Northwest New Mexico brings a whole new challenge to the northbound thru-hiker – snow in the San Juan Mountains that averages 160 inches a year. It is a thinly veiled timeline that can be punctuated by snowstorms until June; possibly leaving an unprepared CDT hiker stranded. The CDT Gateway Communities of Cuba and Chama step up with water caches, lodging, support, and even a pair of snowshoes to borrow.
The trail here weaves in and out of a multicultural land crossing ancestral and present lands of the Apache, Pueblo, influences of Navajo peoples and lands, Spanish, Mexican and westward moving European settlers travelled through. This landscape is bounded by the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Reservation and a number of Pueblos dot the landscape. A portion of the area is designated as Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area. Each of these unique cultural representations bring its flavor to this area with sheep ranching, traditional weaving, and hunting and fishing that all contribute to the history of making a living off the land.
The willingness of trail users to leave the trail and visit towns along the way makes a significant impact on communities. Cuba and Chama are currently adding additional trail support and services to their communities so that people can successfully experience this section of the trail. The Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) has been very helpful and “really cares about the communities,” noted Austin Phippen, owner of the Chama Trails Motel. This makes for an ideal relationship for the communities. The CDTC can help open up opportunities and assist communities in looking at the trail more holistically and thinking outside the box. Publicity, updating local services, and even putting bikes out for the hikers to use as local transport demonstrate these communities’ dedication and willingness to help hikers. Chama sports several large hiker boxes and an A-Team that has several CDT Gateway Community Ambassadors, Adopters, and Angels that do trail maintenance and supports hikers.
COVID-19 has definitely impacted growth in the area. Businesses survived but did so by getting creative and being flexible. As the shutdown started, communities benefited from the state’s ability to fund projects to upgrade infrastructure, bringing a whole new revenue stream to these communities. Cuba and Chama did benefit from the projects and are looking forward to a busy outdoor recreation season. “We are hiker-encounter hungry this year and looking forward to welcoming these ardent adventurers to our community”, conveyed Mary Steuver, Chama Gateway Community Coordinator.