We thought we had left the desert floor behind us when we headed out of Lordsburg, but we still had 15 miles to trudge through the sand without any shade in sight. We spent our sixth day on trail hiking towards the mountains slowly gaining elevation.
The next morning, we happily hiked into the high desert and welcomed slightly cooler temperatures and tall trees. Unfortunately, the convenient water caches were behind us presenting the new challenge of long water carries between sources designed for the local grazing cows.
It took us four days to hike 80 miles into the high desert from Lordsburg to Silver City. We were excited to finally be climbing again as we ascended Burro Peak.
The final stretch into Silver City was 12 long miles down a paved highway. We hiked in record time to get to town knowing food and a microbrewery awaited us. The beers helped us decide to get a cheap motel room in town before the near 200 mile stretch ahead.
While the CDT is a complete trail, it is still a work in progress and includes many miles of road walks – sometimes gravel roads and other times paved highways with cars flying by. Each year, the trail changes slightly as it develops creating many ways to get from point A to point B. While there is an “official” CDT route, many alternates exist with various reasons to choose either route – like more or less water, scenery, miles, or different resupply stops. Almost every thruhike of the CDT will be different depending on which route each hiker chooses.
We chose to take the popular Gila (pronounced hee-lah) River Alternate just outside of Silver City. This section of trail passes through Alum and Bear Canyons within Gila National Forest following the Gila River upstream. We spent five days winding through these stunning canyons crossing the Gila 20 or more times per day in awe of our surroundings.
Many times it felt like we had landed on some alien planet surrounded by 200 foot towers of rock like cathedral spires climbing towards the heavens.
The canyon was bursting with life – trees, birds, fish, snakes, deer, coyote – we even saw a black bear. The cliffs are also rich in history of the native people that built the Gila Cliff Dwellings. From NPS.gov,
“For thousands of years, groups of nomadic people used the caves of the Gila River as temporary shelter. In the late 1200’s, people of the Mogollon Culture decided it would be a good place to call home. They built rooms, crafted pottery and raised children in the cliff dwellings for about twenty years. Then the Mogollon moved on, leaving the walls for us as a glimpse into the past.”
However, the views did come with the cost of keeping track of the trail, bush whacking when not on trail, and trudging through deep sand. It was a comparatively slow go, but as usual, the effort was worth the reward. We were simply stunned by the views, the frequent swimming holes, and hot springs along the way. I’d love to show some friends this section at a slower pace as it is truly an oasis in the desert.
The Gila River Alternate rejoined the CDT, and we continued 80 miles to Pie Town where a hiker hostel awaited us. As soon as we exited the canyon, we were immediately back in the high dry desert. Over the next four days, our water sources were all about 20 miles apart.
The day before arriving in Pie Town, we had a lucky crossing of paths with hiker legend, Anish!! According to her website, as of 2016 she had logged over 19,000 backcountry miles, held 3 fastest known time records (unsupported!), and is currently attempting a calender triple crown. I’m glad Sean recognized her, and we were able to chat and even snag a selfie
We made it to the Toaster House in Pie Town, NM on our 18th day on trail. We are currently in the middle of absolute nowhere New Mexico and couldn’t be more grateful for this amazing and desperately needed hiker hostel. Nita provides a whole house for hikers complete with bunks, showers, laundry, kitchen, and plenty of hangout space. She even accepts hike packages and does this all on a donation basis. Considering the lack of services for miles and miles, the Toaster House is filling a serious void in this section of the CDT, and every hiker that passes through is blown away by the generosity.
And in case you’re curious…