Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Day 126: Uphill
Chaves County to Elk. 20.8 miles/2396.6 total
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
10:22 a.m. I’m getting a late start this morning because I spent a little too long over coffee with Diana Kie and her kids and then at the computer before finally setting out from mile 65 on US 82 in Chaves County heading west to Elk, a distance of 20.8 miles.
It’s another clear day with a strong breeze blowing at my back from the east. It’s in the high 50s and will probably get into the high 60s.
I spent a quiet night outside the home of my hosts Robert and Diana. Diana told me this morning that she puts up a hiker or cyclist about every two weeks. She's sort of an angel of good cheer on the road, offering meals and shelter to people whenever she sees them, mostly when she’s driving back and forth to her kids’ school, which is at least 15 miles from their house. It’s interesting that for as many hikers and bikers as there evidently are along here I haven’t seen any. I see cyclists maybe once a week, but the only time I’ve encountered another walker was in western Louisiana when I saw two within a couple of days of each other.
I’m trying to maintain a brisk pace, because I won’t get back to the motor home until nearly sunset. Today I will make it to those gentle brown hills that lie in front of me about ten miles distant.
The flora continue pretty much as before, with plenty of mesquite, chollas, prickly pears, a few yuccas, and here and there an agave, a light green succulent with wide thick thorny leaves. They make tequila from one type, but I don’t think it’s the one I’m seeing. Also, as the walk progresses, I begin to see a few short juniper and pinyon pine trees for the first time. There appears to be as great a variety of plants here as there is in any wooded area in the northeast; they’re just shorter, due to the lack of water.
The wind has stiffened and is blowing now from the northeast at about twenty miles an hour. At the intersection of US 82 and New Mexico Route 24 I reach a point of demarcation between the rolling fields of the past two days and the mountain foothills, and the road becomes steeper. Route 24 goes down to a place called Dunken, about which I could find no information.
Within a few miles of this intersection I’m straddling two sub-environments. On my left, south of the road and down about a hundred feet, flows a rapidly-moving shallow stream about twenty feet wide. This is the first body of water I’ve seen so far in New Mexico, I think. Along the stream grows a variety of tall deciduous trees—elms and aspens mostly, and the grass is closer to green than to the usual yellow-grey. On my right, across the road, rise sheer cliffs at the top and bottom of which grow prickly pears and other desert plants. A fascinating contrast.
Ahead of me the hills are rounded like pointed domes, dotted by rotund evergreen trees. I come upon several places where the grass and plants by the roadside have been burning very recently. The first area, blackened and still smoldering, is about an acre in size, but the next two are larger. The fourth, thirty or more acres, still has little fires burning here and there where bunches of dry sticks are gathered together. A half dozen firefighters are busy pumping and spreading water. Several miles back a state policeman stopped beside me to ask if I was okay and if I’d seen anything suspicious, telling me that these fires had been started deliberately. This all must have happened between the time I drove down the mountain in my car to the beginning of my walk, just a few hours ago. I did see several fire trucks, but that was about it. Anyway, the worst of it is over now. Conditions are extremely dry right now, and I can see how easily a fire can spread in these hills, especially with the wind as strong as it is.
At 9.6 miles I stop at a large roadside stand, the only commercial establishment on today’s walk. The sign says it’s run by Tom and Pam Runyan. In addition to selling fruit and jellies and honey and other such things, they have a petting zoo and a fishing pond behind the place, which I don’t visit. Petting zoos are just sneaky ways to get other people to pay to feed your livestock. Also, the Runyans advertise a “clean restroom.” But I don’t need that either. The world is my clean restroom.
On Diana’s advice I ask Tom Runyan, the old boy who runs the place, if there’s a safe spot near here where I can park the motor home overnight. He tells me I can park on Route 24, just off US 82, in a wide area in front of some land he owns. I thank him and buy a Diet Coke and promise to come back tomorrow and buy something else from him.
The elevation at Runyan’s, by the way, is about 5,400 feet, which means that I’ve climbed about 1,300 feet since I left Hope and 2,100 feet since Artesia. I'll get up to about 5,800 feet by the end of today. Still almost 3,000 feet more up to Cloudcroft. It must get a lot steeper. Tom also told me that these are the Sacramento Mountains I’m entering.
The road winds around, opening up new vistas with each sharp turn, until I get to about 15 miles, then it levels off somewhat. I’ve hit a bit of a plateau, although the elevation continues to rise gradually. This plateau continues until I’m almost through with the walk.
With about a mile and a half to go, the sun hangs low over the hilltops to my right. Twilight comes earlier in the mountains. According to the maps, I’ve just gone through the community of Elk, although I saw no sign for it. There have been farm and ranch houses along the way, but nothing I’d call a village. Nor have I seen any elk, for that matter. Just one good-sized doe running along the river. Right after the sign for the turnoff to Mule Canyon the motor home comes into view.