A mud-dauber’s nest with holes in a row, like a harmonica.
The day began with mottled clouds that later burned off. No friendly sand to walk in, just acrid mud dust, with now and then a stiff, dried place where a cow had pissed. We hiked down terrifying deep arroyos whose walls, scored by mud-laden runnels, were poised to collapse.
Mudstone concretions: eyeballs and entrails lay in drifts on the yellow-red dirt. We came across two half-buried spheres, both about twelve feet in diameter, like the backs of two huge skulls: Baba Yaga and her daughter.
In a sandy cul-de-sac among the crinkled lava, all by itself, was a carefully-squared sandstone block that was probably a deadfall for small game: packrats, squirrels, deer mice. Jan propped it on a twig and demonstrated, remarking, at the appropriate instant, “Squeak.”
Bushwhacking in the dense piñon-juniper and oak brush that covered the mesa, on a windy day that obscured all sound. I was newly aware of how one tracks companions by constant, quick glances through the twiggage, near-subliminal glimpses every four to eight seconds: a scrap of color, a blink of movement out of place against the moving background. It’s an almost-unconscious art, and takes practice. First we lost Rob, then Gary, then John.
They all straggled in later at the car, remarking on how, in countryside like this, a group can get separated in less than a minute. Their shouts had been inaudible in the wind.
Hiking the canyon of the Rio Santa Fe, over our heads the stone-cribbed hairpin turns that carried Spanish wagons, Civil War soldiers and Model Ts up this section of the Camino Real. The eroding pale strata of the canyon walls were capped by tumbled, slightly columnar basalt.
At the cliffs’ feet the rio’s busy water looped and twinkled. It smelled chemical; it was runoff from Santa Fe’s sewage treatment plant, equal parts groundwater from Buckman Wells and bottled water from Fiji that had been filtered through wealthy Santa Feans. Winding down that river was, no doubt, a lot of cocaine.
In the sedge at the brink I nearly stepped on a bull snake. We left, abruptly, in opposite directions.
Besides its many miles, the best part of the hike was a lonely homestead perched on a rise in the sandstone. For the backcountry, where until the late 1860s Navajo raids made life unhealthy, this settlement was very early. Not even the shape of the house was left, just a heap of stones, but the trash—! Purple glass and thick white china reduced to confetti, buttons, shreds of wire, squashed Prince Albert tobacco cans and unrecognizable bits of rusty metal were scattered over acres.
It was support for my theory that early settlers, uneasy in the wilderness, liked to look at their civilized garbage.