Ghost Ranch left me with a repository of
positive energy I felt I could draw on the rest of the trip. I'd needed the
recharge. The distracting vistas of Colorado were gone. More than ever I was
relying on my dream to motivate me. Ghost Ranch reminded me that following that
dream was a wonderful thing, a noble thing. Perhaps, it was the only thing. I
didn't need to hike because of any outward pressure, the only pressure I needed
was within, that pressure was my fuel and it was far from going
A car passed me, "We're headed to Chama, if you
need a ride...", they offered. But, I'd already been to Chama, I could never go
back, it would have been too distracting. There was only one direction - ahead.
I walked past a myriad of desert plants, all labeled and categorized for, and
perhaps by, the inquisitive visitors of Ghost Ranch. I tried to remember the
names of the plants, but I had no use for names, and they quickly became
forgotten, just brief memories. I passed the "Ghost Ranch Living Museum", an
operation run by some government agency, not by the Ghost Ranch. The displays
outside showed how responsible managed grazing could be sustained in the
desert. The inside of the museum was closed. I walked across the empty parking
lot, across the nearby highway, and toward the Rio Chama, the river I'd last
crossed as a bit of mud that oozed from a lake near the divide, back in
I noticed a couple mini-vans ahead on the road.
One of them stopped. A woman got out, picked up some trash, then got back in
the van. The van soon passed me. "Hi, I didn't know this is where you were
headed!", the driver commented. The people in the van were some women that I'd
met at Ghost Ranch. I told the one woman that I'd seen her picking up trash,
"That absolutely made my day!", I said. She explained that she had heard about
me, how I'd picked up cans earlier, and she wanted to help just a little bit. I
couldn't believe it. The previous day, I had made some comment to someone in
the Ghost Ranch cafeteria about the cans. They'd actually listened? They'd
actually repeated the story? Someone actually took an interest in it and acted
on it? It was a feeling I had never remembered having - a feeling that I had
some small part to play in the human equation, it felt good.
I soon passed another group of women returning
to their parked vans. They were out looking at the Rio Chama, collecting dried
plants as if they were valuable natural sculptures. I had met them at the Ghost
Ranch as well, and we had an impromptu reunion of sorts. We hadn't expected to
see each other again, and were determined to make the second good-bye a proper
one. Their excitement about everything was infectious.
I continued following the road above the Rio
Chama. The water had cut a deep canyon into the rock, exposing the colorful
history that was usually hidden by the topsoil. The river was a cloudy blue
stream, 40 yards wide and 5 feet deep. It seemed like so much water, but I knew
most of it would never see the ocean, instead it would flow into a reservoir in
order to be lapped up by the insatiable humans. Sometimes, it was hard to
remember exactly how many people were actually out there, the Rio Chama gave
some measure of the multitudes.
A few miles later, I crossed the river and
headed up a side canyon. I was back on a trail, it was actually marked as the
"CDT". I walked through a scrubby forest of Pinyon and Juniper, the earth
between the trees was mostly just rocky soil. But, it was rich soil. A close
inspection showed that every nook behind every pebble was playing some small
part of an elaborate production. There were few places anywhere on the earth
completely devoid of life.
The only other prints in the sandy soil were
that of a small bear. Occasionally, I passed piles of bear scat that were
almost pure Juniper berries. I'd never considered the berries edible by
anything, they simply seemed too pungent. But everything was a part of
something else's niche, everything had a use. I took a break under some of the
trees, leaned back on my pack and cooked a meal. Birds softly squawked and
flitted among the trees, crickets rubbed their wings, the water trickled nearby
as a faucet pouring into a pond, and always, the wind brushed the trees. What a
magical symphony it was. I knew so little.
The trail followed a small stream up a slender
canyon. I crossed over the gentle trickle a dozen times. The water seemed so
little, so young and fresh. But, it was an old stream, it had been carving its
home for thousands of years, patiently moving the earth to the sea. Its
apparent innocence was but a deception. The trail left the stream, and climbed
a thousand feet up the canyon, up to the plateau above. The short section of
marked "CDT" ended, I followed a quiet forested road instead.
I found a place to camp under some tall
ponderosa pines. The wind brushed through the tops of the trees, a lullaby more
potent than any human melody of notes and pauses. The needles of the ponderosa
pine were long and soft. Those underneath me had built up for decades,
centuries, possibly. I slunk into my sleeping bag, the most comfortable person
on the planet, the fresh air rejuvenated my every fiber with each deep breath.
Sleep was a wonderful thing.
All morning, the "squeaky wheel" birds (as I
called them) sung to me from within the trees as I walked down old roads. The
world felt like a clean cartoon, I was the smiling and whistling main
character, who had not a care in the world. I crossed another paved road, a
couple cars whizzed by. "Let them do what they will", I said to myself. I
reached another barbed-wire fence.
