Thursday, July 17, 2014

Day 38: Muddy Creek to Rim Lake

The sun warmed the rich greens and golds of the rolling hills. A small cloud of dust off in the distance warned us that we we're about to receive company. Sure enough, minutes later two ranching trucks roared past, the first traffic on the road in sixteen hours. We had not traveled much farther before we met two men working on the road. They offered us water and waved us on our way. 

We've seen no other hikers. Yesterday we crossed County Road 401, which travels to Rawlins in just over 20 miles. The official route meanders for almost 60 miles from that point. We stayed on the official route, but many hikers will take the alternate, making it highly unlikely that we will see other hikers in this stretch. 

The official CDT route meanders from the Mexican border in New Mexico to Canada for over 3,000 miles. Many hikers take some combination of alternates, shortening the official route by several hundred miles. Jonathan Ley identifies many of these alternates on his popular collection of CDT maps. Alternative routes are identified for a variety of reasons: shortcuts, water availability, ease of resupply, lower elevation routes to avoid snow, and scenic routes. Although we may come back to explore some of the scenic routes in the future, we've chosen to stay on the official CDT for now. 

The CDT route crosses Muddy Creek  several times. Tall grasses and reeds line the banks of the creek, and dark pink wild roses grow nearby. A cloud of swallows swoop out from under the bridge as we approach. 

Jeff brightened our day by finding us along the route. Cold drinks were very welcome on such a hot, dry section. 

An antelope bounded across the road, racing up the hillside with tremendous speed. Flocks of butterflies swarmed over the purple thistles and wildflowers lining the road. Wild mustangs tentatively approached as we passed by, curious from a distance but skittish when we got too close. 

A gentle breeze wafted the aroma of  a salty marsh; the nearly dry Little Sage Reservoir. Birds swooped at us as we approached. Again and again they passed over, crying loudly, trying to drive us away.

"Left on trail," the data book instructs. A single CDT marker indicated the spot where we should turn. The only problem was that there was no trail. I consulted my GPS and quickly confirmed that we were in the right spot. In true CDT style, the "trail" is an unmarked cross country route over a field filled with brush, cactus, and other hostile plants. A lone antelope eyed us incredulously as we slowly made our way across, following wild mustang and antelope tracks in the dried mud. 

Even after we reached a two track road, mustang tracks greatly outnumbered human ones. We soon saw why. A large band of wild mustangs grazed in a meadow, several foals among them. 

We met Jeff after a 30 mile day and camped at the very saline Rim Lake, one of several lakes that appear to be slowly drying out along this section. 

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