23.3 miles hiked
It’s cloudy all over when I wake. Fog is draped all over the tops of the mesas around us and it looks particularly gloomy, but this means it’s nice and cool on this morning’s climb. It’s just 2.8 of steep climb, a little plateau then 10 miles down to the Ghost Ranch alternate junction. We are surrounded by thin forest of pines that gets more dense as we climb. We pop out onto a green carpeted forest up the top – a lot less harsh looking than the desert below. We take a quick break then start the descent, and stop when we realise clouds are congregating and we have a small window of sunlight to dry the tent. Early quick lunch over, we continue down – and each take about 2kg of mud on our shoes. The ground is a red and brown clay that sticks like crazy, having soaked up all the water from the past few day’s rain. It feels like I’m walking on heavy snowshoes.
Down down down and we reach the bottom where we are surrounded by towers of beautiful colourfully layered rock mesas. With the dark clouds around them they look very intimidating and impressive.
All of our water sources look like chocolate milk. The excess rain has stirred up the dirt making it un-drinkable. Well maybe not, but it will clog our filters super quick if we try, so we walk the extra few miles to the Rio Chama. Gah! This one looks like a giant rushing river of chai. I try filtering through my bandana first, but it makes little difference. We check the water report – bugger! We missed a trough a half mile back, so Grizzly graciously takes our 2L bladders and comes back a while later with crystal clear water. Yay!!!
As we are filtering water a jeep comes past on the road heading the other way. He offers us a ride on his return. “Hmm Ok thanks!” we say, ever conscious of the impending storm and our need to get to Ghost Ranch. “We’ll start hiking and you’ll see us on the road”. It’s just one long dirt road to the highway so he won’t miss us. We start hiking and it is hooooot. “It’s Africa hot” says Grizzly. I cover up with my bandana under my hat and melt along the road. The thunder is getting louder and louder “Now would be a great time for our magical ride to appear!”
The storm is chasing us, then overtakes us. It starts sprinkling then the clouds explode. I get covered in red dirt pulling my jacket and rainpants on, my pack does too as I set it down to put the cover on. We really need to sit down somewhere as there is lightning all around us, but there is only sagebrush and a few junipers with no shade.
Finally we find a suitable tree and sit under the tyvek hiding from the rain for a while. The thunder amd lightning move past quickly and we are back on the dirt road sweating in our rain gear.
We make it to the highway before our ride ever showed up – oh well we didn’t get struck by lightning and we should be walking this road anyway! At highway we have to walk for a mile or so to the turnoff for Ghost Ranch – bitumen/ black top hiking again, I must be back in New Mexico!
It’s a very confusing turnoff for Ghost Ranch, crossing over dodgy “no trespass” signs, bushwhacking through brush and sliding down very slippery mud into washes that we then have to climb back up. We eventually spy some CDT blazes in the distance and adjust our course to follow them. It doesn’t help a whole lot because it becomes clear that we are hiking through super sticky sinky quicksand!!! We are alternating between laughing because it is so horrendously hard and impossible to move, and swearing for the same reasons.
By the time we actually enter the Ghost Ranch property our feet are completely caked in red mud.
It’s late so the office isn’t open but we are directed to the camping area, set up the tent, and head inside the tiny kichen area to cook dinner on our stove and sit on chairs. There are showers but I have no towel, so I make do with a cake of soap found in a shower and a whole bunch of paper towels. Whatever works! I contemplate entering the shower with my sneakers on to remove some of the dirt, but I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen the last of the mud yet!
The rain starts up again so it’s a dash to the tent in the dark, where we arrange all our things so the bazillions of desert rodents don’t eat them, then lie down for sleep under the towers of beautiful red rock.