One: two-tracks, the dusty, lonely roads that follow the contours of the West. The one above reminds me of a long-ago hike taken from the low road to Zuni.
Two: hiking high and wild, to beat the heat and get up where breathing is a pleasure. Lately that has meant the Jemez Mountains, raked over by wildfires but springing up green with the monsoon rains. We just missed the wild raspberries: the bears got there first.
Shining and blackest black: the obsidian of the Jemez Mountains at one of its prehistoric sources.
The closest road had been closed for years—at least since the Las Conchas fire in 2011—and was blocked by the enormous trunks of dozens of burned and wind-fallen Ponderosas. We hiked the dusty three miles in.
For thousands of years, prehistoric miners knocked down big cobbles of obsidian into pieces more easily carried to distant pueblos, where they would be knapped into knives, scrapers, projectile points. What is left is debitage; whole acres of mesa glitter with a pavement of black glass.
The Syncline: The sandstone ponds had had a flashflood through them. In the lower pools the willows were torn and full of wreckage, but the higher ones were beautiful. We went in naked on the sandy, gravely mud.
Polliwogs and froglets nibbled us. We slid down the algae-coated water chutes of the linked pools; the stream’s steady drip from pool to pool became overflow as our bodies displaced water.
So quiet! Wind in the cottonwoods, sun on the washed stone, warm breeze on bare skin. Absolute peace.
We went up the stony wash that is westernmost of the Syncline drainages, beautiful from the cliffs above. Petroglyphs on its water-scrubbed sides: a symmetrical spiral in dark desert varnish, and a pale Star Person almost erased by flashfloods. There was still a skim of water running down the linked pools.
In the Guadalupe Box area of the Jemez Mountains, on a boulder fallen from the sheer rhyolite cliffs, the five-foot-tall petroglyph of an eagle dancer.
Compared to the most ancient spirals and suns the work looks recent, but “recent” is relative: These mesas were refuges for the Pueblos when, ten years after their successful 1680 revolt, the conquistadores marched north from El Paso to retake New Spain.
Smudged drawing from my pocket notes. Those feet: one human, one an eagle’s.
Betsy James on Writing, Art, and Walking in the Desert