In the footsteps of the Anastazi / Anasazi

                 "scenes from the Rio Cuervo in New Mexico on November 11th 2005"



One of the single most dangerous things you can do in the valley is
spend the night.  It is November and the weather is now changing with cool days 
and cold freezing nights.  All of my ranch buddies are either out of town or don't 
think a night in the wilderness is a good idea.  I know that with every passing day 
the weather alone will prohibit an all night stay.  

My first choice of places to spend the night is the big water fall.  This is truly 
a magical place that has thousands of years of people just like me being there.  
It is a civilized place of sorts as it is the focus of lives, year after year living 
in its water shed and fertile valley below.  It overlooks several ruins, the place I 
call the palace and even the cliff dwelling can be seen with the naked eye across the 
great valley bottoms it surveys.

The idea of spending the night and not being in that saddle that shows a magical sky 
that is so filled with stars the dipper is lost in the brightest milky way these eyes 
have ever seen.

The reason the big water fall was out of the question was that just a couple of weeks 
prior a massive flash flood 6 feet deep and 125 feet wide raced through the 10 mile 
valley hitting the dirt dam at the foot of the big fall splitting it and gouging out 
a new gorge 50 feet deep in places and 30 feet wide.  This new gorge now cuts the only 
passable road leading to the fall and all parts north.  

So if I was to spend the night it would be in a new area that I had not been to.  
It would also be south of the falls.  The prospect of spending a night in the cold 
in a new area would require much planning on my part.  Being on the obsessive compulsive 
side I began the planing of the pack.  

I would use a full Himalaya type pack with a sleeping bag mounted to the top of the 
frame.  I had just had extensive oral surgery and would need to have much water for 
flushing.  I have a satellite phone in my pack.  As for food just a can of soup some 
slices of turkey and cheese along with some Atkins protein bars.  Two guns.  My side 
arm (sig 226) with hi-cap mags and a derringer 45LC/410 for close quarter bear attack.  
My fixed blade knife is a Mission MPK titanium.  Of course I have a multi tool in my pack.  
A host of first aid along with a lot of the sanitize wipes.  Just two of the chem/lights 
along with a sure fire flash lite.  Lots of disposable towels and toilet paper is a 
necessity at times.  I always carry lots of fire starting capability as well.  In the 
hummer I always have three days of food and a real medical kit with just about every 
emergency tool you can think of.  When I was ready my pack weighed in at 40 pounds.  

As I approached the only spot in the Cuervo that can be used by a vehicle it occurred 
to me what if it rains?  It would be impossible to return the following day with the 
Cuervo flooded and the new gorge to the north.  This was my first notion that somehow 
I had lead myself into a risky position.  The first decision was "Do I spend the night 
on the wild side of the Cuervo in the shadow of Preita and take my chances on rain?  
Or play it safe?"  I crossed my Rubicon.  Now to find the place to spend the night 
before it gets to late to travel.  I had long wanted to explore a maze of canyons 
all connected by a great gorge running from the east narrowing westwardly to the 
transitionary geology at the foot of preita.  I knew there was an Anasaza ruin far 
to the west in the canyon as I had once visited it. I knew that there would be
a hunting area at the end of the maze of canyons and a water fall.  This would be
a good place to see the world at night.

I had outfitted my hummer with a solar lamp on the rear so I could spot it in
the dark.  This is just a converted lawn lamp but in an emergency I could spot
the car in the dark.  You can think of this area as a Christmas tree.  At
the tip would be a water fall and each of the canyons or branches got bigger
the further from the tip you got.  The broad base with the long canyons 
reaching out to the north and south would be where I would place the car.
I drove up the trunk of the large canyon and took the first branch to the south.
I found a spot where I could place the rear of the hummer toward the direction
of the tip of the canyon.  In this way the solar lamp mounted on the roof
tire rack would face the tip of the canyon where I would be.  I could see 
up the canyon to the tip was about three horizontal miles.  There would be
the narrow transition from desert floor to high mesa.  The three miles would
be about six climbing up down and around each gorge or branch.  

In the picture above you can see the hummer in the distance.  I am at the
first branch off to the south and had to climb to the top of that mesa
to avoid a very deep gnarly gorge.  I was comfortable climbing and walking
with my heavy pack and that alarmed me.  I knew it would freeze that 
evening and it must be colder than I expected to not be hot with the
pack and gear.  After a couple of hours I had reached the head of the
canyon.  To my surprise there was no water fall just a settling pond
about 40 feet wide at the end of a vertical water shed of large
volcanic boulders.  As I expected there were several petroglyps on the
boulders.  Some talked of hunting elk in the area and others were art.
They looked to be 1.5 thousand year variety.  This was indeed a
special place.  It was about 4:30 and I still had not found where
to spend the night.  

