In John Ford's classic western film Stagecoach, a group of strangers makes a hazardous ride in 1880 across the desert of Arizona and New Mexico. Along the way, they pick up The Ringo Kid, who had just broken out of jail to seek vengeance for the murders of his father and brother. This was John Wayne's breakthrough role as a movie star.
The other passengers were a drunken doctor, a prostitute, a gambler, a crooked banker, a liquor salesman, and a pregnant woman on the way to meet her husband. The stagecoach's destination was Lordsburg, which was a dusty but lively town. The passengers were traveling at great risk through Apache Indian country. Each one placed their hopes for a better life on reaching Lordsburg.
|Date||Sunday, April 18, 2021|
|Weather||Partly cloudy with winds up to 25 mph; temperatures from low 40s to around 70|
|Trail Conditions||Flat to gradual climb, then climbing more steeply|
It is a far stretch to use this story as a metaphor for thru-hikers walking to Lordsburg, though it's tempting. If I were to do that, though, I wouldn't dare go so far as to suggest which of the film's characters was Zigzag, Thirteen, Baguette, Top O', Doggone, or Sunshine.
I only bring up the movie because, even though the story is a yarn, it shows Lordsburg's place in the history of the Old West. Its importance as a center for shipping, mining, and ranching dates back to the time set by the movie. For the next century, Lordsburg thrived as a stopping place for travelers. After automobiles replaced stagecoaches, the town was about one day's drive from Southern California.
Seeing Lordsburg today is a depressing experience if you know what it once was. Highway traffic speeds by on Interstate 10 without a reason to stop. Empty storefronts out-number operating businesses, including those near the interstate. The end of mining, recessions, and COVID-19 restrictions have inflicted deep scars on the community.
As Zigzag and I walked through town this morning, we saw how much it has suffered. I didn't want to take photos because the views were too sad. It was hard to see how Lordsburg could come back.
To leave town, the trail took us to Motel Drive. Until the interstate was constructed south of town in 1989, this was U.S. Highway 80 and was boastfully called the "Broadway of America Highway." Dozens of motels, diners, and gas stations lined this road during Lordsburg's heyday.
Then we followed the trail under the train tracks that brought us to this town six days ago.
North of the city limits, the terrain was just like what we saw yesterday while entering the town from the south. It was flat, flat, flat. There were grasses and an occasional small shrub but rarely a tree.
Although we started by walking on the correct side of the road, past the city limits we decided to switch to the other side. We noticed several dogs were just ahead and they were running loose.
This was a false alarm, however. The dogs barely paid attention to us and never crossed to our side of the road.
The road out of town was U.S. Highway 70. We followed it due north for two miles before turning at State Route 90. The trail was supposed to leave the road a short distance beyond this intersection, but we had difficulty finding where it was.
We expected to see some kind of sign and ended up walking past the spot. Wondering maybe we just failed to see it, we turned around and looked up and down the highway. We also checked our navigation app.
There was no signage. There wasn't a gate on the fence next to the road. Until we discovered some small strips of blue tape on the fence, we didn't know we had to crawl under it.
After getting over the shock of how poorly the trail was marked, we crawled under the fence and continued.
More accurately, we attempted to continue on the trail. There wasn't really a trail at all. There were no trail blazes, signs, or a footpath beyond the fence. The flat and wide-open space was nothing but dried mud.
The only way to find our way across the field was to keep our phones out and follow where the Guthook app said the trail went.
The trail – a term I use lightly here – continued this way for more than three miles before a footpath could be consistently seen and followed.
Although there was hardly any vegetation along the way, I somehow found a thorn. It penetrated the sole of my shoe and stuck into the bottom of my foot. In case you were unsure, yes, this was very painful.
The thorn penetrated my skin, but not so deep that it drew much blood. I quickly pulled off my shoe and sock, and was surprised to find the puncture wound didn't look bad.
After I put my shoe and sock back on, I tried walking on it. Again, not bad. There was some initial pain, but it soon faded as I began walking again.
Zigzag noticed a tree ahead, so we walked there to sit in its sparse shade. Actually, it would have been hard for us to miss the tree. I guessed it was the only one within a five-mile radius.
The tree was so out of place and noteworthy in this barren land that it should have had its own waypoint marked in Guthook.
We took a short break under the tree, then headed to the next identifiable landmark. This was a power line, and it was marked in Guthook. This allowed us to walk without needing to look at our phones the whole way.
The wind whistled across the wires as we walked past the power line.
The next landmark listed in the app was a fence with a stile to cross. We found the fence first, then had to look up and down before finding the stile. We had overshot it by a couple hundred yards.
When we came to an embankment, we stopped for lunch because it provided some protection from the wind. Soon after we left that, we finally began to see the trail marked with signs.
This was where we met the only hikers we saw until the end of the day. Their names were Marco Polo, who was from El Salvador, and Tinkertoy, who was from Utah. The couple completed the PCT in 2017 and the AT in 2019.
There was a reason Marco Polo and Tinkertoy were the only hikers we saw until much later. Nearly all of those who arrived in Lordsburg with us yesterday were taking a zero day today. Sunshine planned to hike today, but he didn't leave town until after lunch.
Zigzag and I agreed we didn't need a zero day today. We would wait to take one when we got to Silver City, where there were more restaurants and other businesses.
After more than five days of walking on mostly flat ground, we finally began to gain more than just a few feet of elevation here and there. The trail began a steady climb.
We were beginning an ascent through Engineer Canyon. As the trail went higher, it also climbed more steeply. This was by far the highest elevation gain since leaving Crazy Cook. From where we left the highway, the trail went up 1,500 feet.
Zigzag and I figured our destination for today was likely to be a windmill and water tank in the canyon. When we got there at 4:45 p.m., we agreed this was a suitable place to stop for the night.
The water in the tank next to the windmill was green with algae but otherwise was reasonably clear. There was a float to control a pump, and by holding that while placing my water bag at the spigot, I could collect much clearer water.
Of course, I filtered this water. There was a fence that kept cattle to one side of the water tank, but they still had access to it. The pumped water couldn't be trusted to be free of giardia or other infectious parasites.
A hiker named Tim arrived while I was collecting water, but he didn't stay long. He said this was his first thru-hike attempt.
Zigzag and I set up our tents under a clump of trees that was a good distance from the windmill and water tank.
Sunshine arrived shortly after 6 p.m. and decided he wasn't ready to stop for the night. He filtered some water, then continued up the trail.
Marco Polo and Tinkertoy arrived around the same time. They chose to stay here and camped on the other side of some trees. One more hiker arrived much later, but I didn't get a chance to see who it was.
I explored the area before preparing dinner and didn't crawl into my tent until 7:30 p.m. Though my tent was at least 75 yards away from the windmill, I could still hear it creak in the wind through the night.
Wake me when the day breaks
Show me how the sun shines
Tell me about your heartaches
Who could be so unkind
Do you dream to touch me
And smile down deep inside?
Or could you just kill me? Hey
It's hard to make up your mind sometimes
My angels, my devils
From "Thorn In My Pride" by Chris Robinson and Rich Robinson (The Black Crowes)
My thorn in my pride
My angels, my devils
My thorn in my pride