It rained last night, in this extreme drought of the New Mexico desert. I woke to percussion on the tent fly, the smell of freshly dampened sand and sage wafting in.
In the morning I had to manually bend and straighten my knee – like priming a pump – several times before I felt confident trying to extricate myself from the swags of net tent and nest of gear. Luckily it took weight with no problem, and improved its range of motion with only a few laps around the tent. Promising, I suppose.
It took a chunk of time to break camp. Everything’s rusty: my body, my systems. Back on trail proper we were greeted by a spectacular tree – a palo verde, by Prana’s guess – a palace of shade enfolded beneath its branches. Then, we walked.
Rocks and gravel shifted below our shoes as we wove with the wash; not the most scenic place I’d been, but calm, familiar, soothing.
We followed the trail up and out, onto the lowest flank of the Big Hatchet Mountains, determined to see its condition for ourselves. The tread was faint at best, but poles were just frequent enough to spy the next not too long after leaving the previous, made a bit easier by someone having topped them with white rocks.
In one startling moment Prana leapt straight up, like a cat stepping in water. “Argh! Snake.” A little charcoal colored snake, inexplicably moist-looking, wriggled into a posture of defense, the underside of its tail bright red, an orange stripe collaring its neck.
A quick detour to the first water cache, and then most of the day slipped away at 2 miles an hour or less. Stunted trees offered their shade periodically, headgehog cactus trumpeted their bright purple blossoms from unexpected nooks, and the best part: winding through mini jungles of ocotillos, always offering hallways between their spiny tentacles, most budded and ready to burst into bloom, a few already there. One section in the middle seemed to be missing huge hunks of trail and marker poles, leaving us adrift in the junkiest, prickliest travel of the day, but snacks and water always replenished the spirits when the fun wore too thin. Although we were far from efficient mileage for the day, with cactus spines and scratches to show for it, I was so deeply glad we had come this route- the Big Hatchet Mountains were beautiful, and this intimate perspective wasn’t available the same way from the level of the road. I suppose whenever I am faced with the choice of suffering for the more sublime or easing through the mediocre, I find myself happy to suffer.
As we dropped from the Ocotillo Wonderland, the trail marker poles became more frequent, buttressed within 4 foot high cairn mounds, and the guessing games decreased. By 7:00 we made our second water cache where we met Bill Cook, and topping off a gallon and a half, pressed on for our last mile. Dan and his dog Rita were hitching at the road.
“Are you friendly?” he asked quietly, in an endearing reversal of most dog owners’ declarations, as Rita tiptoed over to say hello, “it’s ok?”
“Yeah, it’s ok. Thanks for asking. Are her paws hurting?”
“The heat is just too much for her. I tried to be sure we were ready, but we need to get to where there’s shade.”
Soft sand filled the last stretch; hot spots formed where pebbles had dribbled into my shoes. My ankle began to complain. Oh my god, time to camp. We exited off the trail and found a flat enough, thorn-less enough place to cowboy camp, blew up our sleeping pads, strapped them together, ate ramen as pastel colors striped the sky, chewed chocolate chip cookies as the stars winked on. The cherry lights of border patrol whirled where Dan and Rita were trying to hitch. I hoped they got a ride.