CDT 2021: Day 35, Chama River Canyon Wilderness to Ghost Ranch and Española

Ridin' the storm out

A storm builds and approaches

Our resupply plans are now set, though I'm wondering if I sweated the decision-making more than necessary. I usually remain confident things will work out, but didn't this time.

Perhaps the nagging worry about the snow in Colorado was a distraction. That's something I will have to work through by taking each day as it comes.

"The trail provides" is an old trail adage, and I need to remember that. It has never let me down in the past.

DateTuesday, May 18, 2021
WeatherBecoming cloudy with a short rain shower and longer thunderstorm; temperatures from the low 40s to mid-50s
Trail ConditionsEasy trail, then gravel and asphalt roads
Today's Miles15.5
Trip Miles543.4

Zigzag and I were hiking today to the entrance of Ghost Ranch, which required leaving the CDT to follow the Ghost Ranch Alternate. Our bus to Española was scheduled to pick us up at 4:30 p.m., and we had plenty of time to get there. After staying in town overnight, we will resupply tomorrow, then return by bus in the afternoon.

This was a light schedule that solved our need to resupply. There was just one little problem we didn't count on. We didn't expect to be hit by a massive thunderstorm.

The trail crosses a small stream

As Zigzag and I were packing and preparing to leave, the Bennett family greeted us as they descended into the small canyon where we had camped. They had camped a short distance behind us last night, though I'm unsure how I passed them yesterday without seeing them.

Wildflower told us they were still unsure of their plans for today, other than they hoped to go to Santa Fe and spend a zero day there.

Zigzag left while I stayed to filter water, which still took longer than it should because of my clogged filter.

The Continental Divide Trail

The trail followed several short ups and downs and crossed many streams. Most were dry. The first four miles from our campsite were a gradual descent of about 700 feet.

Sandstone bluffs stand ahead

I walked a little more than a mile before the trail left the woods and entered a flat desert floor filled with sagebrush. It was surrounded by hills and sandstone bluffs.

A large cloud builds in the distance

After walking for less than an hour, I noticed the sky was changing. It had been mostly clear, and now I saw a large cloud rising and growing on the other side of a bluff. This didn't look like an imminent storm, but I took it as a sign of what was to come.

Texas skeleton plant

Dotted among the sagebrush were a few blooms of Texas skeleton plant. There weren't many here, but they were showy against the pale green of sagebrush.

The trail goes straight across the desert

The trail went mostly straight across the desert. I came upon the Bennetts again as I approached the end of that stretch of trail. They were taking a break near a bridge that crossed the Rio Chama.

I wished them luck in getting to Santa Fe and then continued across the bridge.

The Rio Chama

The river was flowing well. Its headwaters are in the southern San Juan Mountains of Colorado, and it runs about 120 miles before reaching the Rio Grande near Española.

The river is dam-controlled, with timed releases for recreational rafting trips. Just as I crossed the bridge, a van towing a trailer with a raft pulled up. Several eager people milled around while their river guide and driver unlashed the raft from the trailer.

I chatted briefly with the guide and driver. One said he was envious of my hike, while the other seemed unaware of the CDT and was surprised when I said I was walking to Canada.

The Ghost Ranch Alternate split from the CDT

A trail marker for the CDT stood a short distance beyond the bridge. I headed that way until I caught myself just as I was about to step on the trail. This was where I needed to turn and follow the Ghost Ranch Alternate, and I had almost forgotten that.

A gravel road follows the Rio Chama

The alternate route took a gravel road that went along the river.

After I had walked about a mile down the road, a thought suddenly hit me. I realized I should have mentioned to the raft company's shuttle driver that the Bennetts could use a ride.

It was too late for me to turn back, so I continued down the road, mentally kicking myself for not thinking of the Bennetts earlier. That regret only lasted a few minutes, though, when I saw the rafting company van. The Bennetts were inside and waved to me as they went by.

A storm rises in the distance

Clouds had been building and becoming darker all morning. The temperature gradually dropped. By noon, I could see rain falling on a distant ridge.

