Day 10: Saddle Rocks and Fireball

4/27

We lingered in camp, because, why not? It was such a beautiful spot.

My birthday/Christmas present of a home freeze dryer had led to all sorts of recipe experimentation for this trail. This morning was the first taste test of biscuits and gravy: I’d freeze-dried a smoked white bean and soysage gravy and used (quite cleverly, I thought) stuffing croutons for the ‘biscuits.’ It turned out…not bad, but definitely not biscuits and gravy. More like…a savory bread pudding? Palatable though. Further experimentation needed.

The trail continued through gorgeous contours of forested ridges until we met Saddlerock Canyon Road, which would eventually take us to the highway walk to town. “It looks on the map like we only parallel it at first,” pointed Prana. The turn would have been almost guaranteed to miss, but we let ourselves through a little gate into a wash dotted with thriving cottonwoods. Beautiful! We took a break just for the sheer pleasure of laying under the new green leaves, then wound through a sinuous section of rock walls. Where did this little gem come from? At the main stem of the canyon the walls widened and the sand deepened, and a granddaddy of a cottonwood spread its massive limbs from a securely stout trunk, surely the impeccable host of this canyon, this tiny slice of humble paradise.

The end of the magic wash was marked by a fence and gate whose proprietor must have had a struggle of a day when they installed it. Extra pieces were wired haphazardly onto it – perhaps as reinforcements?- while all the held it shut was the equivalent of a twist tie. Some days go better than others, I suppose.

Saddle Rock Canyon road turned out to be mostly a wash walk, at least in its upper end, and hardly qualified as a roadwalk at all. It wound through a canyon with amazing, colorful rock outcroppings- good climbing here? Some of the shapes and features look so fun- but when I hiked to one to inspect up close, every handhold pulled off with almost no effort. Well, nice to look at, at least.

We detoured wide for another belligerently ground-holding bull, and found our awaited water, a big round metal stock trough surrounded by cows and a few more bulls. Luckily they sauntered away, and as we collected water the wind picked up, pelting us with the cowshit that blanketed the ground in layers. I hate how nasty cows are and what they do to the landscape…but I’m thankful that their water is here…but if it weren’t for them a lot of the natural springs would likely still be running…but they’d still likely be farther apart than the cow tanks….etc.

We carried the water a few miles down the road, hoping to find a poopless place to cook our dinner so we wouldn’t have to cook it on the shoulder of the highway, but finally gave in and crawled under the sheltering branches of a massive umbrella-limbed pine. “Annie’s Mac and Cheese always brings a smile!” Prana improv-jingled and mugged, and I laughed and thought about how there is really no one else I would rather sit in cow poop with.

We dispatched a few miles of bleak dirt road and then reached the highway: 13 miles of pavement to Silver City.

The most dis-spiriting thing about highway shoulder walking -and there are several contenders – has got to be the trash. How does it all end up here? Glass and rusted metal and diapers and underwear. There was a particularly disproportionate number of bottles along this stretch that were Fireball whiskey, in a variety of sizes. “Do you think there is a bottle-tosser who commutes this road daily with a post-work Fireball habit, or do you think the type of person that chucks empties is coincidentally the type of person who prefers Fireball whiskey?” I asked Prana, which led to an entertaining 20 minute debate, at the end of which we decided the answer is most likely option A, and the size of the bottle is related to the day of the week.

The land was continuously fenced on both sides of the road, and where it was farther away we reconnaissanced a few spots to see if they might do for camping; but one was too windy, one was too visible to the road, one was too steep, and the only flat, protected, hidden one had a coyote carcass perfuming it.

It was getting dark enough to get concerned when Prana spotted a hiker-friendly gate, with decorative geometry spacious enough to duck through: so we did, scampered up into trees out of sight of the road, and found a quiet tree nook to pitch our tent. A dog bayed in the distance. “How far back was the house?” I asked. “I hope they don’t have territorial dogs.” I feared New Mexico was shaping me into a criminal trespasser. Prana scoffed a bit at my imaginings, and we tucked down under the tarp, stretching our aching arches and calves.

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