The Great Divide Basin (Part One)

Starting in the “middle” of the CDT seemed like a great idea. Walking on what we thought was dry, “flat” terrain would be a great way to build our trail legs and backs. Besides, ten days earlier I had broken my left pinky toe, and “flat” walking was OK’d by my doctor. What I didn’t tell her was that I would be starting out carrying close to 35 pounds on said broken toe. Thirty-five pounds!?! Is that any way to start a thru-hike?

Plodding Along

For seven days we plodded along the CDT as it traversed diagonally through the heart of the Great Divide Basin. If we had started in New Mexico, as originally planned, it probably would have only taken us four days, but we hadn’t built up our trail legs and backs yet.

Out of Rawlins, ranch roads disappeared, and staying on trail turned into a Where’s Waldo meets Amazing Race route-finding exercise that found us stepping over and through rocks, sagebrush, and a plethora of scampering horny toads. Erect trail markers and stone cairns were far and few between, just like the water sources here in the Great Divide Basin. Finding a flat, non-pokey, rock-strewn place to set up our tent in the first night was our greatest challenge.

Horse Sense

Guthook is an amazing app. But in areas with little to no trail visible, one has to learn to multitask while walking over uneven terrain. Stopping to look at Guthook every time you feel (and/or are) lost means you’ll never get anywhere. Fifteen miles into our thru-hike, our “blue dot” was so far off the “redline” Guthook route that we were in a quandary of what to do. Our choices were:

  • Walk through sage brush till we land on the “redline”(or a snake).
  • Or head to Oil to Mine Road in the near distance and follow that till it intersects with the CDT. 

About that time, a herd of wild horses stampeded behind me, no more than 10 yards away, and down a drainage area toward Oil to Mine Road.


I don’t know about you, but in my book that’s a sign. Down the drainage we followed till it met with the Oil to Mine Road. In the moment it seemed like perfect “horse sense” to us. Five miles later, with our feet on fire, we rejoined the CDT and took a lunch break.

Stormy Skies

As we broke for lunch, we noticed the skies were becoming menacingly dark. Two miles later the skies opened up on us and we couldn’t unfurl our umbrellas,or get our rain gear out fast enough. This particular storm cell moved on fairly quickly, but not without thoroughly soaking us.  It was amazing how quickly the red earth sucked up the deluge of rain and peppering of hail.

The Great Divide Basin is an endorheic basin, which means that when it rains all the accumulated water stays within the basin. Overflow, if that’s a thing here, will not flow outside its nearly 4,000 square miles (like to the Pacific or Atlantic). The ground is so starved for moisture, it sucks it up on contact, for the most part. After that flash storm, we learned to keep our rain gear at the top of our packs.

Ranch Roads

There is a maze of crisscrossing ranch roads and game trails that intersectsand often are the CDT. The roads, in most cases, seem to lead you from water to water. Our second campsite and watering hole was Bull Springs. In a rich green oasis nestled in the muted terrain was a cistern dug into overflowing spring. Here my husband was dive-bombed by a red winged blackbird as he collected water. This was followed by the evening’s entertainment of cow porn. It’s not called Bull Springs for nothin.

The interesting thing about these ranch roads how purposeful they are, even though they seem seldom used. Each leads somewhere that is important. In our case, they were leading to Canada. 

A&M Reservoir

Our third day on trail found us feeling like we were walking into oblivion. The route did not deviate left or right. It was a straight shot to A&M Reservoir, with a growing incline and magnificent 20+mph headwind. Seeking out the pronghorn, who make their home predominantly in this Basin, was our only distraction. 

Being startled by “super chickens,” (aka, sage grouse, the largest member of the grouse family) as we walked up the side road to the reservoir was a treat. Setting up our tent in gale force winds reminded us of a Three Stooges episode. Ironically, the wind abated once the tent was erect. But we had an awesome sunset.


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