Twig Adventures

GET Day 36: UFO’s or weather balloons?

Sunday Apr 25th, 2021, 0630-1930
Grey Ridge cut to Rattlesnake Spring, Segment 34, mm 668
25 miles

The wind settled down nicely overnight but once again, my stomach did not. I woke around 1 am feeling the need to puke. I just couldn’t let that happen, so I tried some herbal remedies that helped settle my stomach and put me back to sleep. I still woke with a knot in my stomach and could only manage to choke down a banana for breakfast. I’d had no appetite whatsoever for days and my stomach was visibly distended, even though there was nothing in there. I just felt bloated. I couldn’t imagine how much longer this could last. I should have gotten better by now, but I guess my body was already a bit stressed before this illness.

A steep climb to start things off didn’t help things. We had to go cross country for a few miles to avoid the Sevilleta wildlife refuge. It was a large parcel of land that was donated to the NM government with the stipulation that no humans except managers and researchers could foot inside. It was also off limit to cows, though while following the fence, we found an open gate and ended up on the wrong side. Surely some cows had made the same mistake. We were to keep following the fence up and down a lot of gullies but my topographically-keen eyes spied a more efficient route up through a wash. I like the cross country sections because I feel at liberty to the make my own routes. It’s so very liberating to just look at the map and go where it makes sense.

The wash route might have bypassed a little private land, but it panned out in several regards. One, it was fun and efficient in getting us to the next road. Two, it was a good practice in navigation. And 3, we helped SCIENCE! We discovered a NOAA weather balloon that had landed in the wash. It was like finding our own crashed UFO in the New Mexico desert….something this area was definitely famous for. We recovered all the parts, including the rope and plastic from the balloon. The instrument package had a postage-paid envelope attached for mailing back….now if we could just find a pen to fill out the info and a place to mail it. We strapped everything to our packs and hauled it down the road. I might not carry enough food to survive, but I’d add weight to my back in the name of science. After having worked for NOAA for almost 10 years, no way was I not going to return their weather balloon. Hopefully I’d get a certificate of appreciation or something.

The road walk shortly brought us to the Thompson ranch, which was listed in our notes for supplying hikers with water from their faucet. They’d rather we come in their front yard than collect from nearby troughs, so as to not disturb the cows. We met Ronda and Ernest at their house and began a nice but lengthy conversation. Two hours later, we’d gotten plenty of water and had quite a tour! They invited us inside to see the beautiful furniture that Ernest had crafted for most of his professional career. He even ran a large business in the city but retired to “just” raise cattle. The business still caried his name.

I’d always had an impression about ranching as being, well, a profession for those that didn’t mind some dirt and a bit of chaos. But the immaculate presentation of every aspect of this ranch amazed me, starting with their gorgeous house. It could easily be the centerpiece spread in an interior decorating magazine of ranches of the southwest. Ronda showed me around, explaining so many details about the artwork, native American pottery, furniture, and antique stoves. I also played with the cat and little dog Lucy. Topics of conversation also strayed towards UFO sightings and strange things that had happened to the cows. On that note, we got the weather balloon sorted out and it sounded like it was on their land, so they were happy we removed it…you never know what a cow will munch on. The experts say that most cow mutilations can be explained by weather balloons, or something like that. (Dry humor).

We wished we could have stayed longer, but we’d been hoping for a big day mileage wise and already were behind several hours. Meeting and learning from the locals was a part of the journey that I always liked to make time for, though. More importantly, I wanted to let these nice people get back to their chores. I could see how passionately they cared for their stock and property and how much work went into keeping standards so high. It was refreshing to see such a professional operation after passing so many dilapidated and abandoned ranches along the way. We’d also seen some pretty skinny cows in other places. Here they looked fat and happy.

We continued on for a series of cross country pieces followed by dirt road walks. We reached the highway going towards the town of Mountainair, which due to our extended stay in Socorro, we’d decided to skip. We knew that Cookie, Tictoc and Cashmere had left us a water cache at the highway, so we sat down for a long drink in the shade. It had gotten quite hot this day and I was loathe to keep moving. We had hoped to make it almost 30 miles to a campground at the base of the Manzanos, but with 15 miles left at 3 pm, we knew that wasn’t going to happen. During the break, a guy with a pistol on his belt stopped to open a gate, saw us, and brought us two bottles of water. He’d been out target practicing and we’d heard some of his shots. It’s funny that a guy packing in the middle of nowhere didn’t even raise my alarm. He was just making a kind gesture, like so many others we’d met.

A spring was reported to be 4 miles ahead, so we aimed for that. We walked some more interesting washes to get there, which felt very wild. I spied a fox and later spooked some mule deer. The spring was nice, if a bit clogged with algae and reeking of alkalinity. It was also right next to a major railroad route, with numerous double-decked trains passing as we were there. It was good to wash off some of the dust from the past few days and get some spare water for cooking. Part of my stomach distress from last night might have been from drinking alkaline water from the solar trough the day before, so I was not eager to drink this water.

We carried on under the huge railroad bridge and up a long, wide canyon. There was a road to follow, which was a nice break since I had assumed it was all cross country. We had to go past a locked gait and signs saying we needed written permission to pass. A game warden truck and trailer was parked there, the warden obviously out on patrol on an ATV. All this made me pretty nervous, as we had no idea what it was about. But we never saw anyone and were back on forest land after 4 miles or so. It was all uphill from the spring but gradual. We put in a pretty good day considering that we took almost 4 hours in breaks during the day. We hiked for as long as we could, finding a nice wash with an ominous name for our campsite: Rattlesnake spring. There was no spring that we could find, or rattlesnakes. If there was a hot spot to have seen them, it would have been the past few days. Still, I’d only seen one this entire trip and that was in AZ. By such metrics, weather balloons were just as common.

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