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Brian Truitt
Last Sun. I took the kids and the truck out for a merry romp out by the gun range. My objective was just to explore more down there and then see if I couldn't get over the hills and come out Box Canyon. The short story is: Yep, you sure can.

The long story: I was dazed and somewhat shaking when I got home. Definitely an overdose of stress in parts there.

I left Socorro around 10:30am with lunch for me and the kids. I got back almost 6 yours later. To be fair though, a lot of that time was spent exploring dead ends and such before even trying to head out towards Box. We got out and walked around 5 or 6 times as well. Most of the roads out there on the south east side of those hills lead to rock quarries. There was one interesting place high up that I had hoped would lead down the other side (but didn't). It ended in a quarry with 3 walls probably 30ft tall or so. It had decent flat space in the middle that could be a fun camp/party location... if it wasn't full of shit people apparently brought out for a bonfire and all the broken glass. No water or trees anywhere of course, but provided enough liquor and games it could be fun after a cleanup.

There was one trail that I couldn't quite follow that may lead through and get you on the other side of the hills, but other than that, I only found 1 trail that went through and... it was a hell of an adventure. My primary issue was I didn't actually know if the trail would somehow get me out to Box or anywhere else for that matter. Couple that with my only backup being a 4 year old and a 2 year old and we were able to crank the stress up to 11. Somewhere on that route early on was a hell of a rock strewn washout followed by a hundred yards or more of large rocks. If Jess were there she would have made me turn around and we would have avoided this whole thing.

However, she was not. So, I had the kids get out and play a little ways back and proceeded to damn near get myself stuck but good. It's hard to describe, I should have brought a camera, but there was a trench filled with large rocks on the left and then what was left of the road on the right, but my truck was too wide for that and the trail sloped up to the right too steeply anyway. Going up the trail, the rock trench got shallower and not quite as wide. My plan was to start on the right side and go up at the too steep angle for just a little way to get past the deepest part of the trench and then cut hard down into the trench and get my tires up on the left bank of the trench and just leave my right wheels in it.

It damn near worked! Except that shortly up the trail the truck slid (earlier than I would have liked) towards the trench. I did get far enough though, so I went ahead down into the trench. I couldn't get my tires up the left bank though. Balls. I got out the shovel and digging bar and made sure the bottom of the truck was clear and tried to dig out the bank a little so I could get up. Before I tried to drive again though I realized that I could keep the left wheels in the trench and keep the right up on the right bank until almost the end of the trench and then cut over to the left side and get out of the trench. The rocks in this trench were still pretty dang big, but it worked fine.

When I got out Eugene actually cheered. Ha! What really made this more stressful was that I almost got stuck, the kids were not 100% cooperative, but they did ok, and after this somewhat harry trial, I didn't even know if the damn trail would just dead end in 200 yards anyway!

Luckily it did not. That was the worst romping obstacle. The trail did, at times, pretty much disappear though. It led up into the hills and most of it looked to have been made by an ATV, not a truck or jeep even. At one point we made it to the top of a hill and then it looked like the ATV basically said "fuck it, I'm getting off this rock one way or another" and went barreling down the hill. It wasn't that bad, but it was definitely a rarely used track and sometimes hard to follow. Again, the only real stress there was not knowing that it actually made it all the way down the hill and into the nice big sandy arroyo at the bottom.

After weaseling around a bit, it did make it all the way down though. From up on the hill, I saw 2 roads down there. 1 to the left that more or less stayed in the arroyo and another to the right that went up another set of hills. I asked Eugene and he suggested right, so away we went! It led to a mine and dead ended. No big deal. We had another road to explore that could take us out of here....and then we blew a tire getting off the mine road on a really sharp switch back. At least there was flat ground in the corner of the switch back. Stress dial goes back up to 11. Thank God (and Keith) we had a good spare tire. Now, however, we had no more backups and I still didn't know how to get out of there and it was getting a little darker. Great.

The rest of the trip was uneventful though. The road following the arroyo did indeed take us out onto a well graded wide dirt road that ended us in Box canyon (not on the road out to alcohol wall, the one the ranch is on). So there you go. According to google earth, it was about 12 miles.

