Into the Badlands: Pie Town to Grants


5/2 20 miles

I dinged around and left about 10. There were a bunch of hungover hiker guys, and a few more nursing foot injuries and wanting another day to rest. The miles were all road walk so it went fast. About 16 miles out is TLC Ranch that has water and possible food and camping for hikers. Several people intended to stay there or at least stop. When I walked in the yard, there was nobody around, just some RVs and a 2 story tall metal building that was maybe used as a house? I wandered a bit, then found the hose and got 2 liters to camp with since the next water source (cow tank) was only 7 miles away.

The music at the neighbors’ last night was a treat. Jennifer, and Rick(?) played guitar and sang. Judging by their strong Arkansas and Oklahoma accents and cowboy get-ups, I’d anticipated fingernails-on-chalkboard country music, but he sang the most beautiful covers of Talking Heads, Jimmy Buffet, and Nirvana I’ve ever heard. These 2 people moved out to this tiny town to escape addiction and death. I think they love recruiting new people (hikers) to their mobile home and sharing, just sharing, their acoustic music and unique voices. They fed us pizza and beer and true confessions. Art.

I camped at 20 miles, blissfully alone after holding my temper and tongue at Toaster House, hidden from the road and POSTED signs. My feet, rested yesterday from road walking, hurt again from slapping on hard baked dirt.

5/3 22.5 miles

More road. Listened to audiobooks. Austin from San Antonio, cyclist I met at Toaster House, came up behind me and chatted for a bit, asking if I’d like some snacks. He’s getting into Grants today–what a difference mileage range riding gives you from hiking.

I kept thinking about this amazing wildlife encounter 2 guys had back at Snow Lake. I listened to their story several times between Davila Ranch and Toaster House and it still blows my mind. They saw 3 elk running flat out at them as they hiked the road with 3 wolves just behind them. The elk ran into the water while the wolves pulled up short at the edge of the lake and then the guys saw more wolves above on the ridge line. Cool! And then the guys hiked on.

I walked by 2 places I’d camped with the Ravens in 2017. They’re on the AT this year and I’m following their adventures.

Probably not supposed to camp where I camped, stealthily, near La Ventana Arch. It gets weird on the highway, I think I’m on public land, National Forest, but there’s barbed wire fence just outside the right-of-way that’s hard to get over or under, so when I came to the turnout for the Arch, I dashed uphill out of sight. Just a few cars went by on the highway during the night and I was comfortable. Hiking is kind of weird sometimes, not what you’d expect of a “wilderness experience.” Hah! I camped on sand and left no trace.

5/4 19.3 miles

Zuni-Acoma trailhead to Bonita-Zuni alternate. What a mixed day! Paved highway to El Malpais (the Badlands). Two years ago, the Ravens and I stayed on the official CDT (Highway 117) all the way to Grants. This time I wanted to walk the 7 mile Zuni- Acoma trail through decaying lava fields. I’ve lived on the Big Island of Hawaii and know the beauty and torture of new pahoehoe and a’a’ and have walked through the obsidian fields on the Oregon PCT. There’s not really a trail, you follow a route cairn to cairn. Hard work for ankles but a unique experience I’ve looked forward to.

Then on to a real trail for a mile before crossing another paved highway onto a well graded gravel road grinding every so gently uphill another 9 miles. Densely distributed beer cans and bottles and mini liquor bottles took the place of wildflowers for color. A small truck went slowly past me, two Anglo women with a toddler standing between them hanging into the dashboard. Later a smatter of shotgun fire from a side road. Saturday fun I guess.

When I finally quit going up, I found a flat spot away from the road and pitched my tent. No more traffic except the steady, stealthy sound of a small car heading south in the dark at 2:30 am. Wonder what that was about.

Water source


Heading to town, to Grants, and as usual I just want to be there. Dirt road to gravel where for some weird reason all the SUVs and minivans slowed down so I wouldn’t have to inhale their dust plumes and not one truck did. Despite the dust and discourtesy, the Zuni Canyon was beautiful when I looked up from all the empty booze containers. As I got into Grants I turned on to old Route 66, like Cuba, NM, buildings mostly abandoned, for sale, deteriorating. Fascinating, I like it. I’ll stay a night or two in Grants, then Greyhound to Albuquerque, fly to Seattle, meet my sister, then fly to Edinburgh. Yay, Scotland for a couple weeks!

