#2 Pacer’s 2022 CDT Thru-Hike: Doc Campbell’s Post to Grants, NM

This is update #2. Chris “Pacer” Ford is attempting to thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) when he began on April 30, 2022. He will keep us updated every week or two with the progress of his adventure with stories and photos from the trail. Follow along with us… get automatic updates by subscribing to this blog.

May 15, 2022

523.2 of 3,100 miles…17% complete

Hikers I met this leg:

Long Stride, Plus 1, Mummy, Shadow Hawk, Emily, Pop Tart, Teva, Tim, Stickman, SmokeBeard, Crickets, The Director, Enigma, Diva, Car Bomber, Gourmet, Cheetah, Mouse, Flow, Erin, The Austrian, Crazy Burrito, Olive Oil, Low Rider, Hendricks, Base, The Jesus, Blue Blaze, Dr Faust, Marmot, Blister, Phunkle, Left Overs, Bonanza Jelly Beans, Numbers, Grand Perambulate, Medicine Cabinet, Swan, Let It Rip, Dysfungswaynal.

Leaving Doc Campbell’s Post: I still felt pretty good and didn’t want to ZERO in my tent, so I decided to rest at Doc Campbell’s for about 4 hours. Doing so would let the sun’s power fade while I ate, drank, and visited with other hikers in some shade. I wanted to see the cliff dwellings the next morning, so my plan was to hike 4 miles to the nearest camp ground in the early evening. Easy hike over to the Upper Scorpion Campground…pit toilets, picnic tables, water…I’m getting spoiled. I setup camp and started prepping dinner. It was dusky dark, and it looked like a couple dogs were wandering into my spot. I put on my glasses, and realized I was looking at two Javelina hogs…haven’t seen these since I lived in Abilene, TX. Those were just the first two…I ended up with around ten of them around my camp as they scavenged the area. They weren’t scared of me a bit, nor I them. Later, I went to the privy and I mistakenly passed one within 20 feet…it just watched as I walked by…I did the same.  

The next morning, I decided to leave my camp setup and take a shot at the cave dwellings since I would have to pass right by there as I head back to the Trail…just breakdown camp on the way back to the Trail. Not surprising, the cave dwellings were completely inaccessible until 9:00…cameras, gates. Sadly and unsurprising, since I’m sure there are some that would vandalize the property without such precautions. As you can probably guess, there was no way I was gonna waste 2.5 hours waiting…there were miles to be bagged! I looked around a bit at the kiosks, and headed back to camp.  

Back to the Gila River: I had heard Little Bear Canyon was a “must see” and an easy way back to the Gila. An interesting canyon that started as a wide funnel that slowly descended narrowing to deep canyon, high walls, and at one point only 20 feet wide. Then, it intersected with the Gila at large flat camp spot. As I dumped out of Little Bear Canyon, it was like I entered an otherworldly place. Breathtaking, stunning…descriptions fall far short.  

Switching back and forth over the Gila River.

This was one of the most captivating places I’ve ever hiked. I couldn’t stop taking pictures; couldn’t stop stopping to look around…high walls, beautiful scenes, wildlife.  Each turn stopped me. A true oasis surrounded by hundreds of miles of desolation…abundance and life was everywhere…wildflowers, swallowtail butterflies, deer, turkeys, squirrels, chipmunks, bear tracks, fish, 4 inch tadpoles (not kidding…little monsters), beavers (and dams). I saw mint growing along the banks, so I plucked a few leaves to add to an electrolyte later in the day…really brightened up my drinks.  

Side note:  turkeys reminded me of a hiker on the last leg, WhistleTooth. WhistleTooth lives in New Mexico and knows the Gila. It was turkey season, so he was carrying a compound hunting bow with arrows, hoping to take a turkey on trail…never seen that before…a thru hiker that was also hunting.  

Several hot spring pools to dip in, as well.  As I made progress through the Gila, I continued to cross through the river for the next day and a half…around 150 more river crossings. None of them were challenging, but the beaver dams made a couple of them deeper than they needed to be…little buggers! One dam in particular was unusually large. The beaver had impressive felled a 2.5 foot diameter tree that created the backbone of his dam. I saw an older hiker named Pop Tart wading through waist high water as a result. I took the path on the other side that ended up on a steep rock wall. Pop Tart met me at the base…I down climbed a bit…he caught my pack…I took the last 4 foot dyno leap to the ground.  Impressive little beaver!  My last night in the Gila, I decided it would be best to hang my food. Not much of a need usually in the desert, but there were definitely bear here.  

