There’s a First Time for Everything: Crazy Cook to Lordsburg, Five Nights in the Desert
Off-Roading Adventure Shuttle
I’ve taken my fair share of hiker shuttles. When I hiked the AT, I squashed myself into several minivans packed full of hiker trash on our way to hostels or the all important buffet.
Nothing could have prepared me for the shuttle to Crazy Cook monument. I enjoyed a wild, crazy, fantastic ride along with Juan More Time, the shuttle driver; Nathan, the apprentice; and Milk-Jug, Charlie, and me the passengers.
After we passed the teeny-tiny town of Hachita, we left the highway and headed onto a dirt road in the Chihuahuan Desert. The journey was slow but beautiful as I got my first true glimpse of desert terrain.
Not only have I never hiked in the desert, I had never really been to a desert. The closest I came was during an outing to the Hoover Dam when I visited Las Vegas with my family. I really had no idea what to expect.
I was awestruck as we rolled along bumpy, rocky road. We sank down into small washes nearly bottoming out before climbing back up the other side. I expected to see Native Americans on horseback, cowboys lassoing cattle, or hear a director yell, “Action!”
I could see bald, rough, sand-colored mountains, and rocky, craggily, rust-colored peaks that created saddles on the distant horizon. Long stretches of desert separated the ranges filled with mesquite, cacti, yuccas, and more. I would quickly learn that every plant was sharp and spiky.
Three Hours Later…
When we finally arrived at Crazy Cook, three hours had passed. We came to a stop, and we were hauling our packs out, thanking Juan and Nathan, and taking a photo in front of the monument. Then we were waving goodbye and standing on the edge of the border just the three of us.
Milk-Jug, who carries a half-gallon container filled with water strapped across his chest, asked, “Is that the trail there?” We could see a CDT signpost far off in the distance. Charlie checked Guthook, which might just be the best app ever invented, and he said, “Yeah, that’s it.”
Milk-Jug wished us a good hike and said maybe he’d see us in town. Then he said goodbye and walked quickly down the trail.
Standing alone with Charlie, I had a brief WTF moment before he laughed and I shrieked! Then we picked up our packs and headed into the desert.
Day 1: This is not the AT
On the CDT, there is not a defined trail. There are no blazes. Sometimes there are signs, but mostly it’s just finding your way with Ley Maps and Guthook. We set off through the desert with brush, cacti, mesquite bushes, and many other low prickly plants and yuccas, whose leaves are sharp enough to cut you.
At first, the weather was pleasant with big, puffy, white clouds and a good breeze. We walked along happily in amazement at our new environment. Suddenly, the wind got stronger, the clouds got darker, and rain fell cold and hard. We stopped to put on rain jackets that we had brought as a precaution because it doesn’t rain in the desert, right? Wrong! Later the rain stopped, and we got so hot the jackets came off.
We walked around mountains and across plains between ranges. There weren’t any climbs, which was strange and unusual. We only saw one other a person, a man on a four-wheeler. He asked if we were okay and wished us luck.
Just before we reached the first water cache, the skies darkened and opened as raindrops practically bounced on the dry, cracked desert floor. There we were putting up the tent in the pouring rain that changed to hail with freezing cold, numb fingers. We cooked dinner at the water cache, and as I stood shivering, eating ramen noodles, I honestly couldn’t believe we were hiking another trail.
Day 2: Border Patrol & Sunshine
We woke up to brilliant sunshine and a big blue sky. After walking about a half mile back to the trail, we set off through tough terrain trying to find wooden posts that seemed to blend into the surroundings. Our pace was painstakingly slow.
According to Juan More Time and the Ley Map and Guthook, we could leave the trail and walk on the road. After some debate, we decided to take the road when the trail crossed another road that would take us down to the main road.
Crash, Boom, Bang!
As we were walking down this road, I took a tumble! I tore my tights and skinned my knee. I told myself that the purist in me had made me fall; on the AT, we never left the trail!
I got up, brushed myself off, and continued hiking down the road. The road was much easier and faster, and we got our first visit from Border Patrol. The agent was super friendly, and he wanted to know if we were okay, did we need water, how far were we hiking? We told him our plans, and he wished us luck and went on his way.
After a long lunch, we continued back on the trail. We crossed a long plain and highway 81 before we came to the second water cache. We filled up and continued on to Granite Pass where we made camp for the night.
Day 3: Windmills and Where’s Waldo?
We hiked 17 miles, which is crazy! We didn’t come close to 17 miles during our first week on the AT, but we’re in the desert where the terrain is pretty flat, and the climbs are minimal. The sun has been shining, but the temperatures aren’t too hot.
We had lunch beside a windmill with a solar well that provides water for the many, many cows that we have seen. The cows are everywhere. I lived in Vermont for 12 years, and I feel like I’ve seen more cows in three days than I saw the entire time I lived there.
There are cute little calves and mommas and occasionally, the somewhat scary and intimidating bull with rather large and pointy horns. They aren’t interested in us, and they typically run away when they see us. They shit wherever and whenever they want, and they do not bury it. Shit is everywhere.
In the afternoon, I decided that hiking the CDT is similar to the Where’s Waldo? books. If you’re not familiar with Where’s Waldo?, they’re children’s books that have different themed scenes filled with people, and one character named Waldo, who wears glasses and a red and white striped hat and sweater. The game is finding Waldo in the crowd. For most of the afternoon, we stood at one CDT sign scanning the horizon and searching for the next. We found a bicycle chained to one sign, but we didn’t see a rider.
Day 4: Jackrabbits and Stars
Today was truly beautiful. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the miles just went by quickly. I fell back into the thru-hiker groove as I listened to music and enjoyed the sunshine.
I saw petrified wood for the first, and I was completely baffled by its existence. The afternoon was probably the hottest temperatures we’ve had, and I was very thankful for my umbrella, which came in handy during our lunch siesta. We continued to climb up rocky saddles and cross plains while avoiding cacti and navigating the trail.
I have become enthralled with jackrabbits. They are incredibly fast and swift, and their long, pointy ears and stubby tails are so different from the Peter Cottontails that hop slowly along the eastern trails.
The sun was setting as we set up camp. Darkness comes to the desert slowly, but I forced myself to stay awake past hiker midnight, so I could see the stars. WOW! I have never seen stars like this before my life. They completely covered the sky dancing and twinkling like magic.
Day 5: The Epitome of Hiker Trash
We had a decision to make. We could push hard and get to Lordsburg, or we could camp one more night and nero in the next day. After much back and forth and indecision, we decided to nero because as Charlie put it, “This isn’t our first rodeo.” We like to enjoy our motel stays milking every minute. If we went to town today, we would have limited our relaxing time.
The temperatures soared today, and at lunchtime, I decided that we were the poster children for hiker trash as we found ourselves lying on the desert floor, surrounded by dried out cow dung, in a sliver of shade created by an old rusted water tank that was empty. I put up my umbrella, and we actually fell asleep. We were the epitome of hiker trash.
As we were leaving, I spotted another hiker on the horizon. We had been wondering if someone from the April 1st shuttle would catch us. At the fifth and last water cache, we met Carlos, who hiked the AT last year, but we never met. He has also hiked the PCT, so he is going for his triple crown!
I went to sleep that night dreaming of a shower, a bed, and breakfast at McDonald’s if only Typo and Mouse could join us for breakfast.
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