Friday, December 31, 2021

Days 34: Zeroing in Grants

May 24: I woke up and got a text message from Evenstar that she was arriving into town soon. She had been taking the same route I had into town but was lagging a day behind, and I knew there was no cell phone service most of that distance since I had just walked it and hadn't gotten service until rather close to town. If she had a signal, she was, indeed, quite close! I hadn't expected her until later in the morning, however, since close to town didn't provide a lot of nice stealth camp sites. I would have expected her to have camped further outside of them where it was more pleasant.

She'd tell me later that she had gotten up at some crazy hour like 3:00am to start hiking because it was so miserably cold and she wanted to warm up. So she had been hiking all morning! Most of it was well before sunrise.

Blake's Lotaburger

So we quickly arranged to meet at a park near the post office. Evenstar had packages to pick up, and I still had my laptop to pick up. We'd meet up since I needed to go to the post office anyhow and catch up. She expected to arrive perhaps a half hour before the post office was scheduled to open, so I left my hotel room a bit earlier than I originally planned and walked the mile or two to the park next to the post office.

Evenstar was already there when I arrived, and I told her updates about Pez and Addie. Pez was already in town--arriving at about the same time I did--but had stayed on the red line the entire way. Addie was nearing Pie Town but thinking she'd get off there. She had only started the trail with the intention of hiking for about 6 weeks before going home and her time was coming to an end. It was all but certain that we wouldn't be seeing her again on the trail, and there wouldn't be a reunion of the four of us in Grants. =(

Evenstar and I joked that she was probably cheating with another trail family.

On our way back to the hotel, Evenstar stopped at Blake's Lotaburger for breakfast burrito. She had worked up quite an appetite the last several hours. Then it was off to the Motel 6. We didn't know if they would check her in so early in the day, but I said she could hang out in my room if there weren't any rooms currently available.

I didn't actually write in my journal if a room was immediately available or not, and I actually don't remember. But it if there was a wait, I'm sure it wasn't a very long one and when it did come time to check in, she wound up in the room right next door to Pez's room so we knocked on Pez's door to let him know about his new neighbor. He answered the door, but was itching to get back on his phone playing some sort of game online with friends from Germany. He, apparently, spent the whole day doing this. It was something of an obsession for him.

Then we all went to our own rooms for the rest of the afternoon. Pez played games online. Evenstar chatted with her husband and did some work on her laptop. And I caught up with work stuff, fixing bugs and replying to emails.

We did get together again in the late afternoon. Pez's German friends--eight time zones ahead--had to eventually sleep so he was no longer sucked into his game, and we headed out to the Denny's mostly because Pez still wanted to try a Beyond Beef burger. They were out of them at the Denny's in Lordsburg, but he'd have another chance here.

Pez takes a photo of his Beyond Beef burger.

He concluded it tasted like a regular burger and it was good, but perhaps not worth the extra cost. We sat around Denny's for a two or three hours chatting it up before heading back to our own rooms for the night.

And thus ended a nice, relaxing zero day in Grants!

I was still very disappointed about the mining museum being closed, but I look around the exterior a bit to see what they couldn't fit inside the museum. I hadn't realized it was closed due to the pandemic until I tried going to it today.

We're in 2021--officially the 20s!--but this place isn't so roaring anymore!

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Day 33: The long walk into Grants

May 23: It was a bitterly cold morning, and I did not want to get out of my sleeping bag. Eventually I did so, but not after laying around for an extra half hour.

Haiku and Prana passed by just as I was almost ready to start hiking for day, so we would up walking together for the better part of an hour.


I was looking forward to this day because finally--finally!--I'd be hiking into a real town with actual services, something I hadn't seen since leaving Silver City 17 days earlier. Grants was a small (but very real!) town located beside Interstate 40 and it's biggest claim to fame, perhaps, is that Route 66 passed through the town in bygone eras.

What the town did not have, however, were crosswalks, so I had to be particularly careful about crossing the streets here. Oh, they had a couple in the middle of town, but I couldn't find any on my walk into the center of town, and I definitely wanted to cross some streets.

