May 27, 2.5 miles into bonita-zuni alternate @ 7005 ft, about 21 miles hiked
A beautiful sunrise bounces off the hills and fields around me. I eat some random bits of things and fill my pack with more bits of things for later, pack up my little world of small comforts and put it on my back.
Walking along the side of the highway is never fun. It’s 11 miles and then I have a choice – either another 23 miles along the road ( 23 miles!!!), or cut across the lava fields for 8ish miles (it’s likely around 3 miles longer than that as you can’t accurately account for the elevation gain and loss of climbing up and down giant lava rocks), plus 24.1 miles through a couple of canyons. I’m undecided as I’m walking along the first section of the highway. I pass by a trail head parking lot (Rubbish bins! Toilets! Luxury! ) – perfect timing for second breakfast so I sit at one of the little picnic tables (Table! Chair! Luxury!) and munch on a larabar while poring over my maps. The rim trail goes along the top of the mesa above the road where I’m supposed to be walking and looks a lot moe exciting than bitumen. It will involve a bushwhack at the end to get down, which is supposed to be very steep, is a little longer in distance and will take a lot longer but I decide I’ll chance it anyway.
As this trail has so many alternates available, and the ‘official’ route is only 85% complete, I have decided to adopt some self-policed precepts, being 1) I will take the most scenic/ beautiful routes, 2) Scenery being equal I will take the most efficient route and 3) I’m going to try really really hard to have continues footsteps (meaning there will be no gaps in my walking and my footsteps will join together in a nice long line across the country). So whilst this route is not the most efficient, it is infinitely more scenic than road walking.
I climb up to the top and after around half an hour I see why this is a popular trail with day hikers. I’m towering high above the road which hugs the base of the mesa, and the view goes all the way across the Malpais (the ‘badlands’) lava flow. Yay good decision.
Then the time for the bush whack arrives. while the trees and shrubs and plants aren’t tightly packed, they are dense enough for me to have to zigzag a hell of a lot to get around. Of course it’s hot, and of course I’ve timed this to be the middle of the day. After many scratches and bumps on th head from branches I see the trail drop off ahead. Of course it does – it’s a straight cliff down towards La Ventana arch! So very very cool! I scramble along the top of the cliff trying to find a better place to clamber down, finally finding the only place that will work, and that my topo maps seem to indicate is the least steep. I see some cascadia prints in the sand and smile knowing that in the middle of nowhere here, there has been a thru-hiker before me!
it’s a tricky rock scramble down. Im ever conscious that this is very lovely looking space for a snake; with every tentative footfall and reach I expect to hear a rattle! No snakes and I make it to the bottom with shaky legs.
I park my butt on the ground in a sliver of shade and eat some sunbutter and crackers while gazing at the very cool arch. A day hiker arrives, then returns to his car to collect a cold bottle of water to give me!
On the road again. I have some more water cached by the awesome Slip at the trailhead that heads across El Malpais. There’s also a big water cache there from some local trail angels- without them it would be a loooong dry section. I’ve got a deadline to be in Grants by tomorrow night for a phone call I have to make to Australia, but I decide I’m making good enough time so I’m going to push through the badlands and the canyons instead of having to endure the rotten roadwalk (which is actually the official trail!).
I know from the PCT in Oregon that lava and my feet are not great friends. Lava and anyone’s feet are actually not great, and if you are on the last couple of days of your shoes you will definitely feel it! I climb up and down and all around mordor, following the tricky to find cairns. Lots of scrambling, a few expletives sprinkled about as I scratch myself and lose the trail.The sky opens up in the afternoon and I’m so busy hiking fast to get out from under the cloud that is following me that I totally lose the trail. I hike back to where I last knew I was on track – all the lava looks the same so it’s tricky! Finally back on track the lava fades away and I’m on a trail leading me to the next road crossing.
The light is fading and again I find myself near a highway. Bah. I cross the road and see a good patch of trees that I think will work for stealth camping, but just as I’m putting down my pack a couple of random pickups drive right past me, so I decide to hike on a little more into the canyon.
About 2.5 miles later I find a perfect little nook under the arch of a tree, and just as the coyotes and stars come out to dance I fade away.