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Ghost Ranch to Cuba

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 dry.

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 Colorado.

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 that one.

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. click to enlarge

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 him.


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