At the edge of town, I passed by Friendship Park, which had a large army tank as a centerpiece. I'm not sure if that was a deliberate dig at American foreign policy or done with pride and joy, but it seemed a little tasteless (or perhaps ironically amusing) to me either way.

The tank at Friendship Park. With friends like this, you really don't need enemies!

My route took me past the post office, but it was Sunday so it was closed. I'd have to return tomorrow to pick up my laptop. Initially I had planned to arrive into town tomorrow, but I wasn't complaining about getting into town a day earlier than expected considering I had planned out my route for 18 days when I left Silver City.

My intention was to stop for lunch somewhere in town, then figure out where I'd spend the night by getting online with my phone and checking prices, but before that happened, a vehicle pulled up beside me with a woman driving and a hiker in the passenger seat. "Do you need a ride?" the hiker asked.

Umm, uhh... Well.... The trail followed a road north out of town, and many of the hotels were near the Interstate at the far side of town. I certainly would mind getting a ride the last mile or two--I had already passed the junction where the trail veered north and was now off-trail. I didn't have to worry about breaking my steps, but I also hadn't eaten lunch and I still didn't know where I was planning to get a room for the night. I didn't know....

So I said that, and Michele--with one L, she told me--said to get in. She'd drive me somewhere I could get lunch, then wait until it was ready and take me to the hotel of my choice. She said that she was scheduled to pick up another hiker in an hour and planned just to drive over there and wait so she had nothing better to do anyhow.

So with that decided, I jumped into the back seat and we were off! First she headed to the hostel in town where she dropped off the other hiker, then she drove me to the Blake's Lot-a-burger for lunch. I hadn't realized that that was a chain of restaurants until now. I thought the one I saw in Silver City was just a local store! I guess there were at least two of them, however, which officially makes it a chain.

Grants was located on Historic Route 66, and if you want a photo of your car showing it's driving down Route 66, this is the place for you!

I went in and ordered a quick meal, and while it was being prepared, I got online to check hotel prices, eventually making a reservation for the Motel 6 at the far side of town.

After eating, I hopped back into Michele's car and she started driving toward Motel 6. A block before that, however, we saw a hiker on the side of the road and Michele said she was going to pull over and ask if he needed a ride. As we got closer, though, I realized that I knew that hiker. It was Pez!

We pulled up alongside of him. "Hey, Pez! You need a ride?" =)

He had just gotten into town himself and also went for lunch before lodging. He had just gotten lunch at Subway and was walking to a hotel, but the Motel 6 was just a block away and it seemed pointless to get a ride such a short distance. I didn't blame him--I wouldn't have taken a ride for just a block, either!

Anyhow, Michele dropped me off at the Motel 6, and I quickly got myself a room and Pez wasn't far behind me. Michele parked in the lot since the hiker she was picking up in a half hour was at the Motel 6. She was in wait mode.

She seemed quite rabid about helping hikers, and I appreciated her energy. =) I also gave her $10 for the little taxi ride around town, but she didn't ask for it. She used to work at the post office in Grants which was how she first learned about the thru-hiker community hiking through the town each year.

This is mining equipment, displayed in front of the Mining Museum. I had hoped to visit the museum while in town, but unfortunately, it was closed due to the pandemic. I could only enjoy the outdoor displays.

My first task, of course, was to strip out of my nasty hiking clothes and take a shower. I put on my cleaner camp clothes and took my dirty clothes down to the laundry room to wash the really nasty stuff that hadn't been washed in over two weeks.

Then I got online on my phone to look into getting a COVID vaccination in Grants. It seemed like a town large enough to have a vaccination center, and there were two places in town where one could get shot. Unfortunately, there weren't any available openings for two days. I really wanted to get it done and over, though, so I scheduled the first appointment that I could on Tuesday morning. I'd have to take a double-zero, but after being separated from my laptop for nearly three weeks, I figured I could make good use of the double-zero. Of course, I wouldn't get my laptop until tomorrow, but I could at least check a lot of email and messages with my phone and at least work my way through some of that backlog. And it would give both Evenstar and Addie a chance to catch up. =)

I emerged from my room several hours later, hungry for dinner. I hadn't left the hotel since arriving so had nothing to eat except the food I hiked in with--which I most certainly didn't want to eat! Nope, I had to go out. There was a Taco Bell a block away, on the other side of the road, so that's where I headed.

