All day long we looked south to the main drainage. It shone silver.
We spent the day traipsing around and about in something like a square mile and a half, as much vertical as horizontal, on constantly rough terrain. We entered and left on ancient trails not used since the invention of the internal combustion engine.
I couldn’t see how even a wagon could have gone where we did. Perhaps it was just people on foot. Later, horses or mules.
The trails did feel like trails, in the sense of “the logically easiest way to get up this challenging slope.”
A frosty desert morning on the gravels of the ancient Rio Puerco. All around us, distantly, the pop and crack of target shooting. We parked in a trashed pullout and hiked away from the road.
Wandering, sometimes talking, sometimes silent, we picked up rocks and dropped them. Showed each other the best ones: quartz and quartzites, petrified wood, metamorphics full of crinoid stems—all tumble-polished millions of years before humans were human. The sun rose, then sank. The wide bare plains; the weather-bitten volcanic Ladrones palely looming, almost floating. Except for wind and the marksmen, silence.
At dusk, our pockets full of pretty rocks, we trailed back to the pickup and sat on the tailgate as the target shooters drove homeward past us in their four-by-fours.
At Zuni: We borrowed a clutch of neighbor kids and went hiking in the windblown sand south of the pueblo. The kids were itchy and wild, flinging themselves off the red dunes, playing cowboys and Indians—funny, given that they were all Indians.
One of the adults, a fast hiker, disappeared for awhile. We wondered aloud, “Where’s Andy?” Small Brandon said seriously, “Prob’ly those Indians got him.”
Among the lifts and holts of sandstone in the beaten, overgrazed terrain west of Albuquerque, overrun for centuries by sheep, cattle, Spaniards, Navajos, soldiers, ranchers and uranium prospectors, in the plumb middle of nowhere, we came upon an enormous galvanized bolt sticking out of the ground.
Pat said it held the universe together. With a little work, feeling like King Arthur, I pulled it out.
Jemez foothills in thunder season. A rattler was getting the heck out of there. A million millipedes the color of violins were footing it furiously, looking like baby snakes.
Jan said, “It’s the crawliest day I’ve seen in a long time.”*
Foothills of the Nacimientos: a Western Diamondback was stretched in the morning sun. It coiled and cocked only when I shouted for the other hikers. Snakes are deaf, so it must have felt the vibration of my shout.
Posed, rigid, it never moved. John the fiddler said, “It’s a musical clef.”
In the remote Pecos I found a big marble from the 30s: white-and-butterscotch glass, battered and frost-spalled, buried in dirt. It appeared to have been thrown off a mesa.
The inexplicable things one finds in the wilderness! I assume it had lain in the dirt for as many years as its age: seventy or eighty.
Slow, huge thunderheads.
Rain had washed everything, as though it had doused the desert with a gigantic fire hose. The daisies’ faces were plastered to the ground.
A pretty mano of pink granite. Where it lay was wilder than when it was made by an Archaic hunter-gatherer, probably a woman: only the rare hiker goes there now. The mano had been looking at the sky for two thousand years, at least. I admired it, then left it to its next eons of quiet and space and rain.
In the Jemez Mountains we hiked among the Tent Rocks: eerie, beautiful. Pink-white ashy pumice forms teepees, minarets, cupolas, gables, totem poles, shrines—their bases scalloped like coconut-cream popsicles, their tops jagged as blades. Don’t slide off; by the time you got to the bottom you’d be, not just dead, but completely skinned by volcanic glass. As we crept along the steep sides of the hills each of us touched the slope with one hand.
The ash is full of obsidian, Apache Tears.
In the Guadalupe Box area of the Jemez Mountains, on a boulder fallen from the sheer rhyolite cliffs, the five-foot-tall petroglyph of an eagle dancer.
Compared to the most ancient spirals and suns the work looks recent, but “recent” is relative: These mesas were refuges for the Pueblos when, ten years after their successful 1680 revolt, the conquistadores marched north from El Paso to retake New Spain.
Smudged drawing from my pocket notes. Those feet: one human, one an eagle’s.