Verdant valleys and parkland

Day 29: Del Prado Motel to Cecilia Creek, ~22 miles, ~526 miles total

Heading north out of Cuba, it didn’t take Gabriel and me very long to observe that the we had walked out of the desert (at least for the time being). In exchange for mesas, ahead of us were the hills of the San Pedro Peaks. Along side of us verdant fields, newly leafed-out cottonwoods and free flowing water. We marveled at the change.

Leaving the more populated stretch of Los Pinos Road we entered forest of Ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, and Gambel oak. A magpie flew over us. Further confirmation that we are in Northern New Mexico; the southern end magpie range.

We tried to take a detour to see the badlands noted on our map, but missed an invisible road. We go cross country through pleasant forest to reunite with the road and the trail head. So be it.

A stop for lunch. Smudge, Not So Bad, Shutterbug, and Shutterbug’s friend are also at the trail head. Makes for a pleasant break in forest with trail talk. We gave SB’s friend props. He opted to truly experience the CDT with SB and walked 6 miles of road (which he’d have to walk back) whereas we were all going up the trail.

Off to wandering up, up, up the trail. Through mixed conifer forest. So green. For only the second time, the soil smells alive with organic matter. There is continuous understory, midstory and overstory vegetation. Stream violets (white and yellow), colts foot, Oregon grape, red columbine (the first of the trail), paintbrush, Rocky Mountain maple, elderberry, thimbleberry, service berry, wild currants and roses, alder, aspen, Douglas-fir, Ponderosa pine, white fir, and Englemann spruce. We stop to reacquaint ourselves with the sensation of being in forest. Listen to the wind blow through the aspen. Hear the streams trickle. The birds sing.

Then up some more and into the San Pedro Parks Wilderness, 41,000 acres. Switchbacking out of the aspens and spruce we reach 10,000 feet and the parkland of said name. The San Pedro Parks are part of the Jemez Mountains on the western finger of the southern most Rocky Mountains. The parks are golden grassy meadows edged by thickets of Englemann spruce and clear flowing streams. Up here the snow has just melted out. The meadows are boggy and patches of snow remain in shaded spruce groves.

We slosh through the meadows and up the trail. Gabriel and I both noted that the CDT is very near a closed contour on the map. His GPS notes it as the San Pedro Parks HP, or high point. We can resist. Off the trail we go, strolling through basalts, shrub juniper and spruce over to the summit (10,600+ according to the map). We find a register, but it is soggy. Need to send a New Mexico hiker a Cascades summit register (a la Roper, Pullen or Bradshaw) to replace the glass Heinz fat free gravy jar at the top. It’s wet up here by New Mexico standards, the San Pedro Parks receive about 34 inches of precip a year.

Onward we go across the parks and down through dense spruce stands. Large patches of trees are defoliated, some have lost a few years growth. Stands in decline. And soon stands blown down. Over the trail. They are good hurdle practice and we wind our way through them. Back down to aspen and white fir stands. Below 9,000 feet the aspen have leaved out. The stands feel verdant. We stop at a spring for water. Cold and clear. We tank up. The next water is 15 miles in  a way, but in a creek; after all this is still New Mexico. We hike on continuing to descend into Ponderosa and Gabel oak forest. We reach Cecilia Creek. Duff and dusk, a good time to stop and camp.