Day 46: A Real River and it’s Magical Canyon


Our leftover little climb was perfect to start the morning with, up through pines and sandstone, and from there we dropped down the back side of the ridge. I listened to several Outside Online podcasts, about grit and choice and what is hard core, and when the trail veered from the road and then disappeared, I felt quite cheerful clambering through mild blowdowns and searching for the trail’s remnants, like a scavenger hunt, even when all it eventually did was rocket steeply back up to the same road we’d veered from.

The next descent was for keeps, and we dropped down ledge systems and switchbacks through forest. I cued up a dreamy, esoteric instrumental playlist sent by a friend of my brothers, the perfect accompaniment for landing in the riparian bottom of Cañada Gurule, flanked by painted, sculpted sandstone walls. A small stream carved a trough in the clay bottom, and we crossed and recrossed it as all the green filtered the light. At its wide end the trail left the creek and gained one of the shoulders, and the trail unfurled through sage flats, the canyon walls yellow stacked on white stacked on red, aprons of purple and orange and brown fanning down.

We topped off our water at a spring fed trough, and then there it was: the Rio Chama. Our first real river, after 6 weeks and nearly 700 miles of hiking- kind of wild to see through those Rio-starved eyes. We went down to its sandy shore, set the water up to filter, took off shoes, rolled up pant legs, and waded in. It was cloudy, a bona fide silt-laden desert river, and not as cold as I’d expected; it made beautiful white noise chuckling over its boulders and riffles. We stayed for hours.

Lunch eaten, water filtered, feet soaked, socks washed, River reveled in, the sky had layered into a symphony of storms. A big climb awaited, up the mesa bracketing the opposite side of the river canyon. We set to work.

The trail wound gracefully up the benches and ridges, and I could not stop from turning back to the views behind and below, the painted walls under the kaleidoscope of clouds and curtains and light. Only three and a half miles led to the top, where the edge squarely dropped away into the ravine below.

We took a break, took advantage of having the whole mesa top to ourselves, then followed the trail as it traced the very rim of La Mesa De Las Viejas for eight stunning miles. Half way we perched on the edge to cook dinner, and lingered a bit long, twilight already arrived as we pushed our last stretch. My legs never warmed up after they stiffened at dinner, and I hobbled and marveled and took pictures of the alpenglow and sunset. Prana waited at mile 700 for a mini-celebration, and we sought out a good-enough campsite as the dark and the rain converged upon us.

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