* I’m a few hiking days away from Colorado
* I’m gonna take some zeroes in Santa Fe first
* This trail might be absolutely perfect?
There was a nice reunion of Toaster House folks at the Lava Flow Hostel in Grants. Little Feet even made an appearance after pushing some 40-mile asphalt road-walking days!!
I decided to leave Grants a little earlier in the morning than the bulk of other hikers, so have been able to enjoy quite a few solo hiking hours in deep contemplation and in fantastic scenery!
The CDT through New Mexico is masterfully curated. By all counts it appears to be suffering from an identity crisis. It traverses absolutely stunning mesas through phenomenal wilderness corridors before throwing you unapologetically onto gravel road or asphalt, where you play the classic game of “avoid the truck.” The constant tension between “wildness” and and “development” is unavoidable. Yet, it is this striking contrast that has made the trail amazing. Thru-hiking, after all, is about people.
Travel along the New Mexican portion of the CDT is a little like time travel. I’m sure my geologist friends can discuss the range-basin characteristics and the hundreds of millennia that have created sandstone deposits with names like “table mountain,” but it is the intentional weaving of the trail directly through New Mexican towns that best captures the passing decades.
From the once-great mining town of Lordsburg (3500 people in 1950, now 2200), to the ranching community of Pie Town (186 people in 2010 to just over 100 today), and the rip-roaring Route 66 community of Grants (11,500 in 1980 to under 9000 today), you are left with a sad walk through America’s past lives, and through economies that are unlikely to rebound.
The ghost town of Shakespeare, just 8-miles from Lordsburg, feels more alive with 6 of us there for a tour than Lordsburg has likely felt in decades. Shakespeare was planned around a central, walkable community boasting over 10 saloons to serve its 3000-person population on just a few acres. Lordsburg, in contrast is anchored to the automobile, incorporating vast swaths of land that no longer can be exploited for meaningful gains, while fully losing the anchoring central focus of community.
The “invasive-native” mesquite plant may ironically reflect the brutal anthropic reality of these New Mexican towns. Due to grazing, cattle have consumed most non-thorny species that would have kept the mesquite in check. Now, however, the mesquite are abundant, shifting the landscape and further hampering the region’s cattle-grazing economics.
As Route 66 crumbled, Grants was cut loose from a steady supply of travelers. The somehow still operational Roller Rink looms large, reminding the few remaining visitors of the era when Grants may have been great.
What these towns have become is a strange homage to past eras of once-prosperous development. “Make America Great Again” is but a glimpse into the past vibrancy of these communities. Their desire to thrive. Their future, however, may look more like Shakespeare.
Yet it is with The CDT and the constant interplay between wilderness, wild-ness, and civilization, that community is created. The trail carries a supply of random outsiders — coming together as friends known as “Hiker Trash.” The derelict shanties of each pass-through town echo hints of lives that were once lived before the trail, while fostering a new sense of wildness and isolation.
In a few days time, I will have entered Colorado. A state with towns that are facing their own struggles as climate change promotes bark beetle deforestation of the Rockies, and as ski resorts turn to snow creation to remain viable. I will gather my winter supplies in Chama and enter the unrelenting wilderness of the San Juan range. I will leave New Mexico with a sense of sadness. Good luck, dear friend.