The pavement of Cuba extended 5 miles out of town. The filth slowly receded. I noticed that nature produced no garbage, every tidbit and morsel was endlessly recycled. It made humanity look pathetically backward in comparison, like a square wheel rolling clumsily through time. The saddest thing was that people had so much free time, so much intelligence, so much potential. But the bulk of them just took the easiest route they could – the lazy route. They did nothing more than what was required to live comfortably. They were uninspired, so many of them had reached a dead-end. If people were ever to progress, I thought, something had to fundamentally change. And we were supposed to be the greatest civilization ever to live? By what measure?, I wondered.
I turned off the paved road, onto dirt. There was something I liked about dirt roads, maybe the way they were only temporary – always only a few years from disappearing. There were footprints in the dirt – my distant CDT companions, perhaps? The prints looked 2-3 days old to me. One large set, one small one… There was really no point in trying to figure it out, I was just glad to have something to occupy my mind.
The sky was clear and the air was cool. The land around was one of dry arroyos – small canyons with short but steep cliff walls. The arroyos led down from large flat mesas a couple hundred feet above. The sparse trees got thinner and smaller, the soil progressively more sandy, and the simple short plants, simpler and shorter. I walked to the head of one arroyo. The flat sandy bed ended in an overhanging wall of sandstone, 50 feet high. Underneath the overhang was a muddy puddle, fenced-off from cows. It was all the water the animals there needed. There were similar “springs” at the end of many of the arroyos, and the animals knew exactly where that water was. I began to see the desert differently. It wasn’t desolate at all, just a trickier puzzle that required a little more ingenuity on the part of its natural residents.
I climbed out of the arroyo and onto a mesa. The way south followed another dirt road. It was a more frequently traveled road that led to “ranch homes” hidden among the rocks and trees. A pickup truck pulled-up next to me. The man inside started talking to me… with the engine still running and the window rolled-up. My first thought was, “This guy is not too bright.”, I clutched my pepper spray. He rolled down the window, and asked, “Hey. Were you the person who was just at my cabin over there?”. I’d seen a cabin, but hadn’t really thought much about it. “No”, I said, and shrugged my shoulders. “Well, there was someone there”, he didn’t believe me, “That’s private property, you know.”, he looked like he was waiting for me to apologize. I didn’t know what to say to him. “I haven’t seen anybody, but if I do see someone…”, I thought about it – there was nothing I could do, “I guess… then… I’ll see them…”. I laughed. The man scowled at me and drove off.
The road began to wind irregularly in every compass direction. It wasn’t on the map. I decided to just head due south. The mesa ended somewhere to the south, and there was another spring at the bottom of the mesa. I walked off, thought the short trees and dry sagebrush. Everywhere I stepped, dried wood crumbled under my feet. The smells of pinyon and sage were heavy in the air. It got too dark to walk just as I reached the edge of the mesa. The ground ahead dropped nearly vertical to a wide flat arroyo 150 feet below. I camped on top of the cliff, in the sand, under a sky full of stars. A family of coyotes greeted the night, not 20 feet from my head. “Ok, it’s your turn for a while”, I mumbled to them as I closed my eyes.
My first mission in the morning was to find a way down the cliff. I peeked over the edge, but couldn’t see any of the cliff more than 10 feet down. I had no idea if passage was safe below that. I knew there were probably hundreds of safe ways down the cliff, but I didn’t know where any of them were. So, I continued along the wall, and looked for something more obvious. I thought I saw something that would work, and descended halfway down. The route ended in a narrow vertical shaft, 20 feet straight down. Hmmm, it looked like I could stem down the shaft, that is, press my feet, hands, and joints against the side of the rock to gain traction. I tossed my poles and started down. After two steps, it became obvious that it was a bad idea. My full pack made me heavy and lopsided. Plus, the sandstone walls were gritty and slippery. I retreated and found another place to descend, another quarter mile out of my way, a messy tangle of uprooted trees and sand – a complete mess. I made it down though, and retrieved my poles.
