CDT 6: I Am an Ant Descending the Head of a Rhino to a Magical Land

Grants, NM to Cuba, NM.
Thru-hiking with an Artist…

My imagination runs wild sometimes. About a day and a half of walking after climbing Mt Taylor (a CDT alternate and the Cibola county highpoint) as we descended the plateau/mesa I noticed a giant basalt rock mass that made the cliff side look like a rhinoceros’s head. And that’s when my imagination ran with the image that we had spent the last two days climbing up and over a rhinoceros to a magical land on the other side.

Leaving Grants we endured the unpleasant walk up the rhinos backside. We headed out of town on a paved highway passed the women’s prison where a sign reads “please don’t pick up hitchhikers in this area”, passed the old landfill, now the local roadside shooting range, and six long paved miles later we reached Lobo Canyon and the CDT trailhead. Reaching what I think was called Gooseberry Mesa we climbed onto the rhino’s back for a pleasant walk with views of where we had hiked before Grants and of Mt Taylor ahead of us. Moving onto the shoulder of the rhino we began our ascent of Mt Taylor, our 5th New Mexico county highpoint. From the summit of Mt Taylor we got our first glimpse of the magical land that we would descend into in the next couple of days. We began our descent down the north side of Taylor trudging through the snow and up to the lookout on a nearby peak. We finally made it to the big plateau/mesa on the other side.

This high plateau was full of other recreational travelers, many of whom upon meeting asked if we were hiking the Divide. After a long day of hiking between water sources we were finally approaching the last few steps to the cutoff for Indio Canyon Springs when gunfire came into earshot. Sounding very close to the trail I promptly shouted “hey, there are other people here”. With a few more shots fired I gave another holler of “Yoh!, hEllo!”. As we got closer I could smell a campfire and hear loud music. When we got to the cutoff for the spring there were two guys standing there staring at us like we had just landed from outer space. They had a look of shock, or perhaps guilt, on their faces. They were parked just a few feet from the CDT and in the middle of the trail to the spring with a roaring fire, beers in hand, and guns resting on the tailgate of one of the vehicles. We asked about the spring, still with a look of dazed shock on their faces, they very politely directed us down the trail and described the location of the spring. Walking away I felt a little guilty for hollering in what might have come off in a rude manner, though I wasn’t about to walk into a weekend shooting range with the smell of campfire, loud music, and I could only imagine drinking, silently without announcing my presence in a clear and direct manner.

We made it to the spring. Thirsty, we guzzled the first liter like a dry sponge. When we returned back to the CDT the two guys were gone. I still felt a little guilty, but was happy to not walk into more gunfire.

Continuing down the long muzzle of the rhino we came to the edge of the plateau with grand views of the magical land that awaited us below.

I felt small in this grand landscape. The valley below was outlined with red cliffs like those you find in Canyon Lands, peaks that were shaped like those you find in Monument Valley, and funny eroded rock spires like the ones in Goblin Valley State Park. I spent two days crossing this amazing landscape. I felt so small here as if I were an ant crossing the great divide.

Near the end of our first day crossing this magical land we finally reached our water source, called “flowing well”. We saw an old tire sitting on a column of dry earth just northwest of the trail. When we approached the tire we found it dry. My heart sank a little. We walked over to a big metal trough nearby hoping to find water there. Looking into the metal trough my reaction was, “well, we’re not going to die, and a little quieter, or at least I don’t think we will”. What we found was about an inch and a half of water atop a silty clay bottom with what looked like red stringy algae in it and shards of animal bones. The next water was over twenty miles further down the trail so this was our water for the night and most of the next day. It wasn’t deep enough to sink our bottles into so we had to dip our cups into it to fill our bottles. At this point I could see that there was also a lot of animal hair in the water. We had sent our filters away in Pie Town and though our steripens would kill the bad guys in the water I was really wishing I had kept my filter. Neon promptly used his shirt to pre-filter his water. That was a grand idea as drinking animal hair was a big turnoff. I quickly took off my tank-top and copied him. Four liters later, drinking one immediately, we walked away in silence happy to have the water.

I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of footsteps. I wondered briefly if the rhino was watching over us. The next day we could see what looked like a fire on the rhino’s muzzle, the big plateau. Perhaps he was angry with us for leaving and sending smoke signals for our return?

We had the most amazing sunset our last night before arriving in Cuba. It too made me feel small, but at the same time as big as the sky. It is tough to describe what thru-hiking is like… It makes me feel a bit like one of the old-school dot-to-dot coloring book pictures, connected to everything. My imagination runs wild. I am the wind, the birds, the trees, I am the sunset, and patter of rain that sings me to sleep. I am comfortable lying down on a bed of rocks for a glorious nap in the sun. I am the ant that traverses the rhinos back, to find a magical land on the other side. I am an animal at ease with its environment.

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