Mesa de Cuba from both sides now, part 1: the east
After a day spent road-tripping in the rain (and snow) of NW New Mexico, I was more than ready to get out and stretch my legs on a trail – regardless of how wet and muddy it might be. The problem was that the approaches to the various badlands destinations on my itinerary involved unimproved dirt roads – roads now turned to perhaps impassable mud by the prior day’s heavy rains.
Not inconsiderable was my other concern: more rain in the forecast for today. Finding oneself a dozen miles out on a clay-surfaced road after a rainstorm would be tantamount to putting in for a multi-day unscheduled layover beyond the reach of civilization (not to mention one’s motel room). I didn’t have those days to spare – although I always carry water and rations enough to cover such an eventuality, just in case.
With this in mind, it seemed providential that I’d engaged in a conversation Sunday evening with Herman, the desk clerk taking the weekend shift at the Frontier Motel. When I went into the office to get hold of more coffee for the in-room machine, he happened to be reading a locally-printed news weekly featuring an article about the new trail system recently opened for foot travel. Called the Fisher Community Trail, the trailhead for this short (1.8 miles round trip) excursion was actually located on the edge of town, so no off-road travel would be required – and I’d get the chance to ascend to the top of Mesa de Cuba, whose prominent cliffs served as the distinctive western border of the village.
(I was already familiar with Mesa de Cuba—by name, anyway—because one of the badlands on my agenda sprang from an area on the other side of the same north-south trending uplift. More about which in my next post.)
And so it was that I pulled into the (muddy) parking area off Cubita Rd., laced up my (soon to be muddy) boots and took off “auf fuß” to see what I could see, on an improved trail that was too new to have even made it onto the interwebs. (Check for yourself if you don’t believe me.) Almost like pioneering.
According to the trailhead signage, there’d be an opportunity to continue on past trail’s end (marked with a final cairn) to ascend to the top of the mesa. I found this to be a fairly simple matter of route finding involving only minor use of hands-on-pinon to overcome a couple of rock bands and achieve the flat-topped “summit,” providing access to literally miles of exploration above deeply intercut canyons falling off on all sides. It would take days to circumnavigate the mesa top, and judging from the section I hiked such undertaking would prove an entertaining and worthwhile endeavor.
As I’ve grown used to doing all over the southwest on almost every outdoor excursion, I soon encountered a raven swooping through the updrafts along the cliff’s edge – but what took me by total surprise was my sighting (and hearing) of a pair of honking geese there in the middle of the New Mexico canyonlands. What the… geese? Really? They settled into an alcove on the cliffside across from my vantage point and held their silence for the remainder of my stay.
There’s another trail heading in the opposite direction from the trailhead that takes the hiker down into the San Jose river basin, a great place to birdwatch in the early morning or evening hours. I’ll look forward to hiking that one on another occasion.