Yesterday was hard for me. It was a dispiriting day.
The trail was easy, but it was just so damn monotonous. The endless drudgery of walking on roads sapped my energy. I finished the day a beaten man.
That's the context that made today so unexpected. It was as if New Mexico heard me and said, "You just haven't gotten to the best part yet."
|Date||Tuesday, May 11, 2021|
|Weather||Mostly sunny, then variable cloudiness, with temperatures from low-40s to upper-60s|
|Trail Conditions||Well-maintained trail with little road walking, one long and steep descent|
Like yesterday, Zigzag left camp 10 minutes before me. I needed more time this morning to prepare my water. Extra water was necessary because we had more than 12 miles to go before reaching our next source.
By the time I finished walking yesterday, then collected water from the spring, I had no desire to spend time filtering it. My filter has been performing so poorly lately, I boiled what I needed for dinner and put off filtering the rest to this morning.
I decided this morning to treat it with a couple drops of chlorine bleach instead of filtering. That saved a lot of time and frustration.
As I said, New Mexico decided to surprise me today. That started as soon as I began walking. The trail was still easy, but this time I was no longer walking on a road. I was walking on a real trail.
To be sure, I sometimes appreciate it when the trail follows a road. That's usually when the alternative is straight up the side of a mountain or across a rock-strewn path. Today, however, I was grateful for the change from yesterday's roads.
For better than two hours, I followed the trail over flat desert grass, up and down short hills, and through clumps of scrubby trees. In the first two hours today, the trail was more varied than all of yesterday.
Then I came to the next surprise. I reached the ledge of Mesa Chivato. Until now, the only clue I had that I was on a mesa was when I followed the side trail to Los Indios Spring yesterday afternoon.
The view this morning from the ledge was eye-opening. It was as if New Mexico was finally revealing itself, showing me what was in store for the next several days. Buttes rose from the desert floor. Tall trees, rolling hills, and several canyons could be seen in different directions. Mountains were just barely visible in the distance.
This was just a tantalizing hint of what was to come. Even then, I wasn't seeing half of what I would find before the end of the day.
I caught up to Zigzag at the ledge, and we stayed there for about 45 minutes to enjoy the view.
The trail didn't go directly down the slope of the mesa but instead turned to remain on top. Along the way, I passed some purple wildflowers I had never seen in the desert before. They were wooly locoweed.
A phrase you've probably heard in western movies or TV shows, "gone loco," comes from this plant. A toxic alkaloid called swainsonine is in it. Animals are said to go "loco" (the Spanish word for crazy) if they eat too much of this plant and can even die from it.
The trail continued to follow the edge of the mesa for a short distance, then turned away. We left the views from the edge.
Since departing camp this morning, we have been walking on land that was awarded to a local entrepreneur in 1768 by the Spanish government. This was done with the expectation that the land would be settled and developed. That never happened.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War, turned over all undeveloped granted lands to the U.S. government. This area has remained government land since then and is now maintained by the Bureau of Land Management as Ignacio Chavez Wilderness Study Area.
A BLM wilderness study area is roadless and its resources have been inventoried. This is much like a National Forest wilderness area, except it lacks an official designation by Congress.
When the trail reached another ledge of the same mesa, there was another grand view to take in. "What have you been holding back from me, New Mexico?" I wondered.
Zigzag and I stopped at this ledge to eat lunch and scan the Rio Puerco Valley, which was spread out below us.
A large butte called Cabezon Peak was in the center of this view. It stood now about 9.5 miles away and would remain viewable for much of the remainder of the day.
The butte is known as a volcanic plug or neck. It is much like Cerro Alesna, which I saw two days ago while descending Mt. Taylor. Cabezon Peak is much larger and more dramatic to see but was formed in the same way.
Cabezon Peak was just one of about 50 volcanic buttes in this region. The valley was massive and we couldn't see it all from where we sat.
When we finished our lunch, the trail began a long descent from the top of the mesa. Some of the path down was steep and covered in loose gravel, which made this section a little tricky.
There were more small displays of wildflowers on the way to the valley, including what I believe were tufted phlox.
After the initial steep descent, the trail crossed a flat shelf before making another drop. This provided a wider view of the valley, where several more volcanic plugs could be seen.