Leaving the Gila:

The next day the majesty of the Gila ended at the top of a sad drying up lake called Snow Lake. Back to a harsh, unforgiving environment, but different than those before.  This looked like prairie, not desert. Still, no escaping the sun. Seasonally, this must be a bustling lake because there was park infrastructure…bathroom, water spigot, parking. Several hikers gathered at a bench…we looked ahead for water and filled from the spigot the water needed for this stretch…very dry ahead. The trail would pass through dry stream beds, cow pastures, dried ponds, and ended up atop a wide, wide prairie with trees that appeared to be 10-15 miles away.  

Wide open Prairies…just me, the wind, and the sun.

The trail now followed a dry dusty roadbed. Took several hours to cross the prairie…sun bearing down…strong winds helped cool me, but dirt and dust was ever present. I reached the trees and was now on a maintained gravel road. There was a wildfire here a week earlier. There were fire trucks up and down the road still working a couple final small sections. I would be in gravel the rest of the day, turning a few corners, would open to several miles of perfectly straight gravel…a couple of these straights took multiple hours to complete…they feel like they’ll never end.  I max carried water (4.7L) from a very clean solar water trough, and made camp in a valley along the road.  

Next morning, back on gravel. I had been on road so long that I missed a turn at the crest of a climb. I continued following the road, descending about 1.25 miles when I saw another cattle troughs. I don’t remember seeing water available!?!? I checked Guthook…crap!  I missed a turn…had to climb back the 1.25 miles…bonus miles, ugh! These mistakes can create mental damage, if not careful. I chose to not let it bug me. I cope by say, “Hello ladies” to the cows; finding thanks in the moment; etc. Unfortunately there were at least three other (much shorter) wrong turns this day…all good, just part of the hike. Over these few days, I just got in the routine of max carrying clean water…very dry section.  

These long days, set me up for a quick 24 mile scurry into the Davila Ranch Rest Area. The rest area was several miles from the homestead. About 5 years earlier, John Davila had built this primitive retreat for us thru hikers. It immediately reminded me of a Star Wars desert outpost. Several three sided tin wall sections connected by tin tunnels…all covered with tin roof and exposed on one side to open air. Everything we needed: shower (with several soap/shampoo/fresh towels), toilet, sink, three propane burners (multiple pots, plates, utensils, oil), power, Wi-Fi, washer/dryer…AND stocked fridge with over 300 eggs, bags of potatoes, bags of onions, cases of pork and beans. Drop a donation by cash, Venmo, PayPal…and you’re in. NO BRAINER!!!  

I was second to arrive for the day. Gourmet was already in the shower; I was next. Hikers poured in while I was showering…about 15 gathered for the night. After washing up, we fired up the propane and continued to take turns cooking large pans of eggs, potatoes, and onions for groups of 5 hikers…most of us dumped cans of pork and beans atop our mounds of food. The fellowship of hikers talking about our trail beatings while we made meals together was great fun. We filled our bellies, laughed at our challenges…great moments. Most of our Sawyer filters were almost fully plugged up.  We discovered the spigot threads matched our filter thread. An idea! Use the spigot pressure (which was huge) to back flush our filters. I cautioned everyone to be careful to not fully charge the spigot in fear that we’d blow the internal filter element apart. The process: tap the filter gently against a log, use the optional blue thread adapter to reverse the filter on the spigot, gently turn up the spigot to get back flow. Boom…out flushes a burst of chocolate milk water…yuck!  Repeat this process until clear water only comes out…took 4-5 times.  I couldn’t  believe how funky Olive Oil’s filter was. Eventually, we all had a pretty operational filter…for a while. I’m still gonna replace mine just to be safe. Giardia was starting to pop up with a few hikers…I don’t want to risk it.  

Bellies full and darkness falling, those that tent, put up tents. Those that cowboy/cowgirl camp packed into a large three-sided tin wind block…they packed in like puppies…reminded me of AT shelters…dense pack. Since it never rains and is arid, most western hikers chose to put down ground clothes and setup their sleep systems under the stars, without tarps/tents…cowboy camping.  It’s not for me…to each their own.  

It was only 14 miles to the CDT famous Toaster House in Pie Town. My usual 5:00 wake up and I was surprised to hear the propane burner fire up. A small group was gonna cook more eggs, potatoes and onions before pushing to Pie Town. Not me, one of the two pie shops opened at 10:00.  Town speed! Back on the sandy road…I could see someone in the distance behind me. It was Cheetah…she started reeling me in, so I turned up the speed.  We fed off each other and pushed each other about 1/2 mile apart. We laughed when we stopped at the Toaster House to drop our packs. We flew over those 14 miles.  