Gila River to Pie Town

Little Bear Canyon Trail

4/24 13.4 miles Tim Davis of Gila CDT Shuttle Service gave me a ride to the Gila Cliff Dwellings where I hiked up Little Bear Canyon, the same route I took last year. The ride took about 90 minutes and I learned a bunch about biking in NM and I heard about a hiker who left Silver City a few days earlier only to wander around for 3 days trying to figure which trail to go on, before somebody went up and fetched him back to Silver City. To be fair there are multiple options–the Gila River alternate, Walnut Creek Road alternate, the Columbus Gila route and the official CDT kind of makes a couple of wide loops intersecting with the assorted alts. But the guy had the same map app, Guthook’s, the rest of us carry and the GPS function pinpoints your location in relation to all these trails and roads. A mystery but apparently the guy regrouped and hiked out successfully.

I counted 67 (or so) river crossings, the footing is bad and I’m exhausted but I camped in the Meadows on the same sand dune using the same rocks as last year, perfect. I saw 3 people today going downstream, the opposite of me. One old guy was going to have a very tough time making it back to his truck tonight but when I asked if he would be OK, he said he had a flashlight and rain gear, food. That was at 4 pm and he wanted to know how far back to Little Bear Canyon. I told him I’d been walking upstream from there 4 hours (and then it’s another 4 miles up and over to his truck). Hope he will be OK, I could have turned around and gone with him.

4/25 14.8 miles

Last night a wild turkey nearby gobbled me a lullaby, then a wake-up song this morning. A few miles into today’s hike, I saw a turkey–huge, grayish with white tail feathers–scuttling into a ravine. Also frogs, tadpoles, lizards and numerous pairs of ducks with orange feet flapping below them as the fly away from me, low to the water.

Another slow, hard work today, gorgeous though. Somebody could start a new exercise video trend, walking up a river with a pack is a whole body workout pushing against the current. And since you just wear your socks and trail runners, your feet are scoured clean and stink free.

I camped at 6:15 because I was tired. 15″ after my tent was pitched, it rained and I laughed, I had no idea those clouds were for real this time. I love being cozy in my tent with rain pounding on it.

This is the trail up the Gila

View from my tent 4/25

4/26 23 miles

From the Gila River and no water worries to desert. I’d considered climbing out yesterday afternoon to the High Route just because slogging through the river is slow and physically taxing but when I saw the scramble up and calculated I’d have to carry 3 liters of water weight, I kept to the river.

First thing this morning I startled a herd of sproingers, deer? I think elk and antelope run and deer bound. No babies yet.

Today I went from river to Snow Lake where there’s a camp ground and mobs of men and boys in camo on 4 wheelers or ATVs (4 people or 2 people and 3 hound dogs fit in one) out for the spring turkey hunt. I kind of relished telling them about my turkey encounters, knowing they would not actually walk down the river to shoot them. The hunters seemed kind of surprised at all the hikers, a couple had camped near them last night and they’d seen a woman “all by herself with a dog.” That explains the footprints/tracks I’d been seeing off and on!

Outhouse! Trash can! Win!

I followed a bunch of dirt roads, then bushwhacked up a dry creek bed to another trickle of a creek where I picked up a bunch of water for a dry stretch lasting into tomorrow. Then climbed out of the drainage onto a flattish, windy, barren little mesa. I hate this place, I hated it 2 years ago too but this time I have plenty of water and there are no forest fires burning.

Descending slightly to gravel road and trees, I kept going. More hunters on ATVs, but not enough traffic to be annoying. I pitched my tent finally in desperation and in view of the road behind a big bushy thing to break the wind, on a rocky but flat place.

4/27 21.3 miles

I thought the camp spot would be awful but when the wind died at dark, it was dead silent and the rocks were padded by my rain gear. A very restful night.