Really, I guess it wasn't quite from Hw1 to Hw60, because Hw1 really crosses over to the other side of I-25 before that frontage road gets to the dirt that goes out to the gun range, but close enough. I'm pretty sure I could have driven on the dirt shoulder on the frontage road if it makes you feel better.

One last tidbit. We're still potty training my daughter. I had intended to bring along her training potty in case she had to go (which was inevitable). Well I forgot it and didn't have any pullups or spare underwear, pants, anything. Again, luckily we stopped at the recycling center to drop off some cardboard on the way out. To hold it down in the truck bed on the way, I threw a cinder block in the back on top of it all. As it turns out, cinder blocks are conveniently equipped with 2 holes that one may sit over...

The kids thought that was hilarious and awesome. Get 'er done!
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This is going to be long but here goes. The first 3 days and nights are more or less done. I'll keep editing until I've got it all in there.

Warning: I'm going to be blunt when addressing or reporting how I felt at the time, but understand that what was going through my head wasn't necessarily reasonable but more just a result of building up over time and several days of disappointments and unforeseen hardships. After a few days in a real (warm) bed, I harbor no angst toward any member of our expedition.

This was quite an experience for me. It is, by far the longest camping/backpacking trip I've been on. In fact, probably a full 3 times as long. I'm happy to say there were no casualties and that despite the length of the trip, my bag was probably actually lighter than some of the other trips I've been on.... I've also discovered that gallon sized gatorade bottles are perfectly reliable water containers for a backpacking trip. Their main down side is that they don't collapse when empty, but for as cheap as they are, it's hard to beat them. Plus you can start your trip off with a gallon or 2 of gatorade instead of plain old water.

Anyhow, without further ado, here's the day by day report:

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Well, we've come down to dead week now. In about 7 and a half days, I will embark on my adventure. After reviewing the route some more last night, jmattax and I decided we really had plenty of time to take the alternate starting route to our adventure. Instead of driving all the way to the top of Burma Rd (and FR 76) we'll get off of the Burma Rd. a fair bit earlier and take TR 50 up north past San Mateo Peak and re-join the main G.E.T. trail just after coming out of the initial canyon we would have been on. (I.E. just after our original day 1 camp site).

On the first day we will (at least attempt to) hike up to the top of San Mateo Peak and stay at a supposed cabin up there. On day 2 we will re-join the main G.E.T. and hike on (hopefully) to Cub Spring. This will make the first 2 days pretty long, however, after that we'll stop at all of previously marked spots (or near too them).

That means we can be lazy on Day 3 because the next camp is a lot closer than it would have been originally. Or we can keep going and be lazy on a later day.

This is going to kick some major ass. I'm all over it. Hopefully the cabin is actually intact, unlocked, and usable for that first night. That'd be pretty sweet.

And for the love of Lassy, I need to remember to make sure I actually have 7 or more Atenol pills left before I leave!
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Well, we're finally getting more organized about what we're doing here. A couple weekends ago Jason and I borrowed a jeep and drove out to our proposed trail start. We weren't sure how long it would take or how far we would actually be able to drive before having to walk.

The Drive

Turns out the drive takes absolutely forever. You drive south on I-25 from Socorro for about 50 miles and then exit onto the frontage road (Hwy 1) on the west side of the interstate. Continue south for a bit, then head west on FR 139. This is a dirt road, but it is well marked on Hwy 1. From here you drive over 20 miles on dirt road, much of it driving slowly. At some point you head off north again on FR 377 (The Burma Rd.). Unfortunately, the turn off of 139 onto 377 is entirely unmarked. There is a well marked turn off from 139 to, I think it was FR 225 or some such. 377 is the NEXT turn after that as it turns out. Luckily, while ON 377 you see signs confirming that it is indeed FR 377.

From here you basically follow 377 twisting and turning forever until it joins another forest road. I forget the name of that one, 76 maybe? 79? I don't know. You follow that for a short distance until it dead ends and you're there!

All told, the driving took 3 hours! To put this in perspective, I could have just about driven up to the Pecos in that time.

Road Conditions

The roads weren't too bad really. You definitely need a high clearance vehicle to get through some spots, but you don't ever really need 4wd. There are a few washes that could wash out worse by the end of May though, and depending on how bad it is, I could see needing 4wd for short spurts there.