There was another spring at the base of the cliff, under another overhang – Ojo Jarido. I liked that name. It was a rather large pool, kept cool by the shade of the overhanging cliff and the fresh cold water dripping out of the rock. Two layers of fencing kept the cows away from the main pool, somebody had rigged a pipe to a cattle watering tub 100 yards away. Ojo Jarido was another oasis, another secret of the desert. I was sure that ancient inhabitants must have seen it as a holy place – the earth giving water – the earth giving life, allowing life. Surely, the earth was important above all things to them, it must have been respected and loved. I was sorry that so many people had lost that connection – who could love a faucet?
I filled my water bottles and walked along the base of the cliff. Like I’d figured, from below I could see a hundred easy ways by which I could have negotiated the cliff. The dirt path faded-out, so I just followed the map, around another mesa. I noticed an unusual creature crawling across my path. A tarantula. I’d never seen one in the wild before. It gracefully glided across the ground with fuzzy delicate legs, its brown abdomen bounced up and down. What was it looking for? I wondered. I wanted to tell somebody, “Look at this thing! It’s just crawlin’ around out here…”. I looked up, but there were only miles of quickly warming sameness in every direction. I watched the tarantula for a while, I didn’t want to leave it. I understood why people kept them as pets – it was a fascinating creature, delicate yet dangerous, simple yet somehow smart. I bent down close to get a better look and it stopped. It raised its abdomen, and lifted its front legs as if ready to pounce – trying its best to intimidate me. But I thought the posture just made it look cute.
The road quickly became irrelevant. There was no point walking on it unless it headed south. The land was so open that I could make a good footpath anywhere… as long as it didn’t get too sandy. I struck out across the desert. Little changed with each step, the distance slowly came into focus. I noticed something vertical, then another one, Hmmm, telephone poles. They lined a road that headed pretty much south. The distant formations of rock – mesas and isolated pointed peaks – slowly turned as I passed them. I searched my maps for anything insignificant that might be interesting. Hmmm, an old dirt road should intersect in 3 miles…
It was difficult to plan breaks – I had no occasion to stop, no goal except to stop when the sun set. A grain of sand lodged in my eye – ugh! – and remained there for the next 4 hours. I imagined meeting people, strange people. I imagined that I was the strange person. I practiced a maniacal laugh, louder and louder. My eye was red, it hurt either open or closed. I explored my vocal range and had cordial conversations with passing trees. My mind was wandering, far from the desert beneath my feet. Suddenly, a voice made me jump, “Hey, how ya doing?”
It was an actual person. He’d snuck up behind me. He was riding a bicycle, riding the Great Divide Trail (GDT) from Canada to Mexico on bicycle via side roads, dirt roads and mountain biking trails. I was fairly certain he was not a mirage. I had met a couple GDT riders in Butte, and I had seen many of their signatures in the various post-office trail registers along the way (the GDT passed through many of the same towns in which I had stopped). But the path of the CDT rarely intersected that of the GDT. Ken had been riding for almost two months, twice my pace. He slowed down for a couple miles, and we talked about the merits of hiking and biking. He could carry more things and cover more ground, but was limited to roads and navigable paths. We both shared in a secret… a simple life-style made rich by slowly passing the miles. We reached the top of a minor hill. Cabezon peak was visible on the horizon, a bit hazy, 15 miles away. We were both headed there, but we were on different paths. I wished him well. “I feel bad just leaving you here”, he said to me as he got on his bike. “Don’t worry about it”, I smiled. I wasn’t really alone.click to enlarge
The glorious tedium continued. As I’d said to Ken, “the worst day out here is better than best day in a cubicle.” It wasn’t just rhetoric either, it was so true it was scary. Ten flat and sandy miles whipped by. A truck pulled up along side. The men inside had skin the color and texture of dirt. They had scraggly faces that maybe got shaved, maybe didn’t… I couldn’t tell. “Hey, where you headed, man?”, the driver asked with a sharp and gritty chicano accent. I told him, and he looked at me cockeyed. “You saya what?”, his head shifted quickly back and forth, he squinted like he was trying to get me in better focus, “Oh maan, tha’s a long way, geez.”. The passenger piped up, “yerunaberliker…?” He seemed to be asking me a question, but it was more of a quick guttural grunt than actual speech, like he was trying to pass some large object through his bowels. He tried again, “Igonagetyabir”. The driver translated, “Do ‘ya wanna beer?” I had a policy never to refuse gifts, “Sure”, I said. And just like that, I made two new friends. “So, aaah, where ‘ya goin’ from ‘eer?”, the driver asked. It was too complicated to explain, “I just keep heading south as long as the sun’s up…”, I said. They seemed to like that answer. “Well, goo’ luck, man”, the driver said. And then they drove off.
