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Pie Town to Grants – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Pie Town to Grants Hike Overview


Leaving Pie Town, it’s a long road walk to anything. Including the stretch before Pie Town, it will be nearly 100 miles of road walking before I hit an actual trail. And even that is optional. It’s a dry stretch along ranch land, and not super scenic at first. Most hikers are skipping the official CDT route through the El Malpais National Monument due to lack of water this year, and I’ll be doing the same. However, this offers the opportunity to hike the Narrows and see the La Ventana natural arch. I ended up hiking the northern end of the El Malpais route to see the lava fields. This was rough terrain, but worth it… I got to explore an underground lava tube! I then road walked to the Zuni Canyon alternate. Here I walked the rim of an old caldera volcano, which wasn’t even named on my maps.

Saturday May 12th – CDT Day 22

Before leaving this morning, I weighed myself on a bathroom scale. 160lb, down 17lbs from my pre hike weight. That sucks, as I did not have a lot of body fat before the hike anyway. There goes all my progress in the weight room. Skinny is not a good look for me, no desire to fit into skinny jeans!

I started hiking at 7:50am this morning. My pack was really heavy, carrying 6L of water and an unknown weight of food… probably around 15lb. Total pack weight was probably around 45lb.

Most of the hike to Grants is going to be road walking. Road walking is definitely not ideal, but to me it is part of the game. Other hikers don’t seem to mind skipping road walk sections, some for fear of injury and others for lack of interest. I’m determined to walk and unbroken line to Canada, so to me, skipping any section no matter what would be cheating. Cheating myself.

There was quite a bit of traffic on the road North of pie town. Brad from the pie town cafe drove by, he stopped for a second to chat but was running late. Almost everyone recognizes us CDT hikers, and will waive and smile. It’s a good feeling.

The weather for the next few days is going to be in the mid 70s, which is very cool for this area at this time of year. There was also a very strong tail wind which kept me even cooler. With the easy road walk, today is going to be a big mile day.

After 3 hours, I had hiked 11 miles. I took a break under a shade tree, chugged a litter of water and ate some food. Feeling good.

After the break, it was more Road walking. Traffic is dwindling and the ranches are spread further apart now. Not much to see though.

The Thomas Mountain Ranch would be a tempting stop for one in need of water or a place to camp, but I was stocked up. I took another break at 2:30pm, already at 22 miles for the day. After an hour, I was back on the Road.

Now the landscape was changing a little bit. The terrain is becoming flatter and more open. I stopped to filter 2L of water from a kiddie pool guarded by cows around 4:30pm. This took some time, but was definitely a good idea. I world have been running really low later had I not stopped.

After leaving the watering hole, I took a different road back to the main road. Eventually I just cut across the open desert Inn the direction of the main road. However, when I reach the road it was blocked by a barbed wire fence. I should be on the other side of this fence, but I didn’t see a good place to go over or under it for quite a while. Eventually, I found a spot that I could wiggle under the bottom strand of barbed wire. And doing so, I got a bunch of thorns on my back, arms, legs and pretty much everywhere that touched the ground.

Back on the dirt road, I could make some better time now. It was about 6pm and I still had around 5 miles to go before I reached highway 117, my goal for today. I figure it’ll be a low to mid 30 mile day when it’s all said and done.

I’ve been listening to a song called “before later becomes never” by caliban that has been motivating me. It has a powerful message… “practice what you preach, a thousand words don’t count. with no desire to change, tomorrow will be the same. Be among the few, the few who dare”! This is exactly how I feel about making the deciding to hike the CDT a well as many other things in life and sometimes a songs lyrics just hit home. Many songs have a powerful message but metal music also has a powerful sound to match. I listened to this song on repeat for much of the evening as I completely shattered my old daily mileage record of 26!

When I reached hwy 117, the El Malpais conservation area was fenced off with barbed wire. This meant I had to walk along Highway 117 for a while looking for a way in. It was a little after 8pm now and the Sun was setting when I found a spot I could shimmy under the bottom strand of barbed wire. I found a place to set up camp after a few minutes. Whew, 34.4 miles today! And to be honest, I don’t feel any more tired than most of the rest of the days so far along the CDT. Hell yeah!

Stars are out and the coyotes are howling. Time for some much needed rest.

Miles – 34.4
Total Miles – 391.2
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – jackrabbit, prairie dog

Sunday May 13th – CDT Day 23

When I woke up this morning I did not feel any more tired than I had on previous days with much less miles, so that’s good news. However, there were a few spots on my feet that felt like they could blister if I wasn’t careful.

