Our camp in the pines was perfect. Nowhere near 22 degrees, another rumor that had been flying around town when we left. We drank coffee and ate some bars, but saved our true breakfast, tofu scramble burritos, to cook at the summit of Mt Taylor, one of the Navajo Nation’s four corners of their world.
We climbed and climbed. At a mile and a half in, at a beautiful, clear, piped spring, we filled our water bags to filter at the peak. After miles of pines, we stumbled into a glade of aspens, some with the widest trunks I’d seen, the glade carpeted with emerald green grass.
The trail was never that steep, but it was continuously up, so breakfast, and water, became a delayed affair. The trail was gorgeous, following ridges higher and higher, and it actually felt like the first real and true mountain of the trail – it was easy to see why the Navajos consider it sacred, one of the four corners of their world.
The trail switch backed up the final peak, and I was so thirsty, which was pretty dumb, considering I had 5 pounds of water on my back, all of it unfiltered. Best laid plans. The top was amazing, though, and well worth the time.
Views swept out over the volcanic land around us. The Sawtooths serrated the far southern horizon, just silhouetted through the haze- of dust or smoke, I wasn’t sure. The chain of craters curved up from the west, Grants was laid out in centrally neat blocks fringing to geometric disarray, the lava flows jumbled black in between. I had enough service to look up that Mt Taylor is a strato-volcano, fitting with the surrounding volcanology. There was a small depression in its summit, maybe 4 feet deep, maybe a dozen feet in diameter. “Do you think this is its crater?” I asked Prana. “Hm, I don’t think so,” he said, but I still satisfied my imagination by cooking in it, out of the wind, pretending to simmer the tofu on the heat of the magma below. “Butters was here only five days ago!” Prana read from the register. If he was one of the ones waiting on snow in town, we’d likely see him.
A day hiker, John, arrived at the summit. We chatted a bit, and he was kind enough to point out some geography: Mt Wheeler, Albuquerque, the Rio Grande’s canyon, Cabezon Peak and its attendant row of volcanic plugs, and the Rio Puerca mesa and badlands. “I think that area’s incredible,” he said, “but you’ll have to decide when you get to it. It’s not for everyone.”
The north side of Mt Taylor was chilly, a thick fir forest still harboring the occasional icy patch of snow. We zoomed down only to climb back up a steep and rocky road, then chug gently downhill along that road all the rest of the day.
American Canyon Spring was a lovely green and aspen’d spot with delicious water, and we lounged on big boulders for lunch. At last we rejoined the CDT proper, from which the Mt Taylor summit had been an alternate, but only for a short bit of trail before again returning to dirt road. Dirt roads are magnitudes better to walk on than paved, though, so while I longed for endless trail, I was quite grateful these dirt roads were as scenic and un-trafficked as they were.
We were finishing our last planned miles through a big flat plain in the twilight, me having caved and put in headphones (Matchbox 20’s second album, which transported me straight back to high school adventure camp). Prana was ahead, stopped by the side of the road, waiting to point out some pale purple wild irises. I choked up with happiness. And then across the road, an entire shallow drainage was filled with them blooming or about to, the full moon rising behind them through a pastel striped sky. I plopped down right there and did nothing but take pictures and watch for ten minutes.
Prana waited again in a patch of short ground cover a half mile up the road. “It’s either this or bare dirt or rocks and plants,” he said. This looked just fine.
Sprawling in the ground in the descending dark felt like being buried- I could have easily gone to bed without eating, not realizing how tired or hungry I’d become. A quick meal of rice ramen and to bed I went.