I intersected a slightly more “main” road – it was gravel instead of sand. The trees disappeared, nothing grew higher than my knees, and few things grew even that high. Cabezon Peak was now only a couple miles away – a giant haystack of rock that jutted nearly 2000 vertical feet from the surrounding flatness. It nearly dominated the landscape, it was difficult to look at anything else… actually, there wasn’t much else to look at. Well, there was one thing, Cabezon’s little cousin, 5 miles further down the road. Cerro Cuate was a double crested pyramid not quite as steep as Cabezon, but nearly as high. The two anomalous pedestals looked ancient. Many mountains were old, but the age of these was obvious. How long had they been standing watch? What did they think of the little 2-legged busy creatures that carved straight lines and sucked water out of the ground? We had names for the mountains, but what did they call us?
A high pressure water pipeline ran across the desert, and near Cabezon Peak, it was tapped – a concrete cylinder concealed a double spigot. I flipped one of them open and water blasted out. It’ll do, I thought, and settled in for an extended break. I had plenty of water and a couple funky mountains nearby to contemplate. I’d already hiked 28 miles for the day, so I had no qualms about stopping. I leaned against the concrete cylinder and pulled out some noodles. A sign behind my head read “For Animals Only”. Weren’t we all?
A car pulled up, and a man got out to fill a large plastic container. We exchanged nods and smiles. His wife looked puzzled at my attire and lack of a car. I explained what I was doing. Just before they left, she insisted I take some donuts, “thanks!”, I said. I had to accept the gift. A few minutes passed, and another car pulled up. Two women cautiously approached. I tried to reassure them I was harmless, “I can move if I’m in your way”, I offered. “Oh, no, that’s all right”, one of the women replied. She connected a hose to one of the spigots and began to fill up a huge tank that rested on her trailer. I explained my trip again – I had nearly perfected a quick summary of it. “Oh”, she said, “you never know who you’re going to meet out here”. She’d been living in the desert for about a year. “It’s a little more difficult than living in Alberquerque”, she smiled, “but it’s worth it.” She was steadily falling in love with the desert. “Every morning”, she gloated and looked upward, “I wake up, and it’s my sky”. A sky was something anyone and everyone could own. It was sad that so few ever realized its value.
A truck pulled up, they were the same two men that had given me a beer earlier. My two new friends got out. It was a small world. The woman introduced us, “Oh, these are my cousins, Mono and Whitey”. “Ya, we already met”, I explained. Mono and Whitey? They were real names, not names assigned randomly at birth, but names that were earned somehow. Somehow. Whitey was the rambling mumbler, he stepped out with 3 beers. “Erehavanutaber”, he grunted, and handed me a Budweiser. I slowly realized that Whitey never stopped talking. He didn’t have any shut-off valves, he just continuously sipped beer and rambled incoherently. Most of his comments were questions to me, “yougoinaranz”, he asked. I didn’t understand, “antz”, he repeated a couple times. Still, nothing. “RANTZ!”, he was getting frustrated. “oh, Grants! yes, I’m going to Grants.” I had made a communication breakthrough. “whayagonagotnogetanwoodenywher”, he said. I reassured him that I’d be OK. “ohyagotfederz, yaaaaa, hegafederz”, he laughed and pointed at me. With each passing beer, I understood him more. He was worried that I wouldn’t be able to stay warm at night because there wasn’t enough wood around to make a good fire. Then, he realized that I had a sleeping bag, which he called simply, “feathers”. Mono stood quietly by, enjoying some momentary relief as Whitey was focused on me. They were brothers, and they lived near their cousin, out in the desert somewhere. Whitey’s endless beers seemed to be his medicine. Eventually they would cause him to pass-out, and bring a little peace to Mono.
