Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Saying farewell by foot

We arrived at the gate at Tent Rocks prior to its 8 am opening time. It took awhile, but eventually a car drove up and let us in. Pete and I parked in the empty lot and broke trail, moving jacketless through cold shadows thrown by clifftops not yet overcome by a sun still going through its own wake up rituals. We moved through the twisty slot canyon, atop hard-packed snow so that we were walking a foot or so above the actual trail. The canyon fed a bowl ringed by high hoodoo sentinels decked in white. We ascended the slippery path toward the mesa top, finding rocks sticking above the ice just where we needed them, then sat awhile up top with the 360 degree view. When it was time to go, we searched for an alternative route back, hoping to avoid the ice of the way up, but what we saw below was steep and much more perilous. So we gingerly retraced our steps, and slipped back through the canyon to our warm car.

I'd wanted to drive up to Bland and the Dixon Apple Orchard to see how they were faring after the fires and floods of summer. But the road itself was blocked by a tall concrete barricade that looked like it meant business, forcing us to turn back. Past Cochiti Lake, up La Bajada, and through Waldo Canyon to Madrid for burgers and beer. A side road took us out through Gallisteo and Eldorado before we eventually circled south again for a surreal night at Sunrise Springs. My room seemed to have no heat, but they wouldn't relocate me to another, despite us being the only apparent guests. But the place was relaxing as usual, the grounds peaceful. Pete and I spent the rest of the afternoon in the hot tub, before ending up at the Blue Heron with a bottle of South American red... ...early the next morning, I met up with Musai to bounce along an unpaved county road to the Montoso peak trailhead. We bushwhacked our way to the peak in the hoofprints of some wild horses. The top of the mountain is ringed by its bottlecap of volcanic rock, thrown here thousands of years ago in what must've been a helluva roar when the Valles Candera went up. We'd both been quite cold when we started walking up, but we'd warmed significantly with our labors, and sat awhile at the crest beside a small jar that held a pencil and pad for people to write their names. If this evidence is to believed, only two people summited last year, and no one since June. We made our way to the rim of White Rock Canyon, moving across snowfields. The snow was hard for the most part, but all too often we'd break through to mid calf. What was free of snow was muddy and slow going. We found what looked to be the most likely place to ascend to the river, along an arroyo that ended in free-fall. I climbed down a little further, but could find no route that looked safe. It was disappointing, especially since the trail paralleling the river looked flat and easy. We sat awhile here, eating lunch quietly, enjoying the Rio Grande crawling past 800 feet below. Then we followed the rim, trying to find the Pack Trail marked on our map, scouting the route the Musai will take when he returns after the snow is gone. It was a long slog back to the truck, confused by our lack of landmarks but for the surprisingly dense juniper that we were forever pushing through. The excess energy involved in brushing their branches aside, in lifting legs out of snow and mud, exhausted us. Mentally taxing too was the monotony of landscape. Musai and I navigated it differently, he using a GPS that seemed on the fritz, me by heading toward landmarks out on the horizon. Somehow, we both got it wrong, circling somehow to eventually find the truck in a place other than where we'd thought... the morning, I met Taylor and Bernie for an easy hike up La Bajada again, this time following the left fork. A pair of paragliders rode the currents thrusting up the rocky hillface from the hot desert below. Atop the mesa, we cut across the sand, the path mercifully wide and open compared to my battles with low vegetation with Musai on the previous day. We stopped for lunch at a notch that marked the end of the canyon, into which we dropped past the piles of volcanic rock arranged in rows. These may have been the man-made ruins of an old pueblo that had once been in the area, though I couldn't make out anything resembling a structure or kiva. This canyon was also the canvas for petroglyphs, but those too eluded any recognition. It was a reasonably easy descent down to the Santa Fe River. It's river valley was wide and grassy and tempted us into taking a long break. We talked about the nature of living in the wild and the skills associated with it. How hunter/gatherers living more on instinct than those later agrarians that needed to rely on intellect in order to plan their crops. We followed the river out of its valley, jumping it a number of times before walking the berm of an acequia that took us directly to a grove of cottonwoods that threw shadows across the car...

...up to the desert landscape near Abiquiu, whose land took on yet a different character than that of the previous two days. Taylor and I did the brief walk up to Echo Amphitheater, where the Alianza Federal de Mercedes had founded their separatist nation. The path was frozen over, perpetually thrown into wintertime shadow. This walk was just a taste for the greater walk later up Kitchen Mesa. It was a lovely hike, along a path that led through a broad valley before climbing diagonally up the canyon wall to a chimney, up which we scaled, aided by the ropes attached to the notch. From here we walked across the mesa top to the edge, but not too close as it was crumbling away to drop 600 feet. Taylor and I sprawled across the wide rock, taking in the scenery and the warm day, making like lizards for the next couple hours. As we talked, we'd often toss a pebble in the air, which would fall back to earth with a hollow sound. We laughed about how narrow our perch must be, and we laughed harder when, safely below again, we noted the voluminous pile of debris beneath where we'd been sitting an hour before...

On the turntable: Herbie Mann, "African Suite"

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