CDT 2021: Day 4, Coyote Hills to Rockhouse Canyon

One of these days I'm bound to wake up dead

I heard coyotes howling this morning as I woke up. They yelped and hollered from a distant ridge.

Hearing coyotes in the desert isn't unusual. They are, though, another reminder of the harsh and sometimes brutal environment where I'm walking and sleeping.

DateFriday, April 16, 2021
WeatherMostly cloudy and cooler; a high temperature in the low-70s
Trail ConditionsMostly flat, with a couple of short climbs; some sections of lava rocks
Today's Miles20.4
Trip Miles70.8

Admittedly, I didn't need another reminder. Examples can be seen all the time on the trail. Scattered piles of bones are common. Needles and thorns want to tear at my flesh or stab me.

I haven't seen any rattlesnakes or mountain lions yet, but I know plenty of threatening creatures live in this desert. I'm not afraid of them, but I also try to remain alert and aware of their existence.

Even the water I drink can be hazardous. It won't kill me, but if I'm not selective of where I collect it and don't carefully filter it, I could get sick and be forced to leave the trail.

If I thought about it too much, I would begin to wonder if the desert was out to kill me.

Top O' left our campsite first. I left camp five minutes after Zigzag.

Several soaptree yucca plants stood tall along the trail. Some were at least 10 feet tall, though they've been reported to grow twice that tall. Their name comes from the soapy substance found in their roots and trunks, which can be used as a soap substitute.

The trail followed a very rugged road. It wouldn't be possible to drive on this unless you had a 4x4 vehicle with high clearance.

After walking for about a mile, I saw Thirteen and Sunshine. They found a spot last night that looked more protected from the wind than the campsite we had.

The weather wasn't quite as breezy this morning as it was yesterday. The sky was about as overcast.

The CDT didn't always go the way it was headed today. Starting at a spot just south of where Zigzag, Top O', and I camped last night, the trail used to continue in a straight-north direction to an exit on Interstate 10 at Separ. A gas station/convenience store is the only business there.

Thankfully, the trail now angles toward Lordsburg, which is 20 miles to the west of Separ. We will be able to take advantage of a motel, restaurants, and a grocery store there when we arrive tomorrow.

When the trail left the rough gravel road, it didn't become any smoother. It crossed several dry ditches that were so deep and wide I had to leap across them.

Just as it had done at one time or other in our first three days, the trail suddenly disappeared or was just barely visible. I had to scan ahead to find a trail sign and then make my own route there.

The top of a modest climb gave the widest, farthest view from the trail so far. From there, I noticed one particular mountain. It stood out on the horizon because it looked like a pyramid. I didn't realize that the name of this mountain was Pyramid Peak. In fact, it was part of a range called the Pyramid Mountains.

The mountain stood at 6,008 feet above sea level and about 18 miles away. At the time, I also didn't know the trail would take me to that mountain. By the end of the day, I would be camping near it.

For now, a wide and flat expanse of desert stood between me and the mountain.

Actually, a hare also stood between me and the mountain. At least this time, I didn't think this was a creature trying to kill me. It paused for a moment as I walked near, then scampered away.

A little farther down the trail, I stopped to take a photo of a bright clump of southwestern mock vervain flowers. Thirteen caught up to me while I was taking the photo and correctly observed, “It looks like the only thing around here that doesn’t want to hurt you.”

There were also more creosote bushes in this section of the trail, and these had bright yellow flowers.

Researchers say the creosote bush is one of the oldest living plants in the world and might be the oldest living organism. A clonal colony of creosote in California is thought to be thousands of years old.

I felt strong today, perhaps due in part to the weather. The overcast sky kept the temperature very moderate.

When I came upon a barbed-wire fence, I was unsure how to cross it by myself. I didn't have someone with me who could hold down or pull up the wires to make it easier to pass over or under them.

This barbed wire could easily have been on the list of predators in the desert, but then I discovered a way through the fence that wouldn't snag my skin, clothes, or pack. A gap between wires had been created at one of the fenceposts, which was wide enough for me to crawl through.

A short distance before reaching a road where the next water cache stood, the trail went over what was obviously an abandoned railroad grade. The tracks were no longer there, but black cinders remained. The elevated railbed was part of the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad.

Trains hauled freight and passengers between Hachita and Lordsburg. The last train to pass this way was in 1961. The rails were pulled up two years later.

