An Archaic mano, or hand grinding stone, begins its next few thousand years in the sand of a hearth. Time and weather have reduced the charcoal of ancient campfires to a shadow in the soil.
Under a juniper instead of a cork tree. Picked clean by coyotes and bleached by the desert sun.
…but the coyote was barefoot. Fair’s fair.
…and now, 150 million years later, so can we.
The Morrison Formation, deposited by rivers, deltas, and shallow seas. In rain or snow it reconstitutes to dinosaur poo—you will never get the mud off your boots.
From hike journal, 10.8.95:
The day began and ended with a moon so big and orange it looked unreal, beyond natural, godlike: something to worship, for how could something so strange not be holy?
In the morning, as I drove down to meet the others at 7 a.m., the setting moon was about to touch the western horizon, oval as a big squashed orange. I stopped the pickup and said, “Oh!”
In the evening, as we drove wearily home at dusk, there she was again, rising: weird, enormous, still infinitesimally touching the purple mountains. We came over a rise in the road and all together said, “Oh!“
Later they switched moons on us and there was only that little cold dime, high in the sky.
…and so is the vast, clean desert.
The desert has been at it much longer than I have.
On a ridge in the low hills near the highway, a micaceous mano rested like an Easter egg in a nest of cobbles nearly the same size and shape. It was Archaic, a rounded lozenge with one smooth and one pecked side. There in its stone nest it will stay, with the hill slowly eroding out from under it.
A good dozen bushtits fussed and tsp-ed and fidgeted in the juniper. I sat very still. They seemed not to notice me, coming and going in a cloud like midges.
One red pebble.
I forgot my camera. I was indignant until I remembered I’d never owned a camera until a few years ago. All hike records were scratched with a stubby pencil on a 3×5 card.
We went off-trail in the Malpaís. Snow and wind and frost-heaving had smoothed sand over the face of the weathered stone, healing the skin of the desert until we were the first ever to walk there.
Camera or not, it was a good day, though I wish I could have gotten an image of an old friend. Fortunately I already had one; it was taken in a different season, but you get the idea.
In an area we’ve hiked scores of times, looking for a place for lunch, we climbed a little mesa that promised a good view. On a smooth sandstone ledge, unexpected, was a bedrock metate: the roughly-pecked surface where a woman had ground corn or wild-gathered seeds.
Around it were rough petroglyphs of a lizard and snakes: probably Puebloan, but so heavily coated with desert varnish that they looked Archaic. It was fine to sit where she had sat, looking out over the late winter piñon and sand, munching corn chips we had not had to grind ourselves.
We walked in over multicolored gravels eroded from some long-lost range. Some were petrified wood, glossy and tumble-polished. Among them a second generation of trees had grown; these too had fossilized, then eroded, and now looked simply like wood chips inexplicably turned to stone. Among them the ponderosas of today stood, living wood.
Next to a dissolving petrified log, recent woodcutters had left their beer cans and pile of slash. Old woodpile, new woodpile: the two looked remarkably alike, though the ancient one was yellow and bright as new wood, and the new one was gray.