Los Indios Spring to Ojo Frio, 13 miles
One lone hiker with headlamp ambles in after dark, quietly collects water then shuffles back out. His light hits my tent momentarily. After he disappears, I look out at millions of stars but cuddle back in quickly it’s so cold.
I sleep well in this beautiful nook, one of the best places I have ever camped. When I wake up to make coffee, I can see my breath, so stay cozied in for breakfast until the sun hits the brilliant orange oak leaves.
Today will be the end of this terrain as I leave the mesa for the desert. I pack as the air slowly heats up, then say goodbye and work my way down to the cisterns, the lifeblood of this dry world.
Birds perch high on a snag waiting their turn. One brave pinyon jay lands at the waters edge, his wings flapping as he dips in for a sip. This gorgeous canyon is their home and I am just passing through, delighting in its wonder and trying to commit the magic to memory.
The changing landscapes of a thru-hike teach us so many things, like hope for newness and variety, that there is plenty and we’ll always make more, about moving forward and to be filled with gratitude for what is.
Perhaps that’s the most important bit, to be here right now and thankful we have this chilly morning under cerulean skies. Though being present is not a passive act. Making the best use of it would be to notice things. Like the dark eyed junkos twerking their white and coal fan-like bottoms to start their day.
Being here now fills me with humility, that I am only a small part of a huge world. I play my role, but so do these junkos and jays.
Mark told me that having a bilateral mastectomy was no big deal. I had to ask him to clarify what he meant by ‘no big deal.’ His self empowerment talk leaves little room for empathy nor gives any solid advice on how to engage with the real challenges in life, ones that can’t easily be remedied by slogans.
It’s not important to me today. I feel strong and engaged on this trail which leaves the canyon and its showy colors to return to pinyon and grass.
I meet a joyous hiker as happy on this morning as me, then Slash and Gorf (Frog spelled backwards from flip-flopping a trail.) We have a good laugh about what’s behind us and what’s to come. Gorf tells me she likes my energy.
Yes, today is a gift, I think. I managed cancer and survived a surgery that is, in fact, a big deal. And here I am backpacking and never again having to pack a bra!
The trail goes on and on through pinyon on repeat, now without mountains to break up the scenery. It begins to get hot and I’m grateful to face away from the sun.
Soon enough, I reach the rim and look out from a cliff towards Cerro Perido, a massive black volcanic vent towering over pink desert.
Directly below is a spring that is inaccessible from my perch, but ponderosa and oak reach up towards me. The birds sing below in their riparian eden.
I don’t look at the map before pressing on and it’s miles to go before I will begin my descent. I pass a hiker crouched in the shade and looking very hot. I promise he will love the coming spring. He tells me the views are stunning.
It’s more grass and pine before scarred trees from fire, then the desert opens up before me.
This time I see several massive vents like pedestals plus mesas and a mess of badlands. I laugh now understanding my friend Karen describing this area from the air looking like a cat box with giant turds amidst sand.
It’s steep on slippy ball bearing rocks through another gorgeous ponderosa and oak forest ablaze in gold. The townsend’s solitaire sings its lovely and complex song as I pass through. The terrain changes to juniper now, curving trunks and fragrant berries. Cholla and prickly pear fill in the blank spaces, both colorful and whimsical.
I meet two men hiking solo, one who poked his eye on a branch and asks me to look at it. It’s red from irritation but doesn’t appear infected. I offer to set off my SOS, but he thinks he can keep hiking at least to the road.
I realize I have yet to see a woman hiking alone.
The trail flattens and the heat is intense. I drink the rest of my water in the shade then head down to a dry streambed, up to a road and finally Ojo Frio.
It’s a small canyon between a cerro and some high ground. Cows huddle in the shade as I approach the tank. An old bull growls at me so I work quickly. The surface is a bit dirty but when I sink in my cup, the water is cold and clean. He approaches just as I leave, walking slowly as if his feet hurt, though holding himself proud as the keeper of the water.
Above, someone has set up a bench in the shade and I filter from here. After ole bull moves on, western bluebirds swoop in for a taste.
Like yesterday, I climb above the cistern to look for a spot to camp. There are stones in a square, maybe a foundation of some long abandoned building? It’s perfectly flat here with a stupendous view of the mesa and desert. Right now is far too sunny to set, so I return to the shady bench until sunset.
That’s when a man arrives in hot pink short-shorts and a bright yellow shirt plus numerous accessories in rainbows and equally flashy colors. He has an impossibly small pack and hikes in Crocs.
His name is Fire and he talks non-stop. Quite the hiker, his stories are entertaining. When he mentions walking the Grand Enchantment Trail, I realize that I’ve seen him before with my friend Katlyn.
Indeed it’s him and he tells me more stories of their exploits – wild weather, near misses, hard trail. I hiked in Wyoming and Colorado with Katlyn and shared some craziness too. It’s what makes hiking fun.
Fire sets up below and I climb up to make dinner as the sun sets. Ramen with some of my friend Tammy’s dried tomatoes plus spices, cheese, pine nuts and olive oil. Delicious!
It’s much warmer down here, but cool enough the cows climb the cerro to graze, their hooves clattering on rock and a few cranky moos echoing through our little canyon. Crickets sing and I wish on the first star before the sky is filled with them.
I really shouldn’t be comfortable on this lumpiness, but miraculously I am.