From Big Bend we headed towards El Paso to do some shopping before making our way to the Lincoln National forest in New Mexico. In need of a shoe replacement I looked up outdoor stores and there was an REI in the area. While on our way I double checked and learned this was a realty company, not an outdoor recreation outfitter, darn. We tried a Gander mountain but they had no minimal or zero drop shoes. Next door was one of the most dangerous grocery stores we've been to. It was called Sprouts market and they had every new age crunchy food our little hippy hearts could desire. $150 later we walked out with our goodies. We then tried a running store and found the exact trail runners I wanted, happy day!
First night in Cloudcroft
We drove to the Cloudcroft, NM ranger station to get maps. In this forest they have a TON of dispersed camping. The map shows numerous roads we are allowed to camp off of. It also includes the trails. Unfortunately the free map and the $10 map don't have topo. Since the only difference was the one you pay for was colored, we stuck with the free one. Also the trails on the map don't have distances, or names. Instead they have numbers like T250, and there is a separate sheet of paper with a list of the hikes by number, then name, distance and use. Also, the free map is the biggest map I have ever seen. It would be a hazard to open it all the way in the front seat of the car while driving. Anywho, all part of the fun.
We stayed in an area called the White Mountains, aptly named as when we arrived they just had an unexpected snowstorm and all was covered in white. It was a bit of a shock going from 90 degrees to 30's. While in the town of Cloudcroft we did some very necessary laundry and purchased some new socks. We then picked a road to camp off of. While driving down the dirt road covered in snow we saw a gang of Elk! It was my first time seeing them in the wild so I was pretty excited and with the backdrop of tall pines and snow, it was perfect. We found a nice campsite to call home for the evening and decided a fire was appropriate. It was amusing to watch Matthew attempt to start a fire using matches as the snow got thicker. He finally got it going with a lighter, after all our nice dry pieces of wood got damp while he went through almost an entire pack of matches. It was lovely having a fire though. We did a quick dinner and once the fire died down crawled in under our down and blankets.
The morning was so cold! I won't even go into what it was like to get up in the middle of the night to pee. We bundled up, ate breakfast with cold fingers and headed out. We were told by a ranger to visit the Sunspot solar observatory. We didn't know it was here and were excited to check it out. Sadly, they are closing in September of this year. For $3 we walked around the museum and learned all about the sun. After that there was a short walk around the grounds to see the different observatories, there was only one open that you could go inside.
We thought we'd just hang out there until it warmed up outside then do a hike. We ended up spending about 5 hours, most of the time going through the museum, it included an hour NOVA video about the suns flares. Once we finished up there we chose a 7 mile loop hike. It was a gorgeous hike, the temperature went up to the 50's and it felt good. We found a bunch of stuff on the trail like a jaw bone, a skinning knife, ultraviolet flashlight, turkey hen caller and the ever pervasive beer bottle. Quite the treasure trove. We got done and decided to just camp at the trailhead. It was off a designated road and there was already a fire pit. This time I started the fire while he cooked dinner. We ate as the sun was going down.
coyote or bobcat jawbone?
The road to that trail was pretty long and we passed another hike on the way out. The next day we did the other hike, it was a 10 mile out and back hike. It was another gorgeous trail. The day before there was no snow on the trail so for this hike I decided to wear my new shoes. As it goes, the trail had several spots with snow and others with mucky mud, a proper breaking in hike for my shiny new shoes. They didn't get too bad actually, and with this lifestyle there's no point in holding off the inevitable. The hike was still very enjoyable.
Before and After...
This is the highest elevation I have been thus far. On that hike I think we were around 9500'. Some people get high altitude sickness and we didn't know how I'd react. At this elevation, aside from the expected slight shortness of breath, I've done well. No cerebral edema signs, woot! After the hike we needed to refill on water. We ended up back at the ranger station to see if we could fill up there but they said it was for residents only. They then directed us to a spring we could collect water from. We also asked about the water situation on the Rim trail. It's a 30 mile hike one way and we were going to backpack, then maybe hitchhike back. We learned not only is there no water on the entire trail, but hitchhiking is illegal. New plan, we are going to section hike it by doing 3 overnight out and back trips. This way we don't have to buy plastic jugs to cache along the trail, it's not like we are limited in time. It's also still cold, with unpredictable weather so being able to get a break after two days is a bonus.
Chillin' on a snow day
The day we planned to work on projects and prep for backpacking we woke to snow. The weather online made no mention of this the day before when we were close to town with reception. Shrug. We stayed in bed a little longer than usual expecting the snow to stop. Around 10am it was not showing any signs of slowing. We got up, started a fire, collected wood and set up a shelter. We did a lot of keeping warm until a little after noon. The snow slowed a little and we were able to start pulling our gear together for backpacking the next day. The snow stopped and it got just warm enough for much of the snow to melt away, looking like it hadn't snowed at all.
