Water Babies

 

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I rented a 4wd truck with the highest clearance I could get and set out for the canyon. I drove a good 30 miles up into the Highlands, and then about 10 miles on a dirt road with various scrub pines and occasional driveways that got sparser and sparser as the ruts and grooves got wider and deeper. The roads were completely unmarked and I followed my intuition about which ones to take, hoping I would remember on the way out. Eventually the road opened up in the top of a golden plateau scattered with black rocks that glistened silver  in the sunlight. I stopped here for a minute to take in the sky and the vastness of the landscape, the valley I was about to enter. I looked at the truck that brought me here and I couldn’t help but think of Chevy commercials where the big trucks drive up and over ridiculous hills and whatnot. Marketing follows us everywhere, even at this edge of man’s settlement. The valley before me belonged to someone else and I suddenly felt like a stranger in a new land with very few credentials. As the road turned down from the mesa my heart leapt into my throat. The most unbelievable large boulders were strewn everywhere with 3 ft. deep ruts cutting through the road in front of me. I started my decent gingerly, and thought of the librarian who I had made a plan to call when I finished the day, just to confirm that I was ok.
After 20 minutes of driving about 1 mile and hour through the most harrowing road I have ever experienced I got down into the lowlands. Once there were no more giant boulders to navigate I was somewhat glad, but what lay in front was no less daunting. The ruts and sand and water were just as dangerous. But the land was also quite magical. There was crispness in the October air and it was warm. The storms were caught in the mountains and I was in the clear. I drove through tall sage grasses and yellow chamisa, until I saw an outcropping that alerted me into a canyon. Did I look at the map?  No!  I looked at the deep creek in front of me, and the road that veered to the right that ran into the first canyon I saw, and I chose the road. I was intoxicated by the outcropping.  It was high on the wall at the mouth of the canyon. It had three caves and seemed like a lookout. I kept driving until the road got so narrow and uneven that I could not pass further. Then got out of the truck and followed the creek on foot. I was emotional, frightened, excited and eager to get out of the car.
On foot the flood plane seemed gigantic.  I walked along the trail about 1 mile, through the sagebrush, and past the desiccated carcass of a dead horse before I realized that I might not be in the right canyon.  (I should have turned around when I saw the carcass.)  But the landscape was mystifying and I could not stop entering. I saw an old road, a footpath that was bolstered by a rock wall, that lead up and out of the canyon, towards the mesa from where I had come. I walked along it for a while, it followed the contour of the hillside, and was surely an Indian road.  I sat down on a rock. It was peaceful, quiet, still, and also eerie. There were Blue Jays, an occasional crow, the sound of a spring, cottonwood trees.  And I felt watched. I looked up to the walls of the canyon and spotted a horse on the hillside, then another. They were standing dead still, acutely aware of my presence. I became very aware of theirs in that instinctual sense. This was their land. I was in their canyon, with the 3 springs that I saw on the map, the canyon with the water babies. I felt the tension of being an unwanted visitor.

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There were no petroglyphs here. That was for sure, just as bunch of wild horses who looked sad and hungry. I was nearby, but definitely in the wrong location. I ate my lunch and contemplated how long it would take to follow the Indian road, and where it might go, also how long it would take to walk back out of the canyon. By then it was getting late in the day and I did not want to be in that country after dark. I did not bring my camping gear unfortunately, nor did I feel brave enough to stake my ground and sleep in the wilderness alone. I kept thinking that if I had someone with me I would feel braver, walk further, spend the night and I decided to head back before the light changed.
I did not want to be in the highlands after dark, not driving on those roads! The trip out was at least 45 minutes on unmarked gravel and boulders the size of basketballs with the occasional beach ball thrown in. Why had I just assumed that I would take the right road at each juncture? I don’t think I even looked at the map once. And since I barely know how to read a topographical map, why would I? What am I  really doing out here? I had to ask myself.  There were clues, that I was not in the right canyon.  When I finally exited the canyon I admitted realized how excited I was by the lookout cave, which none of the literature mentioned and looked less revealing in the 4 o’clock shadow than in the noon day sun. The lady at the Desert Research Institute told me that I would have to stop at a gate at the entrance of the canyon. How could I have forgotten this? She also said that I would have to cross a gnarly river a few times.  I only crossed it once and could not see going further. Maybe the roads are just too bad from this. I retrace my steps in my mind:  When I came out of the canyon I saw the Lagomarsino bluff, I was one canyon away + a few river crossings. But the day was getting on and I had a long drive out of the wilderness.

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