Day 25: Ojo del Dado to cholla flats of Mesa San Luis, ~25 miles, ~467 miles total
One of the many things I love about long-distance hiking is that a day on trail can take one many places in 25 miles.
Often, I feel as if I’ve lived 2-3 days of life in a single day. Perhaps this is the nature of a continuous journey.
A warm morning and we are back to road walking amid sagebrush lands and pinyon woodlands. The sun illuminates bunch grasses. Jackrabbits scurry across our path and bound from shrub to road to tree to arroyo. The walking is deceptively easy.
That’s the thing that I try not to let bother me at times: walking road vs. hiking trail. It is not so much that I resent our route is on a road; I accept that as part of the CDT. What both Gabriel and I notice is that the road separates us, however slightly, from the natural world. On a road I feel as if I am looking out onto the woodland. On a trail, like yesterday, I feel that I am walking in the woodland.
Such as it is, we won’t be on roads forever. On this warm morning, they are a nearly effortless way to walk on to a canyon oasis. And the roadside bunch grass and rabbits are lovely to view.
After yesterday’s waterless late afternoon, Ojo de los Indios is all the more appreciated. A half mile off the CDT, the spring’s cold, clear water is fenced off from cattle and tucked in a basalt canyon. Next to the spring, aspens flutter their new leaves, soft green grass grows unshorn, there is shade in clean comfy Pondeosa duff. Gabriel and I took a long breakfast break to enjoy the tranquil setting. And fill up on amazing water for another dry stretch.
Such a unique spot amid the dry juniper-pinyon woodlands. We were only mildly surprised to hear, then see, a large group of day hikers who came to look at the canyon. A reminder, in non-trail world, today was Saturday. These were the first day hikers we’d seen since the Gila (200 miles ago!).
Late morning had us hiking great trail amid pinyon woodlands. Feeling more apart of the system. IDing flowers. Eating Nutella. Admiring thinning treatments and use of fire in the forest.
That is until we walked into a burn that smelled fresh, saw a smouldering log and a dark cloud of smoke up the trail. Uh oh. Dry conditions and winds. The NWS forecast from yesterday warned of a red flag warning. That smoke ahead could be a wildfire.
Not wanting to risk going near a fire (though mildly tempted at the same time), we got out our maps, took a bearing for the road alternate and headed east. Gabriel wondered if it may be a prescribed fire (smart guy!, he’s been hanging out with forest ecology folk). But I was pretty quick to dismiss the idea. Who would start a burn during a red flag warning and not post any notices about it at trailheads (such as the TH at Ojo de los Indios)? Or leave the fire unstaffed? Turns out, the BLM.
As we walked east, away from the smoke, we passed through large patches of forest burned to mineral ground and some lightly singed. The ground still warm in places. I wondered what the intent was of the prescribed fire. Were these patches going to replicate past successional pathways?
I didn’t stop to wonder too long as our main objective was to get to the road and away from smoke. Sigh. Back to road for a while. (We only learned a few miles later that it was BLM doing a prescribed burn along the trail. Very surprising.)
While it was disappointing to leave good trail, the road down to the next spring and connection back to the CDT offered amazing views of desert, mesas and wildflowers blooming along the switchbacks.
A stop Ojo de Frio for another 13 miles or so worth of water and then it was time to reenter the grasslands and desert.
The cool of evening had us walking across arid desert into arroyos, dry river beds, across cholla flats with views of high mesas and peaks. Cerro Cuate and El Cabezon dominating in form and view. Gorgeous sparse country; some places only mats of buckwheat grew in the dusty cracked clay.
The temps and light made ideal conditions for a few more miles of desert wandering. In fading light we set up camp at the base of Mesa San Luis with a view of Cerro Cuate.
Looking south toward the mesa we descended hours ago, the morning road walk and self-imposed fire detour feel as if they were days ago. We’ll sleep well in the desert tonight.