May 9th, 2019
TLC Ranch mm 440.5 to mm 452.5, then to Cebolla Canyon Alt mm 17.5
Distance in miles: 29.5
I woke up to everything covered in frost, including the inside and outside of my tent. There was nothing to do but to pack it up, stiff and frozen. We said our goodbyes to everyone and hit the road, the first hikers of the day.
The landscape was so extraordinary with all the frost and dew. The sun came up and started drying everything. Twelve miles went by like nothing and then we had to decide on a route. The main CDT goes in a big horseshoe to encompass the chain of craters, a series of old cinder cones from volcanic times past. There is little water and the route is about 3 times longer than the alternate. I hadn’t done any research on this route so I wasn’t inclined to take it.
We were at the 1st junction with the Cebolla alternate and so we took it. It went up Armijo Canyon. The trail was a jeep path, then just a cow path. There was an old stone house along the way. Then a trail climbed steeply out of the canyon, spitting us out onto a soft sandy road. We followed it all the way down Sand Canyon. Both canyons were prime areas to see a mountain lion, elk, or rattlesnake. We did find a small rattler where we finally met up with Cebolla canyon. It was way off to the side and no threat.
The canyons were beautiful and the walking so pleasant. We had a late lunch, eating a final pie from Pie Town. Relentless picked it up when he went to fetch his tarp the day before. We were too stuffed at dinner to eat it last night. So we carried it for today. I was almost able to forget about the crappy weather coming. But the clouds were forming all day long and by the time we reconnected to the road, rain was threatening. The road had also become a busy paved highway with no shoulder, yuck.
The plan was to walk a few more miles but I quickly realized my miscalculation. There were newly-erected barbed-wire fences on either side and the landscape was pretty barren. We aimed for some trees in the distance and walked fast. Trucks blasted by and I worked hard to calm my nerves. I’ve been hit from behind on my bike before so it triggers some fear whenever vehicles are approached from behind. I try to walk facing oncoming traffic whenever possible.
Another hiker, Eee-Oar, was ahead and we caught up to him just as a herd of 30 elk bounded across the highway in front of us. He had walked straight along the dirt road coming from Pie Town until it intersected the highway, bypassing the canyon walks. Many hikers do this just because it’s a straight-shot, but then complain about how all the road-walking is tearing up their feet. Or they just hitch and miss it all together. We were all trying to put in some miles before the bad weather hit. But I was glad that we took the trail and got to experience the canyons. What is the point of being out here, after all?
By the time we got near the trees, the wind was really blowing and it was on the verge of raining. We all popped the fence and headed for an old stock coral and pond. This area also has ancient lava flows, so there was a wall of lava that I felt like investigating. A finger came out and created the perfect bowl, protected from all but one side from the wind. We promptly set up and it started to rain just as I got my stuff all inside my tent. Phew!