Tag Archives: Hiking in NM

¡Buen Provecho!

Snake and Mice EnhancedEarly in the day we saw a bright, limber young bullsnake, the diameter of a thick pencil, its body many tiny wiggles instead of the sober curves of an adult. And late in the day I almost stepped on a two-foot Western diamondback.

Its coon-tail and coon-mask were a dustier color than the bright scales in the middle of its back. It didn’t buzz, and seemed quite unbothered by our admiration. No wonder—halfway down its fat, spread-flat body was a mouse-sized bulge.

Though it didn’t react much, it knew we were there: its tongue was busy, tasting our airborne molecules. In spite of this “tongue smelling,” a rattler hunts largely by heat detection. On a summer evening, how does it tell a warm rock from a warm mouse?

Visions

CabezonFrom the western ridge of the syncline a pass looks out over Cabezón, shadowy and shadow-washed. Many ancient, rudimentary stone circles scatter their boulders on high points. Each may be the site of a vision quest; we can think of no other explanation. Below lie mineral springs. One is raised on its deposits, a breast whose nipple is a pool, perfectly round, green as an old penny.

As we walked back along the ridge, some small creature far down among the split rocks screamed at us: Squee! Squee! Squee! An ear-splitting insult that never stopped until we went away.

Local

The spareness of the desert: a small hill was home to seven  clumps of terra cotta-pink grass. Beyond it, dark piñones echoed their humped shape. All carefully spaced; plants form a community, yet they’re individuals who live with each other at a social distance.

I drew the fossil of a spiral snail shell embedded in a gray limestone boulder.

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Or “Squish”

On and around the Malpais, the hunter-gatherer-farmer presence of ancestral Puebloans is everywhere underfoot.

In a sandy cul-de-sac among the crinkled lava, all by itself, was a carefully-squared sandstone block that was probably a deadfall for small game: packrats, squirrels, deer mice. Jan propped it on a twig and demonstrated, remarking, at the appropriate instant, “Squeak.”

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Firewalking

On the McCartys flow, the most recent in the Malpais. Easy walking, the lava ropy and wrinkled as a rucked-up rug, chink, chink of volcanic glass underfoot. I should have worn leather-palmed gloves; I was aware of my bare hands.

Navajo folklore has a story about the flow: the gods threw fire. Because the Navajo are recent arrivals from British Columbia—Athabascan hunter-gatherers who migrated down the east face of the Rockies and got to New Mexico around 1300—it had been suggested that the flow dated to the 1400s. But recent research says it is three thousand years old, so the Navajo myth must have risen from the lava’s burned, cindery look. Three thousand years ago it was the ancestors of the Puebloans who were living here. Surely there were frightened onlookers staring from the sandstone cliffs, watching the quick-running red river torch the junipers to flame.

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