Sunday, January 24, 2016

CDT: Big Tubes to El Calderon

Section hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), a weekend at a time. 
CDT in New Mexico
It seems like a good idea… except that much of the CDT is roadwalking. Do you really want to spend your weekend walking on the side of a road?
Setting out on a section hike of the CDT from Big Tubes, El Malpais National Monument, NM.
As a section hiker, I have mixed feelings about roadwalking. Pavement hurts the feet.  It’s hard to relax with cars wizing by. It’s just so easy to go somewhere with a nice singletrack trail or explore off-trail, off the beaten track instead.  Thru hikers have to walk a continuous path, but section hikers get to be choosey.

Why choose a roadwalk?
Why this?
In winter, county roads can provide easier hiking than going through deep snow.  Not having to concentrate on the ground means being free to look around.
Stepping off the road into deep snowbanks...before I retreat back to the road/CDT.
Watching the scenery, like this lava field.
On this roadwalk, Cr 42 alternates between ice and mud. Frigid wind cuts through my gloves, but keeps the mud frozen enough to glide over. Later in the day, this would be an exhausting slog. 
Frozen mud on Cr 42.
Drier ground under a ponderosa for lunch.
The CDT turns onto Hwy 53 as it crosses the continental divide.
I’ve driven by this volcano many times. But never noticed it’s beauty until I slowed to 3 mph.
I finally turn off the road and onto cairn-marked trail at the El Malpais Information Center.
Leaving behind a single track of footprints.
Besides a few cars along Hwy 53, all was quiet except for the howling wind and birds.  There were no human footprints until the CDT joined the interpretive loop the last mile before El Calderon.
Can you imagine what it was like just 115,000 years ago when this was a river of red hot molten lava?
While a roadwalk was an ususual choice, it felt satisfying to hike part of the CDT in January.  Experiencing this trail out of the usual season that thru hikers get to see it was like finding a hidden treasure. 
At the begining of the new year, there is an explosion of online comments about hikers dreaming of long trails.  Like “I can’t wait until May.”  As they sit at home and work on gear lists. 

Why wait at home?  Get on the trail now.  Be a section hiker.

More Information:

Big Tubes area

El Calderon area

I got dropped off at Big Tubes junction CDT mile 490.5 by my awesome roommate.  No way was my little car getting down Cr 42 without getting horribly stuck in the mud and ice.  Thank you J.!

Followed Cr 42 Chain of Craters Backcountry Byway (not passible in snow/ mud without high clearance, 4WD and expert driving skills) to Hwy 53.  Picked up the single track again at El Malpais Information Center (closed in winter) to El Calderon.  Then followed the mountain lion detour (well marked with cairins and flagging to the NPS border where I’d stopped previously, CDT mile 503.2, then turned around and hiked back to my car at El Calderon. 

14.0 total miles (12.7 new CDT miles plus 1.3 bonus miles backtracking).


  1. I've missed your posts. Glad you can sneak in a few about NM and the CDT!

    1. Thanks Jan! No internet where I'm staying, but I'm trying to get posts up when I go into town.

      Great winter hiking here, looking forward to seeing you!!! :)

  2. Those sky views on this volcano look adorable. I wish I could also visit this beautiful place. I am making plans for destination family holiday party and this New Mexico venue would be a great choice for that. Thanks a ton for the reviews!!