The chore of discovery
A bicycle chronicle
Welcome to New Mexico the land of enchantment. For 10,000 years and more, people lived on this land, the Ancient Ones. Who were they? How did they live? What would they say, if they could see my bicycle, my polyester shorts, 8% spandex?
There is a storm coming, a big one. The wind is already blowing me side ways. Sometimes my saddle bags catch a big gust, and stop me dead in my tracks. My newly chosen route is south of the mountains and away from the higher elevations. I found a short cut on the map. I’ll save a day, maybe two.
The recommended bike route goes through some beautiful mountain passes. The Gila cliff dwellings, the houses of the Ancient Ones, are only a day’s side trip. The weather man promises a foot of snow in the higher elevations. I’ll take the boring low road. Away from my one planed side trip, away from the snow, away from history.
By evening the storm starts to grow. What are the little white things falling from the sky? They sure sting my face. I know it’s not hail, hail falls down, this stuff is blowing sideways.
The map doesn’t show my short cut as a gravel road for 90 miles. I can’t take a gravel road for two days, not on a fully loaded bike. I’m turning back, back to the main road.
On a pitch black moonless night, I’m pedaling north into a violent wind storm. The rain is coming harder now.
The ancient Ones made it. They had no rip stop nylon. How will I pitch my tent in this wind? What did the Ancient Ones eat on a night like this? I have a can of beans. My multi fuel camp stove doesn’t burn well in a gale. The Ancient Ones lived their whole lives without nylon rain pants. Were they warm and dry on a night like this?
A side road leading to a sand quarry, and I’m off the highway. I see a hill and some tall grass fenced off from the rest of the quarry. Looks like my campground. Maybe I can get out of sight, and find shelter from the howling wind.
With a mighty effort, I drag my loaded bike over a sand mound, past the gate, and into the unused area. The view of Elpaso is spectacular from this ridge. Like a city sized snake, the lights follow the other side of the Rio Grand. A puff of wind powerful enough to push me brings the urgency of finding shelter back to mind.
Those 50’ high rocks were not visible from the road. They sure are in the right place to block the wind. The rain lets up just long enough for me to pitch my tent. I’ve found a sandy spot next to some wind blocking rocks. There is brush, tall grass, and thorn bushes all around. I should be safe from prying eyes. My sandy spot is not the low spot, I wont get flooded during the night.. I’m not so close to the cliff a falling rock will hit me.
Did the Ancient Ones know something I don’t? I’m a long way from the cozy warm isle at Walmart, where the choice between red and blue seemed so important. As I pound the last tent stake into the ground, the rain returns, harder than before.
I’ve got some of those damn fruit bars, and some peanut butter. Just incase I couldn’t cook dinner in a storm. What were the Ancient Ones doing on a night like this? Were they toasty warm, snug next to a fire? Nice bit of jack rabbit roasting on a stick? Did the Ancient Ones consider the tempest a normal part of life, nothing to worry about?
The Ancient Ones had no synthetic sleeping bags. I wish I knew how to live my life without Walmart. They did, for 10,000 years. As I drift off to sleep, the sleep of a person who pedaled 14 hours into a gale force wind, I dream of the ancients.
I should get up. It’s getting light out. A dream stage sweep through the night before tells me I'm safe here. I searched far into the night for a place to make camp. I haven't slept past first light in weeks. My sleeping bag is warm, the only coddle I'm going to get.
As the vission of the flute playing cliff drawing gives way, to the sound of a diesel powered quarry truck, I unzip and roll out. I didn't see that house last night, And it's only 50 feet away. My eyes focus. Three of the four corners of this adobe house have crumbled back to the earth from which they came.
With the light I see that I'm in a small aryo. I've spent the night in a small bottle neck canyon. The narrow entrance is guarded by a hundreds of years old crumbled house. From all sides it looks like a grass covered hill. Inside the cliffs are 50 feet high, solid rock. A few shallow caves about half way up the rock walls make natural cliff dwellings. The natural shelter isn't big enough for an entire tribe. I'm in a 10,000 year old camp ground.
20 steps out of the arroyo, the wind blows my hat off. As I turn to pick it up, I take one last look. all I see is a grassy hill. Welcome to New Mexico, land of enchantment.