, but at 6:30 p.m. we found a spot that opened a view of a wide valley.

The sky had been clear all morning but began to get cloudy around noon. As we looked across the valley, we saw more clouds move in.

The Mt. Taylor Alternate followed a gravel road as it climbed. It was a little annoying to be walking on a road again, but at least it wasn't an asphalt highway.

When we approached the spot where we were told we would find the water cache, we passed a large clump of aspen trees. These were the first we'd seen in New Mexico and were a sign we were higher in elevation and farther north than before. We were climbing to above 9,300 feet now.

We arrived at our intended stopping spot at 7:40 p.m. and found the water cache right away. Nearly all of the water jugs were full, so it was obvious the cache had been refilled recently.

Money was setting up his tent when we arrived. A hiker named Chef Boy-ar-dee showed up a short time after us.

This was a good spot to camp and not just because of the easy access to water. It put us in a good position for summiting Mt. Taylor tomorrow morning.

It was also a pleasant spot because we could watch the setting sun through a stand of Ponderosa pine trees.

If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way, take the highway that is best
Get your kicks on Route 66

It winds from Chicago to LA
More than two thousand miles all the way
Get your kicks on Route 66

From "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66" by Bobby Troup

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