After walking so long and starting up so late the previous day, I decided that this day could be a breather. A chill day with few worries. After all, I had six days to get to Grants, which meant I needed to average less than 15 miles a day. Sure, getting there earlier meant more zero days in town, but I was already going to get a zero in Grants and most of one in Albuquerque, and it seemed like Grants wasn’t exactly a party town with so many things to do on a Thursday. I had the food, so it was cheaper and easier to take it slow in the woods.
So I slept in until after six. The sun was already rising when I got busy. And what I got busy doing was sewing up part of my boot that had just broken. Then I packed up and made breakfast from the water cache. I didn’t leave my dumb little roadside campsite until nearly 8.
The trail did not follow the county road, but set off across the open range, briefly following a barbed wire fence, giving me flashbacks to leaving county road 163 near Adobe Ranch. But only a few minutes later, I climbed up onto a lava flow and chased cairns across cracked, craggy crevasses, stepped around sinkholes, and tripped over warped, wavy wrinkles. It was a little bit fun and interesting, but I’ve walked on lava fields extensively before, and it gets old far, even when there’s an actual cleared trail, which there wasn’t here. This little bit was the perfect length, less than an hour’s worth.
Right before the trail came off the flow and back onto the range, I stopped under a tree next to a collapsed sinkhole for morning snack. Trees and plants grew everywhere in the lava flow, but hardly anywhere in the prairie.
I did find one spot a couple of hours later where there were a handful of trees, two of which were basically cleared underneath. Even though they were sparse on leaves and didn’t offer the greatest shade, I lay under one and made some lunch. Round about here is where I started noticing the fly problem, but with my headnet on, it wasn’t bad.
It got worse. The flies chased me all day. They buzzed around my head when I was walking and tried to land on the backs of my knees. At a parking lot with an empty water cache, I took a long break behind a tall tree, but it wasn’t the most relaxing because I was constantly swarmed by dozens of flies. I kept my legs covered with my towel, but they sometimes got under it, or under my shirt. If I exposed any skin, they would land all at once in tight clusters.
These weren’t like gnats or flying ants or anything. Most of them were what you’d call houseflies. The kind that can make tight circles around your head at high speeds like they’re trying to win an airplane slalom race.
Since there was no water in the cache, I had to go a couple more miles to find water, circling a small volcanic caldera called Cerro Brillante. It wasn’t tall or spectacular, but it actually looked like a volcano cone. I had been seeing conical peaks in the distance for a while, and I had many more like it to see. Eventually, I came to a cow or heifer maybe standing guard in the middle of the trail. As soon as I passed, it stepped in behind me and started following. The rest of the herd was gathered in the two track road leading to their water trough.
They parted–some of them–as I passed, but closed behind me, lowing cryptic messages to their friends. Others stood their ground and stared me down, making me go around.
I dropped my pack near a small tank with the tire trough’s float valve inside, then went to scoop a bag of water from the trough. I decided that I didn’t want to stick around long enough to filter it with the whole herd watching me judgmentally, waiting for some signal or offering of which I was clueless. As I was putting the bag of water in my pack, one smaller boy came up and took a drink, then started inching closer to me every time I looked away. I got the feeling once he got within striking distance, he’d stick out a hoof and say, “Hey! You leavin’ widdout payin’ for that wada ya took?” He backed off a bit when I put my pack back on. It always makes me more intimidating to cows.
The cows slowly parted again as I left. The sentry for the northbound part of the trail let me pass before I even got there.
I only went a little further before stopping for supper and to filter the water I took. Once I had my water boiled and my dinner in the pot with it, I lay down to wait for it to cook and knocked the stove and pot over with my shoulder. The lid popped off and half my dinner came out. I said, “Aw!” then stopped when I remembered I had packed out more dinners than I needed for this section and I still had enough water to reach the next source even if I cooked another. So I had 1.5 dinner servings that evening.
The rest of the trail was more of the same and nothing to see or say. A couple more ungated barbed wire fences to get past. More constant nagging by flies.
The sky was clear blue and partly cloudy all day by the way. Very rare occasions of cloud shade. Zero rain. Zero thunder. Plenty of wind. It was like being in the desert near the border again, but only in terms of the weather.
I just stopped wherever I happened to be at 8:15 when the sun went down and found a clear and vaguely level spot to put my tent. An early night, asleep by 10. I figured I’d take it easy again the next day too.
Trail miles: 16.2
Distance to Grants: 56.1 miles