Another friend of theirs pulled-up, Famous Amos. We chatted about life in the desert. There was another spigot about 40 miles away. I was warned to look out for the reservation indians, “They’re all a bunch a crazy drunks”, Mono said as he cracked open another beer. Famous Amos filled up his tank just as it started to get dark. “ereavsumorber”, Whitey grabbed a couple Budweisers for me from the back of the truck. “It’s ok man, we got about 80 beers back there”, Mono reassured me. Whitey smashed the empty cans and threw them in the back of the truck. We shook hands and went our separate ways. Thusly tanked up, I headed out into the desert, into the darkness, under a speckled night sky. Every star was out, the stars between the stars formed dull white clouds. There were so many of them, it was beautiful, people needed to see it. Yet, people in the cities lit up the nighttime skies with dull artificial lights, preferring a little bit of extra daylight to the glory of the pure night. I walked on with my eyes pointed upward. I saw it all as a puzzle, a key to a deeper understanding of reality. I thought of how miraculous it would be to truly understand the stars, not in human terms, as pin-pricks of light or even as balls of hot gas, but to understand the ultimate why. It made sense to me that people had placed heaven in the sky, but I was certain the true reality of things was far more fantastic than any old superstitions.
I wandered off the road and picked a random sandy spot in the desert. The air was absolutely still. I thought I knew what quiet was, but I quickly discovered true quiet to be far more profound. I concentrated on it. Every noise was removed – no cars, no planes, no wind, no bugs… There was only an occasional distant bark of a frenzied coyote. Then, nothing. No echoes. Cerro Cuate slept over me, a triangular silhouette on the horizon. Two shooting stars simultaneously burned bright with their proper sound of nothing. I felt lucky to be deaf that night.
The sun rose, still without a sound. The peace of the nighttime lingered in long morning shadows. I picked up where I had left off. I was a creature of the sun as much as a lizard or an insect. As I walked down the road, another truck rolled up, “Hey, you want a ride?”. I loved saying no, and I said it with as much conviction and pride as one could transmit with one word. I watched Cerro Cuate slowly turn, each step revealed some new feature in the rock. click to enlarge
The trail rose to another Mesa. It seemed that I’d reached the other side of something. The top of the mesa was forested with dry trees, tired from a summer of hot sun. I continued to follow the road. There was a designated CDT somewhere in the woods, but I had no idea where it went. It wasn’t on any map, I never saw any signs for it. It mattered little though. I had walked on enough trails. The joy was now just in the walking, it didn’t really matter what was under my feet.
I passed a couple hunters. They were hunched over something next to their truck, absorbed in it. I got closer and realized they were sawing into the severed head of an elk, removing the antlers to prove to the authorities that it had been a bull. Giant slabs of bloody flesh hung from the trees nearby, attracting a swarm of ravenous bees. The hunters were tired and didn’t want to talk much. They were sweaty and dirty, dressed in tight jeans and cheap cotton t-shirts that showed-off their bulging beer guts. They’d killed the elk a couple days prior, and had been butchering it ever since. It looked like they hadn’t worked so hard since… well, probably since the last time they’d killed an elk. As the antlers popped loose, blood and brains oozed from the hole they’d cut in the elk’s skull. “Welp, it’s bear food now”, one of them said as he gripped the elk head by the ears and swung it into the bushes near the road. I realized I could never be a hunter, not in my lifetime anyway. The episode made me feel bad about eating meat. I decided it would be a good idea for anyone who ate meat to tour a slaughterhouse at least once. Maybe, someday, I thought, that’s how I’d kick the habit.
