CDT Day 126: Marion Butte to Arroyo Chavez – Cold Cuba Escape Camp to Hard As Rock Camp
Miles hiked: 24.8
Total miles: 2228.7
Today we were treated to some fantastic desert walking. Perhaps New Mexico is finally ready to be its own state rather than an extension of Southern Colorado. There were mountains on the horizon and petite patches of snow cowering in the shade all day, but this is desert. Undeniable, different, and wonderful. A cold morning warmed up with the sun so that the temperature finally lived up to my lofty expectations and SpiceRack and I rode the Divide along lumpy cliffs of slickrock, cairn to cairn, pinion to pinion, spring to water cache, snack to snack. I’m hesitant to expect that hiking in just shorts and shirt will become the new norm, but I’m taking it day by day at this point. Sun on the face feels oh so good!
The stars were still out when I woke up around 5:30am. It was darn cold and I had to pee. I knew I couldn’t make it another hour, so out I went, barefoot on the cow poop sand. The weather was totally clear, that was cool, but that meant a super cold night. Classic desert. I snuggled back into my quilt, one more effort to get warm before the day could whisk me away.
Spice was off like a shot after the tent was wrapped, heavy with sparkly ice layered inside. I hiked in my fleece and puffy with my hands in my pockets, waiting for that sweet sweet sunshine to make the desert glow and warm me up. Sand gave way to rock for a short clamber up to the edge of some lumpy cliff. Cuba looked far away, at the base of the San Pedro Peaks across a crunchy landscape of pointy bushes, stunted trees, and vertical beige stone. More crunchy stuff in the distance caught the first pink rays of the sun. I started to get a good feeling about the day.
The bright light touched the tops of the trees then just about everything, but I still hiked in my layers, chilled as I was. The trail was not much of a trail on the durable slickrock, though it was easy to follow, cairn hopping around broken layers and the occasional sinkhole. Two hours flew by, lost in thought, enjoying the different kinds of things to look at. I pulled over on a cliffy edge to de-layer and lather on sunscreen. Spice showed up a few minutes later. Though we sat inches apart, there was a palpable gulf between us this morning. Digging through my heart, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but we sat in silence, munching on our munchables. She got moving with a word, leaving me confused, distracted, but unwilling to completely overlook the gifts of the day.
The ridge of cliff ran out and some nifty trail work guided us down through the layers to the flat sand below. Across this flat, we ran into some more rocky stuff, then Jones Spring, our water source and chill spot. Water trickled into a frozen trough through a pipe coming from a rock overhang. Yellow-leaved trees, some snow, and poopy sand hung out in the shaded spot. I laid out the still-frozen tent to lose a few pounds in the sun. Water filtered, snacks eaten. Spice and I cleared the air, then I cleared my bladder after shouldering my pack. Leave what’s heavy behind.
We hiked fast along the rim of the escarpment, happy to be on cruisy trail, happy to be warm, happy to be sampling happiness again. Down below we saw the unfolding of some slow drama, a pickup truck vs cow race along a dirt road. Tiny semi-trucks drifted across the desert in the distance. No contrails streaked the blue sky. Two hikers, us, headed south between, over, and along the folds of the earth.
My feet caught an ache on the hard stone and I caught a thirst in my mouth. A shady lunch break afforded temporary relief to both. Good hiking kept on going from there. Small mountains plopped along the horizon, marching closer with each return to the cliff edge. Cabazon Peak, was the big one and rose above a barren plain like a big ole nipple of stone. We found ourselves in some hills of our own as the sun dipped dangerously close to the horizon. Along more cliff, up and over a saddle, wind down to a dirt road. The sun flickered behind pinion silhouettes and the sky turned pink. Spice and I bundled up again.
The trail was hard to follow in the dark, but we made it through some treacherous terrain before climbing to an unexpected paved road. Who are these people out here in pickup trucks? It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, but sure enough, headlights floated by regularly. There was also an awesome water cache of gallon jugs chained to a juniper tree. We filled up and got moving before a chill could kill our appetite for walking, but the wind did what the cold couldn’t. Night hiking in good weather is one thing, but it’s no fun on a cold, blustery night. Optimistic that maybe, just maybe, we’ll get another day like today tomorrow, we stumbled from tree to tree, trying to poke holes in the hard ground with our tent stakes. It was a difficult pitch, but the tent is up and will maybe make it through the night if the wind doesn’t get any worse. And if it collapses? That’d be a pretty good alarm clock.