Sunday, December 8, 2013

Grants to Pie Town, New Mexico: CDT 2013 (November 9-13, 2013)

 Just south of Grants New Mexico is an area called "El Malpais." The word in Spanish means "the badlands." For us hikers, it also means walking over lava fields filled with sharp volcanic rocks.  When I entered El Malpais back in mid November, I was hiking in sort of a meditative trance. Just moving, thinking about little, not really absorbing my surroundings. The CDT travels over a trail called the Zuni Acoma Trail. At the days end, I would learn just how special the walk was, although I didn't know it at the time.

 The trail is not simply 7.5 miles over the lava fields, but has been a route that humans have traveled and used for centuries. The pueblos of the Zuni and the Acoma used the trail as a trade route over a thousand years ago. Rock cairns that lead the way across the lava are said to be hundreds of years old. There still exist rock bridges that the Zuni and Acoma created, (rocks stuffed into crevices) that allow the traveler to safely cross large gaps or cracks in the lava.
 While midway across the lava field, I was humming a song to myself. Suddenly, a couple of day hikers appeared.
"I thought I heard another person out here!" A woman said, as she appeared from under a rock formation.
"Hi!" I said, "Sorry for the bad singing! How far are you headed?" I asked.
"Just a little ways further," she replied.
"You've got several more miles of this stuff to get through to get to the other side," I said somewhat negatively as I gestured to all the lava rock and thorny bushes.
"Yeah, but isn't it beautiful?" the woman asked.
"Um yeah, your right, it is beautiful." I responded. Immediately I snapped out of the hiking daze I was in and immediately regretted my tone in my previous comment.
After saying our goodbyes, I tried harder to appreciate my surroundings.

 Not long after, I came to a spot on the trail where I could see ice inside a small cave. I imagined a young Indian breaking off some of the ice and eating it like a popsicle as he traveled across the bone dry trail. I was tempted to do it myself but was already carrying a gallon of water. I was pleased to later learn that the Ancestral Puebloans actually melted and stored ice that existed and still exists in the caves year round in pottery jars and they cached the water for later use.

La Ventana Arch

 At the day's end, I look for a place to camp. At this point in the hike, good campsites are intuitive. I come to a spot that just feels right. As I set up camp, I notice pottery shards nearby. Once again, I am pleased to know that the ancient people also thought this was a good spot. I instantly feel connected and not as lonesome as a result. I gather a few pieces of the pottery and take a few photos and return the pieces to their current resting places. I wonder about the humans who once held the plates or jars that I am now holding a thousand years later? What were they like? What did they talk about? How was life in the lava fields?

 As I drift off to sleep, I can hear cars moving down one of the highways nearby. Nature is filled with spots like the one I am now camped in. Places that feel right, a niche for humans to dwell. Places to live, or rest, or cook, or whatever. In our fast paced world, it is so easy to drive past the places I found myself in, never knowing of their existence. In the fast paced world of thru hiking, it is also easy to walk past powerful places like this one and never see them again, and never really experience them.

 The next day, rejuvenated by an excellent night's sleep, I continue down the CDT. Knowing there were once people living here long ago, and knowing that traces of their culture still exists in the sands and canyons of the area fills me with excitement and anticipation. I walk past an area that once again, just feels right. I look down into the sand and am shocked to see another piece of pottery lying right next to a jeep road. One more rainstorm and several pieces of broken pottery would most likely be lying in the middle of the road ready to be crushed by an oncoming vehicle. How strange to see the old and the new, once again coexisting. I follow the pottery trail up to a cliff side where there are pieces scattered everywhere. I am afraid to walk for fear of stepping on an artifact. It feels surreal. I take a few more photos and try to imagine the camp as it existed a thousand years ago. I can't help but move the pieces of pottery off and away from the road.
Wouldn't it be wild if this were a solar calendar of some sort?
Puebloan stone house said to be over 800 years old. Recent renovations have been made on the structure.
 How cool that the desert has preserved these artifacts allowing one to travel in time it seems. I am reluctant to leave the area as I wish I could spend the rest of my days exploring the countryside. But my food supply is low and I must continue walking south for any hope of finishing the trail.  As I consider the weight upon my back, I have much respect for the people who were able to live in the area, off the land, without all of our modern conveniences.

At this point, New Mexico, "The Land of Enchantment," was beginning to establish itself into my psyche...

1 comment:

  1. Great writing. Nice perspective on finding all the pottery shards.

    Happy to see an absence of snow on this segment!