Day 7 – Los Estrellos to Agua Sarca Canyon

We woke up unscathed by the storm. And woke up fairly late, especially compared to other mornings.

This was the latest wake up and the latest time we broke camp for the whole trip. I believe we finally got off around 10am. I enjoyed three cups of coffee, and I tried to get the sub to dry out the tent a bit. Didn’t work very well – ended up tying the rain fly to the outside of my pack and letting the sun do it’s job as we walked.

Riley was all revved up in the morning. He definitely had the zoomies, and while I would have liked to let him tear around off lead, he was way too interested in whatever was in one particular direction in the woods.

I did my usual thing for breakfast – oatmeal with shaved almonds and brown sugar. Riley had his usual breakfast, too: a nice full bowl of freeze dried sheep. When we woke, the air was thick with fog. Was nice eating breakfast slowly and watching it burn off.

Los Estrellos pond shaking off some of the moisture from the wild thunderstorm the night before.

It’s a long, nice easy walk down from Los Estrellos. The path was rocky in places, but there was never any risk of losing it – it is a well-established trail. The trees are a mix of evergreens and aspens. There are several good places for water – you don’t need to be carrying much more than a liter or two through here. If I had thought about it, I would have dumped my Los Estrellos water (it’s standing, and a little boggy) and swapped it for nice fresh, cleaner creek water. But I didn’t want to stop that long, so we just kept going.

You’ll pass through several really lovely fields, like this one:

This is actually the field where the way for the through-hike turns left. You’ll see a very broken down sign right where the left is.

Here’s the sign itself.

There’s also another one of the metal signs that say “No Motorized Vehicles” that you’ll see all over Carson National Forest. The metal sign is to the right, and about 100 feet from this wooden sign. Don’t go right – take the left from here. The trail kind of disappears for about 300 feet, but just keep walking to the other side of the field and you’ll pick it up again. Stay to the left side of the field.

This is the view in the direction you’ll be headed, which is basically north.

It’s an easy walk all the way down. There’s not a lot of water, but there was one nice little creek where we took a rest and I treated water and refilled the bladder and the nalgene. We had a snack, and attracted the attention of a red squirrel. Given how forward the squirrel was, I think if Riley hadn’t been with me, I could have gotten the squirrel to eat out of my hand. But he was with me, and did not want to give up any food to the squirrel. So they had a bit of a standoff, with the squirrel fiercely chiding Riley for getting in the way of its handout.

riley with the squirrel

At last, we got to the intersection of Trail 22 and Trail 19.

the intersection of Trail 22 and Trail 19 near Agua Piedra Campground

This intersection is exactly where the red way marker is on the summary map at the opening of this post.

Ideally, I would have rather taken the left and gone into Agua Piedra Campground. But because of the fire in Sardinas Canyon earlier this year, Route 76 and La Junta Canyon were closed. And because they were closed, I opted to go around the Knob and come out at Angostura, then walk along the road a bit until we could cut into Agua Sarca Canyon, which is a bit east of the fire area.

Thru hike reroute due to Sardinas Canyon fire

The closure sign at the 518 entrance of FS 76, La Junta Canyon. This caused quite a bit of problems. More about that later.

Had 76 not been closed, I would have take then left from here and gone out to Agua Piedra. This is a fairly large campground, and a good place to get picked up. It’s also within walking distance (ha) of Tres Ritos, where there is the Tres Ritos Lodge (open in summer, and in parts of spring and fall). There’s also a self storage business in Tres Ritos, so it could serve as an ideal self-supported site for replenishing food and other supplies. You could stay a night (or two) at Tres Ritos, pick up your new supplies from the self storage place, and then continue on towards Taos. The Tres Ritos Lodge even takes dogs, though only dogs up to 35 lbs.

I think if I offered money, they’d probably accept Riley, who is 65 lbs. But the main drawback of Tres Ritos is the wifi. They have none. And so the other choice near Agua Piedra is Sipapu. Sipapu is a ski lodge in the winter, but it’s also open in the summer. It has excellent wifi – if you’re driving along 518, you can pick up a strong signal as you drive by, or you can just pull into their parking lot and use the wifi for free. It’s not even password protected.

Sipapu also takes dogs, and has nicer rooms, and has a nice little general store, and has a restaurant. If you’re on your own without a vehicle, it’s a 2-3 mile walk along the road from Agua Piedra to get there, but it’s probably worth the walk. The road is good for walking – the shoulders are wide, and there are no blind curves, so drivers will see a walker from a long way off.

This is what the trailhead would look like if you took the left and came out to Agua Piedra Campground. From here it’s about a ten-minute walk to reach Route 518. That trail marker reads trail 19A.

If you did go out this way, I hope you kept your river shoes. There are several creek crossings, and some of them are too deep for even good boots.

This one, fortunately, has a nice log to keep your feet dry.

Not all of them do.

But back to the trail that day. On the day of the through hike, I didn’t really want to go right because I knew there was a big hill ahead. And honestly, Riley and I were tired already. The pack was still crazy heavy.

But that was the way, so we went.

This particular part of the trail had an odd marker I hadn’t seen before, or since.

It also had some very interesting tree graffiti. Notice the script in the middle.

We walked for about an hour, all a long slow up. I was tired enough that I had to take about fifty steps, stop to catch my breathe, then push on. It was hard. Eventually we got to a nice little stream, and I took off both of our packs, let Riley have a few treats and a drink and a rest. I ate a trail bar and pulled out my favorite anti-exhaustion device: gel chews. I used up almost a pack of these a day. They’re awesome for when you’re so tired you feel like you could fall over. I was going to eat one every half mile for what I thought was going to be another very long up.