Stated hiking at 8am. More road walking, yay. Same as yesterday, the guthooks app was not showing the alternate routes on the map. An hour or so later, they mysteriously showed up without doing anything! Now that I could see the actual alternate routes, I realized that last night I did not need to hike to highway 117. Instead, I was supposed to make a right at either the homestead trailhead or another one further south that I passed. This route would have avoided some road walking and likely been much more scenic. Additionally, it would have taken me right to the water source that I was looking for this morning.

When I got close to the water source, I left highway 117 by crawling under a barbed wire fence and headed cross-country straight for it. When I got there, it was guarded buy some Bulls just has the recent comments on guthooks said. The comments suggested heading north another mile and a half or so to a different tank. So I wasted a decent amount of time here.

Back on highway 117, a vehicle stopped to check on me. Alan and Cindy from Utah, BLM volunteers, had been driving up and down the highway over the last few days helping any hikers they saw while they did their work. They offered me a Powerade which I gladly accepted.

Shortly after, I reached the next water source. I jumped a locked gate and headed over to the tank. There was a dead coyote next to it to set the mood. The water in the tank itself looked pretty gross, but the water feeding the tank was coming out of a pipe and crystal clear. I pulled my water from the pipe and began the filtering process. It was getting really windy now, which was becoming quite a nuisance. High winds are one of my least favorite environmental factors when hiking, it just drives me crazy. Anything under a pound just blows away if you don’t watch it. Plus, nasty cow shit dust was blowing all over.

I was ready to take a food break, but didn’t want to do it next to the dead coyote and in the middle of this field with high winds. I walked up highway 117 for a while until I found a decent shade tree.

After first lunch, more Road walking on highway 117. If you’re tired of reading about Road walking, imagine how I felt hiking it. By the time I reached the Narrows Trail, I had hiked something like 90 straight miles on a series of roads!

The narrows trail parallels hwy 117, but about 400 ft higher on a Mesa. These are the first good views I’ve had in quite a while. I took my time waking the edge of the Mesa, overlooking the vast fields of lava flows in the El Malpais National monument.

After a while, the views stated to look the same and I picked up the pace. The trail ends at a view of the La Ventana natural arch. I took second lunch here and enjoyed this awesome Vista.

I knew the trail ended here, but I assumed there would be a route down off the Mesa somewhere. Plan A was a canyon further down the Mesa. There was a faint footpath leading that way at first, but it fade out. When I reached the canyon, there was a drop off that was high and unclimbable. Bummer!

Plan B was to head farther east to the next canyon that the topo showed to be less steep then the Mesa itself. This took quite a while. It was all off trail. I ended up skirting a cliff with a 40ft drop looking for a way down, and ended up well south of where I wanted to be. Once past the 40ft drop, I found a wash that I followed downhill. This led me to the canyon I was looking for, but unfortunately it was much to steep to Traverse as well.

Plan C is another canyon farther east. More Bushwhacking. I saw some bear prints in the sand as I followed another wash downhill. Lots of bear crap around as well. This wash Led me to a huge drop off where I was hoping there would be a way down. It was probably 70 or 80 ft down. This would have been a sweet waterfall if it were flowing.

Plan D is to head farther east, where the mesa flattens out. It sucks to be on plan D though, don’t want to run out of letters of the alphabet here. It was already after 6pm and I really wanted to be off this mesa tonight. Instead of following the wash back up stream, I went up over the hill to the east. To my surprise, there was an old road here! It hadn’t been used in a very long time but it was leading downhill. What a relief. You’d never guess there was a road here looking at the contour lines on the map.

As I followed the road down, I was rewarded with great views. It was a beautiful canyon with a massive flash flood wash cutting through it. This wash is coming out of the plan C canyon.

I walked out of the canyon towards hwy 117, and started looking for a place to camp. I found some interesting rock formations with a flat sand spot along the base of one of the walls. This’ll do! An owl flew away and into a cave nearby. It’s hooting echoed I set up my tent. Nice sunset too.

I lost a sandal during the bushwhacking earlier. It was in the outside pouch on my pack. Bummer, I’ll have to get another pair at Walmart in Grants.

Another day, another 20+ miles.

Miles – 21.7
Total Miles – 412.9
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – prairie dog, owl

Monday May 14th – CDT Day 24

Last night I heard a really strange animal sound near my tent. It kept coming back despite me yelling and doing my aggressive dog bark impression. After an hour, it finally went away.

As I walked back to hwy 117 I hit a dirt road. This led to a locked gate with a ranch entryway. Oops, I may have camped on private land last night.