The thinking is:  Cats! Bears! Insects, snakes in that order!  I saw a
small mesa that was about 40 feet high with a 50x50 square foot top.
It had a rock outcrop at the top overlooking the water hole and the
entire gorge from the tip where I was to the far end where the car
was.  Looked perfect! I climbed up with a rope attached to my pack 
which I pulled up the rocks behind me.  The top was not as flat
as I had planned and had a 10x10 area of rock overlooking the water
hole and valley.  The sun was going down and I had to get all the
fire wood I could up to my level.  Lots of dead trees from the bark
beetle that had been through last year and killed all the pine.
By this time the sun was dropping behind preita and dark was covering
the valley below.  Suddenly I realized... I could not leave my small
mesa as the dark was a killer for me and my pack.  Without realizing
it, I had committed to this spot for the duration of darkness.  I was
surprised how hot the fire burned and how fast the wood was eaten by 
the flames. I would have to forage for more wood many times before
this night would end.  

To my great disappointment we had a half moon and some cloud cover.
I would not see that great sky which was the primary reason I found
myself alone on top of a rock with barely enough space to stretch
my legs out.  I then noticed that if any animal was to approach me
from the rear of my mesa I would have to through myself into the
dark abyss below and surely die.  This fact along with the fire
taking more wood then It looked like I would have gave me great
pause and discomfort.  Speaking of discomfort I found that I could
not spread my sleeping bag as there was not enough room between
rocks and fire.  Hum! I now knew that this would be an interesting
and sleepless night.  For an old guy with advanced degrees,
I was now beginning to doubt the smarts of my folly.  

I searched for a large trunk of a tree to use for my sleep log.  By
that I mean... the fire required new wood every 20 mins.. With a
good fat log I could get maybe as much as 45 mins. of sleep before
the freezing air woke me.  I also spread branches behind me so that
any animal coming up from behind would give me some warning as to
when to throw myself to my death.  

I fell asleep and awoke to the most marvelous starry sky anyone has
every seen.  The moon was gone and the clouds had moved.  There 
it was! You could see satellites streaking their way across the 
heaven and passing the great milky way.  Wow! This made it all
worth it.  Then I realized what had caused me to wake up.  Coyotes!
Screaming, crying, howling coyotes.  They had come up the canyon
and were at the base of my mesa just raising a dickens.  I felt
that they wanted to get to the water hole but me and my fire
would not let them pass.  So they came to complain.  They spent
about 10 mins. complaining then cut between the next mesa and
me to the next canyon north.  I went back to my great sky.  Now
a new heard of animals were here complaining.  It was the burros.
They like the coyotes came to the bottom of my mesa and snorted,
spit and bayed then moved between the mesas to disappear to the
next canyon over.  This routine happened every half hour for the
next two hours.  Like clockwork they would come and go.  About
2 am it was the Elk.  They would call for miles.  You would
hear one close by then others would answer all over the area.
I was not alone.

It was plain that my fire which I kept strong could be seen and
smelled through out the area.  Now my worst fears became realized.
I saw headlights on the road at the end of the canyon in the 
area I had left the road and my car.  The headlights were taking
the same course I had taken to the foot of the canyon.  They had
seen my fire and were heading my way.  They would see my car!
Next I saw a hand carried light moving near where my car would be.
I had not considered at all.... People!  Bears, Cats yes, but
people... no!  It was rare ever to see a person on this 600 square
miles of fenced ranch during the day.  What are the chances
over night in a freeze.  But there they were.  Someone was on
their way to me checking out the fire that light the tip of
this canyon.  Who? Why? and what would they do to my car?  Suddenly
I knew just how risky this adventure alone was.  There was
nothing I could do.  I could not even leave my rock until light.
As I watched the light moving I could see that they were going to
have their problem negotiating this dangerous terrain at night.
They turned back.  Later I saw just a climpse of a tail light
moving away back into the night and out of sight.  

Now I was to practice the Zen of "Be Here Now!"  I could not do
anything about my hummer.  It was either there or not, it was
either in one piece or not! I was either stranded or not. It was
then that I realized that I was in the best place in the world.
Hi above a water hole, deep in an unknown and seldom visited 
wilds of the desert with the greatest sky in the world at my
view.  Some people save their whole life for a vacation like 
this and are told where they must walk and what they can do.
I am in the wild.  On my own with the world playing out for me.
Here, in this very spot others had seen life play out before 
them.  The ancient ones (anasazi) had been on this same
rock, overlooking this same water hole for thousands of years.
I a kid from Baltimore, had traveled the earth for 60 years.
All to end up at 4am on the same rock being grounded to the
earth under an endless cosmos.  Life does experience itself.

Prologue:  I ask the ranch hands and none of them had been
in the area nor knew of anyone who would have had access except
some hunters from the pueblo over on the zia side or maybe the
Lauguna to the south.  When I checked the tire tracks from 
their pick up truck they had not seen my hummer as they were
on the other side of the gorge attempting to get to me.  I will
never know who was out their with me that night.  I can tell
you that I'm a luck guy. And this is just another chapter.

In August of 2009 James, Mike and I set off on a sunday afternoon
with heavy packs in 100 degree weather. Here are some pics from that

8-1-10 with tents

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