Jumping barbed wire fences was something of an
acquired skill, and I was getting better at it. But, it seemed, I always
managed to snag something. The lopsided weight of my pack made things more of a
challenge, as did the fact that not all fences were equally built. It seemed
like overkill to me, why even put barbs on the wire? It seemed that twine would
be enough to fence-in the stupid cows. Some of the fences didn't have barbs on
the top and bottom wires... good, I thought, somebody was thinking. I wondered
if there was a national organization of barbed-wire fence stringers... there
probably was. People had probably written books on barbed wire, people had
probably collected all kinds of it, there was probably a barbed-wire museum
someplace. What a silly thing to love.
I slowly rose higher into the gentle mountains.
I got high enough to enter another wilderness area - San Pedro Parks. I passed
a couple pot-bellied hunters from Atlanta. They hadn't found anything to shoot.
They asked me if I had parked near their car, and if so, "where was it"? When I
told them for the second time that I'd walked there from Canada, I saw them try
and put their arms around it. "Man, we walked about 5 miles today and I thought
that was a lot", one of them said. "Well, it's not as hard as it seems", I told
them, and as usual they assumed I was just being kind, not serious. I
was being serious though, "I guess it's all a matter of priorities", I
explained, "People often forget that they are animals too, and formidable ones
at that. Most of us have it within us to a hike like this." They were most
surprised that I could do without TV for so long. I didn't know how to answer
I came across a hunter's elk bugle, laying on
the side of the trail. It was a 2-foot bendable-plastic tube with a mouthpiece
at one end, all wrapped with a camouflage cloth. I picked it up and gave it a
blow. It sounded nothing like an elk, more like a man blowing through a plastic
tube. I was pretty sure I was doing it right... There really was only one way
to do it. I took it with me in case I should have met whoever had dropped it. I
was fairly certain they weren't going to come back for it.
I reached the tops of the mountains again, just
over 10,000 feet. The earth touched the sky. Huge parks of brown grass
stretched for miles, separated by patches of evergreen forest. Small creeks of
clear water snaked down the centers of the parks. I thought of all the people
who would see that place in human terms - a place to hunt, a place to ranch, a
place to hike. Maybe if they looked long enough, they would see it another way.
A golden eagle floated above the grass, unaware that it was free. Unaware even
of the concept of freedom. I saw it all in the earth's terms - it wasn't a
place to do anything, it was just a place to be.
In the larger measure of things, the parks were
brief. I followed one of the streams downhill, where it became a steep forested
canyon. I finally camped near the rushing stream. I was just holding on to the
place, holding on to the idea. Another town was just ahead, another clump of
people and filth. I wondered, for how long would they make a mess of the world?
When would they all care?
I quickly reached an empty trailhead. I
followed a road down the hill and slowly, the humanity took over. First, it was
just a couple signs, then some telephone wires, discarded styrofoam cups and
bits of metal. Then the homes passed by - chain-link fences with insane barking
dogs. There were homes with junk piled about - stacks of old pipes - one whole
yard of old water-heaters... somebody's idea of a business? Most homes had at
least a couple stripped cars sitting in the front yard. The grass growing
through them showed that they had been touched for years. Many of the homes
were in poor repair; peeling paint, crumbling decks held together rotting wood
and exposed rusty nails, aluminum siding halfway completed... or halfway
removed. The one thing new on most of the homes were small satellite TV dishes.
I'd never seen better examples of "junkies". Didn't people care? I wondered.
Didn't all that crap just drive them nuts? I passed by a yard littered with
broken and bleached plastic children's toys, and saw a new SUV parked in the
driveway - Sheriff. The person wasn't getting arrested, it was the Sheriff's
home. It answered my question. No, they didn't care.
Cuba was a depressing place. The people walked
with a slow mosey - directionless and fat, with sagging eyes and half-opened
mouths. I saw more mullets in Cuba than any person should see in a lifetime.
The people didn't care, they'd given up. They'd given up on the land, given up
on themselves, and given up on the poor Rio Puerco which ran through the town.
The Rio Puerco was filled with every type of junk imaginable. The murky water
stank. All of Cuba seemed to be in a collective funk, the people seemed more
concerned with the pretty pictures on their television screens than the filth
under their feet.
There were a couple lights trying to shine
through in Cuba. But it seemed just a matter of time before they'd be either
driven out or overcome. I gave the elk bugle to the postmaster, who was excited
about his hunting prospects the coming weekend and lost in a dream of the
grassy mountainsides far above town. "Isn't it beautiful up there?", he asked.
On the way out of town, I stopped by the BLM office. A nice man inside knew
exactly where I was headed - the desert to the south - and marked all the
possible water sources on my maps. "Good luck!", he told me, "I wish I was
going out there with you.". He loved it out there, he'd been overcome by the
desert, not the town. I wondered where his fate would ultimately take