Grants, NM – Cuba, NM (Mt. Taylor Alternate)

May 8:Miles hiked – 12.1

Total mileage – 431.1
I’m up early for some reason even though I’m on the fence about whether I’ll leave Grants today or not. It’s supposed to be extremely windy again, and the next two day should bring rain. I think this next section should be incredible, and it’d be a shame to have as weather for it. From here I’m headed up to Mt. Taylor, the first big mountain of the trail at just over 11,000 feet. Then it’s on through the San Mateo Mountains, and then into more mountains after that. I think the desert part of this trail is almost over!

I head to the post office around nine where I pick up a package from Cookie and Nothing yet, thanks homies! It’s beautiful day so I decide to go for it and head to the trail after getting breakfast at a little cafe. I know if I spend three days here in grants I’ll spend a small fortune as it’s a rather big town as trail towns go, so I won’t give myself the chance. 

This is a cool section for me. When I was driving to California before starting the trail I passed through Grants, and took a my first few steps on the trail here, wondering but not knowing what was past that. Today I found out and it was phenomenal. There was trail,actual trail leading up high in elevation to a meadow with views of the desert spreading wide below and Mt. Taylor towering above. I relish these miles, and they’re so needed after the past two sections which have been nearly all road walking. At my break I run into a new obstacle of New Mexico, a strange prickly sort of ball that isn’t easy to spot but when you sit on the ground they’re everywhere. They don’t hurt too bad going in, but when you pull them out it feels as if the thorn has somehow expanded inside of you, giving you the feeling I imagine a fishhook would feel if ripped out of your skin. 

Around three the winds come, but they’re nowhere near as bad as expected. I read a comment on Guthooks, my GPS app, that there is a lot of snow on the other side of the mountain, so I begin to have second thoughts about going up for sunrise and finding a campsite further on. On the other hand, it’s a beautiful day, perfect for a summit. I decide to make a decision at the next water source, and as fate has it I run into Treeman setting up camp here. We decide to wake up early and head up for sunrise, as the trail will stay high for about six miles after the summit which is where I assume the snow will be. There crystal clear water here and we make a fire to cook dinner around. It’s the first time I’ve camped with anyone since Jordan Hot Springs, quite a nice change. I’m excited for snow tomorrow! It should be another great day.
High of the day – beautifully scenic trail for once

Low of the day – there was a dennys in Grants that I never made it to and I don’t know if there will be another one on the trail 
May 9:

Miles hiked – 27.4

Total miles hiked – 458.5
The wind wakes me up rather than my alarm at around four this morning. Treeman and I debate about whether we should still go up, but I had seen that it was supposed to rain around ten so we decided to go for it. It was only three miles to the summit of Mt. Taylor, but the trail up was steep and the altitude makes everything more challenging. It was definitely a reminder of what hiking in big mountains is like, the wind was shipping and halfway up it was clear there would be no sunrise. Cold rain began to drip from the sky as I made it to the top and snapped a quick photo before seeking the shelter of the forest to wait for Treeman. Luckily he didn’t take long because the precipitation only got heavier as the wind got stronger. We got our first taste of snow on the way down for about a mile. It was deep and slushy, nothing like the consolidated snowpack you walk on top of in the Sierra. I was wearing all my clothes which were at this point soaking wet leaving me freezing with each gust of wind. After about two miles of downhill, the trail climbed steeply for no reason other than to bring me into even more perilous conditions. Around ten, it did the exact opposite of what was predicted and actually cleared up just as we reached a nice view of what we would have been looking at from Mt. Taylor. The trail provides. We have a nice break and agree we’re glad not to have been alone this morning! Treeman is pretty much the only person I’ve seen consistently on trail and same for me with him. It’s definitely nice to have someone to hike with for a change, although the solitude this trail gives you is beautiful in its own right.

