A shorter day today brought me to the Ghost Ranch Alternate, and set up for getting to “town” tomorrow for resupply.
It was cold overnight, and my tent was (as expected) fairly wet, which made packing up take longer than I’d prefer, but, at least it didn’t snow. The clouds from last night remained, though they weren’t completely blanketing the sky, letting some sun through. Predictably, the aspens were bright in the sunlight.
The trail followed the road to the campground briefly, then turned off, heading downhill towards Canjilon Creek. I’d crossed it yesterday evening going through the marsh, and my trail guide described it as “small”. However, at least now, it was a raging torrent through its small channel, and though it was difficult, I managed to cross without getting my feet wet.
The trail wandered through the forest. Separately, I passed Mango, Snow, and Dash, who had all camped on this side of the creek. Dash said Spice Rack was ahead somewhere, and that he didn’t have a headlamp. Even with the clouds, the nearly-full moon last night was fairly bright, but still, I wouldn’t want to be hiking at night without a light. Especially since this part of the trail was a bit wet and muddy, and had a fair number of blowdowns to navigate.
Leaving the forest, the trail joined an ATV track through a meadow. The clouds thickened. It wasn’t quite as gloomy as it was that day in The Bob, but I did have the distinct impression I was likely going to get rained on.
The trail followed a variety of dirt roads and ATV tracks through cow pastures, eventually climbing up onto a ridge and bouncing along gently rolling hills. Unsurprisingly, there were cows (and plenty of cow pies), but at least today, the cows weren’t hanging out around the trail.
As I learned yesterday, today is the first day of hunting season. To that end, I heard a few gunshots mid-morning, and closer to noon, I saw a few hunters with ATVs taking a break — napping even — in a flat area next to the road the trail followed. I would expect there were more hunters around than I actually saw, but in any case, they didn’t feel intrusive.
Around 10:30, I took a break, feeling unusually tired and low-energy. Yesterday, I’d planned on reaching Ghost Ranch today, even though that would be over a marathon — 27.1 miles. That was already an ambitious plan, and honestly, needlessly so, since it would be very unlikely I’d get there before sunset. So I decided not to push for Ghost Ranch, and instead, reduced my goal to a decent campsite at least halfway there from this morning. Once I accepted the day wasn’t going to be ridiculously long, that helped my mood, at least a little.
An hour later, I stopped again, mostly because I needed to take my boots off because some kind of pokey thing got into my socks, but also because the trail had, over the last couple of miles, become very hard to follow — both indistinct, and somewhat rugged — which was mentally draining. There was probably a road network that would have been easier and faster, but after cutting a significant length of trail in Montana, I wanted to to stick to the official trail as much as possible to finish New Mexico.
I probably would have taken a longer break, but a dark raincloud had formed to the north and was coming towards me, and the last thing I wanted was to get stuck in the rain while completely exposed.
That particular rain cloud missed me, fortunately, and the clouds thinned up a bit. After going through a dry meadow, the trail now took me through a bit more green meadow, this time with cows. Somehow, I got off-trail a bit; it wasn’t clear to me if it was the trail being indistinct, or if I just missed it, but after passing the cows a little closer than I wanted, I eventually found something that resembled a trail.
The trail continued through meadow for a while longer. By some measure I was still “in the mountains”, but it felt like I was leaving the mountains behind for flatter gently rolling foothills. (High-elevation foothills, that is; I was still at over 9,000 feet.) Although out of the Southern San Juan Wilderness (that ended at the Colorado-New Mexico border), I’m still in the southern portion of the San Juan mountains, and will be until tomorrow or the day after, after I leave Ghost Ranch.
Ghost Ranch, my first of two resupply points in northern New Mexico, isn’t actually on-trail, and an alternate is required to get there. At the Harris Bear Spring, where the Ghost Ranch alternate branches from the CDT, I stopped for a snack, and to get water. This would be the last good water until Ghost Ranch, 14 miles ahead. I’m sure there was an actual spring somewhere, but the water source was a pump pulling from a well into a tank. The tank was overflowing through both its spill drain, and the lip of the not-perfectly-level tank, so the water in the tank was reasonably decent.
The spring was also a good meeting spot; Dash, Wonder Woman, Mango, and Snow were already there.
While I was at the spring, the clouds continued to darken, and the wind picked up a bit. (I had to chase down a snack bar wrapper I’d set down on my pack prior to putting it away.)
After leaving the spring, the trail headed south on an ATV trail, winding through forest. A light rain briefly fell, and I started looking for a campsite. After rejecting a few places, I found a good spot nestled next to a pine tree with a nice bed of pine needles, and I got my tent set up. (Of course, this immediately stopped the rain.)
While I relaxed in my tent, a veritable parade of hikers passed by. In total, I saw eleven other hikers today, which I think (excluding day hikers) might be the most I’ve seen on-trail in the same day since very early on the trail. A light rain fell occasionally, though nothing terribly significant.
I relaxed for a couple of hours before finally starting dinner, finishing shortly after sunset. Still tired, I’m going to sleep early. With only 12.5 miles to Ghost Ranch tomorrow, I’m probably not going to start super-early in the morning, though I really should to give myself more options, especially if it turns out I can’t stay there overnight.