The whole region was a shallow inland sea millions of years ago. Layers of sedimentary rock were formed over a long time. The volcanic lava pushed up from below, then cooled to form these plugs. After more millions of years went by, the sedimentary rock eroded to reveal the much harder lava rock.
As the trail approached the bottom of the descent, there were small tufts of another wildflower. These yellow flowers are called stemless hymenoxys. They are members of the sunflower family and are also known as stemless four-nerve daisies and butte marigolds.
Soon after the trail flattened and started to cross the valley, I came upon a road at the edge of the wilderness study area. I was a little worried that I would begin another long traverse of boredom, but that wasn't the case. The trail only followed the road for a short distance, which included a side road to a cow tank.
Zigzag and I collected water to filter and drank as much as we could. This was our only water source for today.
My filter continued to be slow, and it took me 20 minutes to filter two liters.
When the trail left the road, it entered another adventurous section. This wasn't obvious at first, but we were about to go over a crazy series of ups and downs, which took us in and out of canyons and arroyos.
Some washes were smooth and easy to walk, with switchbacks to get in and out of them.
Others were narrow, jagged, and rocky. These required a little more care to walk through or around.
The sky was constantly changing. Sometimes the clouds passing overhead were puffy white. At other times, they were wispy thin.
When a large cloud cast a shadow on a butte, it put the mound in dramatic, dark contrast with the surrounding desert ground.
The desert was bone dry, yet there was plenty of evidence that huge amounts of water had passed through here. Some of the washes we walked through were wide and deep.
Late in the afternoon, we came upon a lone, wild horse. It didn't seem to mind us but also didn't attempt to walk near us.
This part of the trail went 1.75 miles through San Luis Mesa Area of Critical Environmental Concern. An ACEC is a designation used by the Bureau of Land Management for lands that require special protection.
The area was set aside to protect hawks and eagles that migrate through this region. I didn't see any, but I saw plenty of prairie dog holes, and I'm sure the occupants of the holes were a regular part of the raptors' diet.
After climbing from an arroyo, the trail passed several large boulders that were another testament to the power of water against rock. They were both smooth and jagged, with a tunnel carved through the middle of one.
By 6 p.m., we had walked through the last shallow canyon and entered La Lena Wilderness Study Area. The desert ahead was broad and too exposed to be suitable for camping. We kept going and hoped where the trail was heading would be a better place to stop. It took us to the wall of a mesa, which we figured would provide some shelter from the wind.
We found a spot, but it took several minutes of searching to find enough flat ground to pitch our tents. There were no trees, but some large boulders made this the best place we could find to get out of the wind.
I also had to make sure I wasn't set up too close to some kingcup cactus. After already replacing my sleeping pad once on this hike, I didn't want to puncture it again.
We made the campsite work despite our trouble finding a spot. Then after setting up, we were surprised to find we had the bonus of good cell service.
I ate a dinner I had been carrying with me for a long time. It was cranberry walnut quinoa, which was one of the recipes I prepared at home and sent to Lordsburg before I began this trip.
I'm unsure why I had waited so long to eat it, but now that I did, I decided I hate cranberry walnut quinoa. There was more of it at home, so I needed to remember to ask my wife to not send any the next time she sends me a resupply box.
As difficult as it had been to find a campsite, it doesn't seem we could have picked one with a more captivating view. The sky was filled with layers of clouds carved by the wind. They reflected the golden rays of the setting sun, as did the buttes that stood in the distance.
The twin peaks of Cerro Cuate were four miles away. Cabezon Peak, which I noted earlier before descending into the valley, was now seven miles away.
Barely visible behind Cabezon Peak and 52 miles away was the top of Sandia Crest.
In just one day, New Mexico had redeemed itself. This was a day of many wows. The views, the geology, the flowers, and the sky all gave me a new appreciation for this state and the trail. I had expected that the terrain would change as I walked north, I just didn't expect to be hit so suddenly by the changes.
And now I'm feelin' better
'Cause I found out for sure
She took me to her doctor
And he told me of a cure
He said that any love is good love
So I took what I could get
Yes, I took what I could get
And then she looked at me with them big brown eyes
You ain't seen nothin' yet
B-b-b-baby, you just ain't seen n-n-nothin' yet
Here's something, here's something your never gonna forget
Baby, you know, you know, you know you just ain't seen nothin' yet