More than a Pile of Rocks

It isn’t just a pile of rocks. Inside are rooms where people slept, ate, gave birth, lived out their lives a long ago time. On some walls are messages carved in the stone; or paintings, filling in the details of what it was like thousands of years ago.
Carole and Hugo Mumms spend their free time combing the ruins around Grants. They read the messages written by people maybe 10,000 years ago. We are eating dinner with them and they tell us what they find out here where lava once broke through the surface and created tubes and crevices in the Earth.
“One day we found thousands of shark teeth. It must have been an inland sea that dried up.” Carole tells us, her eyes lit up.
Along with their citizen archeology, they help out hiker trash like us. They set up and maintain water caches through this typically dry stretch. They shuttle hikers around town. They help out injured or weary travelers. They are trail angels.
Hugo drops us off in front of the supermarket early. We thank him and he tells us we may see him and Carole out on Sunday, also happening to be his 73rd birthday. We say goodbye.
El Malpais is where the lava broke through, there is an ancient cairn trail traveled by the Zuni people. Homesteaders came through in the 1930’s. Now it’s a National Monument. Crime scene tape and a sign saying ” due to the federal government shutdown these facilities are closed.” I think, the government shutdown is a crime.
Like a couple of bandits, we scurry under the crime scene tape and resume hiking. I’m careful of the cactus.
The water caches are nice, although its not too hot so we don’t need much water during the day. We walk along a highway and the wind is blowing like mad. Cars zoom past, some move over to give us more space, some drive so close I can’t distinguish between a wind gust or a car. We turn off the paved road onto a dirt road that goes through Sand Canyon. We stop at a Windmill where cows congregate, and water flows from a pipe into two large troughs. The rains flooded the area around the troughs, making it hard to get to the pipe. We collect from a trough with a thick algal bloom on top. As we wait a car pulls up. The Mumms get out and we see photos from their recent foray. Hugo found a few foot painting on the ceiling at a ruin. He tells us it’s the largest he has seen. They ask if we need water. We think of the cow water filtering and take them up on their offer. It’s kind of them and we say goodbye, again, and head into the canyon for the night.
The next morning we pass abandoned homesteader cabins and get out to a dirt road that leads to Pie Town. Road walks aren’t the best, but we feel good, and gather we are about two weeks away from finishing. We break for trail mix on the side of the road and a man on a bike pulls up in front of us.
“I heard I’d find you out here.” A deep voice rumbles from beneath the helmet. Jacob and I look at each other. Did we accidentally trespass? We don’t say much, hoping the stranger is friendly. He kicks his leg over like he’s going to stay awhile. His helmet comes off and he says, “hey, it’s Lucky.”
Lucky! He was hiking with our mutual friend Dirtmonger in Moab and was riding his bike down near the Gila to visit a friend. Dirt told him we would probably be here.
He pulled out instant coffee and made up a steaming cup while we chatted with him. It was the best treat on a road.
Time passed too quickly and he said, “don’t you have to get walking?”
We did, gave him a hug, and headed on to Pie Town. We ended up walking 36 miles to get into what isn’t so much a town but a road stop in the middle of nowhere. A woman owns a house she calls The Toaster House, a hiker/biker hostel open to travelers. On the honor policy, she leaves the door unlocked and food in the pantry and warm beds. It’s nothing short of amazing.
We head into the Gila soon, and are looking at getting to Crazy Cook by noon on October 28th. I want to treasure the last few weeks.

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