Red Mesa. The redness of the rock, and of the plants as well. Even the grass is red at the base. Perhaps that’s just the color it is—it might be Little Bluestem, such a contradictory name—or maybe it picks up the iron in the soil. Tracts of red sandstone are covered—covered—with knobby, black, marble-size concretions.
At the edge of the rugged canyon is a sheepherder’s monument, a two-legged stack of red sandstone reminiscent of an Inuit inuksuk. Old cairns mark the sheep trail down into the barranca.
Three big red potsherds lie where a pot was dropped, hundreds of years ago.
Throughout the desert West, the backcountry hiker finds “sheepherders’ monuments”: cairns or slabs of stone raised by turn-of-the-century herdsmen while their sheep grazed, day after day, in the wide silence.
On a hillside of small-grain, gray, dissolving shale we came upon a slab of white sandstone, set on end like a tombstone and blocked up all around with dark rocks. Prickly pear had grown in among the stones.
We’d hiked there a dozen times and never seen it. The desert is like that: bare and open, yet turn your head and there’ll be something that’s been looking at the sun for a hundred, or a hundred million, years.