Under the overhang of a rock shelter was a pictograph that reminded me of a marrano, the pudgy gingerbread pig you can buy in every good Mexican bakery. For the (pigless and gingerless) pre-Columbian artist this may have represented a mountain sheep. It had been drawn in white, presumably gypsum, and outlined in red ochre. Each “slash” at the head was framed with yellow ochre.
I roamed off to snoop around a promontory over the creek, a flat expanse of red sandstone. Though there was a fallen, turn-of-the-century Hispanic ruin just west of it, the place felt untouched since earth’s morning. So quiet, so scoured by water and time—only flowers and the bending grass.
We followed the water-scoured sandstone channels until they petered out, then crossed to the next gully west. This ended in a series of tinajas and a plunge pool. We crawled up to a rock shelter above—charcoal and sherds and rat poop—and clambered down to a second, even lovelier set of pools. There we put our backs against the stone and listened to the ponderosa sigh. Most beautiful tree, the ponderosa. Most beautiful voice, the peaceful tree.
In the midst of this communion with nature G. discovered that a thermos of coffee—cream and sugar—had come open in his pack.
Warm sun, nippy wind. Socks full of stickers, had to stop every quarter mile to pick them out.
North of Stud Stallion Wash we crossed the pitted sandstone to the ridge. Tucked in a cliff face below a little ponderosa and above a cluster of dry tinajas—natural rain catchment tanks—we came upon what was probably a nineteenth-century sheepherder’s hole-up.
It was a smoke-blackened rock shelter partly enclosed by a stone windbreak. Cozy place. You could spread your skimpy bedroll behind the stone wall and look out over the wide saddle of the syncline with its mysterious stone circles and prehistoric deer-hunter meadows and, at night, a field of stars.
On a canyonside in the Zuni Mountains we hiked to a little cave, a rock shelter that had been sadly pot-hunted. In it, among the ashy dust, the soot-blackened potsherds and tiny, prehistoric corncobs, was the paw-print of a mountain lion.