After two days of mostly sitting I decided it was time to stretch my legs. The valley we are in is a bit narrow with a fair-sized river running through the middle of it to the west, the monastery markes the north end of the road, east are perpendicular cliffs and just south marks the beginning of the Santa Fe National Forrest which is closed to hikers and other recreational users at this time. That leaves the road itself, so down the road I went.
The road is very hard-packed dirt and easy to walk on, so I did fine for a half mile or so, but then the boy in me began to rise to the surface. It’s been so long since I was a boy that the trip took some time, and by the time the boy fully breached into the warm New Mexico air I was already starting down the one section of the cliff rising up from the river that it looked like I could negotiate. My legs were as good as my eyes and before long, and with only one slip from which I recovered with cat-like grace, I leveled out on a narrow bank between the river edge and the mudstone cliff rising a good 50 feet above me.
I really did not want to climb back up that path and hoped fervently that I would be able to follow the river back to our guesthouse. The “path” was an ill defined trace with less than the usual riverbank vegetation which led north, but much of the time I merely trampled the young early season growth and made my own path. I quickly came upon some bones jumbled next to the river. There were some vertebrae, stubby ribs, a jaw and probably part of a cranium. I could not tell definitively what it had once belonged to and was not inclined to look too closely.
I was a little over half way to a bend in the river that I hoped I could negotiate when the path disappeared completely. The cliff ran down at a fairly steep angle to a sort of lip and then straight down into the water. The soil of that incline was soft and I banked that I could dig in well enough to creep across while staying vertical and dry. I crossed about 30 feet of this stretch and finally reached a flat surface on the other side. A fall into the river would probably not have ended tragically as I left my camera and wallet at the guesthouse. The water did not seem to be too deep, but there was a fairly strong current and I could see boulders, and I knew that I would have to float a good way downstream in very cold water to get out if I should fall in. I really did not wish to test that theory out.
Just ahead is where things got complicated. I could see as I approached the bend in the river that I would have to get around in order to return to the guesthouse a fence at the top of a small rise from the bank with a sign saying “private” on it. That was not what I wanted to see. I pressed on however and as I approached the fence the path dipped down to the river level. There in the soft soil, I saw the print of a large animal without retractable claws. Being reasonably confident that there are no cheetahs in New Mexico, the north end of New Mexico at least, I assumed that it was the print of a large dog. I like dogs, but not random meetings with them on private property in the middle of nowhere.
It was at this point that the trail completely ran out. Riparian vegetation, and thick at that, choked the steep bank between river and fence. This triple whammy of vegetation, dog print, and posted private property in New Mexico where people don’t play games was sufficient for me to give up my quest and head back the way I had come.
The return trip had the same charms as has already been described, plus the hill at the beginning/end of my little adventure would be going up this time. I began the ascent with legs I wished were a few years younger and by half-way the band of steel that surrounded my chest was getting tighter. As I neared the summit my vision began to go dark and I knew that this was the big one. Then the cloud that momentarily blocked the sun moved on and I completed my return to the road sweating, knees shaking, but all coronary arteries still working in reasonable good order.
The rest of the walk was uneventful. I never did see the private residence or whatever existed on the property that blocked my way and I will probably walk downriver from the guesthouse tomorrow to see how close I came to completing my planned course. For now, I had better clean up and get into my jeans for mass and dinner. I will sleep very well tonight.