Just up the road is the Acoma-Zuni trailhead. There were two coolers pecked full of water bottles here under a tree, courtesy of the Mumms. I carried 4L for the next section.

From here, hikers who take the Cebolla alternate can either Continue north on hwy 117 or head west on the Acoma-zuni trail, taking the Bonita-Zuni alternate into Grants. I chose the latter, but with the intention to hit up the Ice Caves & Bandera Calder a several miles west of the Bonita-Zuni alternate. From here I will take dirt roads and head off trail to connect with the Bonita-Zuni alternate. That’s the plan, anyway.

The Acoma-zuni trail starts off easy enough. Very quickly though, it passes through an old lava flow. I’ve never seen a lava flow before, so i found this very interesting. It was easy to visualize these rocks in their liquid state as lava, as it hardens preserving this image. Very cool!

Many more lava fields to traverse. It seemed they got larger in size as the trail goes on. Some had large cracks with 30ft chasms, others appeared to be a collapsed bowl shape. There was no consistency to the landscape. The rock itself is sharp and treacherous, you wouldn’t want to fall here. It’s no wonder the Spanish explorers who passed through here named it El Malpais, meaning “the badlands”. My Spanish is so bad, I feel like I’m going to swallow my tongue every time I try to say El Malpais. Instead, I just started calling it the spainish badlands.

Late morning, I saw another CDT hiker going the opposite direction. This was the first CDT “purist” I met so far. He said he was hiking the CDT official route only, with no alternates. He seemed to look down on hikers who took alternates. Personally, I’d rather hike a scenic canyon than the official trail if it’s a road walk, for example, but to each his own. My goal with the CDT is to hike an unbroken line to Canada, taking the most scenic and interesting route possible. Others want to make it to Canada as fast as possible. I get it if you’re going for the speed record, but if not, why not try to maximize what you see and experience? That’s the beauty of the CDT though… “hike your own hike” as they say. And I’m certainly glad to do it my way! 

Shortly after passing the hiker, I took first lunch. My routine of airing out my feet and dumping sand from my shoes and socks at all breaks has been working thus far to prevent blisters.

After first lunch, the large open lava fields transitioned into more of a pine forest, with a nightmarish terrain of a billion razor sharp rocks littering the ground. Every step required care. Even so, it was impossible to step on flat ground most of the time. Anyone with foot problems would be wise to avoid this trail. Those without, well, this is how you develop foot problems. My pace was cut massively, by a half at least.

I had seen a couple of small caves along the way, but now I saw my first large one. After dropping my pack, I was able to climb down into the cave to explore. I love this kind of thing, spontaneous finds that beg a closer look. My headlamp was in my pack, so I didn’t go down into the sublevel. Still, a cool find.

Not long after, I found many more caves. These caves were actually old lava tubes. Part of the surface had collapsed, forming an entrance. I climbed down into one, sure to bring my headlamp this time. Wow this was cool! A 20ft diameter horizontal tube running underground, connecting one cave to another. A shaft of light from the surface shined into the cave opening at the end of the tube. Walking to the shaft of light, there was another pile of rocks that, if climbed, could lead out of the lava tube. However, you could also climb over the rock pile and continue on in the lava tube. I did this for a while before realizing I could spend all day down here and turned back. This is one of the most unique places I’ve ever explored, and I was not expecting to find anything like this in New Mexico.

I wanted to get to the ice caves and bandera caldera by this evening. The trail passes by many more caves along this giant lava tube, but I stayed in the surface for the rest. And man, was that a hard thing to do!

The trail then passes close to hwy 53, paralleling it for a while. My feet were staring to hurt from the rough terrain, so after second lunch I decided to road walk for a while. It was after 4pm now and I had only hiked about 13 miles today. Now I could cover some miles and give my feet a relative break.

I walked a few miles on the road before hitting a trailhead. The terrain looked less Rocky here so I jumped back on the trail. It was an easy walk all the way to the El malpais visitor center, which had a water spigot behind the building. I washed off, cleaned my second pair of socks and refilled my water.

I decided to hike the roughly 3 miles to the ice caves so I could knock that out early morning. Plus, a sunrise climbing the caldera. However, when I reached the ice caves and Bandera caldera I was disappointed to learn it was privately owned. Apparently, you can own a volcano. My maps did not show the accurately show the national conservation area boundary. Also, all the land around for miles was privately owned. Camping nearby was not an option. It was 8:30 pm now, and getting dark fast. Bummer.