Next, over to Ohana Pie Shop…the Pie-O-Neer was closed that day. I walked in just after 10:00. The hikers that stayed at the Toaster House almost filled the diner. I got one of the last 4 chairs as the pies available were read off by a guy that looked like a western movie star, cowboy hat, weathered jeans, boots, and a big hip sheath knife. I would look ridiculous dresses like him…he looked perfect…truly perfect.  Imagine 30 hikers, one server, and a kitchen of two pie makers.  I sat closest to the kitchen. Two days before, the hikers ate everything Ohana’s had…they had to close early. There is no store in Pie Town…they have to drive to Grants or Albuquerque for resupplies themselves. We started ordering…2, 3, 5 pieces of pie each. Regular travelers walk in…they looked stunned at the seemingly homeless gathering that filled the room. They mixed in with us, and asked questions of our adventure. We gorged on pie…literally, the only thing to eat in town. I started hearing the nervous chatter in the kitchen as they ran out different pies. Hikers from the Davila Ranch started arriving…the cowboy server started the process over again…rattling off the pies available. The kitchen resorted to cream cheese pies to keep up with the pace of newly arriving hikers. In all, I ate three pieces:  pecan with piñon nuts, black cherry, and mango with red chilies (my favorite of the three). I waddled back to the Toaster House and decided to check up short for the day…rest, reset, and mix with hikers for the day.  

Next target was Grants. I left The Toaster House at 5:55 am the next morning. The CDT redline along with the Cebolla alternate, and the Bonita-Zuni alternate form a figure eight of possibilities to get to Grants. Each turn had decisions with pros/cons and varying distances. To start, I decided to take the Cebolla over the traditional CDT route…sandy road walking, but known water, and a possible cliff ridge walk on day two. Mid-morning, I stopped by the TLC Ranch along the route under the shade of a barn. They stock water jugs for us and is a great place for a break and snack. I met Dysfungswaynal and Let It Rip there…we cooled off and ate a lunch together. Let It Rip and I gathered water and hit the trail together. We hiked the rest of the day together chatting it up. The dirt road hit an asphalt highway. We walked 2-lane with tight fencing on both sides. We looked ahead and decided to stealth camp near the only break in the fence at the Lava Falls trailhead…walked a few layers of trees away from the highway and made camp…a big, hot 34 mile day.  

The next day was back on asphalt all day…yes, this is the CDT…bits of road walks. 18 miles to a ranger station for water, shade, bathroom, and picnic table; 9 more miles to I-40 where we ate Subway for a break; then, 6 more miles to the hotel area…33 miles rewarded with a ZERO in a hotel!!! My room’s right next to laundry…washed clothes, showered, dried clothes, relaxing dinner at Denny’s, in bed at 10:00 pm…slept like a rock.  

Breakfast at 7:00, rested the rest of the morning sipping coffee. A friend of mine, Martin, from my AF days came over from Albuquerque for lunch. We spent the afternoon catching up…fun afternoon talking about then, now, and tomorrow. Also found out today that the US Forest Service will probably announcing forest closures in the next couple days for federal lands across NM…Santa Fe Wilderness specifically mentioned which is north of Cuba…my next town. Yes, that will impact the route.  I’ll be researching the impacts and workarounds tonight before I head out tomorrow towards Cuba. Who knows?!?!  

Trail Tale:How to describe Pie Town? A small, small town along a remote paved highway with just two pie shops…no other shopping. The residents drive a couple hours to Grants to supplies or three hours to Albuquerque. All other roads are sand. The CDT cuts right through town with a facility that IS a CDT institution…The Toaster House.

The Toaster House is owned by Nita Larronde…eclectic is probably the word that describes the place. She raised her family there years ago. The Toaster House has been a vacant house since those days. It literally has a hand painted sign on the door that says: “ No one lives here anymore — please make yourself at home.” That’s exactly what CDT bikers and hikers do each season. The property perimeter is covered with dangling, hung toasters and other small kitchen appliances. The arch walkway is completely covered in dead toasters.  

The Toaster House entry.

The back porch is covered in shade, and several seats from cars line a wall. Above the car seats is mural of 300-400 pairs of worn hiking shoes that surround the windows.  Several hikers will look for better shoe options off the wall, and hand theirs up. Inside, there are rooms upstairs and downstairs…first come first serve. Couches can be claimed to sleep on…porch too for that matter. Plop tents where ever you want. Kitchen and whatever food you can find is yours. Every corner of the inside is a collage of stuff, trinkets, art, quips over the past couple decades. This is your home, just tidy up along the way. If you have the means, please make a donation. Nita and her friend Jetta use the funds to lay in food. It’s an odd mix of possibilities when it comes to food. Diva and I mixed a couple Knorr sides with sausage and cheese. For dessert, we started a trend by hitting a couple bowls of Lucky Charms…we ended up in a circle sitting on the porch with six of us eating a couple boxes of cereal. Nita showed up a bit later with a few bags of food; I met her at her truck to help carry stuff in. That night we had about 20 hikers and 2 bikers bed down.  A vacant house became our home because a caring soul in a remote dusty town opened her heart and home to us…and she has for years. Thanks Nita!  

Until Next Time,


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