Waking up in a natural bowl on top of a ridge was very nice. There was no frigid wind to keep us in our sleeping bags and we got an early morning sun to warm us up. Thor and Cruise Control headed out towards La Ventanna Arch and we were close behind.
We walked along the Narrows Rim Trail. It followed the edge of a Zuni sandstone bluff that towered over the vast lava fields spanning far into the distance. We read that the bluffs were created long ago when massive sand dunes were covered by thick sediment. The weight of this sediment was so heavy that it transformed the dunes into rock. After about three miles of walking, we rounded a corner and were able to see both Mt. Taylor (New Mexico's largest Peak) and La Ventana arch (New Mexico's largest natural arch).
After we stood for a few minutes and admired the view, we decided to keep making distance to the next water before it got too hot. The Narrows Rim trail is actually an out and back that ends at this vista point. We had two options. We could either follow a steep mountain goat path down to the road or do an extra ten miles of backtracking to avoid a dangerous hike. If you can find a thru hiker that would walk five miles in the wrong direction just to walk another five miles on the highway just to avoid scrambling down a bluff, have them email us so we can talk some sense into them. We consulted the maps again before heading down and sure enough there was a dotted line signifying the lack of trail in this area.
We started down the mountain carefully watching our footing with each placement. Rocks continued to slide out from under us and roll quickly towards the bottom coming to rest against scrub brush and small trees. We zigged and zagged, creating our own switchbacks to control our descent. Finally we made it down in one piece. We had arrived to a meadow just below La Ventana and placed our feet again on a smooth concrete path. The arch was astonishing. According to a kiosk, the arch began forming 140 million years ago during the Jurassic Period when the earths growing pains created cracks that allowed water to pass through. Over the years, the water caused the rock to fall away leaving only the giant arch.
We began walking the road again. In the middle of a field, a giant sandstone monolith stood alone. The profile of this stone was that of a woman. Locals believe that she stands in the desert watching over the land and its inhabitants. Shortly after, we came to a pullout on the side of the road that marked the start of the Zuni-Acoma Trail. At this roundabout a Grants trail angel, Carole Mumm, had cached water here for hikers. We took a liter for the next nine miles of lava field trails and began our volcanic journey.
At first, the lava was such a change of scenery that it was fun and exciting. Following only cairns, we climbed up and down a roller coaster of volcanic flow. Large plates of Pahoehoe, a term that describes sheets of smooth billowy lava, extended as far as we could see. As we walked up to the crest of one of these plates, a deep fissure would span in between the two sheets and we would leap over.
After a few miles, our shoes finally began showing small signs of the wear and tear from the razor sharp rocks and our ankles began to ache from the ever changing footpath. The rock we were walking on radiated the heat from the sun just as asphalt in the city does in the summertime. We ate a quick lunch and quickly went back to hiking to try and get across the black rock as quickly as we could. We passed the entrance to lava tube caves and walked over sinkholes and the collapsed rock of caves that once were.
The type of lava rock changed as we walked, seemingly signifying different eruptions. Some flows we definitely liked more than others. One In particular was made solely of baseball sized lava bombs, imperfectly shaped rocks formed from being shot from a volcano and cooling midair. This was not our favorite part.
As we came to the end of this trail and approached the highway, we had two options. We could either hitch seven miles to a visitor center and fill up from a spigot and then hitch (walk) back to trail, or we could risk it and walk six miles to an electric pump that may or may not be working. Collectively we had a half liter of water, but we believed in the trail and that we would find water along the way. Sure enough, three prairie dog hole filled miles later we came upon a beautiful windmill pumping out clear pristine water. Two other hikers, Hannah and Charlie from Lake Tahoe were here filling up as well. It would be a dry march into town the next day and we would be dry camping, so we all four filled up with five liters of water.
The temperature suddenly dropped twenty degrees as the sun hid behind dark clouds. In the distance we could see Virga clouds and their evaporating streamers of rain quickly heading our way. So we booked it three miles to camp. It seemed as if we made it in ten minutes. We had perfect timing. Just as we were staking down our rainfly, huge droplets of rain starting rattling the tent. We did not mind one bit at this point. We had hiked a beautiful day and would be filling our bellies with food from town in the morning. We fell asleep with these thoughts and did not wake up for a single, powerful gust of wind through the night. What a day.
Cheers to new frontiers!
Garbelly & Critter