A frosty desert morning on the gravels of the ancient Rio Puerco. All around us, distantly, the pop and crack of target shooting. We parked in a trashed pullout and hiked away from the road.
Wandering, sometimes talking, sometimes silent, we picked up rocks and dropped them. Showed each other the best ones: quartz and quartzites, petrified wood, metamorphics full of crinoid stems—all tumble-polished millions of years before humans were human. The sun rose, then sank. The wide bare plains; the weather-bitten volcanic Ladrones palely looming, almost floating. Except for wind and the marksmen, silence.
At dusk, our pockets full of pretty rocks, we trailed back to the pickup and sat on the tailgate as the target shooters drove homeward past us in their four-by-fours.
Hidden Mountain on the Puerco. Crossed the sedgy wash in bare feet because the Chinle red mud stuck like glue and gooshed up between my toes. Tried to clean my feet with snow, sand, paper towels. Useless! Had to use precious water from my canteen. My hiking partner, who tried to cross without taking his boots off, did a Three Stooges pratfall smack in the mud.
All along the hogback there are sulphurous spring deposits. One is a breast, the nipple a round pool a handspan wide where cold water bubbles up.
All of this is perfectly visible from Amtrak. I’ve ridden Amtrak. Never noticed.
In the cobble hills above the Rio Puerco. Rain, snow, thunder. I was afraid of lightning, but Jan sheltered calmly under a juniper that bore the black scars of a previous strike. The wind smelled of wet stone.
In the sand lay an iron axehead, its handle long ago lost to weather. From the eighteen-eighties, maybe. The edge had a graceful worn curve, and the splayed butt showed it had been used as a wedge to split firewood.