Prairie dog watching, red rock admiring

Day 30: Cecilia Creek to Whirlpool Campground along the Rio Chama, ~22 miles, ~548 miles total

As of today, we’ve been on trail for month. Admittedly, a good number of those days have been zero days. But thinking back to the ocotillo of the Chihuahuan Desert and the hoodoos and slick rock  of the Gila, there is now some distance mentally and literally. It’s a good feeling.

Those places I wished to stay longer and hope to return to, stick in my mind and will be a part of my day dreams for a long time to come. But for everyplace I want to stop and stay, hiking on lets me discover another.

Even this morning as we walked from Cecilia Creek to Hwy 96 (near Coyote, NM) I am slow behind Gabriel. Watching a desert cottontail, admiring last year’s oak leaves, cacti in miniature, flowers whose names I still need to learn. I could have been content to play in these woods for days. And yet, by breakfast time, we had views of the red, buff, yellow and white sandstone cliffs of the mesas we’d be climbing. To get closer to the rock and the unknown places beyond, I was eager to keep walking.

To be content on trail, and in life, it’s good to enjoy what is before you, fully, then accept that it is time to move on.

Late morning and early afternoon we walked amid pinyon and juniper and sagebrush up, up, up to Mesa del Camino and over to a land of green grass and aspen groves. I heard the bark of prairie dogs in a meadow and Gabriel and I stopped to watch them scurry amid their burrows. (They didn’t know what to make of a marmot whistle.) It was a thrill to observe them for a few minutes.

Our afternoon had a detour down a cairn marked canyon. That ended up not being the trail (despite the flagging and arrows). Bewildered by the GPS telling us we were on route, but not seeing any sign of the trail, we sidehilled back up to the road. It felt like a trip back home to go steeply up and down a slope. Soon enough we were back on route.

Before entering the Rio Chama Wilderness we had our first views of the snow covered San Juans and the red cliffs of the mesas ahead of us. We descended into Ojitos Canyon and walked along the creek through Douglas-fir stands, then Ponderosa pine, down to juniper-pinyon woodlands and onto sagebrush flats. Transitioning life zones all within a few miles and less than two hours time and only a few hours in the Wilderness. The cliffs and hoodoos around us, kept Gabriel and I oohing and awing. We watched raptors soar above us and picked out rock castles to explore.

Our maps had implied that crossing the Rio Chama would have some sort of excitement. The crossing, at Skull Bridge, had no skulls or anything spooky about it, an anticlimactic namesake from the trail’s perspective, supposedly it is the surname of a nearby former rancher.  But coming out of the wilderness and back to a road so quickly in the heat of the late afternoon had me ready to stop for the day and it was only 6 pm. A rarity, I am no backpacker, I prefer the thru-hike or mountaineering approach of keep moving until it is dark (and then some) vs. stopping early. But this evening, our 30th day on trail, we did stop early to camp at a Forest Service campground by the Rio Chama.

We ate chocolate chip pudding with bunny grahams to celebrate 30 days on trail. We sat on rocks and watched the brown silty river water flow by, admired the small cliffs across the water from our campsite, watched ducks fly up the river. But really neither Gabriel nor I are good at sitting for too long (this is good in our current avocation). Finally he started climbing into the junipers to find the insects whose wings make the constant clicking sounds. I dug out my smart phone and studied trees.

To sleep early, we fell asleep to the sounds of the Rio Chama. May the snow in the San Juans continue to melt and flow down this river, and may some of that water eventually find its way to the Rio Grande.


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