Day 32: Chain of Craters

5/19

We stumbled out of bed this morning. I slept like garbage – wind too noisy, temp too warm, to bed too late, too much beer, dehydrated. Oh my god. Mistakes.

Pie for breakfast and a big pot of coffee helped immensely, and then we hit the road. A few miles along, 3 dark shapes were clustered at the side of the road, which I assumed were cows, until we got close enough to see them. “Burros!” They watched us with curiosity, even seemed like they might come closer if we waited long enough. “They’re like tall puppies,” Vince had said last night with authority, “they love gettin’ skritches.” But we had miles to cover.

The water source for the day was a solar well with two overflowing troughs. The pipe above the higher trough poured beautiful clear water, until the one tiny cloud in the sky covered the sun, almost shutting off the flow. In the space of twenty minutes the whole sky was choked with clouds, but we got one more gap where the sun powered through, and water rich, we carried on into the now wonderfully shaded day.

Only three miles on highway pavement, but oh, does it eat at your soul. The wind always seems to be at its worst when the the walking is- a New Mexico peculiarity. Thanks goodness the sun wasn’t also crushing us.

At the turn for the Chain of Craters trail, we picked up single track through sand. It carried us toward a dark, low line, which I first mistook for trees and bushes, before I realized it was the edge of a lava field.

Cairns led up and onto the lava, and twisted through the easier passages between wrinkled, collapsed domes and long, crumbling cracks. It was like another world, the shapes and swirls of the living rock frozen and petrified mid-flow. Bright red-orange claret cup cacti bloomed, neon flags against the black.

It was only one glorious mile through the edge of the lava flow, and then it was back to crossing the rubbly flats. A cow path with shoe prints suckered us off route, but we caught it quick enough and backtracked, without too much time lost.

For miles the land was bare and open, and we trudged west, sun in our eyes, wind in our faces. Big old cairns marked the way, and fantastical clouds ballooned and folded in the sky.

We took a 20 minute sanity break behind a clump of juniper when neither of us could stand the wind another minute. We likely would have just camped there, if not for plans to meet the others, so we cranked up some music and rallied. Every half mile came harder and slower, until finally, finally Cerro Brillante, who had hovered on the horizon all day, loomed above us, and the road cut opened in front of us, just as a little black Scion zoomed down the dirt, Vince looking out the driver’s window instead of my direction, and then out of sight. I sighed. I didn’t care how good of a camp they’d found, I was not walking any farther today.

The deep guttural of a diesel grumbled up the road, my brother and his white van appearing with the sound. He turned in and explained they’d just looked at the wrong road crossing. “Vince will make it back,” he said. “Camp chairs? Watermelon?”

Vince indeed found his way back, as Crusoe told about their adventure to explore Lava Falls, and another hiker, Jamie, who Crusoe had met at the Toaster House and passed on this road, arrived and was immediately plied with food and comforts. Crusoe started a pan of peppers, onions, and beans searing, Vince seared steaks and portobellos, and Prana and I started fully packing our packs – it would be the last night with brother and friends, and tomorrow morning we would leave, fully loaded and fully self-sufficient once again.

With burritos and beers under the falling twilight, we watched the sky come alive. “Venus is setting over there,” Vince pointed to the edge of Cerro Brillante. A meteor flashed green, then white, behind the others. “Oo, look look look!” I pointed. It must have lasted a full ten seconds, long enough for everyone to turn and watch.

As much as I didn’t want the night to end, I was nodding off in my chair by 9:00.

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