We split up after the break, hiking on down a dirt road with the sun now shining bright. Within a few miles I miss a turn and hike an extra mile before realizing it! That’s what happens when you zone out on the CDT. After fourteen miles I join back up with the official trail which is actually a trail today, winding through a thick forest of ponderosa pines and a type of tree I’ve never seen before which I think may be an Aspen. With the early start it’s only around noon and it’s all been/continues to be all downhill which doesn’t force me to take too many breaks. I’m happy to make some miles today, it’s supposed to storm worse tomorrow and knowing myself I won’t be having it. At a water source twenty miles in, a large tire with surprisingly clear water in it, I find a note from Treeman saying he will camp in two to nine miles from here. Quite a large range to be wondering how far I’ll have to go! I start to stumble after this point as is typical for me and I’m sure most people after hiking twenty miles. The trail has turned into a road now which heads though exposed meadows of sagebrush which give me no protection from the wind that’s starting to gain speed. The blue sky begins to become overtaken by blackness, and after nine miles still no Treeman! I get some water from a nearby pool (not a swimming pool if that needed to be clarified) and then hiked on to find a spot tucked away from the wind. In the first bunch of trees I find him already set up and find myself a nice spot as well just in time for the rain to start. I eat some sort of Cajun bean,rice, and veggie combo that Cookie had concocted, so good! I’m sure I’ll sleep great tonight, and I certainly won’t be waking up at four again!
High of the day – my morning break with Treeman, good views and good conversation

Low of the day – no view from the first real Mountain of the trail
May 10:

Miles hiked – 20.5

Total miles hiked – 479
It rained overnight, and although there were blue patches in the sky this morning, dark clouds were headed quickly towards our camp. We packed up while we had the chance and hiked on. Miles always go faster in bad weather because you take no breaks, but it still sucked walking in the scattered showers and hailstorms for the first seven miles where there was a spring that I contemplated calling it a day at. I ate breakfast here and thought about all the storms I walked through on the AT, deciding to push on. The next few miles weren’t too bad, but then the hail began to come down heavy and it lasted for over an hour. I definitely did not anticipate having so much weather in New Mexico. There was thunder and lightning while the trail winded through exposed meadow areas, my pace picked up a little bit through that! By the time it stopped the ground was completely white with hail, which melted quickly as the sun forced its way through the clouds. 

I had hiked thirteen miles at this point so I stopped for a break with Treeman shortly behind. We had a yard sale to dry out all of our wet gear which is always a blessing. The roadwalk had ended and now that the clouds had cleared we could see we had been walking on top of a mesa which the trail was about to head down steeply. The views were phenomenal on the edge of the Mesa. I have a grand view of the valley below, full of canyons, mesas, cliffs, and of course a vast desert floor. There’s no denying that when this trail is beautiful, it’s exceedingly so. These moments seem to be few and far between so far though, and take a lot of patience to get to.

I take a few breaks at nice viewpoints on the way down. At the bottom I reach a buggy spring where I tank up to dry camp somewhere for the night. About a mile and a half later, I find an awesome spot on top of a hill with a great view. It’s only five, but I need this after the past two days, so I set up behind the cover of a bushy tree in a position so that I’ll be able to see the sunrise perfectly from my tent. It’s less than 40 miles to Cuba and I don’t want to get there until Saturday morning so the next two days should be easy enough! I spend the afternoon reading, eating, and lovin’ the sunshine.
High of the day – finding maybe my favorite campsite so far

Low of the day – lightning and hail are scary
May 11:

Miles hiked – 25

Total miles hiked – 504
I open my eyes at six to watch the sun rise from my tent against a clear sky while I cook breakfast, oatmeal with blueberries today. I lounge around in camp for a while, happy to have the sun out and not planning to go very far. As soon as I get hiking, heavy cloud cover sets in again and the wind picks up which makes for a cold first few miles on top of the Mesa! By ten the sun is back out again and I’m dropping down steeply into a canyon. The day continues on in this manner, with short but steep pitches into and out of many different canyons. The trail feels like the AT, not due to the scenery but muscle burn definitely brought back memories!

Around noon I arrive at a water cache where I stop for lunch, ramen with tuna. Eating trail food makes me crave town food, and after thinking about it for a while it’s so irresistible that I decide I’ll make it to Cuba tomorrow instead of the next day. Tacos are so close! It’s hard for me not to hike big miles at this point, if I don’t I’ll just be sitting around and I’m almost finished with my book so I wouldn’t have much to occupy my time. (Red, that book you got me gets dark!) 

By the time I hike on it’s super hot outside, one extreme to the next. The trail winds on through boulder fields before beginning to follow an exposed desert ridge for many miles. At around six thirty I stop for dinner and then hike on for another hour with the sunset. I find an awesome clearing on top of the ridge, happy to be cowboy camping again. Unexpectedly the full moon rises right in front of my eyes over the mountain ridge across from me. No sounds but the owls, today was a nice reminder of why I love the desert!
High of the day – moonrise

Low of the day – random cloudiness when I first started to hike
May 12:
Early start 14 mile day into Cuba, NM

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