CDT 2021: Day 31, Jones Canyon to Cuba

Let's go, let's go, let's go downtown

Western wallflower

If you're used to sleeping in a comfortable bed every night and having access to hot and cold running water whenever you wish, going without those conveniences may seem like a hardship. For a thru-hiker, going without them is a routine part of the journey.

Zigzag and I left Grants five days ago. That was the last time we had a hot shower and didn't sleep in a tent. We would be able to get normal, modern conveniences like showers and beds again today when we walked into the town of Cuba.

DateFriday, May 14, 2021
WeatherClear sky, with temperatures from low-40s to mid-70s
Trail ConditionsA rugged and sometimes steep climb, then an easy descent to dirt and asphalt roads
Today's Miles15.7
Trip Miles487.9

Five days isn't an especially long interval between town stops. Yet spending five days in the desert can make anyone appreciate a chance to leave the trail.

As we were eating breakfast this morning, I noticed Beer Goddess was about to leave.

“Look at Beer Goddess, already packed up and ready to go!” I said.

She left no doubt what was on her mind by shouting, “I want to go to town!”

Leaving Jones Canyon

Zigzag also got a head start. I didn't leave camp until about 7:45 a.m., but that didn't bother me because I had plenty of time to get to Cuba. It was only about fifteen miles away. Besides, we planned to take a zero day tomorrow.

A zero day wasn't necessary because we just took one during our last town stop. Still, we've tried to put the brakes on our hiking speed and haven't been successful at that so far.

The trail through the San Juan Mountains in Colorado is still clogged with snow. We thought we could hike slowly enough through New Mexico to give it time to melt. That hasn't worked out as planned.

Water sources have been spaced too far apart. If we walked more slowly, we would have to carry more water and food, and that would add more weight to our packs. Neither one of us has wanted to do that.

A view of Mesa Portales

The first three miles of the trail this morning were flat and easy, and took me to the base of Mesa Portales. The wall of this broad mesa loomed large as I walked toward it.

Climbing the mesa

After reaching the wall, I began a steep and rocky climb up the side of the mesa, going up 325 feet in half of a mile.

Rolling terrain on the climb up the mesa

The trail next took back some of that climb. I followed the trail as it gradually went down and then back up over undulating terrain.

Loose soil on the footpath

Where the trail crossed a steep slope, the soil on the footpath was loose and unstable. Walking here required extra care so my feet wouldn't slide off the trail and take me down the slope.

A view from the rim of Mesa Portales

A final steep climb took me to the top of the mesa. When I stopped there to catch my breath, Lone Wolf and No Keys caught up to me. Zigzag, Beer Goddess, and I didn't know it, but they camped last night near where we camped.

The trail followed the mesa's rim for three miles. A few spots along the way offered views similar to what I saw yesterday from La Ventana Mesa. Rio Puerco and the Jemez Mountains could be seen again on my right.

A view of a volcanic plug

A highway also ran through the valley and along the river. Seeing this, I guessed there would be good cell service available. That turned out to be true, so I called the Frontier Motel in Cuba to see if any rooms were available.

I had to leave a message, but the motel manager called me back a few minutes later and took my reservation for two nights. She said we got the last room.

The trail started a gradual descent and turned away from the mesa rim. I stopped part of the way down when I saw No Keys and Lone Wolf again. They were sitting under some shade trees eating lunch. Zigzag had just left, they said.

While we were eating lunch, a hiker named Storm Dasher stopped to join us. Later, after they left and I was about to leave, I was passed by a hiker named Abandoner.

Cheshire Cat arrives

Where the trail left the wooded area, it turned to follow a two-track dirt road. While walking down the road, I noticed in the distance a car was driving toward me. It didn't take me long to recognize this was Cheshire Cat's car.

When he pulled up next to me, he offered me some fruit. I picked an orange to eat as I continued my walk toward town.

I've lost count of how many times I've come across this generous trail angel on the trail.

New Mexico Highway 197

The dirt road went for less than two miles before it arrived at New Mexico Highway 197. I then had to follow the asphalt road for about four more miles into town. There wasn't much of a shoulder to walk on, but there also wasn't much traffic.

Zigzag called me before I got to town and said he would wait for me at McDonald's.

Entering Cuba, New Mexico

He called again later as I was entering Cuba to say he found a barbecue restaurant that looked more appealing than McDonald's. The restaurant was within sight when he called, so I didn't have far to walk to meet up with him.

After I finished my second lunch, a brisket sandwich, we walked to our motel. Cuba was stretched out along the highway that runs through the middle of town. Our motel was on the far north end of that stretch.

The motel didn't have laundry facilities, but a laundromat was located in town. We decided to wait until tomorrow to wash our clothes when we did our grocery shopping.

Zigzag and I ate dinner next door at a mom-and-pop restaurant. The evening ended with some time to relax while talking to Lone Wolf, Beer Goddess, No Keys, Abandoner, and Storm Dasher. They were also staying at the motel.

Several hikers were in Cuba tonight. Many of them were staying at other motels on the opposite end of town or at a campground.

I think we're all trying to slow down. No one wants to arrive in Colorado too soon and have to deal with the snow. I try not to dwell on the uncertainty of what's ahead, but we probably all are.

Walk on, talk on, baby tell no lies
Don't you be caught with a tear in your eye
Sure enough, they'll be sellin' stuff
When the moon begins to rise
Pretty bad when you're dealin' with the man
And the light shines in your eyes, yeah

Come on, baby, let's go downtown
Let's go, let's go, let's go downtown
Come on, baby, let's go downtown
Let's go, let's go, let's go downtown


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.