A couple hours later, I passed another group of hunters. They were a group of businessmen from Pennsylvania. They’d paid a guide for a week-long elk hunt. They were staying in a huge army tent just off the road, doing their best to avoid “roughing it” too much. I quickly noticed they’d just finished eating, and there was still some food left. I didn’t care anymore about who they were, I was just going to be a slut and beg for table scraps. Thankfully, I didn’t have to break my “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. They asked me where I was headed. I took off my pack as if to stay a while and engaged them in my usual spiel. Then, it came. “Hey we’ve got some extra ham here if you want any”, one of them offered. I did my best to look surprised, but the drool in my eyes probably gave me away. They handed me three huge cuts of the best damn ham I’d ever eaten. I inhaled it like the whore that I was, then finished it off with a liter of purple Gatorade and a couple bananas. I was wasted on food. I’d sold my product and gotten paid. I didn’t feel bad about it though, it was just business. I was no worse than them, all of them.
I thanked the hunters as sincerely as I could, and hit the road again. I wound down to another spring, another lonely oasis at the head of a small canyon. Fresh clear water flowed out of a pipe and into a large concrete tank, built for cows. Wind swept up the canyon, causing the few remaining yellow aspen leaves to shimmer like wind chimes. A few of them landed in the water, floating for a time like miniature lily pads, but doomed for a slow decay amongst the muck at the bottom of the tank. I filled up my water bottles and headed back to the great plateau. click to enlarge
Gnarled pinyons lined the road. I found a spot where the needles had fallen for years and formed a natural soft bed. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I made a dinner anyway. I could never eat enough. I slept absolutely content.
The road continued up the mesa. The rise was so gradual it was almost imperceptible. Huge plains of grass and volcanic rock stretched to the edge of the mesa. Behind me, Cabezon Peak and Cerro Cuate were barely visible through the haze. The mesa ended in a point, Mt. Taylor, hidden by the trees in front of me. I kept looking for Mt. Taylor, it was supposed to be huge… where was it? Eventually I realized I couldn’t see it because I was standing on it. click to enlarge
I got tired of walking on the road, and decided to head into the forest. The work of following a compass needle would at least occupy my mind. I needed that. Additionally, the road followed a circuitous path to the top of Mt. Taylor, I just wanted to get there. My first destination was a notch between small hills – due south. I reached the notch then headed for the next spring, American Canyon Spring. The area before the spring had been recently logged, or at least thinned to reduce fire danger. Small piles of pruned branches were placed alongside a maze of improvised roads… one of the roads was my “trail”, but I didn’t know which. I picked one that headed in the correct general direction, then when it dead-ended, I just kept going. I eventually funneled into American Canyon, and walked up to the head of it. The spring was another pipe, “improved” so the cows couldn’t wreck it. A network of barbed-wire fences kept the cows out. I rested in some shade near the spring and cooked a meal… the day was passing too quickly by.
Back on the road, I spotted a cowboy up ahead, slowly driving a group of ten cows. I hung back and spied on him. My guidebook mentioned there was a corral in a quarter mile, I figured that was where he was headed… no need to rush him. The cows were fairly obedient, obviously unaware of the fate that ultimately awaited them. Occasionally, one made a half-hearted attempt to wander off, but was quickly reigned-in. The cowboy spoke to the cows, “Hiyaaaa!… hip, hip, hip…”, and swatted at them with a coiled lasso. He rode his horse like a pro, it almost seemed like he was the horse. He reached the corral and guided the cows inside. One wandered off, but it had no place to go. It just sat in the trees until the rest of the herd was in the corral, then the cowboy went to go get it. I walked up to the cowboy and congratulated him on a job well done, artistically done. He smiled at me. Half his teeth were missing. “Man, I a been drivin’ dem cow all da way up from down in willa canyon”, he shook his head in relief. I had no idea where Willow Canyon was, but it seemed like a long way. “Well, the hard part of your day is done.”, I said. “Ya..”, he sighed. I had the feeling that he liked the hard part of his day the best. He did something he loved, it could never be too hard.
The terrain gradually steepened. It had been while since I’d climbed anything. Mt. Taylor was starting to feel more like a mountain, although I still couldn’t see the top. I could see that the terrain was changing, the trees were older and statlier, the meadows were more alpine, though still brown. The wind was picking up. I finally came to a ridge that extended into a semicircle of summits, the highest was the top of Mt. Taylor, still 1000 feet above. Below, was what looked like an ancient volcanic caldera, complete with a cinder cone, all covered in forest. The southeast side of the caldera was missing, allowing the water to drain into a canyon below.
