Deborah was visiting from Baltimore. We wanted to do a desert hike and chose the big mesa south of Jemez Springs, a place we'd hiked together 10 or 15 years before. We decided to make it a leisurely trip. We left Albuquerque late morning and stopped for lunch at Blake's in Bernalillo for old time's sake and because they have the best burgers, even if you substitute turkey for beef. Then we spent an hour or two in Jackalope. We bought some fun house stuff including "birds on a string" as Charlie now calls them. Deb easily talked me into buying them. She said they are for good luck.
It was 2:30 when we approached our hiking spot on Highway 4. We discussed the situation: We were craving caffeine, the day was getting hot, we didn't want to be on the nearly treeless mesa during the heat of the day, and we preferred to hike in the prettier late afternoon light. We both remembered this as a short hike and felt we had plenty of time, so we decided to go a few miles further up the road and visit the village of Jemez Springs for a few minutes. We drove on and stopped at Deb's Deli (really!) where we drank lattes on a shady wooden deck. Then we bought snacks for the road and headed back to the mesa to hike.
We found the place where we wanted to start up, parked by the side of the road, put on our hiking boots. It was warm and cloudless and we decided to carry only light jackets and no rain gear. Deb was wearing short cotton shorts and I was wearing a longish cotton skirt. We both wore sleeveless tops and carried tee shirts and light jackets in our fanny packs.
We climbed under a barbed wire fence and made our way through the thick
brush down to the Jemez River which ran parallel to the road not too
far away. Cheyenne, Deborah's smart border collie with one blue eye and
one brown eye, was already ahead of us. She jumped into the stream and
we laughed at her doggie enthusiasm as she romped in the water.
We took off our boots and socks and prepared to wade across. Then Deb
Crossing the river was fun and fairly easy. The water was mid-calf deep and was not too cold. The rocks were slippery but we moved slowly and nobody fell in. A thick cottonwood bosque blocked the car from our view so we needed to be careful to mark the place to cross back over the river when we returned. I was wearing a thin white undershirt I decided I didn't need so I slipped it off and we hung it in a tree. I had already found a fist-sized rock shaped like a bear fetish. I put it beside the tree to collect on our way back.
The mesa consists of three levels. The first and second levels run alongside each other, an 8 or 10 foot cliff separating them. The third level rises further north and is much much higher than the second. Our goal for the hike was to get to the top of the third level, the top of the mesa. We climbed up to the first level and were careful to watch landmarks so we could find our way back. We looked back several times and could still see the white undershirt in the tree. After a while, we found a break in the cliffs where we could climb to the second mesa level. The first level ended soon after that. Looking back to the end of the first level from the second level, Deb noted it looked like the head and feet of a turtle. We spontaneously named it. I very creatively came up with "Turtle" and Deb came up with "Bulge". "Turtle Bulge". We made a good team.
We hiked on the second level for a while. It was a thrill to see the beautiful red mesa Jemez River country in the canyon to the east and the green valley filled with small New Mexico farms to the west. We wondered what was the name of the river that flowed there. I commented that anywhere but in the southwest it would be called a creek but I was sure it had a name that began with Rio. (Later I found out it was named Rio Guadalupe.) When we came to the cliffs we would negotiate to get to the third and top level of the mesa, we found a decent-enough trail. It wasn't an easy climb but not dangerous as long as we were careful. Others had marked some of the more obscure points on the trail with cairns. Deb added rocks to some of them and started a few cairns herself. I called her "Deb, the mighty trail blazer". She said it was her Potawatome blood, of which she is 1/16.
After climbing that steep trail for a while, we were dehydrated, tired, and hot. The hike was taking longer than we remembered and we were relieved when we got to the top. There, on a flat rock the size of a kitchen table, in the shade of a pinon tree, we ate our picnic supper. Cold garden burger patties, apples, cheese, dried Hobbs watermelon, a tangerine, Great Harvest dakota seed bread, nuts. After resting and enjoying the view down the canyon a bit longer we explored the mesa top. We saw rubbled remains of crude pueblo walls where we surmised Indians had sought security from invaders. Deb looked, without success, for a boulder with the carving of a cross she'd seen up there before.
