Day 10 – Benardin Lake to Drake Canyon entrance

I woke up just a bit before dawn – right around 5am or so. Put the headlamp on to begin pulling things together. Riley dislikes the head lamp, but we had a long way to go, and I wanted to get into camp early enough (like by five or better) to wash and maybe even draw something.

The elk bugled a bit again as it got lighter, but not as much as they had the night before. We made breakfast and headed out around 8am.

The whole day is a long easy walk. We were on dirt roads the entire time, but only saw two people until we reached the bridge at FS 437.

As you come down from Bernardin Lake, you’ll walk by the same beaver pond you passed the day prior. It’s right next to the road. You could get water here, but I kinda felt the water in Bernardin lake was just a whiff nicer. As you walk along the road, you’ll usually have a nice cover of aspen trees. The fields can be nice and big and grassy – if you were out here really early, you’d probably see some elk.

We saw two deer who dashed across the road in a flash. And then some turkeys.

Here’s the best view from the walk out:

the road out from Benardin lake

You get the idea of what it looks like. There isn’t much water, but we did walk by at least one trickle along the way that trickled enough to fill up a nalgene. Besides that, the next water source is Rio Chiquito, which runs most of the length of FS437, except for the far west edge of it. It runs just fine all the way to Drake Canyon, where we were headed.

After about 45 minutes, you’ll come to an intersection. This is what it looks like if you look back the way you came. We had just walked out from the right side of this photo, Route 438. We didn’t actually see anyone until we passed this intersection – the entire area around Bernardin Lake was silent.

Intersection of Route 438

A bit further along, about another 45 minutes or so, you’ll come to another intersection. Take the right fork.

We stopped in a little field at some point through here. Just took a rest and enjoyed the nice soft grass and the aspen shade. Riley was tired – and was I – so it made sense to have a good deep drink of water and something to eat.

I had been worried about the bridge that crossed Rio Chiquito. I had seen it before from the car when I drove FS 437 to check it out before I started the through hike, but I hadn’t actually gotten out of the car and made sure the bridge was, well, crossable.

I never needed to worry. The bridge is unusable for vehicles, but it’s plenty sturdy for people. We walked right across with no problem.

This was a big milestone for me for the trip. From here, we were within known territory. If something happened, it would be easy to get help. So we took another rest here, filled up the water containers again. I also took a nice sponge bath (hand cloth bath) in the stream. The trout didn’t appreciate it, but they took off as soon as Riley crashed in. It’s fairly deep here in spots – about 18 inches – and so Riley got a good cool down. Then he slept in the grasses while I cleaned up. It’s amazing how much better you can feel with just one Nalgene’s worth of water, half a hand cloth (cut down to minimize weight) and even a couple of drops of wilderness wash.

We left about an hour later, me feeling about 300 times better for being clean. I switched into my river shoes for this part of the walk, just to give my feet a change. I never got any blisters on the entire trip, but it feels really good to put on a different pair of shoes once in a while.

The next leg of the “trail” that day – the rest of the trail that day – was all the way down FS 437. It’s a nice wide dirt road. Mostly in the sun. It very gradually slopes down the way we were headed – west. It also gets drier the further west you go along it. I was actually quite concerned about whether there would be water at the entrance to Drake Canyon, but that ended up being another thing I didn’t need to worry about – the stream may be smaller down by Drake Canyon, but there’s plenty of water in it.

This is what FS 437 looks like:

We had been walking down FS437 for about 15 minutes when a lone woman bicyclist appeared, pedaling slowly up the hill. Her bike was weighed down with lots of gear, but she stopped and we talked a bit. She was headed to meet her dogs and a few friends, about 10-12 miles up the road. She liked liked Riley a lot. I told her about our through-hike briefly, and she took that in stride.

We continued on, stopping about every 90 minutes. Riley was really tired. I made sure he had lots of water, and took the pack part of his backpack off, leaving him with just the harness.

We kept going and going, and the land got drier and drier. About an hour before we reached Drake Canyon, the land shifted over from feeling like you were in Colorado to feeling like you were in New Mexico again. The aspens and the big ponderosas ave way to Cottonwoods and scrub maples. The fields switched over to low brush and much tougher, dried plants. But the little creek held. The traffic also got noticeably denser the further west we walked. There’s usually enough of a shoulder to be fine, but if a big RV goes through, it can feel a little tight. Especially if you’ve been in the woods for a week, and have fallen out of being used to engines.

There are a lot of engines around. It seems like engine culture, what with the dune buggy sort of things that people tear around on, and all the side roads, and the cars and the car camping and the trucks with hunter and fishing types in them. When we finally made the campsite across from Drake Canyon, I had gotten a couple of looks from passing trucks that made me want to dip into the campground unseen. So we crossed the little creek, moving away from the road, and camped in a nice field about 400 feet away from the road, behind a screen of trees, and across the creek. I hoped that would be enough to make us not both the bother.

I made dinner while riley snoozed. We cooked and ate about a five minute walk from the tent, down away from the road. It was a quick affair – we were totally exhausted, and I wanted to get up as early as possible the next day to make Taos Plaza by mid afternoon.

We finished dinner, hung the bear bag, and went back to the tent. I left riley snooze in the field while I patched my air mattress. I wrote for a bit, and then brought him inside when it was dark enough to need a headlamp.

I was writing in the tent – figuring out our exact mileage for the trip – when an rv pulled up about 200 feet from our tent. At first I heard children and some girls, and felt much relieved by that: A family. An ideal campground neighbor. They wouldn’t bother us, and with the children wouldn’t be unruly or loud.

Wrong. After being there for maybe 45 minutes, the music got really loud, the people got louder. A couple of times I heard a young woman say “what the f*ck is that?!? That thing in the woods?” And I pretty much knew she meant my tent, with the light on. She kept asking this for another half an hour, until she and a guy got a flashlight and tramped across the creek. The flashlight was on the tent just long enough that I was getting ready to get out, and then they left. They completely left. The Rv and the other cars drove off.

Much relieved (again). I just turned the headlamp off and slept. I was hoping nobody woul decide to tear through the field with a dunebuggy. And that my air mattress would hold through the night. I got half lucky – no visitors, but I had to blow up the air mattress again around 1am. It held until morning… mostly.

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