We are but trespassing elk

Day 40: New Mexico-Colorado state line to First Inn, Pagosa Springs, CO, ~34 miles, ~695 miles total

Dear Private Property Landowners, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Our trail was not certain to deliver us away from evil [avalanche conditions]. And so we followed a map that brought us to your no trespassing signs. We could not resist temptation to walk 200 yards across your land, as we otherwise would have had to walk 12 miles back to Chama-and likely trespassed some moreand then walk 33 additional highway miles. We did not mean you any harm.

Having worked for a land trust and now with private forest owners, it’s important to me to respect the rights and wishes of landowners. Most are excellent stewards of the land, they often desire privacy and want to protect the land from misuse and damage. I’ve heard stories of poached trees, drugs, drug labs, trash, and homeless camps. Have had to deal with such matters as well. So I can understand why no trespassing signs are posted. I try to abide by the wishes of landowners. But it’s also frustrating to be prevented from walking a segment of road connected by two public roads; without warning that the road will be gated and locked. Particularly given that we are more like elk, whom we most often see hopping the fences posted no trespassing. We seek to leave no trace, have no stove to possibly start a fire, take nothing but a liter or two of water from streams, and quietly, quickly travel between barbed wire fences. Perhaps we leave our footprints. The chipmunks will eat any of our crumbs.

Even though we embraced our inner elk for a minute between fences, I still felt guilty to step over a barbed wire fence with no trespassing signs that faced the road. Done with crossing. I was grateful we weren’t caught. Aside from a tick in my pants and the 200 meters of trespassing, it was a lovely morning.


Better to find the tick inside the pants you are about to put on than embedded in your body. Good morning and adieu little tick.

Woke to a chorus of bird song and sunshine that knew no boundaries. We followed the ranch fence line for about a mile up a ridge to a cornerpost. The ranch fence turned north. No fence or signs to the west! Here we crossed freely from New Mexico to Colorado and across the Continental Divide and headed north.


So what exactly is meant by a post signed, "Posted"?

It had been some weeks since the trail or any route had us on the Divide. Stepping over the ridge we left the waters of the Rio Grande and returned to those of the Colorado.


Not a glorious picture, but this is what the Continental Divide looked like where we crossed. To the left, water flows to the Rio Grande. To the right, water flows to the Colorado River.

Gabriel studied the map and proposed a route that descended forest and meadow to a jeep road, then to the main public road. It seemed our best bet to minimize further trespassing issues.

Such a great route! Cross country through forest of Douglas-fir and Englemann spruce with understory of Oregon grape, twisted stock, red columbine, stream violets, and yarrow. Plants familiar, but all slightly different in form from those at home. Grassy meadows with grazing elk, warbling turkeys, and bounding chipmunks amid aspen, iris and larkspur.


Rocky Mountain iris.


Rocky Mountain elk.


Walking along a meadow with a view of Navajo Peak.

Stopped for breakfast in the shade of a Gambel oak and wild rose thicket. Views of Navajo Peak and the high snowy mountains further east. A sunny late spring morning. Golden. Verdant. Easy to be at terms that our journey is guided by the CDT though not always on the the trail.


Gabriel enjoys the Gambel oak shade of our breakfast spot.

Leaving our idyllic breakfast spot we entered a maze of rural residential roads leading to elaborate second homes, small ranches, and unsigned cross country travel. Our course eventually funneled us out to a pasture enclosed by two barbed wire fences, aporoximately 200 meters apart. Just beyond, public road. We explored around briefly, but realized the most efficient strategy was to cross the shortest distance. Like elk walking into an open field during hunting season, we tentatively crossed the field. Both of us relieved to be on the public road.

Now we were definitely in Colorado. Less frequent and higher end beer bottles on the road, a primary indicator.


The first beer bottle we saw tossed on a Colorado road. Full discretion, there was a Keystone Light can about five feet away. But this Alaska Brewing bottle was the first.


Walking freely on Navajo Road.

A quiet road. Scenic. If only it had circumnavigated more of the highway.  In five miles we were at the Chromo PO on Highway 84. Cars, trucks, and semis zooming by. We braced ourselves for the walk ahead with a lunch break, enjoying the shady porch in front of the PO.


Gabriel in the shade at the PO picnic table. He's wearing fancy dollar store sunglasses.

While one leg closer to Pagosa Springs,  we weren’t close enough. The highway marker indicated 24 miles to go. Somehow my mind’s wishful thinking had told me it would be 15 miles to town, not 24. Cars travel the windy road in about 45 minutes and cyclists might ride it in 1.5-3 hours. But by hiker speed, Pagosa Springs was 7-8 hours away. Already 12:30, we’d get into town around dark. Better start walking.


About the best shoulder along Highway 84.

Varying shoulder. Steep ditches. Blind curves. Cars, trucks, semis, and trailers roaring by at 65+ mph. We soon understood why this route is not recommended as an alternate. I questioned the safety of the road walk vs. traveling potentially sliding slopes. We reasoned that at least cars will try to avoid us; whereas snow, it’s unbiased.

Most of the walk we focused on avoiding vehicles. All the ditch walking made it challenging to main a steady pace. But we kept at it. Taking breaks to get water out of ditches (further away from cattle and houses). Stopping in shade where we could find some. At times I felt we were doing penance for having opted for the non-trail route and the earlier trespassing.


Gabriel collects water from a ditch. And here we'd been thinking about ditching the Sawyer Squeeze and just using Aquamira. We were happy to double treat this water. And later, mask its flavor with peach Arnold Palmer.

It would be a beautiful, scenic road to drive. Farms, ranches, forests, rivers, and views of mountains. But I wouldn’t recommend it to a cyclist or a hiker. Especially after seeing four roadkilled deer, two smushed cats, and numerous dead songbirds.

Highlights of highway road walking for 8 hours and 5 minutes: seeing the first balsam root of the trip, phlox in bloom, studying a San Juan National Forest interpretive sign with useful trail info, and getting water from the Pagosa Springs RV Park about 10 miles south of town.






Another highlight: only a few clouds overhead. Sun, melt and stabilize thr snow!

We stopped at the RV park around 6 intending to buy water. The proprietor let us fill our bottles for free as we explained our travels. He almost had us sweet talked into renting a cabin for the night. Pretty location. Popcorn and movie tonight. Coffee in the morning. Tempting. Oh so tempting. But we were on a mission to get off Highway 84 and to town. Relaxation tonight would be deferred pain tomorrow. Get ‘er done mode. So we kept walking. (If you are ever looking for a place to stay outside of Pagosa Springs, CO, we recommend the RV park!)


We give Pagosa Springs RV park two thumbs up and many thank yous.

Ten miles to go and 2.5 hours of daylight left. We picked up our pace to 4 miles per hour. Watched the sun set and the mountains light up with alpin glow as we limped into Pagosa Springs at 8:35. Tired. Blistered. Sore. Sticky. Sweaty. But done with Highway 84.


Getting dark. We better get to town soon.

We walked straight to the first motel off the highway.


Signs we are in Colorado: the Coors Light sign and the reader board of our motel for then night.

Stumbled out of our room to find food before nearby restaurants closed. Found some chocolate milk. Then showers. Studied maps. Bed.

Our push today to payoff tomorrow.

One thought on “We are but trespassing elk

  1. mvanderbilt says:

    Great post. Hard to imagine you walking Hwy 84 with snowshoes on your packs! Detouring to road walking almost sounds like the equivalent of a bad bushwhack shortcut. Hope you find consolidated snow soon.

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