Two days ago we stopped as usual around 17:30 next to a pathetic excuse for a water source (a few greenish puddles forming in an otherwise dry stream bed) and started pitching our tent. We noticed 7 ravens flying above, two vultures and some sort of raptor bird. The ravens kept flying over the campsite and back to somewhere just East of us. “Maybe there is a dead animal there” suggested Brian.
Being keen on ravens, I (M) suggested that there would be a good chance of wolves being nearby, too, because any wolf documentary I have ever seen also has ravens in it and it is a well established fact that ravens co-operate with wolves in the North West to guide them to carcasses or sick animals or even to herds in winter, so as to ensure that there will be food for the ravens once the wolves have made a fresh kill or openend up a carcass (which the ravens can’t do very well with their beaks).
We have our dinner (Mac&Cheese) and crawl into our sleeping bags, doze off after a long day’s hike. And it gets dark … and then suddenly nearby a beautyfully plaintive voice rises and is joined by 4 or 5 others to a harmony of high notes, deeper than the coyote and without the comical yodelling. A perfect howling pack of wolves! And closer than any coyote we have heard to far. It only lasted a few minutes and I had to wake Brian up to hear it … but I am very happy now. One of the aims of this hike has been to hear wolves and I thought this wouldn’t happen till we got to Yellowstone!
In the morning we heard some coyote singing in the same direction as the ravens and vultures had been patrolling over the previous evening, so I assume that the coyote got the remains of whatever delicious dead thing once the wolves had moved off.
We have now hiked about 290 miles north of Mexico and are in the (very small) town of Reserve, NM. Our best scenery has been on the 50 miles of the Gila river (lower and middle fork canyons for those who know the area) . Its been exciting- hot , dusty, too much water, too little water (!) and some coyotes , wolves and very few people on the way.
We have met only two other hikers and we are now hiking with them! Richard and Ted are from Florida & Indiana respectively and are both retired but are hiking hard. Ted hikes in sandals and has no stove. Richard bivvies.
5:30 am – the wristwatch alarm bleeps inside a 2 meters oblong bubble of green fabric that has sprouted overnight between the Yukkas and spiny bushes. The dark night sky is being pushed away by brightness in the east and a few late coyotes are having a final sing along in the distance.
Birds are singing joyfully in the thorny bushes, doves are cooing softly. Rustling of down sleeping bags, groaning. Then the hissing of a camp stove and water poured into pots. The sky is growing lighter by the second. 30 minutes later the sun’s rays are hitting the tent and we finish our tea and start packing up for another hot day walking in the desert.
Birds are singing, quail are hooting, ravens and vultures are out, checking if anything has died in the night. We start walking at 6:15 while it is still reasonably cool. By 10:00 it gets hot. By 12:30 -13:00 we stop to rest in whatever shade is available. It doesn’t cool down again till darkness falls at 19:30 but we start walking again between 14:30 and 15:30 just because we need to make the miles.
The route goes between water sources which have mostly been tanks and troughs installed by cattle ranchers for their cows. Groundwater pumped by windmill or solar energy to the surface. Not always great: one time we had to lift green fibrous algal matting off a low trough to get to the murky green water (see photo below). Another time a swarm of bees had taken up residence in the opening of a tank and water had to be got with a cup tied to a long stick (and a steady nerve)- see photo above. On two occasions, the friendly people of New Mexico who live in these remote parts (a weathered cattle farmer and a couple of very friendly self-proclaimed “Hillbillies” with a Harley Davidsons in their living room – I am NOT making this up) have allowed us to use water from their private supplies (garden hoses) which was deeply appreciated.
Only the last couple of days have we been getting out of the desert and up into the hills. As we were uphilling, the junipers got taller, were joined by different types of pine and finally aspen. Cactus gave way to shrub oak.
We even saw some flowering strawberries and lupins. The trails turned from jeep dirt roads into single file paths, it got cooler and shadier. We even found a towel size patch of snow near our highest stop so far : a fire look out on Hillsboro Peak at 10,010 feet (or so the sign said).
On Hillsboro peak we slept in a bothy and were very kindly received by the fire warden for coffee in the morning – AND he made us sandwiches to take for lunch that day!
Thank you Phil!
Yesterday we were excited by our first running water in a stream bed.
The two times we have hitch hiked (to Hilsboro to resupply and into the town we are in now) the first car going our direction has stopped. People are incredibly friendly and helpful. It has been almost overwhelming!
Now we are in Silver City, NM, where a bike race is going on (the Tour of the Gila). Apparently Lance Armstrong is amongst the riders. The town is lovely and has lots of cafes. We are hoping to continue on Monday towards the Gila river (lots of WATER!!!).
After a bit of faffing around with Greyhound buses yesterday, we were picked up this morning by trail angel Keith in Deming. Keith took us to the Mexican Border in his truck and gave us the low-down on water sources and beta he’s had from other hikers that have recently passed this way. We then walked into Mexico (the border town is called Palomas and has had a bit of trouble with warring drugs cartels we are told) where everyone seemed to know Keith and he knew everyone. For the Scottish readers: Keith would be given the title “big man” in the fair city of Glasgow – in the best possible way.!
About 50 meters into Mexico, we had what I (M) have been wishing to do for a long long time: a Mexican meal (tostadas for me and burrito for B) in Mexico! It was tasty, the pre-meal salsa was distinctly hotter than anything you’d get in Scotland (I was given some butter to suck on to extinguish the flames inside my mouth), and the restaurant/gift shop where we ate was just lovely, full of colourful shiny things (which tourists can buy if they don’t – like us – have to carry everything on their backs)!
So far we have been checked by the border patrol/customs three times: once in the bus approaching Deming (where they had a dog sniff our luggage while an olive green official checked our passports), once on the way back from the restaurant recrossing into the US (fair enough) and then again as we walked away from the border after taking some souvenir photos. We are told to expect more checking over the next couple of days.
Keith then left us to the hot wind and the rattle snakes … well, to walk along the road for only three miles from the border into the American town of Columbus to be precise. Our daily distance on this part of the hike will strongly depend on water availability and we are going to try to ensure that we are camped near water every night to allow us to re hydrate over night and not have to carry too much extra weight in the shape of H2O. The next water from here is 18 miles along the trail, so we are staying in Columbus tonight (in a red clay and cactus campsite that looks just lovely!) and starting early tomorrow morning.
Used to the soggy hillsides of Scotland, it must be said that so far, New Mexico feels incredibly dry, hot and dusty to us. The kind of landscape that makes your tongue stick to to the roof of your mouth just by looking at it, leave alone walking through it. We’ve been warned of rattle snakes, scorpions, spiky vegetation and drug runners as well as border patrol (the last two in the list being armed with guns). But there’s also hope of spotting Ibex (a population descended from some Persian ibex released in the past) and a small thing that looks like a pygmy tapir or pig. I’d also like to see a road-runner (New Mexico’s state bird) and lots of lizards.
We are in sunny Durango , CO and aim to start walking late on the 23rd April Thursday. We have had a great and interesting time so far- hot pools in Glenwood Springs CO, deep snow in Montrose CO, meeting the Martin family, a red rock canyon walk near Grand Junction CO with Mary Joy (with big horn sheep and lambs), a day in Mesa Verde Nat Park CO (fantastic Anasazi cliff dwellings in high canyon country). Brian lost half a tooth in Mesa Verde and has had some emergency dental treatment from a friendly practise here in Durango. Looking forward to starting our walk!