CDT 2021: Day 7, Engineers Windmill to Burro Peak Trailhead

Tequila won't get you across that desert

The Forest Service announced in March that a prescribed burn was planned for an area near Burro Mountain. This would close a section of the CDT and require hikers to take a different route.

Unfortunately for us, the exact date for the closure was a little fuzzy. It depended on the weather. Though originally scheduled for last month, conditions had been too windy to attempt the burn.

I followed this situation while we were in Lordsburg. Some hikers said on social media they had contacted the Forest Service and got different, sometimes conflicting information. It was unclear when the burn would happen.

DateMonday, April 19, 2021
WeatherPartly cloudy and breezy, temperatures between low-40s and upper-60s
Trail ConditionsA dirt road section, then real trail with markers
Today's Miles15.7
Trip Miles111.3

Zigzag and I didn't want to deal with this uncertainty, so we made a decision to take an alternate route. We called it the "Facebook Alternate" because it was one suggested by several people on a CDT hiker Facebook group page. The route took a long road walk into Silver City, and I dreaded this. Still, it would get us to Silver City a day earlier, and I looked forward to that because we planned to take our first zero day there.

We set our sights for today on an RV park that was on the highway into town.

The squeaky, creaky windmill that stood a short distance from my tent wasn't exactly a lullaby to put me to sleep. At least it wasn't loud enough to keep me awake all night.

I didn't have trouble sleeping, but we were slower than usual to get started. We didn't leave camp until shortly before 8 a.m.

The trail continued this morning the same way it finished yesterday, up a sandy road through Engineer Canyon. Reaching the end of the canyon, it then turned to go around Gold Hill.

We were entering an old mining area, though today there were only a few indications of that. A mining camp once stood a short distance off the trail, but all that remains there now is a cemetery.

The trail continued its gradual climb after leaving the canyon. At about 6,200 feet, it opened to a wider, flatter terrain. At one side was an opening between surrounding hills, and I could look back toward Lordsburg. Beyond the plains and on the horizon stood the Chiricahua Mountains, which were about 50 miles away in Arizona.

I passed on this climb the number 100 written with small rocks, but I didn't bother to take a photo of it. It was supposed to mark where we had reached 100 miles since leaving Crazy Cook. The Guthook app showed this wasn't the correct spot. Besides, the mileage Zigzag and I hiked was slightly different because of the two short alternates we took.

The climbing continued another 500 feet in the next 2.2 miles. Along the way, we passed some ruins of mining operations. The first of these was a rusted metal building. It was too weathered to tell how it was originally used, but it didn't appear to be a cabin.

Concrete foundations of a large mill to process ore from the mine stood about a half-mile farther up the trail. This was the site of the Coop Mine. It began producing silver in 1920, and mining continued here to around 1930. Lead was also mined here, which is common for a silver mine.

Quartz rocks were scattered along the trail, and this wasn't surprising. The bright white rock is often the host rock for gold and silver deposits. When prospectors are searching for precious metal ore, they will often look first for quartz.

The climb continued for another half-mile. The ascent topped out at 6,645 feet.

Another distant view appeared as the trail rounded the top of the climb. In the middle, I saw a dark mountain about 12 miles away. This was Soldiers Farewell Hill, which is described by Robert Julyan in his book, The Place Names of New Mexico. He says the mountain's romantic name probably came from a legend. In fact, there are at least three stories about the mountain, though none are likely to be true.

The most plausible of these tells of wagon trains traveling on the southern route across the desert to California. Soldiers escorting the settlers, the story goes, were ordered to stop at the mountain. It was supposedly where the soldiers said "farewell."

On the descent from the top, more vegetation began to appear, including some wildflowers. I saw lobeleaf groundsel, which I had also seen in much greener surroundings in Washington on the PCT.

Farther down the trail were large thickets of Sonoran scrub oak.

Trail markers began to appear much more frequently and even pointed where the trail made an unexpected turn. This was notable only because of how poorly the trail was marked for much of yesterday. The trail also looked like it had been maintained regularly.

I figured this was because we were now much closer to Silver City, which was the first town to sign up for the Continental Divide Trail Coalition's gateway community program. It would be easier to recruit trail volunteers in a town like that.

Before long, we were even seeing actual trees. These stood out among the scrubby bushes that we had mostly found so far in New Mexico.

The descent wasn't steep for hikers, but some of it was too steep going up for two mountain bikers. They were pushing their bikes up the mountain when we passed each other. Later, they cheerfully said hello again as they went by me on the way back down.

The trail continued down to a parking area near State Route 90. This was along the same highway we were briefly on yesterday when we had trouble finding the trail.

Zigzag and I stopped here for lunch, but first, we searched for a couple of water jugs. When we were with Doggone and Taxilady in Lordsburg, they told us they would leave a small cache here for us. It took a little hunting, but we found the water under a tree.

There was more water than we needed, so we offered the rest to some other hikers who were also stopped for lunch. Marco Polo and Tinkertoy were there, plus two hikers I had not yet met, Joe and Season Pass.

While we ate, Zigzag and I looked at the remaining mileage to the RV park where we planned to stop. We realized we had somehow miscalculated the distance, and it was no longer reasonable for us to walk there today.

Fortunately, we quickly found a backup plan. We could easily make it to another parking area near State Road 90 called Burro Peak Trailhead. It was 7.6 miles away, and camping was allowed there.

The disappointing part of discovering our mistake was we would now have a longer distance than we thought to reach Silver City.

Zigzag left our lunch spot before I did. Most of the other hikers stayed behind, so I walked the next section by myself.

After crossing the highway, the trail made a series of short ups and downs. There were more trees, but not enough to provide much shade, and the temperature was turning warm.

A wildflower I had not seen before appeared in this section. It was the desert chicory. The light pink or purple bands on the underside of larger petals help identify this variety. It's often found growing around creosote bushes.

The trail continued to be well marked. Then, just when I thought, "I'm finally hiking on a real trail," I had another surprise.

The last climb of the day, which was a little steep, included a switchback. After hiking the PCT where I saw switchbacks every day, this one felt a little astonishing to see. It was the first true switchback I encountered so far on this trail.

I arrived at the trailhead about 15 minutes after Zigzag. Joe was just leaving and said he intended to continue to the RV park. That was still nearly seven miles away.

Zigzag and I agreed that staying at the trailhead was the right decision for us. If we had tried to continue to the RV park, we wouldn't get there until well after dark.

Besides, there was trail magic here! A sign pointed to a white van, which is where we found Solo. She had been camping here for a few days to help hikers.

Season Pass arrived a short time later. We all hung out by Solo's van and enjoyed the snacks she shared.

Then she asked if we wanted to be served hiker communion. Having never met her before, I wasn't sure what she meant. I was unfamiliar with hiker communion. Did she mean something religious?

No, the answer came when she pulled out a bottle of tequila, some small plastic cups, and some limes. This was the kind of communion I could appreciate.

I only drank one shot, though. I still hadn't set up my tent or eaten dinner. Solo said we could come back later, but by the time I finished with camp chores, the night was turning too chilly to stay outside, with or without tequila.

There's a great hot desert
Down in Mexicali
And if you don't have water
Boy, you'd better not go
Tequila won't get you
Across that desert
To Evangelina
In old Mexico

From "Evangelina" by Hoyt Axton and Kenneth Higginbotham

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