CDT 2021: Day 30, La Lena Wilderness Study Area to Jones Canyon

Hoodoo voodoo

The variety and magnitude of the geology I saw yesterday couldn't have come at a better time. After the monotony of the day before, the fascinating views boosted my enthusiasm for this hike.

It's not like I had been losing interest in the CDT. And I have certainly seen arroyos, volcanic plugs, and mesas before. What was different yesterday was seeing so many extraordinary examples of these in a single day. It was a fun day.

DateWednesday, May 12, 2021
WeatherPartly cloudy, with temperatures from low-40s to mid-70s
Trail ConditionsSeveral difficult ups and downs
Today's Miles21.6
Trip Miles472.2

Yesterday also raised my expectations for the remainder of New Mexico. Would the beautiful views and unique features continue? Was there anything ahead that could top what I just saw?

As a matter of fact, I would soon discover the answers were yes and yes.

The sun was just rising above the mesa behind my tent when I left it to begin the day.

The sun's golden rays had not yet reached Cabezon Peak when I looked across the desert. It looked cold and gray.

The temperature wasn't close to freezing, but it still felt chilly as I prepared to leave camp.

As soon as Zigzag and I were back on the trail, we began to climb the side of the mesa. There didn't seem to be a reason for the climb because we weren't heading to the top of the mesa. The trail just followed the side, when it could have easily been constructed lower, where the terrain wasn't so rugged.

We followed the trail over a series of rocky, pointless ups and downs. One climb was so steep I wondered if this trail was built by the same crew that constructed the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire and Maine.

This strenuous section of trail was only a distance of about three-quarters of a mile. At least there were a couple of redeeming factors for taking this rough route. For one, I quickly warmed up from the effort.

The other benefit was this route provided a nice view looking back to where we had hiked yesterday.

The best thing to say about the route was it was well-marked. Several hand-made markers with holes punched to make the CDT logo were placed along the way. I had not seen any like these before.

Where there wasn't one of those metal signs, there was a rock cairn to help guide the way, even though the footpath wasn't difficult to follow.

We didn't just see where we had walked yesterday. We also got a view that tipped us off we wouldn't be bored by the trail ahead.

After the trail descended from the side of the mesa, it crossed a dirt road that served as a boundary for La Lena Wilderness Study Area. Then the trail climbed the side of another mesa.

This climb was also ridiculously steep, and the "enjoyment" of walking up it was enhanced by slippery gravel.

This climb was worthwhile, however, because the trail took us past some remarkable features. I was startled by what I saw. This was a geologic walk back in time but felt like a walk through history.

At first glance, sandstone columns looked like the ancient pillars of an archeological site, perhaps in Egypt or Iran.

This wasn't a ceremonial temple built by a past civilization, though. The rocks had been sculpted over dozens of millennia by water, ice, and wind.

Seeing these unique, weathered rock formations felt surreal.

The pillars had capstones, which gave them even more of a man-made appearance. The layer of rock at the top is harder than what is underneath. That is why the pillars can stand and remain stable against erosion. The top layer protects the rest of the column from the elements.

A gap between two pillars reminded me of the entrance of the burial site of a mighty ruler during one of the world's great dynasties.

A few of these pillars stood alone and more than 30 feet high. They are called hoodoos, a word that probably comes from "voodoo," a religious practice of causing or bringing bad luck.

Some Native American cultures believed hoodoos were the petrified remains of ancient beings who were being punished for bad behavior. The Paiute said coyotes could turn bad people into rocks.

The trail wove in and out of the hoodoos for at least half of a mile. This was a remarkable sight I didn't expect.

After the trail stayed low for about two miles, the next two miles climbed about 500 feet. I could see a ridge of the Jemez Mountains from this higher vantage point.

The tallest mountain in what I could see of this range was Pajarito Peak, which stands near the town of Los Alamos. The mountain was about 15 miles away from me.

The trail dropped to cross a wash called La Cañada Santiago. Several water jugs were cached nearby on the other side. I arrived there shortly before 11 a.m.

Members of the Green Party of Albuquerque and the Trujillo family visit this spot regularly to keep it restocked with water. It was much appreciated because there wouldn't be another water source until the end of the day.

Zigzag was preparing to leave when I got there. I refilled my water bottles and ate a snack while looking at the cache's logbook. Chef Boy-ar-dee and Money signed the book yesterday. Just Awesome had been here six days ago.

While I was taking my break in the shade by the water cache, a hiker named Fire Hazard arrived. She told me today was her 31st birthday, and in recognition of that, she intended to walk 31 miles today.

"I'll be 66 on my next birthday," I said, "and I don't think I'll try to walk that far."

The next stretch of trail was flat and open. It was dotted with clumps of yellow wildflowers, and only a few shrubs and trees.

Then came a series of short ups and downs through washes. An oddly-shaped hoodoo stood at the side of one of these. Many layers of sandstone and other rock formed this tall pillar.

I found a small number of tufted evening primrose when I climbed out of a wash and back on higher ground. The large white flowers stood out well against the grey-brown desert soil.

Another white wildflower found along the trail was the snowball sand verbena. The flowers were mostly closed now. They open in the evening and close again in the morning. Their fragrance attracts butterflies.

As I was walking toward some hills called Deadman Peaks, I spotted Fire Hazard and Zigzag. They had stopped for lunch in some shade and left soon after I arrived. I had the small shady spot to myself.

After lunch, the trail took me up the side and then around Deadman Peaks. This gave me one last view of Cabezon Peak. The trail then turned to go across La Ventana Mesa for the next seven miles.

Moonshine passed me on the mesa. I hadn't seen her since Pie Town. She was trying to catch up to Fire Hazard.

For much of the way, the trail followed the mesa's rim. Below was a broad valley formed by Rio Puerco, with the Jemez Mountains on the other side.

I walked across the mesa in the middle of the afternoon. By this time, the temperature had warmed to the mid-70s.

When the trail finally turned away from the mesa's rim, it entered another section of sandstone features. There were no hoodoos here, but there was a 25-foot tall bluff. For some reason, the trail builders felt a need to scale straight up this wall.

After walking all day in the hot sun, I was in no mood for this nonsense. I could feel myself losing energy with each step.

While crossing the trail's high point of the day, I received a text message from Just Awesome. It was another trail report of conditions ahead. He told me he had just walked across eight miles of snow with a lot of post-holing.

I tried to not think too much about this information. There was no need to borrow trouble now. A lot of that snow can melt in a week.

The sun was about to sink below the horizon when I reached the end of the ridge. From there, the trail took a gradual slope one mile down to Jones Canyon. I was hoping to get to the spring at the bottom before darkness made it difficult to find.

Sunset was at 8:06 p.m. and I found the spring about ten minutes before that. Zigzag and Moonshine were there. She still hadn't caught up to Fire Hazard but was hoping to do that tonight.

I collected four liters of water because I knew there wouldn't be any reliable sources tomorrow on the 15-mile walk into Cuba.

Zigzag and I had to hunt in the fading light to find a suitable campsite. We found a spot about a tenth of a mile from the spring, which was in some trees and up on a ledge away from the trail.

As we were finishing our dinner, our friend Beer Goddess arrived. This was the first time we had seen her since Day 17.

Hoodoo voodoo, seven twenty-one two
Haystacka hostacka, A B C
High poker, low joker, ninety-nine a zero
Sidewalk, streetcar, dance a goofy dance

From "Hoodoo Voodoo" by Billy Bragg, Bobby Egan, Corey Harris, Jay Bennett, Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt, Ken Coomer, and Woody Guthrie (Wilco)

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