Day 27: cholla flats of Mesa San Luis to Jones Canyon Spring, ~22 miles, ~489 miles total
Gabriel and I are continuously in awe by the diversity of landscapes the Continental Divide Trail spans across New Mexico. Interspersed between the road walking stretches of pinyon and juniper woodlands we’ve hiked through the Chihuahan desert, hoodoo country, slot canyons, river canyons, Ponderosa and oak forests, sandstone canyons and lava fields. Add to this amazing list: mesa wonderland.
We woke in the cholla flats. Land of gray dust, scattered grasses, low growing prickly pear, and gnarled gigantic cholla (single stems more than 5 inches in diameter, reaching heights of 8-10 feet, and overall diameters of 10-12 feet). Big. To be admired.
Up the sandstone steps of the Mesa San Luis we entered a slickrock world. White and buff sandstone formations rolling and twisting about. It felt like we were hiking through a sci-fi movie set. Only we were on trail!
We rolled up and over sandstone mesas for most if the morning. Stopping to watch rabbits, lizards, new flowers. Inspected supposed water sources the trail markers suggested were around (all dry, good we were carrying what we needed).
Breakfast was in the shade of a juniper on the edge of a mesa looking out to El Cabezon and the highlands we’d hiked down yesterday.
So much rock to admire. Red and white sandstone, ocher and buff columns of composite rock, dunes of gray, black and red capped rock.
At times the only motivation to keep moving was not wanting to stay standing in the full sun. Warm. Hot even. We hiked amid the rocks in awe and ever on to reach the next water, the next shade.
A little afternoon, we made it to the spigot with a rusty trough in Arroyo de Cerres Colorados. Reports from a week prior said that it gushed water liters perocular minute! Promising. But a note from Voyageur, who’d stopped here a few hours before us, read, “Don’t waste a drop!” Indeed it was barely a trickle coming through when we opened the spigot.
Bummer. This could be a real damper on a warm day we were so thoroughly enjoying. With a little patience, enginuity, and much pumping 45 minutes later we had enough water to hike on to the next water source; ~14 miles away.
Meandering in the heat of the afternoon-when only foolish hikers are out and all other smart animals are in the shade-we walked through sagebrush and juniper flats on to the next mesa. We met Fireweed, sitting wisely in juniper shade, our first new hiker in many miles. Standing in full sun, we didn’t visit too long.
Climbing up the next mesa we admired claret cup hedgehog cactus and rainbow cactus. Pinyons and junipers cling to the red sandstone rim and hang off the edge rock.
By the end of our afternoon shade stop the heat had subsided and a breeze picked up. Gabriel and I were admiring the trail, its route, the views and trees around us. Soon we were on La Vantana Mesa and a ridge of red slick rock looking west to mesas in the distance and looking east to the hills of the San Pedro Peaks.
Red slick rock, white slick rock, sandstone formations. Ponderosa and pinyon twisted and growing from the lovely rock. White, blue and mauve lichen speckling the sandstone beneath our feet. Mesa wonderland!
The evening light enhanced the magic of this wondrous place. Stopping to enjoy the views we wished we had enough water to camp here on some sandy protected spot amid the splendour of this rock garden.
We watched the sun set as we descended a promenade of white slick rock and Ponderosa. Pinks, oranges and honey color above purple mesas. Rounded a bend and entered a small grove of oak and the smell of water.
Jones Canyon Spring. Below a sandstone cave. Cliff swallow nests cover the eaves of the rock. Lush vegetation all around. Cold, clean, life affirming water fills a trough from slow but steady flowing spring. Animal tracks in sand affirming this is the place. Bats flit about in the last colors of twilight.
Water collected. We leave the spring to its night time visitors and find camp amid juniper and pinyon a little way up the trail.