Before long, a few raindrops fell on me. I stopped to put on my rain jacket, but the rain didn't last long.

A pickup truck hauling a flatbed trailer stopped next to me, and the driver asked if I wanted a ride. I declined but thanked him. A few minutes later, I saw he stopped again up the road to ask Zigzag the same thing.

When I caught up to Zigzag, he told me the man who stopped us worked at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine monastic abbey a short distance from here.

Rain falls on U.S. Highway 84

Zigzag and I walked together for the rest of the way to U.S. Highway 84. After going 8.7 miles from the bridge, we turned to follow the highway to the entrance of Ghost Ranch. The Guthook app showed the alternate route took a more direct path from the highway to Ghost Ranch. We needed to stay on the highway to reach the bus stop.

The wind picked up as we walked down the road, and we could see more rain in the distance. This time, it wasn't falling from clouds behind us. It appeared to be falling everywhere around us. From the look of the sky, there was no question we would get wet. The only questions were when and how wet.

The entrance of Ghost Ranch with a storm approaching

We arrived at the Ghost Ranch entrance at 1:30 p.m., three hours early for the bus pickup. We immediately started to scout around for some protection from the approaching storm. The only building here was a small shed at the gate. It was locked and there was no awning.

A sheet of falling rain was moving closer, and we knew we had no time to continue our search for a covered spot. We decided to hunker down next to the building.

We could have used the umbrellas we sent home in Cuba right about now, but we hit upon another idea to cover ourselves from the advancing rain. We pulled out the groundsheets for our tents and wrapped ourselves in them. There was no time to set up the tents before the rain came.

Rain began to fall while we were trying to eat a quick lunch. It was light for only a couple of minutes before becoming a full-throated thunderstorm.

Zigzag and Gravity ride out the storm

A cold, gusty wind blew as rain pelted us. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled around us. The groundsheets provided the extra protection we hoped for, but we had to hold tightly to them so they wouldn't blow away.

The rain continued to pound us for more than two hours before finally letting up. It dwindled to a sprinkle about the time we needed to pack and walk to the bus stop on the road.

Boarding the bus to Española

The bus arrived on time. Climbing on board, where it was warm and dry, was the best moment of the day.

Two other hikers were already seated when we climbed in. Their names were Tim and All You Can Eat, and they were riding from Chama to Española. They planned to transfer to another bus and go to Santa Fe, then go home to wait for the snow in Colorado to melt. They said the snow north of Chama made the trail impassable.

I had already considered and discarded that idea of going home. Now I wondered if I should rethink it. The snow was not melting as fast as we had hoped and we were now less than 100 miles from Chama.

Riding the bus to Española

The trip to Española took about an hour. When the bus pulled into the transit center, the Bennetts were there. They were waiting for a bus to Santa Fe.

We learned the raft shuttle driver could only take them to the river take-out, where he would be picking up the rafters. The man from the monastery happened by soon after he stopped to talk to Zigzag and me, and he brought them to Española.

Zigzag and I could have taken another bus to our motel, but we chose to walk. The time to get there was about the same.

We were tired and still wet when we checked in, and were in no mood to hunt down a restaurant. We decided to just go next door to order burgers at Sonic, then bring them back to eat in our room.

I made only a token effort to clean up and set out my gear to dry. We'll have all day tomorrow to take care of laundry and shopping. Our bus back to Ghost Ranch won't leave until nearly 6 p.m.

I wondered, though, did we make the right choice after sweating that decision? Maybe we approached it all wrong. After all, the Bennetts allowed the trail to provide, and now they were sitting by a pool in Santa Fe.

Ridin' the storm out
Waitin' for the thaw out
On a full moon night in the Rocky Mountain winter
My wine bottle's low, watching for the snow
I've been thinking lately of what I'm missing in the city
And I'm not missing a thing
Watchin' the full moon crossing the range
Ridin' the storm out
Ridin' the storm out


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