Wednesday Apr 14th, 2021, 1300-1900
HWY 52 to San Mateo Canyon, segment 27, mm 510
I woke up thinking this would be a fine place and day to take a zero… that’s how much I liked the cabin. Even though this tiny town had hardly anything, it had just enough…provided the general store’s open. I was up early to get some blog work done, so I went over to the church. Pastor Jim had invited us to go inside to use the wifi, so that we didn’t freeze sitting outside. It was a lot like a library, only all the books had a very specific theme.
When the long-awaited general store opened, we had 2 more surprises waiting. One box of food had a personal message from our friend Freebird. I met him on both the PCT and CDT. He’s a prolific full time long distance hiker and this year he’s doing all of the official CDT, no alternates. He’d come through Winston a few weeks before us and knowing we’re on the GET, sweet-talked the general store lady into letting him write on our box. Because he has no cell phone, it’s hard to communicate with him otherwise. Message via resupply box seems like a method straight out of a spy movie…it was a nice surprise.
The bad surprise was that the other box wasn’t there. I didn’t panic but instead walked up the road to the post office to find the box sitting there. We like to send resupply boxes to businesses because they generally have much better open hours and days. (You’re screwed if you get into town on a weekend and your box is at the PO.) Ironically in this case, had I known my box was still at the PO, I could have picked it up the day before and had access to a surplus of food and toiletries last night. Oh well.
By the time we had our resupply situated, I was rethinking the zero. Mainly I had looked at the weather forecast to see that a front was coming in over the weekend. It was supposed to rain and snow late Saturday through Sunday. I hated to waste a good weather day only to be out longer in the bad weather. If we pushed, we might make it to the next town before it got really bad. So we hit the corner for a ride out of town, getting lucky again with a quick ride to the split of 52 and 59. We walked 52 for about 3 miles, seeing lots of antelope along the way. Eventually a rancher gave us a ride the rest of the way.
Interestingly, this rancher’s immediate family used to own a lot of the surrounding land, including a stretch that’s caused quite a stir in recent years. There used to be an atv route through a nearby canyon that was popular with the off-road crowd. When the rancher’s brother died, a wealthy guy from Texas bought his brother’s land surrounding the canyon and proceeded to limit the road access…which is apparently under a state land trust and therefore should be open to the public. But the ATVs were reportedly driving onto his property, cutting firewood, having camp fires, and leaving trash. I can’t blame him for being upset and taking action to eliminate such disturbances. The bad part is that this also shut off the route to GET hikers, as it used to be the official route.
In talking to this rancher, I got an interesting impression on the current situation. He basically said that if hikers stuck to walking in the stream bed of the canyon, not disturbing any fences, ranch buildings, etc, and not camping anywhere in the area, no one would probably care. In fact, he didn’t think anyone was even around to notice. Of course, this is all still just hear-say.
I must admit, I had been dreading the long, arduous cross-country route that was derived to avoid the canyon. It was reported to be quite hard, with a lot of pointless ups and downs and basically no water for 15 or more miles. We had even come up with our own alternate route, which would have involved a forest road to bring us into the mountain range but bypassed much of the Apache Kid Trail, which I wanted to do.
The rancher’s info certainly sparked my imagination. Picture a route through a beautiful canyon, walking in crystal clear stream beds, and having access to this nice water all day. Imagine all the fish, birds and other wildlife, but no people. We had already walked many canyons by this point and didn’t need to risk walking this one if it might upset others. But at least we could imagine what it might be like. We walked to the opening of the canyon just before where the alternate breaks off. We peaked inside a ways, just to get a feel. It was nice.
The rest of the day’s walk was as expected, just lots of wash and prairie walking, up and down ridges. We finished the day in a dry canyon, in search of a wind pump that turned out to be defunct. Fortunately we had enough water from earlier and were able to make due for the night. We were surrounded by cows initially. It sounded like a whole herd passed us as we were going to sleep. Then the coyotes and owls took over, drowning out the cows. I slept well.