The scenery on the drive is pretty typical New Mexico desert. On these dirt roads, you have yet to actually get up to or into the mountains that we'll be hiking through. You see dirt and brush and the occasional scraggly bush that thought once about being a tree. I'm not saying it was ugly or a bad place to be. On the contrary, having grown up and lived and played my whole life out here, I've developed a certain fondness for the locale. The end of the drive did a very good job of instilling a feeling of remoteness and solitude. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Moreover, the desert there is not really a lifeless pile of dirt, but more of an "arid grassland" as it were. For instance, we drove past a whole herd of deer. They were, at least initially, entirely unconcerned by our presence. We stopped the jeep and got out Jason's camera and the whole time we were sitting there digging in bags and putting the lens on the camera, they just stood and watched us. We took several pictures and eventually they decided that they had had enough of our scrutiny and walked calmly over the side of a hill out of sight.

Later, I also saw a gray bird of prey sitting in a bush. I say "bird of prey" because I don't really know what it was. I barely noticed it as we drove by. It was very well camouflaged in the bush. When it flew away it flew almost directly away from us so we couldn't get a good look at it. It was almost owlish I guess, but that didn't quite fit the profile. I would expect a hawk to be more red/brown and this was definitely gray so that didn't fit either. I don't know. It flew away too quickly to get a good look at it. No pictures this time.

Oh! And let us not forget that we saw and took pictures of Shipman Canyon! Hopefully Jason will get those put up online somewhere so John can see them. A whole canyon with his name on it.

The Hike

Once we finally made it to the trail head, there was a fallen down forest service sign noting 2 trails. Since the sign was on the ground thrown off to one side, it didn't do us much good except to confirm that the trail we wanted was somewhere around here. Luckily the map and compass made it fairly obvious which way we needed to walk whether we were actually on a trail or not.

The trails out there are very seldom used and are faint and fading away in many places. I actually love this aspect of the hike. We're not off on some well groomed and manicured trail that sees thousands of hikers every summer. We're alone out in the wilderness seeing something that may only be seen by a dozen people this summer. Maybe 50. It lends to a strong sense of discovery albeit only truly rediscovery. It takes you back in time to a simpler life. A much quieter life. Even though it can be quite difficult hiking, it is also very soothing and calming.

We only hiked for probably less than a mile since it took far longer to drive to the trail head than we anticipated (a very important lesson learned in this trial run). That was a damn fine mile, however! Once we scrambled down the hills into San Mateo Canyon, there was a note on our map that said "vague trail". As we approached the canyon, Jason and I laughed openly at this. "As opposed to the rest of the trail?" we said. Ha!

Turns out he wasn't kidding. Upon getting off the talus and rock slide of a trail down, we entered the canyon or little valley and that was the last we saw of our trail for quite some time. We meandered aimlessly up the valley heading toward Cook's Cabin (as was marked on our map), but we seldom found anything truly trail like. Luckily the valley had a couple land marks that were hard to miss and they were marked on the map. Hiking up the valley was a very easy and enjoyable walk. No real need for a trail.

The first big land mark is an old windmill and tank. There was still water below the windmill, but it was disconnected and didn't pump water anymore. The tank was dry and there was a pine tree growing through the concrete inside the tank. Rather surreal. It was neat to see this little bit of history. There was also a faucet in the ground. Not sure what it was supposed to open or close, but it was rusted to the point of no turning. Maybe if we had a cheater bar, we could have turned it, but we didn't try very hard. We couldn't find any markings that would date the windmill, but we may look harder next time we're out there.

It was funny. We were wandering around looking for any clue of where the hell we were supposed to be going and then all of a sudden we noticed this big ass clearing and windmill standing right there staring us in the face. How the hell didn't we see that sooner? The same thing happened when we finally found Cook's Cabin. We were wandering around and then looked to the side and wham, hey look! There's a corral right there! And look, a cabin!

