Mesa de Cuba from both sides now, part 1: the east

Trailhead signage

Trailhead signage

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.

Morning dew on muddy trail

Morning dew on muddy trail

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.

Reach for the sky

Reach for the sky

(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.)

Approach: Mesa de Cuba

Approach: Mesa de Cuba

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.

Up and over

Up and over

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.

IMG_6660-Edit

Hello yellow.

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.

Caprock crust

Caprock crust

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.

Quintessential New Mexico: Mesa de Cuba

Quintessential New Mexico: Mesa de Cuba

Down canyon

Downcanyon view

Somewhere here there be geese. (But you'll have to take my word for it.)

Somewhere here there be geese. (But you’ll have to take my word for it.)

Chockstone

Chockstone

Chockstone, pt. 2

Chockstone, pt. 2

Iron intrusions in sandstone

Iron intrusions in sandstone

Waterpocket: Mesa de Cuba

Waterpocket: Mesa de Cuba

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3 thoughts on “Mesa de Cuba from both sides now, part 1: the east

  1. Pingback: Mesa de Cuba from both sides now, part 2: the west | Arthouse Photography

  2. Stumbled on you by stumbling around. Been in and around that mesa a few times but now there is a sign and trail? The only trail I remember was the CDT. Thanks for the info and I’ll have to see if I can get a bit more info on this. Gonna save your site here to get into your older posts as it seems you spend a bit of time is the same wonderlands I so love.

    • Hi Glenn! Yeah, the trailhead is well marked (as you can see) and even has a parking area right on the edge of town.

      Will have to check out some of your posts when I clock out this p.m. Cheers!

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