I walked along the ridge, up to the first summit, La Mosca. It was covered with radio antennas of all shapes and sizes. I walked up to a square concrete and metal lookout tower, which rested on the very top. It seemed that most of New Mexico was visible. To the west, a giant flat expanse gave way to rolling mountains on the horizon – it was the divide, which I hadn’t walked on since Colorado. To the east, was the valley of the Rio Grande, the trickle of water I’d stepped across 500 miles back. To the south, partially hidden behind the top of Mt. Taylor, was more dark flatness… The lava fields of El Malpias, my next destination. But first, I had one final peak to climb. click to enlarge
The trail to the top of Mt. Taylor was well maintained. It wound across a steep open hillside, then through an old forest. The elevation created another world. There were big trees which would have seemed more at home in northern Montana than central New Mexico. They existed on an island, surrounded by hundreds of miles of inhospitable hot dry and flat sandy soil. They were a testament to the dogged determination of their species.
I reached the top of Mt. Taylor, 11,301 feet, at 6:15pm. The sun was just setting. The lights of Grants to the south, and Alberquerque to the east were just beginning to shine, like fragile glimmering nets. A mailbox was stashed under some rocks near the top. Inside the mailbox was a fat notebook, the summit register. I found a place to camp, sheltered from the wind by thick trees. I snuggled into my sleeping bag, flipped-on my headlamp, and read the summit register – cover to cover.
It was a different kind of summit register. Most mountains were climbed with quite a deal of effort by a small number of people who’d climbed many mountains. Mt. Taylor was an easy mountain to climb, and it was climbed by all kinds of people who had never climbed any other mountain. Everyone went up Mt. Taylor it seemed. The entries in the register spoke for them. There were some who simply listed the facts – names, times, and dates. Some added descriptions of the weather. Many of the entries lamented “I am SOOOO tired, I can’t believe I made it!”. A lot of the people attempted to describe the view and the natural beauty around them. Some people saw the view as proof there must have been a God. Some were just excited to be there, “My first time on top of a mountain, yipee!!!!”. A few entries were from native americans who saw Mt. Taylor as a sacred mountain, and had climbed it as a spiritual journey. A couple people thought that an old mining prospect – a 6-foot hole dug into the summit – was a volcanic crater. A lot of people used the occasion to get even higher, “4:20 man, I’m so stoned!” Then there were a group of entries from people in drug re-hab, “It feels so good to be this high without drugs.” A lot of people made doodles and drawings – most of them poor interpretations of a nearby broken tree… There was a great entry from a 78-year-old man, “I’ll be back in 22 years”, he wrote. There were a bunch of poems, a few famous quotes repeated, a couple page-long philosophical ramblings, and a couple completely nonsensical prose. I was excited to find one page filled with entries from Drew, John and Mario. They’d climbed Mt. Taylor the previous May. It seemed they’d gotten separated on the way to the top. Drew and John had chided each other about it in the register. Mario’s entry was in Dutch. When I finished reading everything, I made my entry, “Climb one mountain and you’ll swear there’s a God, climb hundreds and you’ll swear there’s something even greater.”
The trail continued down the other side of the mountain – the side that most people climbed up. In the early morning, I passed a man who was scouting the territory for an upcoming elk hunt. He planned to meet his daughter, who was also scouting, on top of the mountain. He was from California, but had hunted all over the world. He told me that he had just cancelled a trip to Russia to shoot a bear. “Those Russians didn’t want my wife to come along, so I told them to just forget it. She’s probably a better shot than any of those guys too…”, he boasted. It seemed he was on a mission to shoot a couple of each species of large hoofed mammal on the planet – kind of like Noah in reverse. I wondered if he’d ever shot a cow.
