Day 40

Arroyo Piedra Lumbre to Cuba
22 mi ::
493 mi ::
Cloudy morning, sunny warm afternoon

It turns out the windmill is only a few minutes’ walk from our camp. It also turns out the old adobe ruin next to the windmill is now rebuilt and occupied. It’s behind a locked gate with a NO TRESPASSING sign now. We are sorely disappointed, but decide we have to head for NM44 along the Rio Puerco. We investigate some other pumps and tanks on the way, but everything is locked up or dry. We swing east away from the mesa toward the road.

Just before the descent to the Rio Puerco canyon we cross a road with familiar white-topped post trail markers along it. We stop. It could be a much nicer way north than ten miles of pavement pounding, but we don’t have much spare water if it wanders too much. I can’t conceal my desire to try it. Ann concedes to do it as long as it doesn’t go back west and up the mesa. This is a significant gesture from her, because unknown trails and scarce water make her very anxious. I accept, and we follow the markers.

Before long we see clear water trickling down the road, then we come to a nice clean cattle tank. We can now filter more drinking water. This is good, but also challenges Ann who has steeled herself for a long day without much water. We’ve already skipped breakfast to conserve.

We make a mistake at this point. We should relax, eat breakfast, load up on water, and follow the trail markers with plenty to spend the night on. Instead we decide to just have a good drink, stay light, and try to make it to Cuba for the night along the unknown trail. We’re making decisions too fast because of all the sudden changes of circumstance.

The trail doesn’t go far before it swings back west toward the mesa. We consider turning back, but then it cuts north again through a gate. A sign says we’re entering private property, but the markers are clear so we continue. After a while the markers disappear. Then we see some heading toward the mesa again. The trail is obviously going to climb it.

We’re in a quandry, and we’re both upset. Our options are a) turn back toward the highway again, b) try to find our way north on private roads below the mesa, or c) follow the trail up. We waffle and argue, and finally I just head up the mesa to make a decision. Ann follows, angry. We irritate each other further, quibbling on the hot, steep, 400-ft climb. At the top the cairns disappear. It’s reckoning time.

There’s a road heading north on top of the mesa. It’s a gorgeous place. We walk along, calm down, and make peace. We talk it out. This is part of the journey, and part of our marriage. We react differently to pressure and strife, and are learning how to deal with these things together. It’s a healing discussion. Our mood improves, if not our situation. We stop and plan a route north on small roads. It looks possible. We might still make Cuba without undue thirst.

Our route works well. Near the end we see some more trail markers joining us. We scowl at them.

The last four miles are on paved NM167. We’re tired, but not wrecked. A Navajo couple, Elda and Larry, join us for a ways and talk. They recommend a motel and a couple of places to eat and drink. Larry is finishing a tall boy as we walk. They try to teach us the Navajo word for dry, sunburned skin, but we can’t pronounce it. They joke as we part that now we’ve seen a couple of ‘skins’.

We pass more people hanging out or hitchhiking on the road. Another couple, Daryl and Anita, ask us for food. We give them our extra food. Daryl is drunk but polite, Anita is distant. They say they’re trying to get back home to Gallup. There are more folks, mostly Native Americans, hanging out on the street in town.

Cuba has a decent layout for hikers. We spot restaurants, post office, laundromat, and library on our way to the Del Prado Motel that Elda recommended. It’s not bad. The guys drinking Bud outside the room next to ours are friendly. Ann has been fantasizing about margueritas, and we’re soon showering and sipping cold drinks. After a long day with only trail mix to eat, we enjoy a sizable dinner at the Del Prado Restaurant and go to bed content.

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