New Mexico Part 1: Snow in the Desert
After leaving the Arkansas State Capitol, we drove from Little Rock to Amarillo, Texas, where we had an unexpected obstacle.
We had hopped off the highway to get gas, and were driving down a farm road towards the station when we got stuck in several feet of snow that seemingly came out of nowhere. It was very late, and there was no way we were getting out of that, so we slept there that night and called a bunch of towing companies the next day to come and get us. None of them wanted to tow us out of snow on a farm road, but finally one of them agreed to come help with his truck. He backed down the road in the snow, attached the chain, and pulled us out with ease. We finished up the drive that night, ending up in Santa Fe - an amazing town that looked like a movie set to me.
We needed to catch a Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout. We had to catch several different species of this Pacific originated trout in the coming states, with their various geographic versions. We were told by locals to try fishing the Rio Costilla. We found the river on a map and decided to try driving to it that night and then fish it in the morning. On our way up into the mountains, we once again got stuck in the snow. After trying to put cardboard under the wheels, and digging out as much as we could for about an hour, it was clear we would not be going anywhere for a while. We could hear the creek we wanted to fish just down a steep hill on our right in the dark. We had plenty of food and water, so we decided to just stick it out in the snow again until the morning, then fish. We could figure out how to get unstuck later, which would be difficult with no cell service and being 25+ miles from the nearest town of any sort. But that was tomorrow's challenge.
As we were sitting in the car about to call it a night around midnight, we saw headlights coming down the road towards us, which was a problem considering it was a very snowy one lane road. As it came closer we saw it was a Jeep, and it stopped right in front of us. A guy who looked to be in his early twenties hopped out and asked us if we were stuck, He said his name was Enrique, and he had long dark hair, an open bottle of Jack Daniels, and a really tricked out Jeep. He told us they were camping up the mountain, and he had just gotten unstuck much further up the road. He had a chain and said there was a clearing about a half mile up that we could turn around at. Somehow managed to pull us up the steep and snowy road to where we could turn around and drive back down, which gave us no problems due to the assistance of momentum and gravity, ploughing the snow, minivan style in front of us. Not quite sure how we would’ve gotten out of that situation without his help, so big thanks to Enrique from northern New Mexico.
With the Rio Costilla no longer an option, we asked around at fly shops in the Taos area and got a few recommendations, one being a lake in the mountains to the west of Santa Fe. We drove to it the next morning and found it completely frozen over, along with the feeder creek that was also supposed to be an option. Discouraged, we headed back into Santa Fe looking for some more advice, and got the name of a place that might work. It was called Cow Creek, and was about an hour east of the town of Pecos. For the next couple of days we fished there, but even though it was lower elevation than the other places we tried, we were still very limited by snow and ice. When we finally did manage to catch sight of some fish as the weather warmed up a bit, we found that the Cutthroats had been pushed to the headwaters and tributaries by the abundance of stocked brown and rainbow trout.
We geared up to hike to the nearest tributary on public land, which we thought was going to be about a ten mile hike. It started off well enough, and we made good time and had some incredible views along the way. However, after about three miles the trail started to get snowy, and very quickly it was knee deep, and remained that way the rest of the hike. We saw herds of elk, mule deer, and plenty of eagles. When we finally reached the stream, it was completely frozen over. It was only a few feet wide, and had nearly half a foot of ice in some places. We fished for a few hours in the small holes in the ice that we could find, but with no success. We finished the grueling hike back in deep snow - what ended up being an 18 mile roundtrip for us
When we had service again, we were looking at options further south, and saw heavy snow in the forecast a few days down the road. We decided to try Cow Creek one more time in hopes that we might find a native fish among the stocked ones, and we got out there early the next morning after spending the night with a friend of Daniels, Robert Prost, who was in the area skiing. We had no luck, and with the snow on the way we realized that we would not be able to catch this trout until it warmed up quite a bit, so we drove up to Colorado that night to do a bit of skiing of our own, and then started our dejected drive back to the east coast.