CDT Day 123: Mesa del Yeso to Cañada Gurule – Hello Desert 2.0 Camp to Pack It Out Camp
Miles hiked: 17.2
Total miles: 2155.7
The transition to desert was undeniable today. Cactus, red cliffs, sand, and sage now dominate the landscape and it is actually warm! With a sweet canyon to start the day, followed by a chill session at Ghost Ranch, I felt a tremendous physical, mental, and spiritual exhale. The weather doesn’t look perfect ahead, but it will be a challenge that we can handle. The desert is full of sharp, pointy things, but it is friendly. The desert is home.
The alarm got us moving, still under the stars on one of the warmest mornings in a while. Around freezing. The dawn revealed that SpiceRack and I had stopped just before a major transition, geologic, ecologic, and other-ologics. The ground was now sandy, and sage, juniper, and pinion pine surrounded us with stunted growth and a rich aroma.
More change was on the way too. We descended steeply down rocky ledges into a real, bona fide canyon, with banded red rock and all that cool stuff. Sunlight finally reached the rim creating blazing contrast between the bright stone and dark world below. Amazing to look at. Tough to capture in a picture. Spice squealed with delight upon spotting the first cactus. A welcome party.
We finished our descent into Box Canyon, then followed a creek along the bottom. Some noble cottonwoods still carried their fall colors, adding to the warm tones of the stone. This was an awesome spot, and even the promise of chairs and food ahead could not force me to rush this. I was so grateful for Spice calling a halt last night, enabling me to be here, now.
The canyon opened up and we were at Ghost Ranch, a tourist attraction, convention center, and anticipated resupply point for CDT hikers. We grabbed our resupply box at the welcome center, then sat with the other hikers that shuffled around, full from the breakfast buffet. I don’t think that the front desk lady thought much of our group, looking like the trash we are on the porch, but the tour guides did not hesitate in telling their groups what we were doing and asking us questions. I felt like I was an exhibit in a zoo. Sort of.
We decided to stick around for the AYCE lunch buffet. Spice and I assumed that the only thing we’d be able to eat was salad, so we were unprepared to reign in our gluttonous greed when we saw the veggie burgers. I sat down outside, dismayed by the monstrous plate of food in front of me. All the other hikers seemed like they were in the same boat. But I took my time and polished it off. I almost passed out and had to lie down immediately after. Why? Why would I do this to myself?
We digested for a couple hours in the shade of a mighty cottonwood before feeling ready to find what we would find in the desert. What we didn’t find for a while was the trail, which disappeared entirely or never existed at all. But a horse guide pointed us in the right direction and we followed blue-tipped posts across the sand and scrub. A cool suspension bridge, then a creepy abandoned nature center. We hiked two miles down a paved highway before hanging a left onto gravel at Obama Canyon Rd. Hiking through this desert made me incredibly happy. It was just hard for me to believe I was here after so many months of thinking about being here. And the landscape was undeniably different from that seen on the rest of the trail. Even the desert of the Wyoming basin was a completely different desert.
Spice and I caught up with Crunchberry and Rooster who were taking a break along the side of the road. We joined forces, and riddled our way up the wide road, walking shoulder to shoulder due to the tremendous amount of gas being released by our abused gastrointestinal systems. We stopped at a perfectly timed privy, then continued up the road, along a big muddy river, eventually hiking by headlamp.
We crossed the creek at Skull Bridge and got on good ol’ dirt trail. Some other hikers were tucked in the sagebrush to camp, but we all kept going for a short while. The camping was the same though. The four of us tucked into the bushes, Spice and I cowboyed while Crunch and Roost set up their tents like jabronis. I had some yummy quinoa vegetable soup and Spice had a veggie burger and fries for dinner that we packed out from the buffet. Great stuff, but I wished I’d brought more. How did I not pack out more? It was baffling. How easy I forget the pain and nausea of a buffet. Great day, great desert, great buffet, great company. It feels good to be full and warm.