I tried to order a naked chalupa (among other things), but they said they were out of them. "Nooo! Why? Oh, God, why?!" I cried. It was a very disheartening discovery to learn that shortages were still occurring around the country. Or at least in Grants. Or at least at the Taco Bell in Grants.

I found something else to order, but it just wasn't the same. I left with a sting of disappointment.

On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at the Walgreens next door to pick up some snacks, drinks and other stuff for the room.

Then it was back to my hotel room for the night, and the end of my 33rd day on the trail.

My home for the night was the Motel 6.

'Twas a long road walk into Grants

Monday, December 27, 2021

Day 32: Chasing Windmills

Day 32: I was surprised to wake up with a thick layer of condensation over everything. That hadn't been an issue before so I hadn't been expecting it, and now I spent part of the morning trying to dry off a bit.

The trail was slow-going at first, through a lava field that was difficult to follow--both to identify where the trail was actually located on the hard surface, and because the ground was so rough and tumble-like. I passed by several more small caves and sinkholes which weren't marked on my maps or had signs identifying them. It was annoyingly slow getting through, but admittedly some very cool and interesting terrain.

Through the lava fields, often times, the only sign of a trail were cairns holding up branches and logs like this. Then you had to search around to find the next one. Very slow going!

The trail didn't get easy again until reaching the Bonita-Zuni Alternate. The main, red-line path did a bit more zig-zagging, but the alternate, from what I read, seemed like a more pleasant option. The fact that it was a bit shorter was a nice perk but it was also a relatively small one. I don't think it was more than a few miles shorter overall.

Even the name of the alternate sounded nice: Bonita-Zuni. Bonita, for anyone who knows Spanish, means "pretty." I wasn't sure about the Zuni part, but it boded well overall.

The trail soon crossed Highway 53, and I stopped for a snack break at the trailhead there when Haiku and Prana snuck up on me. I was surprised since I thought they were ahead of me! When did I pass them? Where did I pass them?! Through the rough lava where the trail was so difficult to follow, it's entirely possible we could have taken different routes through it.

In any case, it was nice to see them again, and I walked with them for a few miles to the next water source.

The trail led up a beautiful valley along a quiet, gravel road. Our trail was no more, but the gravel road was a pleasant walk after the slow difficulty of the trail through the lava beds. The biggest issue was the strong wind tearing through the valley. Despite using the chin strap for my hat, it still got blown off in a particularly big gust that came up from behind me, then I had to chase my hat down as the wind rolled it down the road like a person doing cartwheels. 

I noticed that the Appalachian Trail pin that I had pinned to the hat had come off. I retraced my steps eventually finding the pin, but never finding the back that held it in place. I'd have to fix that later, but in the meantime, I wrapped up the pin so the sharp point wouldn't poke anything in my pack and put it safely in my pack.

We finally stopped for a break at the wind-powered water trough. The large windmill spun wildly in the wind, and it pulled lots of fresh, clear water into the trough. For fun, I decided to climb the windmill while Prana took photos of me hanging off the side, but I did have to be a little careful with the wind trying to blow me off.


Eventually, I pushed onward while Haiku and Prana rested a bit longer to eat lunch. 

The rest of the day's hike was uneventful. I stopped for a couple of other breaks, and Haiku and Prana caught up with me at the next water source perhaps a dozen miles further up the trail. Prana reported seeing two rattlesnakes today. I was a little jealous since I hadn't seen any and had only seen one on the entire trail so far. Lucky guy!

The trail veered down Zuni Canyon, a scenic canyon following another gravel road that was used more than the previous road. Now a vehicle would drive by every 15 minutes or so.