The cabin was rather old and falling down. There were all sorts of bits of history hidden in there. A couple box springs from mattresses, the metal rim of what used to be a canteen. 2 gas tanks from old vehicles? Not sure what that was about. The old bed frame was still there. You could see old cloth wall paper bits on the table inside (it had been covered to keep it smoother and cleaner I guess). It was just really neat seeing the evidence of how people used to live out here. Made me nostalgic for a time I never got to live in myself.

Another interesting indication of age was an old barbwire fence. When they built it, they were lazy and just nailed it up to a tree and used that handy tree as a post. It had been there long enough that the tree grew around the wire of the fence by several inches, then died, had the top crack off and fall over and rot on the ground. So, not only was it old enough that the tree grew around it, but after that happened, it was there long enough for the tree to fall over and rot on the ground. In this arid climate, that takes awhile. I was impressed.

We hiked past the cabin for a little while until we found a definitive trail. Following that back, it was much more obvious where the trail had been the whole time, but having missed a section back in the beginning, it was very difficult to see and get back on it. On our way back we added some more rock cairns to hopefully mark the trail better. Again though, a trail isn't really necessary during this section anyway as long as you understand that the trail just follows the canyon. Looking at our gps track afterward it was pretty funny to note that we had made figure 8's over the trail on our way out. We had actually crossed it 2 or 3 times and not noticed it.

Moral of the story: heed the vague trail warning on the map. The man did not lie.

I can't wait until the end of May. Carrying a 50lb backpack up and down some of the steeper parts is going to be a pain in the ass, but I still can't wait. It's going to be amazing.

Current Mood: wistful

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Well, unless something drastic happens in the next couple weeks, it seem entirely unlikely that the G.E.T. guide book will be completed up to the sections we're considering in time for us to use it.

What's really missing is the blow by blow, mile by mile summary. I *think* the water chart is up to date. The topo map set is up to date and as are the maps, according to the comment. What's missing is the descriptions of trail crossings, how to get to the starting point of the section, where *exactly* the water sources are as many of them may not be on the trail itself, but close by.

Lots of useful stuff there. I guess I'll have to order the Topo map CD and look for myself to see if it has enough information to get by on. My main issue is that not all of these trail crossing and such are guaranteed to be marked anymore. Or if they are marked, the sign may not be legible anymore. Another really useful part of the detailed trail guide is the mentioning of possible camping spots along the way.

Saying all of that I still feel somewhat like a pansy. I mean really, should I need all that extra information? The CD does have detailed maps and gps waypoints for trail crossings and water sources and all that. I have access to a GPS for this adventure via jmattax, so how much more do I really need?

Anyway, It's starting to warm up a fair bit down here now, and aside from the ridiculous wind it's looking like it may be time for some day hiking in the Magdalenas to warm up for our adventure. The only issue is: I don't want to leave my wife stranded on a regular basis and if she comes, what do we do with the kids?

(Edit: This time with formatting!)
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So, thinking about the Grand Enchantment Trail some more, I think I have a slightly more viable plan. Before, I was planning on hiking segments 28-31. Now I'm thinking 28, 29, and parts of 30. Mostly because this goes through the San Mateo Mts, which I've never been to. I'd like to see something new.

Anyhow, here's the plan based solely on the water chart. Note that the numbers in () are estimated miles hiked that day and "MP" means Mile Point (total mileage from start).

    * Day 1 (5.8)
          o Carrying Day 1's water
          o Hike roughly 5.8 miles to end of creek and make camp
    * Day 2 (6.2)
          o Fill up Day 2's water @ creek
          o 2.8 mi later (MP 8.6) refill Day 2's water and load up with Day
            3's water @ trough
          o Try to go another 4 miles or so and get to MP 12-ish and make camp
                + The longer we make it the better the next section may be.
    * Day 3 (5+)
          o Make it at least as far as the spring fed trough.  This is ~5 mi hike.
          o Fill up with 2 days water again (For days 4 & 5).
                + Continue hiking if we can (may need slightly more than 2  
                  days water: have to carry 2 days PLUS the rest of Day 3's water!)
    * Day 4 & 5 (7.3/day, 14.6)
          o Have to finish Segment 29 during this time.
          o No water until 14.6 mi. after the previous trough
          o Means if we stop at trough, we need to cover 7.3 mi/day
                + If we make it past the trough, we won't have to hike as
                  far these 2 days.
                + Also, depending on elevation profile it may be easier to
                  hike 7.3 mi during this section than the last section!
          o At the end of Day 5, fill up in Potato Canyon & camp
    * Day 6 (5 - 10)
          o Take 2 day's water out of Potato Canyon (for Day 6 and 7 hiking)
          o Hike out into the desert going toward road 107
          o Probably take it easy and make camp in the desert
                + Could probably get picked up this night if we hurried. May
                  be around 10mi of hiking though.
    * Day 7 (0 - 5)
          o Finish hike to road and get picked up.

