Day 39: Cumbres Pass to New Mexico
-Colorado state line near NM Hwy 29, ~21 miles, ~661 miles total
Two days off has us itchy to start hiking. But where to? Some route that contributes to our effort to walk from Mexico to Canada, mostly along the CDT. This hike, a journey, is guided by the Continental Divide and the trail, but the trail is not the only way. Adapt when needed. Like life. No one right way to live.
Our plan is loosely formed. Due to lack of information and internet connections. (Oh, what did people do before the interwebs?) We asked some locals and even a guide based in Chama. They had no suggestions. Thankfully we have Google maps. Not complete info, but sufficient.
From what we read on the map, we can walk down Highway 17 from Cumbres Pass to New Mexico SR 29. Camp at an FS campground (in Colorado!), then walk Navajo River Road and head west to Highway 84. Walk 84 to Pagosa Springs. Then take Highway 160, or another route, to Wolf Creek Pass. 78 miles total. Not much more distance than the trail. Not our ideal, but we reasoned, repeatedly, safer.
Plan devised. Accepted. Time to start walking.
Picked up our snow shoes from the PO. They arrived via express mail right in time. (Thank you Boni for the special trip to town!) Here’s to prompt and accurate delivery, too!
Next, meet up with Groceries and Smudge. They graciously let us store our snow gear and extra food in the Marshmallow. We will meet up with them in Pagosa Springs in a few days for our hiatus to Mesa Verde. (Thank you G and S!)
Standing on the outskirts of town we had hardly stuck out our thumbs when Sleeping Bare came down the road. A trail angel following his son, Nugio, another hiker, he’d just come down from shuttling hikers to Cumbres. He kindly offered us a ride. Turned his car around and whisked us off to the pass. We were so grateful! Thank you Sleeping Bare for all the help you give.
Back at Cumbres, we checked out the register and made sure our steps connected. Then we started walking back down the road we just got a ride up.
Pleasant enough walking. Great views. Good shoulder. Not too many cars on the road. And far easier to take in the green hills and peaks of the Chama Valley on foot at 3.25 miles per hour. We are accustomed to trail time and it feels difficult to take in views at 55 miles per hour. We even IDed peak 11,060, which we hiked up a few days before.
Walking down, a guy stopped his truck on the road and asked if we wanted a ride. We briefly tried to explain what we were doing, but it would have taken too much time to fully convey our situation and reasoning while he was stopped on the highway. We declined his offer again and as he slowly drove off, he put his hand out at the window and gestured that we were crazy.
Admittedly, we felt a little ridiculous. Skipping mountains for road. We must be cuckoo, hardcore cuckoo at that. (A few weeks before, a hiker told us we were “hardcore” for taking cross country routes.) Road walking is ridiculous. It’s not the highest level of pleasure. But it’s what it’s going to take for a few days to make sure our foot steps safely link us from Mexico to Canada.
Back in Chama (12 miles and 3.75 hours later), we stopped at the library to download USGS maps. Sitting in the hot sun on the front stoop would later prove invaluable. Then return to the road. Walking through town, folks waved from their porches and kids complimented Gabriel on his new shiny shoes. It felt good to enjoy the charms of this little mountain town for one more hour.
We headed up NM state route 29. Soon the road turned to gravel, then into the Edward Sargent Wildlife Management Unit. Our maps didn’t indicate who/what owned land, just that a road ran through it. We’d thought we’d be walking a dusty forest road with traffic and private homes on either side. Instead we were walking up a broad valley with sweeping views. No cars. No fences. It was a delightful surprise!
So peaceful. Crickets chorused. Swallows zipped by. Red wing blackbirds guarded their territories. Larkspur, lupine and Rocky Mountain sweet pea in bloom. Elk calmly grazing. All illuminated by late afternoon sunshine.
Looking east and north the 10,000 foot peaks were largely snow free. Further back more snow higher up. Rio Chamita flowing freely save for where the beaver’s dam slowed its course. Ahead of us, across a low pass, the Continental Divide, Colorado, Chama Peak. Beautiful and just a few miles away.
We thought we’d hike later to make up for a late start. Appreciate the lengthing days. Get to the public camp ground. Just as we remarked about how fantastic it was to walk a road in New Mexico without beer cans, cow poo, or fences we saw a fence in the distance. To New Mexico’s credit, the fence, looked gate, and no trespassing signs were in Colorado.
Our golden evening turned cloudy; even as the sun sparked. Nearing 7:30, it was too late to walk back to town. We trudged along the fence line in search of camp site. One on the New Mexico side of the line. Tomorrow we’d figure out what to do next.