I set up camp behind some trees on a flat section adjacent to the road. It looked like a railroad used to go through here--the ground had that long, flat level look, but it wasn't a rail-to-trail system. It was more like the railroad had been abandoned and removed, then the rights-of-way were just left to the elements. Trees and bushes covered them, rock slides covered it in places, etc. I couldn't hike on it--not easily, at least, but it provided the occasional flat area where I could set up a campsite off the road and mostly hidden from it.

In camp, I saw that a hot spot on the top of my big toe had turned into a full-grown blister. Argh! It wasn't particularly large or problematic, though, just an annoyance, and I struggled to think of a fruit that started with D, eventually settling on the name Dragonfruit. Apple, Banana, Cantaloupe and now Dragonfruit. 

All-in-all, however, a pleasant day of hiking.

Now this is really good, quality water! Especially if you take it from the pipe before it enters the cattle trough.

Meet Dragonfruit, my newest blister. It was an easy pop! =)

Friday, December 24, 2021

Day 31: El Malpais: the bad country....

May 21: I woke up to a cloudy, ugly day--but it wasn't raining. Not yet, at least! I soon caught up with Haiku and Prana and continued hiking with them for awhile.

After a few hours, though, it started raining. A steady, albeit light sprinkle. Mile after mile, and today would mark the first day that I actually pulled out my umbrella to battle the rain. I had used it earlier to fight the sun, but the trail had been gloriously rain-free during my hiking hours until now.

Evidence of underground spaces in the lava were abundant. Prana reported that there were even some small stalactites in this cave when he poked his head in to look. I didn't even think of poking my head in as option and missed those. =( I often wondered how many empty caverns I walked over without even knowing they were there since only the ones that broke to the surface were visible.

The trail eventually ended, however, returning to follow a few miserable miles along a busy, paved highway. I was glad it only lasted a few miles, but it was still a few miles too many!

The road eventually led us to a ranger station for El Malpais National Monument. For anyone who knows a little Spanish, you'll know that El Malpais is Spanish for "The Badcounty". Not so much because the area was ugly, but more because of the vast lava fields that made the area difficult to travel through--and the lack of water and abundance of heat a treacherous area to venture through.

The ranger station was closed, allegedly due to "remodeling," but there was no obvious work going on which made me wonder if it was closed at least partially due to the pandemic. But despite its closure, the ranger station turned out to be a wonderful safe-haven on this cold, wet day. The water for the building was still turned on, so we could fill up with nice clean water. There were trash cans available, so we could dump our trash, and it provided a large, spacious covered patio with benches that allowed us to get out of the rain.

The ranger station was closed, but we could still throw out trash, get water and get out of the rain under the patio. It was a luxury!

I used the opportunity to cook a dinner for lunch. I found myself doing that a lot along this trail, cooking my dinners wherever water was readily available and eating lunches in the evening where water often wasn't available.

The rain eventually stopped while we were at the ranger station, but the ugly clouds remained with an occasional, short sunbreak to remind us that it was still daytime.

Haiku and Prana left the protection of the ranger station before I did, so the next several miles I did on my own, eventually reaching El Calerderon Loop Trail trailhead where I caught up with Haiku and Prana exploring a short lava tube. It didn't go for more than a hundred yards or so, with openings on both sides making it feel more like a natural culvert than a real tunnel, but it was admittedly fun climbing through.

We actually weren't entirely sure if it was even legal for us to do this. There were signs warning that caves were closed to the public to protect bats from both the coronavirus as well as some fungal disease that has been spreading across America and decimating bat populations, but the tube we went through--although it did go underground--seemed more tunnel-like than cave-like, and nothing at the location said it was a cave or off limits. And not even a very long tunnel at that, since sunlight managed to light up the entire space. And since we didn't see any bats, it seemed unlikely that we could disturb them anyhow.

You can't see it in this photo, but this tunnel exits through another hole in the ground creating a tunnel maybe 100 yards long.