Around 6:30 we started on our way down. The sun was getting low but we thought we had time to get back to the car before dark. And we figured if we ran out of sunlight there would be a full moon in a cloudless sky so we'd surely be able to get back by moonlight if necessary.
It was growing dark faster than we expected. Deb wondered aloud, not too happily, whether we were going to have "another one of our adventures". By the time we got down to the second level it was difficult to see. As we walked, we looked for the place to descend to Turtle Bulge. At one point, we realized things didn't seem familiar and we thought we might have passed our way down. Should we keep going or should we turn back? We went a bit further and then retraced our steps. As we were walking in the dark I thought about how snakes come out in the cool evening after a hot day. Deborah asked if there were bears. I said "sure, but they won't hurt us, but we should watch for rattlesnakes". Not that watching for anything would do us much good, since we couldn't see much of anything. I started wondering if mountain lions were stalking us. I remembered the emails I'd received from Los Alamos warning people about lions that had been spotted along the jogging trails near town.
After a while, we gave up the search for a way down and found a place to sit and wait for the moon to rise over the mesa to the east on the other side of the Jemez valley. We waited about 30 minutes. The moon was beautiful coming up behind that mesa and I was glad to be there to see it, despite our predicament. I was sure we'd have no trouble finding our way down in the moonlight. Deb said this was one full moon she'd always remember.
With our new light source we again looked for the the way down, but we found that things looked SO different at night. The search was fruitless. We decided the best thing would be to spend the night on the mesa and get up as soon as we had some daylight.
Spend the night! Could this be happening? Were we actually going to sleep on the ground in the moonlight? Deborah found a cozy patch of sand between three large red boulders that formed a triangle just big enough for the three of us. It was still quite warm for night time so we weren't worried about being too cold even though we had no warm clothes. We were confident the boulders, with their day's supply of stored heat, would keep us warm and out of any wind that might blow up. It was perfect.
We cleared out the loose stones in the sand and settled in, not thrilled about the turn of events but not terribly worried. We assessed our water situation. We had about a cup between us. Not great, but we weren't going to die of thirst. I told Deb I hoped my car wouldn't be stolen or vandalized. She said "sufficient in themselves are the troubles of the day". I agreed it wasn't worth worrying about. I said I was glad no one expected us back home because I knew they would worry about us and I was glad not to worry about someone worrying about us. Deborah said "If only my friends in Baltimore could see me now." That struck us as very funny and we laughed hysterically for a while.
We laid down to sleep. Well, that bed of sand started feeling harder and harder. I wasn't feeling a bit sleepy. There was plenty of time to think of things to worry about. I occasionally checked the boulder above our heads for cougars. We heard what sounded like gun shots in the distance and asked each other what that could be. I started thinking about the local homicidal maniac who knew this area like the back of his hand and would decide to take a full-moon stroll on the mesa. Such a person surely existed! I didn't tell that one to Deborah in case she hadn't already thought of it herself. I was mostly able to put that out of my mind, but was glad I'd gathered a few stones to throw in case an unfriendly being decided to come into our little sleeping spot. I was using my fanny pack as a pillow. To make it less lumpy, I took some things out it and found the flimsy paring knife we'd brought for the apple and cheese. We had a weapon!
We were probably less than 100 yards from the highway and occasionally we'd hear a car whiz by. Each sounded loud. We heard barking dogs and howling coyotes.
Then, we started to get cold. Deb had on those shorts. She wore her light cotton knit jacket. She wrapped her sleeveless top round her thighs. I wore my sleeveless tee shirt under the short sleeve tee shirt and tucked both into my skirt waistband. I zipped up the light nylon wind breaker. We kept on our boots, our socks, pulled up as far as they would go, and hiking hats, designed not for warmth but to keep the sun off our faces. Cheyenne curled into a tight ball next to Deborah. We snuggled close. The side of me facing Deborah was warm. The other side was cold. We started to shiver. I mentioned how nice it would be to have the blanket that was back in the car. Deb yearned for the long knit skirt she'd left there. We thought of the warm jackets and rain poncho in the trunk.
