CDT Part 2: Roads, Roads, Roads – Silver City to Grants

Between Silver City and Grants, the CDT has a few noteworthy segments, particularly the Gila River and El Malpais. Otherwise though, it is a lot of road walking. Paved roads, gravel roads, dirt roads, ATV roads. Busy roads and roads that haven’t been driven on in awhile. I used to get annoyed at people who complained about roads walks. Now I’m one of them! If this section has taught me anything, it has taught me to appreciate a nice singletrack.


The Gila River

Although the Gila River Route is technically an alternate, most hikers opt for this route. It’s hard not to, considering it’s the first flowing water we encountered and we basically walked in it for days. The route followed the river upstream through a canyon, crossing it dozens of times per day. The cool water was soothing on our feet and lifted our spirits. We also finally started to see other thru hikers out there, and met quite a few new people.


About halfway through the Gila alternate, just past Doc Campbell’s Outpost, the trail goes near Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. We hitched up the 2 mile road to tour the dwellings. What a cool place. A group of thru hikers chatted up one of the volunteer rangers, an older man living out of his van and traveling around. Though not a thru hiker, we feel a camaraderie with him as a fellow dirt bag.


Despite the lovely surroundings, hiking the Gila wasn’t without its challenges. The trail alternated between sandy and rocky, which was hard on our feet. There was also some bushwhacking which left our legs covered with tiny cuts. Once the river ended, we found ourselves back to a long gravel road walk with no water. It was an abrupt end, and we walked in roads the remainder of the way into Pie Town. We met several more hikers at the Toaster House in Pie Town and had a great rest day there.


El Malpais


Between Pie Town and Grants there are multiple route options. I asked a CDT alumnus for a route recommendation and he sent me along the Ley Route, which is slightly different from the alternate shown in the app and also differs from the official route. We took the Cebolla Wilderness alternate, which got us back on trail if only for a short time. Eventually we hit a paved road, which the app route followed all the way into town.


However, we hopped on The Narrows Rim Trail, which climbed up a Mesa and followed the edge. The trail paralleled the highway until eventually it stopped. From the top, we could look across the landscape into El Malpais, also called the Badlands. The area is a massive lava field, and the views were awesome. From the end if the trail at the top we had to bushwhack our way back down to the road. It took a little longer than we planned, but we had a great time.


Once back on the ground we cut across into the lava field. For 7.5 miles we followed a rugged trail over lava rocks. There were crevasses and caves to avoid, and rocky terrain to negotiate, with cairns to mark the way. We were careful not to trip or fall, as that would definitely hurt.


Finally we made it through the Badlands, cutting North into Zuni-Bonita Canyon. It was back to dirt roads again, but the scenery through the canyon made it worth it. Considering the alternative would have been a paved highway, I think we made the right choice. We decided to camp just outside of Grants and head into town in the morning.




Our first stop was McDonald’s for breakfast and we headed to the Sands Motel for our first hotel room of the trail! They let us check in at 10 am! It rained off and on the rest of the day, making the town time doubly worth it. I took three showers and we got pizza delivered so we wouldn’t have to leave the room. I think we hikers have mastered the art of laziness.

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