I hiked on West of the ice caves on hwy 53 by headlamp, which had a surprising amount of traffic. I contemplated camping right alongside the road in a ditch, right next to the fence of some ranch land. However, I decided to push on to forest service road 57 a few miles up, hoping there’d be some public land there. Just before reaching the road, a local in a truck pulled over and asked “are you one of those Divide hikers”? Why yes, I am. I told him my plan for the forest road and he confirmed the first 1/4 mile was BLM land. Sweet! However, he warned about a crazy guy who lives in the area that likes to shoot at people. Not sweet. 

It was a pain to find a decent spot in the dark, but I did. It was 9:15pm now. I set up the tent under the stars, ate dinner and went to bed.

Miles – 24.3
Total Miles – 437.2
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – prairie dog, rabbit

Tuesday May 15th – CDT Day 25

Lots of coyotes nearby last night. Didn’t get shot or shot at so that’s good. With the Sun out now, I could see I was pretty close to the private land border. When I left Camp, there was a sign saying entering private land. The funny thing is, this is literally the only sign around it wasn’t shot up! Every single sign for anything else had bullet holes in it.

Today’s hike is going to be 100% road walking, yet again. The first section passes through private land for several miles before entering the Cibola National Forest. I happened to check check my guthook app and noticed I was only about a Mile from an old caldera volcano, which had no name. There wasn’t even a sign for it along the road. Better check it out!

The climb up to the rim of the volcano was steep with lots of loose rock. As I crested the rim’s lowest point, I saw several elk running along a game trail on the inside of the crater walls. Very cool. From here, I could climb the low or high side of the rim. I chose the high side.

At the top, and still below the actual summit, was the best view along the entire rim. What an amazing place to be! This is what I love about the CDT… Never know what the day will be like until it unfolds.

I walked around the entire rim of the volcano before heading back down. If I had more time, I would have loved to get down into the center. Maybe next time I find myself on a volcano in the middle of nowhere with absolutely no regulations whatsoever. 

I took first lunch after the volcano, and headed back to the road. After an hour or so of uneventful walking, a truck passed stopped to ask if I needed a ride into Grants. She said she had already picked up three hikers and took them into town, but I said no thanks, I’m not a cheater! It’s kind of crazy to me that so many hikers are willing to Hitch into town to avoid road walking, and then say they’ve hiked the entire CDT. Everyone is free to take their own route, but in my mind if you’re not walking an unbroken line, did you really thru hike the CDT? Anyways, she offers me water which I happily accepted.

When I reached Zuni canyon, the red rocks and steep walks pleased the eyes. However, it was still a road walk along a paved highway. 10 more miles or so to Grants. Halfway through the Canyon, I got cell signal. This was the first reliable service I had in over 300 miles! AT&T had not been able to compare to Verizon this far on the CDT.

The closer I got to Grants, the more garbage there was along the side of the road. This is been a very reliable indicator of distance to town thus far. It’s really sad to see how little respect people have for our public lands.

I got my first view of Grants in the distance after turning a corner on the road. It was still several miles to the sands motel from here. This stretch of Zuni canyon road was very sad. Run down trailers on dirt farm properties with lots of animals in pens. About a mile or two south of the RV Park, there was a gauntlet of aggressive dogs at every home. A pack of pitbulls chased me in the street, teeth showing, growling and barking. I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to kick them in the face, they were way too close for comfort! The owner was right there too, and calmly scolded the dogs, but offered no apologies.  didn’t even say a word to me. I’m sure my thousand-mile stare said it all. I really can’t understand why anyone would want to own these aggressive dog breeds, and then let them roam wild in the streets. This stretch of road did not give me a good impression of the city of Grants.

It was another hour walk from here to get to the Sands Motel. My feet were the most tired they’d been along the entire trail, after hiking 28 miles today, almost all on roads. When I checked in, I was informed that neither my bounce box or my sleeping pad my dad sent were there, but my shipments were sitting behind the counter. Hmm. Once in my room, I checked the tracking number for my bounce box, and it showed there was a delivery attempt on May 2nd. It also said that if I didn’t elect to have it be delivered by tomorrow, it would be sent back to my return address in Michigan. So of course, I had the post office make another delivery attempt tomorrow.

First things first… Shower time! Unfortunately, there was a large hole in the bottom of the bathtub that was purposely covered up with a mat. The first time I discovered this hole, I lost my balance and would have fallen out of the shower if I didn’t catch myself on the shower curtain. Seriously?? Then after the shower, when I peeled away the comforter and exposed the bed sheets, I was disgusted to see a bunch of hair. I really hate to complain about these kind of things because it’s a cheap motel, and it’s better than the tent that I’ve been sleeping on, so I let it slide.