The next two days we did an out and back hike of the southern most 10 mile section of the trail. Doing 10 miles each day. It was difficult due to the elevation and being the Rim Trail it was a lot of climbing up and down, with some rough sections of trail. The views made up for it though. We had a blast, the weather was good for hiking. The campsite we found was across the street from the end of the trail. It was at lower elevation so it was warm. We had to look around for an area that wasn't covered in cow poop. Aside from that it was great. We also found a small stream to get water. I ended up doing the hike in my heavy Asolo boots in case it snowed again.
Cool shelter we found on the trail
Saw my first Horny Toad!
One of the views, pictures don't really capture the awesomeness
Matthew showing off his six pack
Neat alligator juniper tree whose bark looked like a python wrapped around the branch
End of day one
We took one day off between that hike and the next section. Matthew ordered new hiking boots (he blew through his shoes too) and needed to test them out before doing a backpacking trip. We tested them by doing the Trestle trail, about an 8 mile loop that is near the town of Cloudcroft. It is a rails-to-trails hike that goes along an old railroad track. One section of Trestle was intact, with remnants of other trestles in other parts of the hike. It started as a very windy cold day, by afternoon turning into a warm gorgeous day.
Mexican canyon trestle
For those who lack common sense? Found this amusing
His new boots worked out well, so we planned to head out for the next 10 mile section of the Rim Trail. We started late, just being slow that morning. From the start of the trail we got confused where to continue. There are no blazes here like I'm used to on the east coast. We guessed a route and as we started again a dog startled me from behind. It was a happy-go-lucky white lab, followed by a smaller more tentative black lab and a gentleman on a horse. He was a rancher out looking for antlers to sell. We had a nice little chat with him and he informed us we were on the right path. After a bit we continued our hike.
We found a lot of bones on the trail, this was the only skull
Looking at a bush, per Matthews instruction
We got to another section of the trail we were unsure about. This time again a man appeared (minus the adorable animals), he too was hiking and unsure which way to go. We continued on in different directions, tried back tracking, then going forward again and eventually found a road that took us back to the trail. All this made the hike a bit longer. With three continuous days of long hiking behind me I was pretty tired by the end of the day. Ok, I was cranky and felt over the whole hiking thing. As if he knew it was what I needed Matthew started to sing toward the end of the hike and it lifted my spirits, taking my mind off of the fatigue. The evening was a cold one but we were prepared. My feet got cold at one point but I was warm most of the time. The one issue I did have, was my right hip. It was really hurting and in the middle of the night I had to take some ibuprofen. By morning the hip was still a little sore. I took more ibuprofen before heading out, did some stretches and after about 10 min or so I was warmed up and felt good. We finished the hike within 4 hours, the day before we did it in 6 hours. We were very surprised when we got to the end and it was early afternoon.
We enjoyed the rest of the day at camp and prepared to do the last section of the trail the next day. We got out in the morning by around 9am, this was early for us. Matthew had some pain in the front of his left ankle from the new boots putting pressure there, so we took a quick detour to the post office and found his new shoes arrived. He blew through those as well recently. It worked out that he was able to hike the last section in his new shoes. These were an exact replacement so he didn't need time to break them in and being low ankle shoes they didn't press on his ankle.
The last section was the easiest of the three. It didn't have nearly as much up and down, it felt mainly flat. We finished the hike in a little under 5 hours. Being at camp by 2pm we had a lot of time to burn. I was tempted to take a short break and start the trek back and camp closer to the end, Matthew vetoed the idea. Instead, we rested, which was a wise choice. After about an hour I got bored. We had limited entertainment options so we decided to try starting a fire the old fashioned way, by rubbing two sticks together aka hand drill.
After several minutes of trying to get a spark
First, Matthew went over the types of wood you want to use. Second, we started a search for wood that lasted about 5 minutes or less. Wood is in abundance in the woods, heh. He found a base board that was an old pine with no more sap in it and I found an elderberry bush with old partly rotted wood in the center. They were similar in density, so we thought it would work. I have done bow drill but not hand drill so I got to try the technique. Matthew tried to get an actual spark and came very close, with no spark. He got a lot of powder and it seemed like it was going to work, got some smoke going but that was it. In the end I started the fire the easy way, with a lighter and a nice bundle of dry pine needles (seen in right side of above photo).
Going shirtless! showing off my non-six pack (and feeling comfortable with it for the first time)
We did an early dinner, then read to each other for the rest of the evening. The weather has warmed up a lot in the past week, by this trip we were quit warm. I went so far as to not wear a shirt while hiking, I did have a sports bra on, don't get too excited. We slept well that evening and got back the next day by 2pm. We rewarded ourselves by going to Alamogordo and getting green chiles burgers for dinner, followed by way too big sundaes. We found a dispersed camping site 10 min out of Alamogordo and ended the day with this...
Again, the photo lacks the je ne sais quoi of being present.
That's all for now. Don't know if this was any shorter than the last post.. oh well. Hope you enjoyed it.