In the morning I met a couple packing their gear. Not interested in me at all, OK. A zillion cars and trucks working on clearing and hauling out wood created from last year’s fires. Then trail. Lots of up and I felt out of shape and slow until I actually thought to look at the contours of my map and realized I was at 9000′! A bit later Not Guilty (love that trail name!!) caught up and passed me after trying to convince me to take an alt for which I was the only one with a map. Ha ha, not happening at 4:30 in the afternoon when I can’t even think anymore.

I continued uphill with a ton of water until I found a lovely flat spot with a view forever and no dead trees to fall on me. That’s been quite the challenge this year, so many dead trees, burned trees, and dying trees.

4/28 18.3 miles

Another herd of sproingers this morning! I hiked grumpy, falling once and scraping my knee. That makes me feel like a kid, I always had scabs on knees or elbows, and in sixth grade I stayed home from school for a day because all four were bloody and oozing. Crap.

We keep track of water sources through the app, which is updated by hiker comments. The next source, Aragon Well, has weird outdated comments, my app must not have updated properly last time I had WiFi, so I was a bit anxious. If no water, I promised myself to try and hitch to Reserve a long way aways on a not too traveled highway. So when I got to Aragon and the water was perfect running well water into a cow tank, I suddenly was blissfully happy again.

I crossed Highway 12 and found a campsite hidden from the dirt road. I had met more nice turkey hunters and a group of 4 hikers passed me, including the couple from yesterday and 2 guys who offered me a hit on their pipe. I have a feeling Toaster House in Pie Town is going to be crowded.

4/29 20.7 miles (7:15-4:00)

Easy day. Met a couple going SOBO who told me about new trail angel operation Davila Ranch 14 miles before Pie Town. They told me it had a washer and dryer and that Toaster House’s were broken so take advantage.

It was all dirt road today. I listened to an audiobook, Crazy Rich Asians, not my favorite but it distracted me from the road plodding foot pain.

About 2 miles from the ranch, an old cowboy in a white truck raised his beer to me and stopped to offer me a Keystone Lite. I pet his big goofy dog instead, she licked my face. I hope she doesn’t get sick. There were a ton of hikers at Davila Ranch–the couple, the 2 weed smoking guys, Pompom, Heather, the Ambassador (the very same guy who wandered around 3 days lost out of Silver City) and owner Banana Man. He’s drilled a 600′ well, put up a fancy shed with a toilet, shower, electric cookers, 2 refrigerators, washer and dryer, fire pit and covered area. He’s stocked his very own ranch grown beef, frozen veggies, eggs, bacon, soda and beer. It was windy and cold and I didn’t want to cowboy camp in the shed with a bunch of others so I pitched my tent behind a bush. So awesome to talk with hikers, clean up, eat and relax knowing it was only 14 miles to the next stop. The 3 days lost situation wasn’t any more clear to me after talking with the Ambassador though. Oh well. He cooked some beef for me.

Davila Ranch kitchen

1930’s cabin at Davila Ranch

4/30 14 miles

Knowing there are few beds and lots of hikers, I hiked the road quickly the next day to Toaster House, 7:30-12:04! I walked in to a full house, only 1 hiker had left that morning, the rest were taking zeroes. The Ambassador had hitched in and got the only bed but then he gave it to me as he had arranged a ride to Grants a bit later in the afternoon. Score! I feel a little guilty since it’s a double so I offered to share with Heather when she arrived. But she decided to sleep on a tiny couch. As the day went on, the crew from Davila Ranch rolled in followed by a bunch more. It is really different than 2017, too many people, the washer is broken so we can’t wash towels and sheets. Too many people.

I enjoyed some of the hikers a lot: Dogma and her dog Toolik, Dustin and dad Greg, Dan and Nick who I first met out of Lordsburg, Heather, Pompom, Sea Legs, Twiggsy. A comfortable, peaceful night.

5/1 0 miles

Took a zero since I had the best room and refigured how long I need to get to Grants, 4 nights, not 5 for my route choices. I ate pie, of course, had good conversations, and then another wave came in, followed by cases of beer, and obnoxious macho posturing until 2 am. Reminds me of the party wave on the PCT, the inconsiderate jerks. Earplugs helped. Time to hike out and camp by myself!

At the neighbors for live music!