Then, an immense feeling of tiredness overwhelmed me. I never feel this tired out on trail, only after reaching a motel. It’s amazing how the body knows when it’s okay to relax and when it must keep going. No way am I leaving the Motel again tonight, so I ordered a pizza, wings and a two liter of Coke. After eating and writing in my journal, I succumbed to the powerful urge to sleep. Another successful section of the CDT under my belt.

Miles – 28
Total Miles – 465.2
Rain – no
Sleep – motel
Animals – deer or elk, rabbits

Wednesday May 16th – CDT Day 26 (Zero Day)

For some reason, I don’t sleep all that great my first night in a motel after getting back from a hike. It doesn’t make any sense at all. And this was no exception. But rest is rest, and anything is better then that damn foam mattress pad I’ve been sleeping on.

I called my dad to get the tracking number for the sleeping pad he sent. This too should have been here, delivery attempt was made May 14th. I walked into the office again to question why the packages weren’t here, and I got some poor excuses… Sometimes we’re not here because we pick up the kids from school, and a lot of incoherent mumbling in broken English.

I walked up to the post office, and my sleeping pad was there. Whew. But the most important package, my bounce box, was still set to be delivered to the Sands sometime today. At this point I didn’t want to stay another night at the Sands Motel, but didn’t have a choice because that’s where my precious bounce box is being sent. I had told the woman behind the counter a little about my story and she ran back to see if the mailman had already left for his daily route, and I just missed him. However, she let me know what his route looks like and when and where to expect him. This will come in handy later!

Back at the Sands Motel, I went into the office to reluctantly pay for another night. There was a different person out front, apparently the husband of the woman who had checked me in previously. Without me saying anything about the missing package, the guy behind the counter told me they didn’t accept the package because I didn’t call them to let them know it was coming. Written on neon green duct tape were the words CDT hiker, my last name, and my ETA date. This was supposed to be a hiker friendly motel, and used to CDT hikers as well as accepting packages.

I informed him that I called the motel before starting the hike to confirm they accept packages for hikers, and was not able to call them after sending the package because I haven’t had cell phone service in over 300 miles of hiking. He didn’t seem to understand how important these packages are to CDT hikers, and offered no sympathy. At this point, I got very angry. I told them how I almost fell in the “fucking hole in the bathtub” and about all the hair in the bed, but since I swore at him, he then said there are no more rooms available. Fine, I don’t want to stay another night in your shitty Motel anyway!

I packed up my things and headed next door to the very kind and friendly Southwest Motel. Next I got lunch at Blake’s Lotaburger. Now, I do not trust the Sands Motel to keep my package at this point. He’d probably just throw it away, or send it back.

Knowing that the mailman takes High Street over to the Sands Motel as part of his daily route, I posted up in the shade behind a department store and waited for the truck to pass by. Sure enough, after about 45 minutes the mail truck drove by. I was a little slow on the draw to flag him down, so I had to run after the truck. I was unable to catch up to him at his first two stops, but he spent a little longer in the third stop and I caught up. I explained my situation, showed him my ID, and he gave me the package before it arrived at the Sands Motel. Even the mailman said that was pretty messed up that the motel refuse to accept the package based solely on the fact that there was no phone call.

I spent the afternoon catching up with friends and family on the phone and not much else. Horray for zero day.

Miles – 0
Total Miles – 465.2
Rain – no
Sleep – motel
Animals – none

Thursday May 27th – CDT Day 27 (Zero Day)

I slept in today, getting much better sleep. Yesterday was a bit of a lost day, having the turmoil with my packages and all. Damn Sand Motel.

I spent the morning getting my resupply plan for Cuba together (ordering from, then making a list of things I need from Walmart here in Grants for the next section.

It was about 1.75 miles to Walmart from here, not bad in the late morning before temps get hot. I ran into Ripple just getting into town. Perigrene had some shin splints and they had to hitch in from the Narrows. Walmart is pretty well hidden, no sign and not visible from the road. Grants must not have wanted them to build at all here.

After Walmart, I ate lunch ate Dennys and walked back. I spent the afternoon getting my food together and going through my gear.

The evening was spent dealing with the arduous process of unloading my pictures, video and GPS data to my WD Passport Pro HDD. Then copying over the pictures to my laptop, choosing which to use on my blog, resizing them, uploading them to wordpress, copying over my journal on my phone to wordpress and on and on. Time consuming!

Back on the trail tomorrow, after what seems like forever. Back to back zeros, that might not happen again for a while.

Miles – 0
Total Miles – 465.2
Rain – no
Sleep – motel
Animals – none

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