The trail ended in a trailhead parking area about 1500 feet below the summit. I had no idea where to go next. My map and guidebook showed an old road leading south from the trailhead. I couldn’t find it. Frustrated, I just headed south into the woods. I almost wanted to get lost, just so I could have the thrill of discovering where I was. I decided to make up my own alternate route – the fastest way I could get to Grants. I headed down Lobo Canyon, which seemed like an obvious way to go… I wondered why the trail wasn’t routed there. A very old forest road, covered with fallen trees, led the way down. I was just about to congratulate myself when I came to a barbed wire fence with a glaring sign, “NO TRESSPASSING – PRIVATE PROPERTY”. The sign appeared to really mean it. There were all kinds of warnings about prosecution and fines… I wasn’t about to go back up the canyon though. Screw those people, I thought, why hadn’t they put the sign further up the canyon? I hopped over the fence and continued down the road, ready to jump into the bushes and hide at any moment.
I was just beginning to think I was in the clear when the forest gave way to large open area. A dumpy house, the yard littered with junk, was just ahead. The road was elevated, visible from almost anywhere. I just figured I’d be sneaky, and hope for the best. I felt naked on the road as I tip-toed past the house. All of a sudden, some dogs inside the house exploded like crazed canine lunatics. My only hope was that they were locked inside. I heard a couple voices from the other side of a small hill. I figured I was screwed for sure, that they were going to feed me to the dogs, and no one would ever know. I just kept walking. By some miracle, the people never came to check on the dogs… perhaps the dogs cried wolf too often. I wound around a corner, out of sight of the house.
The private property contained an area enclosed by a 10-foot high fence. It was a private elk-hunting ranch. It seemed odd to me that people would pay top dollar to shoot a caged elk, but apparently they did. I saw a couple of the elk – bulls with giant racks. I wondered how anyone could ever proudly display the mounted heads over their fireplace, “Yup, I shot that bull in a cage in New Mexico, back in 2001”. I thought maybe I should pick up a mount of a cow head someday, “Yup, I ate that cow at McDonalds back in 1993.”
I crossed out of the private property by jumping over a large padlocked metal road-gate. A hundred yards later, I hit pavement. Oh well, pavement and traffic it was, the rest of the way to Grants. Cars flew by every few minutes, most of them filled with camouflaged hunters, headed to and from the Mt. Taylor area. I passed a group of hunters parked near the road. They were shooting at targets, tweaking their scopes. I passed a prison, just outside the town. A couple extremely bored-looking prisoners stared at me through 3 layers of chain-link and razor-wire fencing. I wondered what they thinking… What would they do when they got out? if they ever got out? Would anyone who had not been in prison really understand what they’d gone through? click to enlarge
I stopped by the Forest Service office, just outside of town. There were brochures about the CDT inside, but nobody there knew much about it. I found a cheap hotel room – there were plenty in Grants, $19 for a single room. I took a shower, laid on the bed, and tried to process everything that was swirling through my head.
Grants was spread-out. A mile to the post office, a mile the other direction to the Walmart… I quickly started to hate it. I questioned if anyone ever implemented urban planning, or if it was only studied in school as an academic concept. I visited the post office and met a nice woman behind the counter who knew all about the CDT. Postal employees were almost always excited about the CDT, they met all the hikers and often became infected with the groove.
The next morning, I was at the laundromat dressed only in nylon pants, temporarily washing the stink and dirt from my other articles of clothing, when a man approached me. He was curious about my backpack. I told him what I was doing, and he told me he was reporter for the local paper. He asked if he could write a short story about me. I was glad to help. He later offered to drive me to the Walmart so I could buy more food. He had a new puppy, which sat nervously in my lap while we drove off. I asked him how he wound up in Grants, “well, it’s just temporary…”, he explained. It wasn’t a very pleasant story – something about an ex-wife and telling his old boss to shove it. He told me his new philosophy, “If you want a friend, get a dog… if you want sex, get a video.”, or was it the other way around… In a place like Grants, one could never be sure.
In order to continue down the trail, I had to cross all the way back across town, 2 miles to the post office, then a couple more to a dirt road. Along the way, I slipped and fell on some loose asphalt. My top-heavy pack twisted me so that I landed in the middle of the road. Luckily, I had timed my fall with a lull in the traffic. If a car had been coming, I’d have been run over. It was the closest I’d come to death on the entire trip.