Último Sueño Salvaje of 2016
"Touch the earth, love the earth, honour the earth, her plains, her valleys, her hills, and her seas; rest your spirit in her solitary places." - Henry Beston
I previously discussed the common-sense and Alastair Humphreys inspired concept of the Sueño Salvaje/microadventure here and here. December 2016 completed a full year of these microadventures. The crew has varied, but the mission has remained the same: a human-powered escape spent breathing the air of new experience, of juniper smoke and memory, a torquing of the daily paradigm, a jiggling of the fetters of civilization.
The location of choice for this outing was the Ojito Wilderness, an 11,200 acre swath of high desert majesty administered by the BLM. Rugged volcanic plugs, zany hoodoos, and wind-etched sandstone define the tortured topography of the region.
We departed the city in El Stevo’s CR-V, 3 amigos with backpacks and an unslakable thirst for new vistas, literal and existential.
Parking the car near a lonely dirt byway, we stepped out into a surprisingly brisk wind sweeping across the darkening wilderness. I carried, strapped to my pack, my Dad’s longbow and a quiver with 5 arrows. Striking out, faces to the wind, we strode northward as our headlamp beams guided us through the obscurity.
Arriving at a steep cliff face pinnacled by piñon and juniper trees, it was determined that this would be a fine place to pass the night.
Pine and Knive
The first order of business was to get a fire blazing so our foil dinners could be thrown on the coals ASAP! Soon, the delicate scent of woodsmoke drifted in the now quiet breeze and the flames caressed back the cool black of the desert night. El Stevo wandered about wielding my Bahco Laplander folding saw and feeding the fire. He harvested a stout 10″ chunk of piñon and I went to work with my Condor Bushlore knife on a spoon-carving project.
Emman fired up the trusty Whisperlite and boiled us up a pot of water for fresh pine-needle tea. We drank two pots of it while our foil dinners roasted on the hot coals.
After dinner, the rigors of the day were lulling El Stevo to somnolence, but I kept whittling like a fiend, not willing to relinquish my project as the spoon was definitely taking shape. I carved maniacally, the shavings mounting into a substantial pile as the fire tossed it’s tidbits of light to the hungry night.
Finally, sensing mutiny, I, normally the first one to seek the warm solace of a sleeping bag, acquiesced to the clear will of the majority and reluctantly slipped my knife into it’s sheath.
Teeth were brushed, backpacks gently nestled to bed, and we proceeded to erect the Black Diamond Megalight that was to be our shelter. My earplugs went in, and as the foam expanded El Stevos’ resounding snores faded into the phantom night…
Following the Arrow
Morning was a pleasant, fuzzy blur of wind, coffee and oatmeal. We packed our gear and for the first time could appreciate the parched pulchritude of the land which we wandered. (Should I have used “that”? I can never remember which. I should read that copy of Elements of Style that (?) I have on my Kindle.)
Magnificent views of a valley below decided us to descend the bluff. We stood like desert Vikings poised on the shore of dry discovery. I drew the longbow to my ear and sent a scout arrow along the trajectory of our projected passage. We watched it’s graceful arc till it feathered itself to rest in the cactus-studded plains. We retrieved it 20 minutes later.
Compass bearings and visual cues guided our day’s vagabonding. We flushed one cottontail, who, judging by the rapidity of his erratic flight, did not wish to be roasted over a noon fire as a meager luncheon for three. The sky was a growling admixture of sun and clouds. Following a drainage from the base of our cliff descent, quartering across the wildscape, eventually were encountered the sandstone hoodoos we had come to see.
Mountain lion tracks and miniature mountain ranges atop giant boulders, coffee boiled in the lee of a wind-carved chunk of eroded majesty, scrambling and exploring, these rounded out our day. As the sun zenithed, we followed a bearing toward where we thought the car was, and all too soon, we were there too!
"In the heart of the country, the silence of the most desolate places is suddenly rent by the blood-curdling howl of a rogue wireless set"- Patrick Leigh Fermor
The Ojito Wilderness is an off-the-map place of desolate splendor well worth investigating. Despite it’s sere beauty though, we were faced with some ugly realities. Throughout the night, a motor associated with a nearby natural gas pumping station droned in a fashion that disturbed the peace of the night. The political battles regarding economy vs. ecology will rage on, but barely is a word uttered about the audible impact of such installations. It was enough to remind us that where we were was not unspoiled, not pristine. It was enough to rob a few pence worth of peace in an otherwise peaceful place.
The ugly reality of human impact on nature was also evidenced when, throughout the day on Saturday, rifle shots reverberated in staccato vigor. I was raised as a hunter; the sound of a shot does not fill me with unease, but the near-constant militaristic rattle of semi-automatic weapons fire accompanied by the sight of beer cans liberally strewn along the side a dirt road is a combination that makes one question the wisdom of being within a 1000 yard radius of the questionable specimens of humanity exercising their Second Amendment rights.
Despite the insipidity of human activity, a grand time was had, more memories etched into the hippocampus, and we completed a full year of sleeping outside at least once a month!
"And because I had known this outer and secret world, and been able to live as I had lived, reverence and gratitude greater and deeper than ever possessed me, sweeping every emotion else aside, and space and silence an instant closed together over life." - Henry Beston