My own painted desert. My New Mexico earth.
Paintings now at Matteucci Gallery in Santa Fe and the Taos Fine Art Gallery on Kit Carson Road in Taos. Here’s the Matteucci link:
In a way, they’re small distillations of all these hikes. When you’re in Santa Fe or Taos, please stop by the galleries and enjoy them!
Heavy logging in these mountains in the Twenties. Many trees were felled and left to checker into soft, rotten punk.
One enormous, old-growth Ponderosa had been spared the clear-cut because its trunk had split and split and split again, so it wouldn’t make straight lumber—perhaps a genetic trait? A beautiful and noble tree. I laid my face against it. It felt a living being, as though I could sense the subtle movement of xylem and phloem.
Maybe I could.
East of the Malpaís: worn yellow sandstone patched with gray lichen, overlooking black lava with gray-green sage and lichen.
When I was small, I dreamed about owning a house carved into a rock. Here it was: a hollowed-out, round cave, just the right size for a child. It was cool inside. The oval doorway framed the extraordinary ordinary lava world outside.
Zuni Mountains, the historical logging railroad route.
Impossible to drive it without imagining the hills as they were: clearcut, scalped naked. The subsequently-eroded red Abó dirt has young trees on it now, but here and there you can spot a patriarch the loggers missed or spared. Human presence of that era is all over: rusty cans, purple glass, busted cheap commercial china. A rusted shovel. Disintegrating ponderosa trunks, felled and abandoned, scattered like pick-up-sticks.
We climbed a red hill of Abó sandstone. En route, found a pair of (modern) safety goggles, an unopened can of Mexican beer, and a mother nighthawk so intent on distracting us from her nest that she rolled around with her feet in the air.
A spring in a big rincón, westward-facing. Water, with help from prevailing winds, had carved out an arching cave in the sandstone perhaps 30 feet high. Its ceiling was dotted with grapefruit-size nests of cliff swallows. The birds flew over us, alarmed and crying.
On the arch is a Navajo “star ceiling,” probably Cassiopeia. Look for the stars, red ochre Xes. Then look more closely: there are faint, perhaps earlier black stars as well.
Scores of stone circles. I’ve written about them before. Too small to be hogan or tipi rings, wrong shape/size/place to be hunting blinds. (Though we did come upon a blind that overlooked a draw: U-shaped, right for one man to lie on his belly.)
The circles are very old. No idea what they can be if not for so-called “vision quests,” in the nature of “go out there and fast until you know your true name.” Who can tell? There was not one that didn’t have a view of Cabezón, the Ladrones, or the Sandias. All those peaks are sacred.
Shirtsleeve warm, and a restless, intermittent wind.
We walked across the scanty dump of a sheepherder’s camp: rusty tin cans, bits of glass, a watering trough tinkered out of something like an old water heater. The herder had brought his family, for in the scatter was a plastic Indian from a “cowboys and Indians” set. Quick research says the first plastic soldiers were made in 1938, but I could find no info on a Western set to which this guy might belong.
Here he lies in a handsome concretion to show him off. The sun has eaten him and given him a cracked patina, but you can still tell he is getting an arrow from his quiver.
Bears and their admirers, east and west: from Vermont, a paw print in the mud with 8-year-old Cyla’s paw for scale; from New Mexico, Weidemeyer’s Admiral butterflies, as beautiful on bear scat as on flowers.
The Syncline was wet, sanded smooth with surface wash, all the rocks bright.
Everywhere there were little tinajas, rain pools, like eyes looking upward. A plunge pool guarded by a Cooper’s hawk and a tiny, lively frog. The sunny vanilla scent of many ponderosas.
There’s a Zuni word, ołdi, for the smell of the desert right after rain.
It’s a race to the finish. In the last warm little sun-pools of the monsoon rains, toad tadpoles are growing legs as fast as they can. Ravens and garter snakes have gobbled most of them, but a few laggard babies are still working on pedestrianism.
The cold is coming. The tiny survivors need to tuck up somewhere against the frosts.
Toes & Toads