Now, the big hole in this plan is I have no idea where along the trail we could actually make a decent camping spot. With any luck I'll be camping in a hammock, but for the rest of the people that may be coming, we still need to find flat ground. I'll also have to study the elevation profile in detail at some point to see what days we are likely to be able to hike longer and which days are going to slay us.

Eh, it's a start of a plan.

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I've recently discovered the Grand Enchantment Trail (G.E.T.). In short, it's a hiking/backpacking route leading from Phoenix, AZ to Albuquerque, NM. It's roughly 730 miles long. I was immediately enamored of it but I have never been under any illusions that I could do the whole route. I do, however, want to do a section of the route someday....Someday like next May perhaps.

last weekend

Yesterday jmattax and I wondered off into the Magdalena Mts to start investigating the trails out there in general and to see if we could find some good spots for weekend backpacking trips. We certainly achieved that, but we also achieved a more important thing: A Reality Check.

What instigated the day-hike investigation of the trails up there was a camping trip my wife and I went on the previous weekend. We hiked a ways down the 6-mile canyon trail, but despaired of ever finding a flat spot to actually camp at. Eventually we decided to cut our losses and ended up camping at a sub-par but alright spot about 15 min. from the trail head. Hardly ideal for getting away from the road and other people.

Jason and I decided to hike other trails before trying to backpack on them to see if there was anything worth camping on down there. Yesterday morning we headed off up Timber Peak Trail No. 70. I picked this trail in particular because I suspected that it was part of the G.E.T.. For all the women out there, I can now confirm that hiking in a wool skirt is preferable to not having your legs covered...at least while it's snowing. That's right, a skirt. You heard me!

The morning started out with rain at my house. Driving up to the mountains, the rain wasn't really going away. Once we reached the trail head, it was more like snowing than raining. Did I mention I was wearing shorts? After a very brief trial period where I confirmed that the shorts idea sucked, I improvised a long wool skirt made of a blanket in Jason's car and his belt. We hiked roughly 7 miles with me in a skirt and Jason pulling up his pants every couple minutes. Priceless.

It did however work great. We had fog with us the entire hike pretty much, but even so there were a lot of amazing views on this trail. It's a ridge hike which takes you through fairly dense forest areas and up past the tree line a few times and back down into the forest.... The transitions are wonderful. Even more amazing of a view though is when you could occasionally see through the fog off to the west. You look over a canyon and over the next ridge of the Magdalena Mts....out into nothing! There's a sharp drop and past that there's nothing but desert. You have a very real feeling of being on an island of mountain in a sea of sand. That view alone is working hiking 7 miles in a skirt.

In the distance we hiked out, we found 1 probable place we could camp that was very nice and a 2nd place further along that we could definitely camp at. We could bring as many people as we want with us and not have to worry about running out of room for them. Jason has pictures of all of this.

reality check

The aforementioned important lesson learned from this hike is that we're no where near in the shape we need to be in to do the 12-mile a day hiking trip that I was toying with trying in the spring. We were both pretty exhausted after our 7 mile hike. I could have probably done 10 miles in better weather. However, I was only carrying about 10-15 lbs of water and food (and wool skirt), not my full backpacking gear, and the elevation change from the lowest to highest points on this trail was less than 400 feet.

In short, there's probably no way I could manage a 12 mile hike in a day carrying 40-50 lbs on trails that will likely gain and/or loose over a thousand (if not 2 thousand) feet over that 12 miles. We will likely have to cut the distance I was thinking of hiking on the G.E.T. down by half and do it in the same amount of time (a week).

It was a very productive and useful hike.

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