Day 34: spruce and fir forest between Mogote Peak and Banco Lona to Hopewell Lake Campground, ~25 miles, ~602 miles total
Our camp amid the spruce and fir proved to be the nicest spot we could have hoped for last night. For the first hour of this morning found us walking through spring green aspen groves (i.e. soggy). False hellebore, larkspur, and dandy lions along the roadside. Elk grazing along fence lines.
Down the road to an open grassy ridge we began to consider our route options for the day. One of the many pleasures of the CDT is that there is no one right way to go. Hike a route that suits you. The Ley maps we use often have the official CDT marked in red and possible alternate routes in purple. From our vantage point, we could see the purple route offered cross country travel along a grassy ridge and a possible road up a drainage. The red route had us walking more seemingly muddy road for about the same distance. We chose the “purple route”.
Pleasant cross country amid healthy looking bunch grass and wild flowers. And fences. Barbed wire fences that prompt me to ponder the end of the American frontier. Perhaps to have truly experienced the wild Continental Divide I would have needed to come before the invention of barbed wire. Sigh, the land is still beautiful. And the trail/route we are walking wouldn’t be here if not for those who tried to tame the West. But I still have mixed feelings about barbed wire fences.
Off the fields and up a semi dry road, we find a spot with just enough sun to sit for breakfast and dry out the tent. And the foot box of my sleeping bag. We are both a little anxious as dark clouds block the sun for several minutes at a time and taunt us with a few drops of rain. Still, the tent dries!
We hike on and up into 10,000 foot parkland of bunch grasses, meadow, and spruce. The first glacier lilies are flowering! Bright yellow and cheery dancing petals. They are far more pleasant to admire than the silver shine of beer cans that litter the roadside. More pleasant are the streams overflowing with snow melt. Occasionally we negotiate muddy stretches of road and snow drifts but this is easy parkland walking.
At a dry patch of ground we stop and sit to watch the song bird show. Blue birds sing out from the tops of bunch grass. LGJs (little gray jobs) hop below. Robins group and chorus amid the aspen.
Mid afternoon we realize that this is the first day of the hike that we have not seen another hiker. Just a few days prior we were wondering when this would happen.
More road walking. We opt for a cross country alternate, suggested by Ley, that cuts off 1.5 miles of road. Far more interesting to walk in the Ponderosa stand, hop over blowdown, and try to figure out the harvest prescription for the marked stand. The blue paint on some of the trees reminds me fondly of work.
Soon we are back on trail that wanders through Ponderosa forest, park like stands of large diameter (>3 feet), with green grass below and Douglas squirrels scurrying about. We cross Vallecitos Creek on foot bridge that has been righted since last season and head up a small basalt canyon, with rock flakes that evoke dragons sleeping amid the forest duff. Up and down and switch backing gentle trail tread. So refreshing to hike trail.
The good walking has us hoping we can make our two goals for the day: 600 miles and the Marshmallow at Hopewell Lake Campground. Knowing that Groceries and Lucy would likely be there was big motivation to push out the last 6 road miles. Storm clouds nearly had us camping early. But granola bars, talk of turkeys and chorus frogs kept us focused on the last hour of the road walk. For whatever reason, the muggy weather, dark clouds and approximate mileage had me thinking of one of our last running dates around Lake Union. Thinking about it taking an hour or less to run our route kept me walking fast. (Gabriel thought super fast.)
We made it to the camp ground before 7:30. Lucy excitedly greeted us! Groceries welcomed us with hugs and beer. And Cheryl, now Cake Walk, built a fire and heated up hot water for our dinners. Such luxury! We even ate inside the Marshmallow where it was warm and there were chairs!
Groceries also had a surprise for us: goat brie! One of my favorite cheeses. And a demi baguette with butter. Perfect. When I’d last seen her at Ghost Ranch, I’d thanked her for the chocolate milk and ice cream delivery, and then scoffed at myself for not making a more exotic Trader Joe’s request for treats like goat cheese and good bread. Leave it to the ever magical Groceries.
What a way to celebrate 600 miles.
Rhank you Groceries, Cake Walk, and Lucy.