The protection circle must have worked, because we both slept great with no bad dreams.
We traced our way up a few levels onto the sandstone mesa sides, flowers jeweling the way. An hour and a half in, still nice and early, we found Chimney standing in front of two coolers. “One is snacks, and one is cold drinks,” he said. There were fig bars and fruit snacks, among other things, and from the tree above hung snack size bags of chips and popcorn, duct taped to the branches, as if they had grown there. There was also a bag of Cuties oranges, perfectly ripened. Fruit! What a treat!
We wound through more sandstone hoodoos and statues. I have to say, I agreed with John- this area is incredible. One of my favorite sections so far.
The day heated quickly, and we left the most intriguing parts of the mesa behind when we turned onto the top. However, something fabulous waited ahead, among the asphalt and dirt roads and power lines and pooping cows: the best cache I had seen.
Now, I’ve seen some other cool caches, but this one was also in the right place. Gallons of water were lined up neatly and tied on pallets in the shade of some limbed pines; a cooler was filled with healthy food, rather than just the candy and soda in many other caches which, while delicious and thoughtful, I tried to avoid. This one held fresh apples, fruit and veggie purée squeeze pouches, nut and seed and dried fruit bites, canned bubbly water (!) and homemade vegan raisin bread ohmygod.
Perhaps the crowning touch, though, was the trail register. It was a beautiful leather notebook, in a flat rectangular Tupperware, on the lid of which were written the following quotes by Walt Whitman: “Every hour of every day is an unspeakably perfect miracle,” and “Now I see the secret to making the best person. It is to grow in the open air and eat and sleep with the earth.” If those don’t sum up the best reasons for being out here, then I don’t know how to. My entire body effervesced with gratitude.
With bellies full and bottles full of delicious water that did not have to be filtered, we carried on into the heat of the day. Barren, beautiful sandstone, shale and sand badlands fully exposed to the sun. We contoured Deadman Peaks, then Cerros Colorados on the edges of a balcony level of the mesas, the hillsides just choked with the yellow and pink striped flowers for blooming prickly pear. We found a shade tree big enough to tuck under for lunch, a shrimp and shiitake and cabbage egg roll filling that we rolled in tortillas and turned out awesome.
On the mesa top the sun beat down, and I finally had to squeeze into some juniper shade for a break before my brains boiled- Miles or shade, miles or shade, the desires tic-tocked in my head. I hated feeling like I had to catch up to Prana, but I hated even more the feeling that I couldn’t keep up, so only 12 minutes, and then I was back at it, pressing forward through the shimmer and hum of the heat.
An hour later I followed the trail into a narrow peninsula of sandstone, brightly striped mesas in the distance, and several huge scalloped walls. In the middle scallop sprawled Prana, half napped out, and I dove into the white sand beside him, burrowing down to the cool layer that had never been heated by the sun and rolling in it, the shade cast by the wall so deep and complete I thought I would keel over from the pleasure. Sweet sweet relief! How in the world are people still starting in the Bootheel as late as last week?!
We laid there for at least an hour, and then gathered the gumption to go on, the air a little cooler, the light a little goldener. It was only a few more miles to the water- oh water which dictates everything out here- and we traveled across a gently rolling sea of pine-studded sandstone slickrock until we dropped down to Jones Canyon Spring. It was what you would picture an oasis to be: live oaks shading the spur trail, wild roses and ferns tangled and framing the alcove, spring filling and overflowing a large basin, subtle breeze cold and wet and air-conditioned. Swoon.
We filled all our water and backtracked to above the spring, finding a little nook of sand on the edge of the sandstone rim to unroll our bed and cook our dinner as the sun sank. Bats appeared, chasing their own dinners, and coolness crept over the land as the stars crept into the sky.