After lying there a couple of hours, we both, independently, started wondering if hypothermia was the thing that would do us in. That worry took the place of thoughts about snakes and bears and mountain lions and gun-toting outdoorsmen. We started wondering if we should try again to find our way down. We were concerned that if we couldn't find our way down we might not find our good sleeping spot again either. But, we were getting REALLY cold and we sure weren't sleeping. I told Deb I was going to get up and explore nearby.
With the moon higher up, the light was better. Not too far from where we'd tried to sleep I found a place I thought we could climb down. We weren't sure whether there would be another series of cliffs below but decided to give it a try. Cheyenne wasn't happy about starting out again. She had been sleeping quite well, perfectly cozy cuddled next to Deborah.
Deb and I were able to get down the steep face ok but Chey was freaked out by the drop. It took some doing, but we managed to coax and help her off the ledge. After that, the mesa was steep but slanted enough that we could stand upright. We were able to get down without getting into any cactus or breaking a leg or getting rattlesnake bit. Later, Deborah told me I looked tired and awkward and she was worried I'd fall. I knew I was tired but didn't realize I looked that bad. I remember saying "this is hard" as I struggled to keep my footing in the loose rock. Deb had already made it to a flatter place and said "you're almost there." To our relief, we didn't have to descend any other cliffs before we got to the river plain. We walked to the river, and, after a short time, found a place to cross. We each found a fallen tree branch to serve as a pole for balance and, still wearing our boots, waded across. It wasn't so slippery in shoes.
We continued on, wet socks squishing in wet boots, and, about fifty yards past the river, came to the road. Now, where was the car? Should we go left or right? I was pretty sure the car would be north of us. Deb, who reached the road ahead of me, looked south and saw a parked car glowing in the moonlight about 50 yards away. As we hurried to it I prayed it didn't belong to that homicidal maniac. But, it was mine! I dug the keys out of my pack and unlocked the car. Cheyenne climbed in, we coaxed her from the front to the back seat, we climbed in, turned the engine on, looked at the car clock. It was 1:00 am. I said "We'll be home by 2:00." Deb said "Turn on the heater!"
I felt bad about leaving behind my undershirt and the bear-fetish rock I'd found and left under the tree at the beginning of the hike, but mainly I was relieved to be in the car. I drove slowly on Route 4 headed south toward San Ysidro. We were not out of danger on that narrow country highway in famous-for-drunk-drivers New Mexico on a late Saturday night. And I was a tired driver. That drive was surely the most dangerous thing we did all weekend. But, we laughed about our adventure as we headed toward Albuquerque. We wondered if we were dreaming. Maybe at this point we were in a hypothermic stupor and still back in our boulder enclosure. We agreed we'd like to return some time and explore the area in daylight and figure out where we went wrong. Maybe one day I'll reclaim the rock. I doubt that my undershirt will survive till then.
We did make it back to Albuquerque. Pulled into my driveway at 1:58. I decided to take a shower. Deb said she could wait till morning for that, brushed her teeth, and headed for her bed. Cheyenne had already crashed.
The next morning, I woke up at 7:30 when the light came through a crack behind my curtains, but remained in my warm soft bed. Mom called around 8:30. I answered from the bedside phone. I called Charlie after that. (They both had left messages the night before.) Then Claude called. I told him Deb was still sleeping. He said he'd call back later. I got out of bed and made tea. In the corner of my kitchen, on the end of my wooden Ikea curtain rod, I hung the birds from Jackalope.
Deb and Cheyenne slept till 11:00 when Claude called again. Cheyenne got up limping and full of cactus needles we hadn't noticed before. Her paws were raw and rosy from walking on the red mesa sandstone. We managed to get the cactus needles out with tweezers. Charlie came for brunch and brought some hydrogen peroxide for Cheyenne's raw places. We made huevos rancheros and ate them under the apple tree in the back yard while we told Charlie about our adventure.