Section 5: Douglas to Columbus

 

Day 55

17 miles

 

Woke up early from our nice and cushy spot at the Motel 6 hoping to get an early start to the day (especially with the hour drive back to where we’d left off). Of course like amateurs we’d left the resupply chores to the morning and we scrambled to get organized as the hours slipped by alarmingly fast.

 

 

Why so fast?

When we finally left town, the car was packed to the brim with every conceivable item we could need in the next 2-3 days of car camping. To be fair this section of NM is REMOTE. A bail out would require a heck of a lot of driving.

 

We parked the car at the point we’d left off yesterday and easily convinced Kris to hike in a couple miles with us. And what a pleasure! He bounced along well in stride, sporting a synthetic blue t-shirt, tennis shoes, and cool sunglasses. He had enough energy for all of us.

We were long since exhausted by our own stories and gratefully welcomed his tales of marathons and travels. What question could we ask next?

 

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We barely noticed the miles pass by even as the incline increased and we fought our breath for words.The road climbed to the top of a pass with some epic views of the valley ahead and behind. We’d missed the faded marker alerting us to the AZ/NM border on our climb so we chose to celebrate at the top. A new state! Goodbye AZ!

 

Kris left us at this point, planning to run back to the car then past us and ahead to find a campsite for the night. We would see him in an hour or so when he passed us, but it still was a bummer to lose him and his stories. We descended into a thick forest where oak trees arched over the road. Two flowing creeks crossed our path, both with ice accumulated along the edges.

 

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How cold was it last night?

One pool had such a thick crust of ice across its surface that it was too tempting to pass, and we stopped to throw rocks. It was thick enough that the first rock bounced and skated in spinning circles over the ice. Claire picked up a chunk and held it to her eyes squinting through the transparent sheet, it was as big as her face.  Not a good sign for the next several days of camping!

 

Further along the road we passed a hunting camp with a huge truck and trailer set up. The hunter came out of the trailer as we passed and we exchanged greetings. He commented on how cold it was and warned us about a pack of coatimundis he had seen that morning.

Coatimundi?

A coatimundi is a medium sized animal critter that's looks like a mix between an anteater and a cat..pretty neat and is more commonly seen in Central America. We would love to run across one! He was a little less enthusiastic, likening them to “ferocious badgers” and claiming that they could be quite aggressive. We promised to keep our eyes peeled. This section has been great for wildlife - this morning we’ve already seen several turkeys and yesterday on the drive back to Douglas we’d seen two javelina scrambling across the road (so so cool)! Several coyote have slunk by and the birds continue to swarm the vegetation.

 

On the lookout for cool wildlife, we continued down the road. Palm-like tufts sprouted from the golden grass which carpeted the hillsides. At the edge of the Coronado Forest, a sign designated a large plot of land as a study area.

No indiction of what was being studied, the ecosystem in general?

 

  

  

Unfortunately the end of public lands meant the beginning of more ranch land, in particular our nemesis the Animas Foundation. Here’s some history: the 321,000 acre chunk of land was originally the Gray’s Ranch until 1990 when it was purchased by the Nature Conservancy. In 1993 the Nature Conservancy sold the property to the Animas Foundation but retained a conservation easement. This property was renamed the Diamond A. Ranch. The conservation easement requires that the ranch maintains “agricultural integrity”. Our theory is that the Diamond A Ranch is basically a ranching corporation using environmental claims to get massive tax cuts. But that’s pure speculation so don’t quote us! Luckily we were on a county road and could safely scope out the private property from public land.

 

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The grasses were waist high and the wind passed through their shoots with a sssssss. We discussed patterns of movement across the border and wondered how the territory is organized.

Obviously cartels have their territory lines, but are migrant groups crossing the border organized along ethnic/nationality lines? Do the Indians typically cross at one place, the El Salvadorians at another?

It would make sense logistically and it seems likely that word of mouth plays a big role in directing traffic through certain areas. As we deliberated, Border Patrol pulled up and interrupted our thoughts. It was the same guy from the previous evening and it surprised us to have the same agent stop twice! He was young and unassuming enough that it felt like speaking to a peer. We easily picked up the conversation where we left off yesterday. He explained to us that although he is based in Texas, this area is so understaffed that all 300 agents of his El Paso sector are required to spend one week per year in New Mexico’s bootheel (or another remote area along the border). Because the boothill is so remote its difficult to find a place to live close enough to commute into work everyday and few agents can sustain a good quality of life in the area. We asked the usual questions about the upcoming sections, Texas on a whole. He lived southwest of El Paso in Fabens and stated that he wouldn’t volunteer in some parts of Texas, particularly Presidio, because it is even more remote than this.

 

By mid-afternoon Kris had caught up to us with the car and we all stopped for a lunch break. We sat down in the shade of his vehicle with the door as our backrest, ahhh luxury. For some reason, the conversation revolved around different wars that the US has been involved in, with all of us contributing stories we’ve heard from grandparents, relatives, family friends, etc. It was wonderful to exchange stories and discuss questions.

What books on war have you read? Which have been the best?

One of the beauties of hiking is there is no Google so you're left to search your own mind when you can’t remember something. Two military jets shot through the sky over our heads sending an echoing rumble through the mountains. They were right on cue for our conversation.

 

We finished the last couple miles along a county road running due north (the unfortunate first step of our reroute). Kris found us and we drove along an even tinier road searching for public land. We finally found a spot in the dimming light and quickly set up camp. Strange to be camping again after so many plush nights in a hotel!

 

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As darkness swallowed our campsite, we saw sevral bright lights bouncing along the horizon. What is that??

After tracking the progress of one it was obvious this was a person on foot with a headlamp. Three lights, each traveling in a linear trajectory, stopping occasionally to inspect some unknown thing. The headlamps were strong, the beams reached far ahead. We suspected it was Border Patrol on foot looking for people. Just a night in the life.