The sunrise was bottled at the end of the canyon facing town, and as we headed that way the sandstone blocks of the top layer dropped lower and lower. Soon we were out of the canyon into the bleak and desolate fringes of Grants, interstate 40 screaming close by. Many houses, or permanent trailers, were surrounded by trash and broken down vehicles. Dogs growled and barked from porches and behind fences, setting the entire street into a miles-long ruckus. My soul felt sick. Were these people happy? Fulfilled? I don’t wish to judge anyone, but I guessed they were not.
A dog came running into the street, snarling. I yanked out the pepper spray, armed it, and then I heard the owner call its name. It charged again, coming within inches. Its owner called again, more insistent. The dog rushed a third time and then gave up, and I stood, vibrating from the adrenaline. “Sorry,” the owner waved.
Jesus Christ, my brain scolded me as we hiked off, what good is carrying that spray if you’re not going to actually use it?
We crossed over interstate 40, then the train tracks, then turned onto Main Street, or what was old Route 66. Shop after shop was permanently closed. We reached the Mt Taylor coffee shop to discover it closed as well- apparently closed on Sundays. With well over a mile between it and the hostel, we likely wouldn’t come back.
We crossed a riverside park, the riverbed dry and full of trash. A cafe on the riverside – also closed on Sundays. I was starting to get seriously depressed. “I’m not even sure I want to spend the night in this town,” I said. “Yeah,” said Prana, “but we know the hostel is cool, so we can just not leave there. Also, we need some food. There’s a pizza place that gets good reviews that’s relatively close. Only 3/4 of a mile out of the way.” I was so blue that even food didn’t sound good, but it sounded better than continuing to wander around the town, so to the Surf Shack we went. It was part of a complex that included an arcade and a roller rink, to my delight, though both were still Covid-closed. The employees were really really friendly, but all those reviews that claimed it was the best pizza they’d ever had must not have much pizza experience. The sauce was bland, and the toppings were mostly a slab of mediocre cheese, but it was 18” across with a thick crispy crust, and we polished off like it was our life’s calling. 15 minutes later I realized how hungry I must have been by how much better I felt.
To the hostel, then. We walked side streets, and several people stopped in their cars to chat, all supportive, all kind. The back building was where the two private rooms were, and we dropped our packs in the red room. Prana immediately headed for the shower, and I collected our laundry- the hostel ran completely on solar energy, so everything electrically powered had to happen during the day. 2 other hikers were bunking in the front house, and I started the washer and traded news with them for a bit. The talk of the trail was how many hikers were stacked up in Chama and Cuba, the next two towns, which was now prompting people to pause in Grants. “Someone said 50 or 60 in Chama, just waiting for the San Juans to melt out. Every room in both towns is booked solid.” “Someone tried to go through, post holed to his neck, lost a shoe, and had to retreat down a side trail which was even worse. He’s waiting a week in Salida.” What’s true and what’s grapevine-magnified? Hard to say.
After my shower I spent all afternoon drinking water, laying in bed, and catching up my journal. I called our next resupply point to double check their details since we’d heard the prices had changed- the guy who answered the phone took ten minutes to complain about hikers, and left the implication we weren’t actually welcome to book a spot there. Prana pinned the laundry on the line to dry in the sun, and we had a quick nap together before sorting our resupply. We talked on and off with the hiker in the orange room who was waiting out a bout of knee pain. He’d taken the Gila alternate instead of the Black Range, the Pie Town roadwalk cutoff, and walked roads and highway shoulders the entire way from Pie Town to Grants, without ever taking one step on the lava. “Yeah, it’s probably like comparing apples and oranges, but the AT is way harder than this trail.” I raised my eyebrow but bit my tongue- hike your own hike and all that.
Frank and Frankie, the feline security detail, followed Ranger Ross in in the evening, to my joy. Ross was only there for a moment, but one of the Frank(ie)s stayed to purr and be petted the rest of the evening.
More online time, more blog posting, and suddenly it was after 11:00.