CDT Part 1: Crazy Cook to Lordsburg, Where Everything Is New

I’ll always remember the first four days northbound on the CDT as trail that breaks you down to rebuild you. As said by someone who knows this trail. Upon receiving that text I rolled my eyes in annoyance because when you’re trudging along in the southwestern desert of New Mexico, these are the things you don’t want to be told. 

But it’s true. The first 83 miles of the CDT, taking me four full days to hike, is what I’ve dubbed the road of exposure. The section that not eases you in, but immediately starts to teach lessons that will make the thru-hike easier later on. The rumors are true, the CDT pathway does get better further north.  

The Shuttle 

At 6:15 dawn, northbound CDT hikers gather in front of a small storefront used as the CDT office in Lordsburg, NM (more on Lordsburg in a future post). On this morning its my turn to be a wild person signed up for a shuttle to the southern monument of Crazy Cook along the US/Mexico border.

Instead of a 12 seat van – what I pictured in my mind – two full size 4×4 trucks sit waiting along the curb to carry 5 hikers and one driver each. With 10 hikers, both trucks are fully booked. With a bit of instruction, our packs are loaded into the back of one truck and tightly covered with a tarp to keep dust to a minimum, hiking poles placed beneath the seat of the other. 

It’s a 3 hour drive each way with a quick stop at the Hachita Food Mart. The CDTC drivers do the trip seven days a week during peak season. The last 30 miles is down a dusty, bumpy, minimally maintained forest service road. With the shuttle comes the maintenance of four water caches and a hiker tag. The hefty price tag for the CDTC shuttle is worth it if you want to start at the Crazy Cook monument going northbound. 

Starting Strong

At the border stands a stone oblisc CDT monument and an open shelter for shade. As the shuttle trucks roll away in the hot desert morning, all that’s left to do is start waking.

The first day was fantastic as everything is new. New vegetation (everything thorny). New landscapes. New people to meet. With the miles of gradual uphill brought an intense feeling of myself feeling in alignment, in the desert, on the CDT. I belong here.

Blooming Ocotillo were only present in the Bootheel stretch of the CDT.

Of course, no human naturally belongs in the desert. The cacti and thorny bushes catch at your skin and clothes. The dryness that coats your skin in salt. Dust coating everything. The dependence on maintained water caches or cow tanks as there are no natural water sources. Dead open range cows and large bones are reminders that we are lucky to be roaming this beautifully rugged land freely. 

The Path

And then there’s the path. The first 83 miles is relatively flat, exposed to the sun and wind. The footpath passes through rocky desert brushland, soft sandy washes, or follows dirt roads through open range land. There is little escape from the sun, with breaks chosen in the shade of a brush lined wash or under an occasional tree. 

The ‘trail’ through the Bootheel of New Mexico is marked with metal CDT signs on metal posts, with exception to a Wilderness Study Area (the red line) marked with wooden posts.

Cowboy camping the first night along the Big Hatchet Mountains

Hikers have an option to walk around this Study Area on a dirt road (the blue line) because the red can be hard to follow. I followed the CDT (red line) through the Wilderness Study Area instead of the road alternate, thinking it was Day 2 and I’m here for the full experience, and got some amazing views and experience route finding. These tricky sections are absolutely more enjoyable with a friend.

The Wilderness Study Area is marked with wooden posts and rock cairns that can be hard to spot in the distance. Halfway through this stretch, these posts double in size (pictured), making hikers lives easier!

A beautiful full moon spotlights the Big Hatchet Mountains

Route finding and water management are the main lessons in this region. You’ll be following the trail, to realize you’ve somehow gotten off path by following other footsteps or a cow path, and then cross-country it back to trail to only question where you left the CDT in the first place. It’s often for this to happen at least once an hour – becoming a different style of hiking. Never dangerous. Always an adventure to figure out what’s the next move.

What I remember:

  • Beautiful vegetation with blooming wildflowers
  • Cowboy camping – I didn’t set up my tent once, instead sleeping directly under the stars. No tent makes set up/take dowm quick and tents are a pain in high wind.
  • The way your shadow changes in length and angle throughout the day in exposed lands.
  • The terrain always changing as the trail looped around mountain ranges.

  • How the flat terrain mixed with long days and hot angular rock tears up your shoes, feet, and lower body. 
  • How fast the miles happen. I was quickly walking close to 20 miles a day without a time crunch.
  • Siestas are amazing. In this section it was pointless to set up camp early because you would just be sitting in the wind. Instead, breaks are strategically taken in shade to rest during the hottest portion of the day.
  • The rewarding feeling of exploring the open landscape, seeing your destination ahead and where you’ve been to the south.

Critical Gear: 

  • A sunshirt for with a hood that can be tightened against wind. My Jolly Gear Triple Crown shirt with a hood cinch is perfect for these conditions!  
  • Tyvek or groudsheet for sitting on during breaks and to protect gear while sleeping.
  • Comfortable shoes! Footwear with a bit of cushion will help ease your body into the miles. Shoes with a rock plate protect against long thorns that poke through foam and all the sharp volcanic rock. My Topo Athletic MT-5 trail runners don’t have a rock plate, but are well cushioned for desert walking. 

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