Afterward, I checked out the signage at the trailhead which displayed a map of the trails in the area and that's how I discovered a loop trail that led to the top of a caldera, past two caves, past two sinkholes and followed alongside a lava canyon. It sounded awesome! It turned out that the last half-mile or so of the CDT was actually a part of the loop trail, but I loathed the idea of backtracking.

But taking a closer look at the map, I realized that I could do a "half-loop". There was a gravel road that led from this trailhead to another trailhead on the other side of the loop, and none of the interesting features on the map were located on the other side of the gravel road. A trail would have been nicer to walk on than a gravel road--but not if it was out of my way and had nothing interesting to offer.

So rather than do the entire loop, I headed up the gravel road. I was going off trail! I had no maps of the trail system except for the photo I took of the map at the trailhead kiosk.

The trail climbed steeply, heading to the top of a caldera with absolutely stunning views from the top. The wind up there was fierce, but the dark, menacing clouds had turned into happy white fluffy ones with plenty of sunbreaks, and I absolutely loved it! "Woo-who!" called from the top. I was flying high on a natural high! =) 

Views from the top of the caldera were awesome!

The trail followed along the ridge around the caldera. If the center was full of water, it could have looked like a miniature Crater Lake.

It was getting relatively late in the afternoon, however, so I didn't linger at the top too long. I hadn't known about this loop trail and hadn't planned for it at all, and I definitely didn't want to camp up here on the exposed terrain. Nope, I wanted to get back down to the CDT where it was a bit more protected from the wind and elements.

On the way down, the trail passed by the two caves. Those, I knew, I wasn't supposed to enter, so I didn't. One had always been closed to the public, and the other had been closed since the pandemic started. But it was still cool to look into their cavernous openings. They were obviously lava tubes where the roof collapsed, leaving two openings--one in each direction--and creating two separate caves.

Then the trail passed by two sinkholes, one one each side of the trail. They were quite large and impressive. I was frustrated not being able to get a decent photo of them, however. They were just too large to fit in a photo!

And the lava canyon basically looked like a lava tube that had collapsed along its entire length.

I absolutely loved this side trip. It was totally off-trail and eventually brought me back down to the trailhead where I started, but it was my favorite part of the entire day and it seemed a pity that the CDT wasn't officially routed along the loop. Most thru-hikers weren't even passing this area opting for the shortcut that started two days earlier, but I felt absolutely certain that almost no thru-hikers would have willingly hiked off trail to do this loop trail which seemed criminal. It was awesome!

Back on the CDT, I followed the trail out from the trailhead, basically planning to stop at the first decent spot I found to camp. Sunset was fast approaching and I needed to set up camp sooner rather than later. The lava terrain, however, didn't often provide a decent place to camp, and I kept walking and walking....

The trail passed through an area that had recently burned due to prescribed burns, and one tree I found was still smoldering despite the rain earlier from the day.

One tree was still smoldering, perhaps weeks after the prescribed burn ended and despite the rain earlier in the day.

I wound up hiking until almost 8:00, just before sunset, a few miles from the trailhead. I had lost track of Haiku and Prana at the trailhead. Presumably, they were somewhere ahead of me, but knowing their desire to explore anything interesting even if it's off trail, they might have tried completing the entire loop trail. I just didn't know.

 And that was the end of another day with a surprisingly wonderful end for such a miserable start!





So much lava....


Prana, hiking down a gravel road. You can tell it's cold out--look at all the clothes he's wearing!

The worst part of the day was the road walk to the ranger station.

Hello, Continental Divide!

Haiku couldn't help but check out every little crevice in the lava. =)

The steepest section of the day was the trail to the top of caldera.

I just loved the views from the top of the caldera!

I started seeing these on the trail hundreds of miles ago, but only discovered relatively recently that it was Pez who was leaving them. So when I found this, I knew that Pez had taken this route, and that he was somewhere ahead of me. *nodding* Usually when I found them, other hikers had filled in a couple of more squares, but so few people were sticking to the red line on this area, it looked like I was the first to find this! I'll take the center square, please. =)

Sunset was quite pleasant!