The section of the CDT from Crazy Cook to Silver City is hot, windy and parched. It is also beautiful.
If you choose to hike north from the Mexican Border in early April; parched-dry, windblown, dusty and hot will probably be the most appropriate words to describe your experience of this section of the Continental Divide Trail. With day-time temps in the 70’s and 80’s and night-time temps in the 20’s and 30’s, New Mexico’s “windy season” (mid-March through mid-April) can bring wind gusts of more than 50 mph.
My first night on the trail was no exception. The wind had not let up from the start. I had made it to the north end of Sheridan Canyon, twelve trail miles from the border, hiking until dark to make it to the first water cache that Dean and I had stocked earlier in the day. I was two miles short of this cache. It was eight o’clock and the sun had dipped below the canyon walls an hour earlier. I had the choice of hiking two additional miles in the dark or finding my best option in the canyon to set up camp for my first night on the trail.
I set up my tarp in a sandy flat next to a wash, stacked the biggest rocks I could find on the stakes, and hoped for the best.
My tarp fell in on me once that night, and when I had finally stuffed the biggest rock I could find behind the staking line holding the most exposed end of the tent in place, I settled in for a long night of thwacking and fwopping. The wind buffeted my tent from all sides, stretching the loose fabric first in one direction, and then “FWOP”, my tarp popped loudly as the swirling wind changed direction as it bounced of the canyon walls. Then stillness and silence for a brief half a minute, then a deep swishing of air coming from a distance, breathless anticipation, and another onslaught as the gust hit my tent threatening again to collapse it on top of me. This went on for hours until I grew weary of caring and drifted off to sleep.
The next morning I awoke to stillness. The wind must have calmed in the early morning hours for I had been dozing for several hours before the sun pierced into the canyon and through my nylon tent walls. Ignoring the sounds of wind when you sleep out in the desert is an art that I have not yet fully mastered.
The following night, after crossing the Hachita Valley, I found a spot nestled up next to the Little Hatchet Mountains, protected by a hill and some large bushes. My tent still fwopped during the night, but I slept peacefully knowing that I was protected from a direct onslaught.
The next two nights I camped in the open, under the stars, and let the winds surge around my sleeping bag while I slept warmly and comfortably, listening to the swirls of wind dance around me, only my nose and cheeks exposed.
During the daytime, when I wasn’t bracing myself against the wind, I saw javalina, jack-rabbit, lizards and a fleeting glimpse of a Mountain Lion just south of Tyrone Road south of Silver City. There is life in the desert, even during a drought.
There is also death. Among the victims of this drought year in southern New Mexico are the cattle. The image below is one of two cow carcasses that lay near a water tank and pond-a potential source of water. I did not take water from this pond.
The water was scarce-the only available water being made available by ranchers for their cattle. No natural sources exist. But thanks to Dean’s help caching water, I could look forward to two gallon jugs cached securely in water boxes every 15-20 miles along the trail. I only filtered water one time at a cattle feeding trough as I was passing through a ranch near Pyramid Peak. The next water cache was a few miles ahead and I was weary from the day’s hike.
If I had not cached water, I would have put my filter through its paces from sources like the one below. Yes, you see correctly, there is a thick layer of brown/yellow foam covering the top of the almost glowing neon green water that lies beneath. Who knows what dead and decaying matter lies at the bottom of this steel tank.
After five days of desert hiking, I emerged on day six, after crossing the Chihuahuan desert north of Lordsburg, into the Gila National Forest.
For the first time on the CDT I walked on actively maintained trail under the shade of trees. Grazing cattle were ever-present on the trail, even in the Gila.
Near the end of this section, the trail summits first Jack’s Peak with its array of communication towers, and then a couple of miles later, Burro’s Peak, which is the highest point in this section at just over 8,000 feet. The views of the Gila National Forest and the surrounding desert were expansive.
North from Silver City, after an Encore stretch through the parched desert, I will be wandering down the Gila River, enjoying its deep canyons, cool flowing waters, hot springs and exploring the Native Cliff Dwellings. No wind will penetrate into the canyon. Water will be plentiful. Dust will be minimal. Such is my vision of the CDT through the Gila River Canyon.
I have also heard mention of shy but friendly hermits living in the canyons of the Gila…