CDT day 17: hermits pottery and old stone houses

May 21
Mileage 30
368.5 miles from Mexico

The night is black and still and I have sad dreams about people living lonely lives and wake once in the middle of the night to stare at the thick darkness of the trailer, wondering what its narrow halls have seen. Mostly, though, I sleep. Sweet, sweet sleep.

I wake at six, dawn coming in through the dusty white curtains, some fabric I don’t know the name of. Didn’t we used to know the names of the fabrics? The parts of animals? The contours of the landscape? Didn’t we used to have more words?

I don’t know why I was afraid to hike alone. Boredom, mostly, I guess- I was afraid it would be boring, and that the boredom would grow intolerable. But today I’m not bored- today I feel great! I walk the dirt road under the wind-blown blue sky twirling my trekking poles. I’m happy. I’m a little creature, walking over the land.

The roadwalk is flat and pounding but since we live in a merciful universe it eventually peters out into a faint jeep track cutting through the sandy desert, linking remote windmill-powered cow tank to remote windmill-powered cow tank. Cows! I go where the cows go. And actually, I have found the CDT desert to be much less harsh than the PCT desert, on account of all the water that is here for the cows. Sure, sometimes the pump is off and you have to drink directly from the tank, and that water is comically bad, but I don’t mind. It’s funny, really. Look at this gross shit I’m drinking! It’s brown and/or green and/or has dead animals in it! We should be so lucky, to have such stories to tell.

All day I leapfrog with a hiker named Josh, who is in his thirties and works as a teacher to support his hiking habit. Josh carries a battered REI daypack which he slings over one shoulder. The back of his neck is sunburnt. He tells me about the hermit who lives in the Gila river canyon.

“He’s been down there for seventeen years. He goes to town just once a year.”

“Wow,” I say.

“That’s my retirement plan, I think,” says Josh.

Josh finds a couple of shards of Anasazi pottery in the dirt. They fit together, and have a pattern. This is just the coolest thing. Then the trail, which has become a cow path winding through lovely, remote Cebolla canyon, passes by a Pueblo stone house from 1200 A.D., situated just so in a wash where there once was a spring. The doors and windows of the house are gone but one could totally camp inside, if one needed shelter from a storm. Nearby there are some petroglyphs on a rock. This canyons are so full of history, it’s magical.

Speaking of storms, all day thunder booms, the clouds pile up, the wind blows, and then the sun comes out again. Over and over. Sun/thunder/sun/thunder/sun. It threatens rain but never does. At the end of the day I’m walking along the highway towards El Malpais and the wind picks up for real, battering the yellow grass. In the distance I can see the edges of the hardened lava blobs from long ago, now spotted with trees and things, that we’ll walk over tomorrow. I scoot under a barbed-wire fence and make my way to that. At the edges of the blob are lots of nooks and crannies and half-caves, and eventually I find a leafy clearing, sheltered on three sides by magma, where there is not a breath of wind. You can tell that the animals come here, there are lots of trampled spots in the grass. Above the lava you can hear the wind howling, but not here.

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