We were in a steep area, and the trail curved around out of site just ahead. Riley kept keenly watching that bend, almost to the point that I had decided I would greet the bear when it finally appeared. But the bear never showed, so I put the packs back on and we hauled ourselves forward on the trail.

Got just around the bend and saw a massive black form. It was a cow. Riley immediately exploded into barking, the cow whirled around in the opposite direction faster than I would have even believe that much flesh could move, and for some reason I yelled out, “BESSIE!”

It was quite the explosion of activity, especially after hours of silence. We didn’t run into the cow again, but Riley was all geared up the next half hour, yanking on his lead and cutting deeper into my waist.

This was when we started hearing an engine. Coming down the hill. A really, really loud engine. When we could finally see it, it was a guy on an a little off-oad three-tire thing. Native American guy, with a cooler and all the gear of the world. We hadn’t seen anybody since the morning before, so it was kind of startling.

The guy wanted to know where my car was. I am cuatious about giving men information on the trail, and so I said it was in the Santa Fe Basin. He didn’t get that. I told him we were headed to Taos (moe information than I typically give) and he guffawed that we were headed in the wrong direction. Technically, he was right, but because I was going over the moutains, not over the roads, and because route 76 was closed, I was going my way to Taos. But forget about explaining all that. He wanted to know if I had a gps, and if I knew how to use it (oh, the condesciion), and parted ways with, “I hope you don’t get lost.” I had forced myself to be as nice and gracious as possible, but by the time he left my teeth were set on edge.

We kept going up, pushing harder. I didn’t want to run into him again, and wanted to get some distance from the place we talked. I didn’t need to – he never came back.

About 30 minutes later we reached the top by the knob. It ended up coming faster than I expected – and I was elated to be done with all the damn up.

Coming down from the knob was fairly easy. The trail was well marked and clear, but it had really deep grooves in sections. I walked on the side, as the trail itself was so washed out and the sides were so steep and narrow that walking on the trail was hard.

Eventually, it flattened out and opened up into a lovely large field. We were coming into Angostura.

This is the view in the opposite direction:

We continued all the way down to Angostura. It’s an easy walk. The trail is very clearly a trail (as opposed to looking like a goat path). It’s also wide in sections – wide enough to walk four abreast or more.

When the land finally flattened out, we hit a junction and took the left. This is that junction – the sign points to the way we had just come from.

There’s a good stream right around this left. If you need water immediately, go for it. Otherwise, there’s a better water source about 20-30 mins down the road, just before you get out on to Route 518.

After that left, we were basically in the “neighborhood” of Angostura. The trail becomes a nice dirt road:

There are also cottages. The quasi run-down wood cottages that are around so many National Forests.

I always wonder about these cottages. Are they owned? Rented? Rentable? The ones in Angostura would be an ideal place to rent for a half-way rest on the through hike. They’re reasonably well spread apart, and the “neighborhood” is very quiet. We didn’t see anyone on a porch of out walking on the road. The cottages looked largely abandoned.

As you keep walking toward Route 518, there will be a camp entrance and a loud, fast, deep creek to your left.

This is Camp Tres Ritos, just like the sign says. Riley and I stopped at this intersection to treat water. He seemed to really enjoy the rest – he was tired. So was I, for that matter.

I’m glad I filled up the nalgene and the bladder here. We didn’t have access to water again until late morning the following day. If I had known that, I probably would have filled up my backup foldable 1 liter container. But I didn’t.

After a rest, we walked out the last bit to Route 518, and took the left toward Agua Sarca Canyon. We saw a woman with two horses right at the bridge. I couldn’t say hello – Riley went nuts barking at the horses.

It took about 20 minutes or so of walking to get to the entrance to Agua Sarca Canyon. The road was quiet – maybe 10 cars passed us the whole time we were walking. I was a little worried about the glass on the roadside and Riley’s feet, but it ended up not being a problem.

This is the entrance to the Canyon. There’s a medium-sized cleared area you can park in off the road.

And this is what it looks like a bit further in.

Eventually, the sides of the canyon rise up and the foliage gets much thicker. There is a wet strip next to the path for much of the way, but it had no water. Earlier in the year, it might.

I had trouble finding a campsite for a while. I wanted to go far enough in that I wouldn’t have to worry about visitors messing with us from the road (silly maybe, but that was a concern at the time… I didn’t much want to be seen walking into the entrance area.) I figured the two mile rule would probably be fine – that jerks don’t go any deeper into the forest than about 2 miles, as it becomes too much work.

We did make the safety zone pretty quickly. Riley and I were both crazy tired, and I wanted to find a place to put down for the night so we had plenty of time to eat before it got dark. But the steep canyon sides didn’t help with that. There just weren’t any places to rest… places big enough for the tent footprint.

We kept going for a bit further, then I ended up deciding to eat dinner on the trail. That way we’d at least be far away from food smell when we camped. I was feeling a little jumpy I guess. So we ate, and packed up again.

Finally we found a open field that would work. There were a couple of places to put the tent, but I opted up on top of a very wee hill – there were rodent mounds in the other good area to sleep in, and I didn’t really want to sleep with digging noises again.

We ended up having plenty of time to set up the tent and watch the sky get dark. It was a really nice view from our little hill. I was worried about wind – and there was wind in the forecast – but it was never a problem. We slept well that night. And we had enough water; dinner and walking had used up barely a third of the bladder (which is 100 oz). So we both had a good drink before bed, and enough to drink some overnight, plus enough for breakfast in the morning (another liter for that). And then a liter and a half to keep walking with until we found some more water.

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