October 27, 2018
You start at the Skull Bridge. This is the only crossing of the Rio Chama into the established wilderness. If you want to be in it you’ll either float the river or hike up one of the canyons that comprise the East or West side drainages into the wilderness. The majority of visitors are riding that river or hiking the Ojitos Trail, one of not many established routes. The Ojitos is also part of the CDT so you may meet passersby in a hurry to get to Canada. Once you get to the mesa tops, you’ll bump into cows, roads, and boundaries.
Today we cross the bridge like most but then take a hard left and head for an unnamed canyon that has a large amphitheater at its head. Along the way, we encounter a cross on a low rise. We will find an old cemetery surrounded by a new fence. Research after the trip was complete reveals that the Forest Service had set the wilderness boundary with the cemetery inside. This prevented relatives, many old and infirm, from reaching the site. The Forest Service apparently moved the wilderness boundary on request from these ancestors. The following article explains in greater detail.
The cemetery is the last evidence we will see of human or cow until we get near the bridge again. This place is wild with a capital W and it is soon very apparent why it was established as a designated wilderness back in 1978. The classic terrain of the Colorado Plateau is joined by dense woodlands of pinõn and three kinds of juniper, one of them being of the Utah species. These trees can live 300 to 700 years and some pass a millennium. We could be passing trees that may have been here since before Columbus.
We work our way up a slope and find an animal trail. We will follow this for some miles before it peters out. Again and again, I find that when working out a most reasonable route, animals have been there before me. This makes perfect sense. They don’t have the calories to waste going any way but the most efficient. We top out and walk along the rim of the amphitheater, looking down to where we ate lunch an hour before. At the high point, around 7300 feet, we will swing to the West then North, working our way down a narrow slope with drop-offs on both sides. It’s a bit nerve-wracking but the route was worked out carefully beforehand.
We get back down to the flats as the shadows grow long passing through Cañada de las Fuertes and it’s chest high sage. Too soon it’s over except for memories and imagination.
I was joined on this hike by the very capable CK, Nancy, Ted, and Pesta. The hike was 7.27 miles long and had 1432 feet of ascent. It took 6 hours hike time and 3 and a half hours of drive time with two stops at Bodes Store.