We trailered to Cuba and found a place to park the trailers just off the main highway on the way to Los Pinos Road. First light we rode and walked the horses about 4 miles up over 8,000' elevation. Burton drove ahead and opened gates where there was cattle guards across the roads. We continued on to the corrals at San Pedro Parks Wilderness trailhead.
Although there was no camping we did camp with the horses safely in the corrals and Burton spent the night with us since he trucked our camping gear to us. We left Burton early climbing to 10,000 feet following the trail to the headwaters of the Rio Puerco where there was over one foot of deep, freezing water over the trail and snow along the forest edge concealing the trail.
We sloshed through the 1/2 mile of water and tried to follow the snow edge at the forest to get back to the trail when Issy broke through the surface and sunk to his belly in a sink hole. Again showing how powerful he was Issy lunged forward and upward pulling himself free.
San Pedro Parks had lots of deadfall, so much that the trail was totally impassable. We wondered around but basically followed my GPS through the forest and finally were able to reconnect with the trail much to my relief. We dropped from our high point of 10, 550' to 7,850' at Forest Road 103 where Burton was already set up with two corrals and all we had to do was go back and get Sandy's trailer at Cuba.
First light we were off to ride to Hwy 96 which was just a short sandy ride of 2.5 miles out then that back to camp. We wanted to spend part of the day driving to check Skull Bridge and making sure we could get horses across it. It was a long way on Hwy 96, up 84 and then back up Forest Road 151 to where Skull Bridge intersected and it took the better part of the day. The trailhead there was filled with cars and if they were there tomorrow Burton would have no room for the trailer let alone turn it around. I could see the worry on his face.
Burton dropped us off at the base of the Chama River Wilderness at the Hwy 96 trailhead. The elevation gain was over 1,000' in short order and we followed the remenants of an old road which pulled us almost straight up the mountain. The trip to the top was only 5 miles but was hot and dry and we hurried on knowing that a spring was only a mile off the CDT located to the east on the top.
We were shown this old road by a forest service employee who was on the top ridge when we drove there to be sure we didn't have to carry water for the horses. The road bed was eroded and slipped away down the mesa...the horses did fine pulling upward and only stopping for a breather twice. At the crest we had two options to get to the water: either follow the road for a 1/2 mile or more or stay on the trail and hope we would recognize the access point for Fuertes Spring. We opted to follow the trail and found the spring very close to the CDT. It was a perfect spot to stop and let the horses drink and graze, we ate lunch and then hit the trail hoping to get to Skull Bridge by 3 or 4. We continued on to the crest at about 8,700' where the trail directed hikers to the right and horses to the left going over rock and ledge. We followed an old road where the trail was marked off road but following it only left us in overgrown gullies so we retreated back to the road and found the trail markers once again. We then switch backed down towards Ojitos Canyon and crossed several creek beds - too many to count. At one creek bed I dismounted as Megan dropped to her hocks in deep sand. I wanted to give Issy the chance to pick his tread across the dry bed...as I extended the lead Issy thought I was asking him to jump the entire creek bed and he gathered up on his hind end to make what was a very long impossible broad jump. The bank gave way with his tremendous thrust and he fell into the creek bed jaming his head and neck on the far side. He lay there with his head on the bank and me about to tear up. My heart sank as I realized I had misqued him and that he still tried the impossible. Hoping he wasn't hurt I asked him to climb out and quickly I inspected his legs, neck and chest. Nothing was visible, but he was stunned and I just held his head rubbing him and telling him he was okay, silently praying that was the case. Sandy felt he probably was just winded from the impact and I wanted to believe that as well. Minutes passed with Issy still dropping his head in my hands, then he just started to look up towards Megan and slowly seemed to regain his confidence. He's okay, I just kept saying to myself and he was. I walked for the next couple of miles on the canyon floor being sure and then mounted up noticing the canyon walls and cliffs all around. The sagebrush obscured the view but mounted I was able to see the "Old West" Indian visited flats. Rugged country but there were signs of cattle here and there and plenty of troughs for fresh water.
We pushed on with the far wall growing bigger and we could hear the river although not see it. We imagined it's location following the junipers but soon found it completely hidden from view still in the same general direction. We pulled up to a decent jeep trail and there was 3 stock trailers with horses tied to the sides. Burton was among the cowboys and one shouted that we should have been there by 3 and wanted to know if we saw any cattle as they were moving them off because of the lack of feed and water! It was 3:30 but so much had passed that I could have sworn that it was 6 or 7.
Burton had the trailer parked on the other side of the merky Chama River and Issy found the energy to start to prance in an effort to get to "home" as quickly as possible. We crossed the concrete Skull Bridge with the barrier being wide open (a concern of mine since I thought that the side gap was too small for our horses to fit through) and Issy all but smiled to me as I opened the trailer door. We headed to Ghost Ranch for a day of rest and to scoope out the rest of the trail to Colorado.
From Ghost Ranch we drove to the Forest Service office to find about the condition of the trail to Colorado and were sadly informed that there was a Stage 3 called for fire and that it was closed until further notice. We drove around to the nearest trailhead and decided that it would be best to call it quits for the year. We were to head home and were not scheduled to ride the Continental Divide Trail again until 2013 since I wanted to finish the high passes of the Pacific Crest Trail first. (see www.woodswitch.com)