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CDT: Carson National Forest (Cumbres Pass to Ghost Ranch)

September 25 — New Mexico, Same as the Old Mexico

Thunder and occasional showers visited overnight and some of the precipitation froze, greeting me with a dusting of snow on the ground. It all melted though as the sun hit and I descended. I arrived at Cumbres Pass and looked at the historical buildings from the narrow gauge railroad. I originally intended to ride the train out of Chama, but for time and money reasons skipped that town instead. I still hung around the pass long enough to watch the tourist train go by. The roar of a steam whistle and the rumble of a train were enjoyable as always. While it refueled I even got the conductor to sell me a candy bar from the concession car.

I took the newer CDT route just south of Cumbres Pass and within an hour I left Colorado and entered my final state — New Mexico. This route through the woods was a great walk, until it opened into a cow pasture, and I lost the trail amongst the many cow paths. I eventually made my own, mostly legitimate, route back to the red line, being thankful my GPS somehow had “roads” loaded into it that were barely more than a scratch on the ground.

New Mexico was not too happy to greet me. Numerous thunderstorms blew around all day, trying to intimidate me, but only a short bout of hail ever hit.

New fresh powder on the tops
Fog hanging in the valley
A tree covered hillside
The approaching train from the Cumbres Scenic Railroad

September 26

I awoke to another patch work of snow covering the ground that again all melted off within a couple hours of the sun peaking over the horizon. The morning was a muddy march through the forest, as the melting snow, combined with the heavy rain this area received yesterday to make the ground wet and sloppy. Dealing with this aftermath was still better than facing the onslaught of the prior day’s rain though.

The ground dried out well though, as for the first time in several days the cows and I could enjoy the great weather of a beautiful autumn day. Although a little early in the calendar year for where I was from, it felt like the kind of day for a hayride, to rake leaves, sip on hot cider, and stay warm around a campfire. I got none of those.

Between going south and now finally downhill, I had been able to enjoy riding the crest of the wave of colors changing for nearly a month. All the trees seemed to turn yellow, and lacked the reds and oranges I had come to expect from in Midwest, but the fall foliage had still been one of the highlights of the trip.

I put in another long day in order to maximize my chances of reaching Ghost Ranch before I ran out of food. I had been promising myself this for a while, but after tomorrow I should be able to settle into easier days through New Mexico. I had to be careful not to underestimate this state though. Ever since my earliest CDT planning, the emphasis had been on getting through Colorado before the weather turned, and New Mexico had just been a footnote afterwards. While the terrain will be easier and my concern about weather diminished, I still had 600 miles of trail and would have other concerns, such as water availability. I should be able to relax some compared to earlier, but must not let my guard down either.

A beautiful tree changing color
The shadow of a long distance hiker

September 27

I had another long, but not seemingly hard day. Since I was basically out of food, bounced a few supplies to Ghost Ranch, and passed a dumpster yesterday, my pack was as light as it could be.

I passed a variety of scenery today, from open pastures, to valleys, to color changing aspen forests — where I half expected a tractor pulling kids on a hayride to pass by, but I only saw an ATV.

Through this stretch I was very glad to have my GPS loaded with a “red line” and detailed road base — many unmarked jeep trail intersected the area, I took a couple cross country alternate shortcuts, and some of the tread through fields was nearly nonexistent. Relying on my GPS still felt like cheating sometimes and made me navigationally lazy, but was so much easier and quicker.

Since I ate the last of my food today I hiked extra long into the night to hopefully reach Ghost Ranch by lunch, instead of dinner as originally planned. That included for only the second time on the CDT hiking by headlamp, although this time through the forest. With a full moon, cloudless sky, headlamp, and GPS I figured I would be okay though. The nighttime hike was still a little nerve wracking, since losing the trail with only the small cone of light was very easy, and the forest road on the ground did not match the data in my GPS. The road veered in a different way than expected, and I eventually resorted to bushwhacking through the dark, headed only towards a road on my GPS screen, whose accuracy had already been called into question. Despite the horrible idea, the trek was successful, and I ended up on the road exactly where I wanted. A decent spot to camp was even nearby, and I ate dinner solely by moonlight.

I had also descended all the way down to 8,500 feet, my first time that low on trail since around Grand Lake. Although the evening was chilly, not having to crawl inside my sleeping bag right away was a nice change, and I could actually sit outside without freezing.

The open prairie on the Mogote Ridge
A beautiful autumn forest--in New Mexico

September 28 — Ghost Ranch

Although I hiked long the past two days, I still had about ten miles and a 2,000 foot drop through unknown terrain and navigation before I reached Ghost Ranch. Therefore my day started as yesterday’s ended — by hiking in the dark. The moon had set though, so hiking by just the feint starlight was much darker.

I made good progress though until the trail descended into a canyon. After some successful bushwhacking I lost the trail and went cross country in the direction my GPS indicated. I ended up in the bottom of a dry river, which I followed for a while. Although hiking in the riverbed was fun, progress was too slow for my lunchtime appointment at Ghost Ranch. I climbed back out of the canyon and found the trail, which eventually descended into another canyon, but this one with flowing water. I somehow ended up passing through Box Canyon, which was not on the CDT, but was a beautiful walk crossing back and forth across a small stream, through a narrow canyon with high rock walls on each side.

This path eventually led to Ghost Ranch, which was place hard to describe — but somewhere along the lines of an artsy, new age retreat for adults. I felt a little out of place, but everyone was still very nice. They also offered free camping to CDT hikers and three hot meals a day, so I took a much needed zero here. I spent the rest of the day relaxing, reading, and eating.

The view from Ghost Ranch’s front door
A column of rain falling in the distance

September 29 — Zero at Ghost Ranch

For the first time this trip after a night in my tent, I did not have to tear it down in the morning. My routine had become so second nature though, living out of my tent in this campground was more difficult than my regimented backcountry routine.

I did not do much all day and just tried to relax. Ghost Ranch was a little spread out, which provided a peaceful environment, but also resulted in more walking than I wanted. My day was still restful overall. I visited the anthropology and paleontology museums, ate, and read. I could not get too comfortable here though, as I still had to walk across most of the state of New Mexico.

The red rock cliffs surrounding Ghost Ranch
Chimney Rock