Hill above Ojo Frio to ridge below Deadman’s Peaks, 18 miles
The stars are bright from my perch and an owl hoots into the night. As do the cows, mooing at each other over something or other.
I make coffee before the sun hits me and it’s still cool. Fire is long gone when I come down to fill up for the day crossing the badlands. So many birds drink from the cistern and sing joyously. I catch their vibe and head into the sun, an extra layer of sunscreen smeared on my face.
The first challenge is a deep wash – or dry riverbed – filled with bright yellow flowers. The ground alternates from sand to squishy clay. I see why my bed was so cozy. I follow it for a long time as it widens, the water’s destruction obvious in dripcastle-like erosion. It’s massive and wide, carving up this flat expanse of desert. Cliffs of ancient seabeds rise above me.
I meet a hiker and we share information on water, the hot topic of this hike. I’m getting hot now and I wonder if my two liters will carry me to the next source. There’s a house not far away but I carry on.
Soon, I hit sandstone which makes a thok when I hit it with my sticks. Wind and water shapes the rocks into smooth, whimsical shapes. It’s up and down, thoking along through this funny little section. Just as I leave, I notice a rock with a note warning hikers entering to keep an eye out for the rattler on trail. A bit late, but I never did see him.
It’s back on a long section of flat but now the enormous towers are coming into view like shark fins. I delight in my views while keeping one eye on the trail for any sneaky snakes sunning. In front of me is a mesa and I realize that I am meant to climb it. Straight up I go on loose stones, meeting a flat section high above the desert.
It’s clear why I head up since below are numerous deep and narrow washes likely very difficult to cross, plus muddy or at least spongy and hard to navigate. Maybe there’s even quicksand!
The views are astounding and I realize it’s here that the hiker I just met camped last night. What a spot.
I follow this ridge down again to an entirely different world. It’s flat and hot and filled with hoodoos. Of course I sing Paul Simon.
And you say now who do –
who do ya think you’re foolin’?
The thick clay-like substance that looks almost pruny from rain, reaches high up with a red, harder but much thinner layer above. Erosion has thinned the gray at a faster rate and they tower about three stories, thin and spindly with the red rocks balanced precariously.
It’s comical and like a circus act, I guess until one of those balancers decides to crash land, then it’s a geological moment best to view at a distance.
I climb up steeply yet again and leave my hoodoo valley behind. This time, someone has built stairs to help slow erosion. Unlike the Appalachian Trail, these rocks are held tight with steel reinforcement. Again my views to the many towers, ancient volcanic vents, are astounding. The ground is a maze of washes and lava flow. One bright yellow tree grows in a seemingly dead zone.
Down I go again, through fragrant sage towards a road where the Trullijo family maintains a water cache. Stacked on pallets and in the shade of a juniper, they wisely leash them together with a chain so the empties won’t blow away.
I happily fill up and rest in the shade before hiking one more mile to a tank. It’s again gorgeous through rocky cliffs and washes. Here I meet Platinum, the first solo female I’ve seen.
Water is the hot topic plus a warning about aggressive dogs as I arrive in Cuba. She looks strong and unafraid and we wish each other luck as I find the final water. The two tanks are visible from the trail and full with cold, sweet tasting water. But unlike yesterday, this does not look like an ideal campsite.
It’s only 4:00 and the next water is 14+ miles ahead. But I am feeling more confident after a few days out. So I decide to cook dinner here, fill my bottles and see how far I can go before 6:30. Again, I make a super ramen dish with yeast flakes, cheese, olive oil, pine nuts and spices. I chase it down with tea, then take off.
It’s a climb right away and that’s when I remember one hiker telling me how cool the mesa is just before Cuba. Maybe I can camp on it!
I meet a farm road which takes me into Cuba Ranch. I’m moving fast on mostly flat trail towards some mountains ahead. The sun is beginning its angle, setting an orange glow. As I climb, I see the largest tower come into view. Aha! There must be more cool views from the top.
The wind picks up as the sun gets lower and I’m fairly certain that means I’ll have to cowgirl camp somewhere or forego the view to set in trees.
I keep climbing, seeing that I will walk under Deadman Peaks, and that’s when all the vent towers come into view, orange, pink and purple now from a setting sun. Boulders covered in red lichen catch the glow as the sun sinks and a crescent moon appears.
Indeed, I set my bag on the ground and in the open. The wind doesn’t die and tousles my hair, but it’s not too cold (yet) and my ceiling is the milky way, those giant rocks at the edge, my guardrails and the moon, hot pink now, slips below the horizon.