Part of State Route 9, which Zigzag and I walked along yesterday, was built on top of this same railroad line several years after the tracks were pulled up.

Top O' and Zigzag were at the water cache when I arrived there. It was well-stocked. We refilled our water bottles with enough to get us to the next cow tank, which was about 4.5 miles away.

Baguette arrived soon afterward. She told us a border patrol helicopter circled where she was camped in the ditch last night. Other than shining a bright spotlight on her, the officers didn't bother her, though. They know about the trail. They probably also presume that someone illegally crossing the border isn't stopping overnight in a $400 tent.

I was glad to have Zigzag with me when we left the water cache. We had to cross another fence, and this time we could help each other get through it.

The next section of the trail was flatter and more barren than before. It was bleak and included another pile of bleached bones from a long-deceased cow.

A couple of cow tanks were clustered together in the middle of this desolate stretch. They were surrounded by a fence, mud, and cow-droppings. It wasn't a pleasant spot, so we stayed only long enough to top off a water bottle.

The trail continued over a lot of nothing. I tried one more time to use my sun umbrella but didn't have any better luck than before. Zigzag seemed to use his without trouble. The wind pushed mine around. It sometimes knocked me in my head and became too much trouble. I soon tired of wrestling with it and stashed it away again.

The trail continued from time to time to put on a disappearing act. At one point, I couldn't see any signs or other clues of where the trail might be until I saw Sunshine walking far ahead of me. I decided to just walk in that direction and assume he knew where he was going.

It seemed that he did because I eventually arrived at a tree where several hikers had stopped. It was big enough to provide some shelter for all of us against the sun and wind.

Zigzag and I took an extended break there with Top O', Doggone, Sunshine, Thirteen, and Baguette. I cooked my dinner for lunch again because I knew we didn't have a place to camp near water for tonight.

We were soon joined by a hiker named Breakpoint. He started from Crazy Cook the day after the rest of us, so he was walking at a much faster pace.

After leaving our sheltered spot, the trail continued through more flat and barren terrain. I had to pull out my smartphone and check the Guthook app several times to get back on track.

At other times, the trail was clearly marked and there was an obvious footpath. There didn't seem to be any reason for why the trail appeared and disappeared.

Pyramid Peak was becoming a more constant presence in the view ahead. I became certain that's where the trail was heading.

While walking across this wide-open space, I noticed the clouds were growing darker and dropping lower. They surrounded me, and I thought for sure I would soon feel raindrops.

That never happened, though, and I never saw any signs of rain on the ground. Although the clouds looked like they were dropping rain, the precipitation must have evaporated before it hit the ground because the air was so dry.

After taking another short break with Baguette, Sunshine, and Thirteen, Zigzag and I continued on to the last cow tank stop of the day. Colleen and Crocs were just leaving when we arrived.

While topping off my water bottles, I noticed that in the far distance I could see Interstate 10. Discovering I could get cell service from a tower at the highway, I sent a text message to Kim to let her know I was still alive.

I then sent one to my friend Mark, who lived in Albuquerque. He had offered to drive over to meet me some time on the trail, and I wanted to let him know my schedule for the next several days.

The time was now past 6 p.m., but instead of stopping for the night, Zigzag and I decided to walk a little farther. This would shorten tomorrow’s hike into Lordsburg and give us more time in town.

There was again some difficulty finding our way, however. The trail went over a hill of volcanic boulders, and it wasn't until a sign appeared on the other side that we knew for sure we were going in the right direction.

We found Thirteen and Sunshine camped in a wash near the start of Rockhouse Canyon and decided to join them there.

I felt a little tired, but not nearly as much as the night before last.

I was glad I had a little more energy when I wandered up out of the wash and saw Pyramid Peak awash in rays of the setting sun. The mountain's top glowed like a hot iron just pulled from a blacksmith's forge.

This had been the second 20-mile day in our four days of walking. Before we started, Zigzag and I told ourselves we would take our time and there was no rush, but the mileage just accumulated too easily.

I hope that means I'm handling the miles well and won't have a reason later to regret walking at this pace. At least the desert hasn't been successful yet at trying to kill me.

One of these days I'm bound to wake up dead
No one gets out alive, I've heard it said
I'll reach to the sky and find a hole in the middle
Or look straight down and see Hell's hot griddle
Leapin' the moon with a hey, diddle, diddle

From "Just Passin' Through" by John Perry Barlow and Bill Nershi (String Cheese Incident)

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