My first thought as I headed out this afternoon was “is drinking beer before an extended hike such a great idea?” In fact the weather had turned from a dense fog at daybreak to bright sunshine over the four hours I devoted to letter writing, quiet reading, a spasm of trailer cleaning and a call out to my sweetie. Eventually I grabbed my walking stick and launched my one man parade due south. My goal was four miles away; the Rio Grande.
It occurred to me that I could probably make this journey over and over without exhausting the pleasures of the golden grasses and low scrubland, the twisting crushed stone trail bed and the long, long views. In fact it is the inner dialog that frequently propeled my progress. Because this was the warmest day in the past three weeks I decided early on that today would be the day to encounter a rattler or other slithering desert demon. These thoughts kept my eyes sharp and my senses on alert. Alas it was not to be, no snake sighting for Tom.
For people who hike or bike I think we are often on guard for the inevitable question “how far is far enough?” When you end up hiking a fixed loop or an out and back route it requires a finely tuned imagination to estimate your reserves and when you project they might be depleted. I admit that my sensibilities in this matter are not so finely tuned. On too many occasions I have found myself limping back to the trail head with little but fumes left in my proverbial tank. Fortunately the views at the far end of today’s jaunt were so rewarding that even the plodding last ½ mile of the loop was an acceptable price to pay.
This portion of the river probably has few illicit border crossings because, while the river may not be deep, its banks on both sides are towering steep cliffs. The fact is that the whole area from the river to 50 miles north is filthy with border enforcement officers and assets. It’s more like an army than a police force. The investment is impressive. From my reading on the topic the Del Rio region was for years a very active crossing point but recently the highest numbers have shifted to Eagle Pass about an hour and a half east of here.
Yesterday I had taken a short ride to cross into the city of Ciudad Acuna Mexico. It made me think of high school biology and the concept of Osmosis. “Osmosis is the spontaneous net movement of solvent molecules through a partially permeable membrane into a region of higher solute concentration, in the direction that tends to equalize the solute concentrations on the two sides”. On the bluffs overlooking the river I pulled my binoculars and scanned Mexico for miles east to west yet the economic dislocation was not evident in the landscape.
Back out on that cliff edge I continued east as the trail circled back toward Seminole Canyon. When I was still a teenager I once walked up to a large building – the field-house at Rensselaer Polytechnic. Walking close to the huge barrel shaped structure I realized for the first time that I have a significant fear of the monumental. It’s not a debilitating experience but one that engenders a significant foreboding as I have sometimes felt near New York skyscrapers or several years ago when I put my kayak in downstream from Boulder dam. It’s something associated with the latent power of huge objects. In fact that was a feeling that I felt rising as I trekked onward as the pre-historic sculpted sides of the Rio and the intersecting canyon loomed before me. In retrospect that ambiguous sense of pending danger was not unlike the presumed encounter with the poisonous snakes. Maybe fatigue was playing with my perceptions.
It’s now late in the evening and I just returned to the Shack after a last casual walk about the campground. The temps are still unseasonably warm and the wind is making its presence felt as it rushes across the open desert. Above the sky is crystal clear and the heavenly display is gaudy. As I think about the distances those points of light are traveling to reach my eye I remember a scene from years ago when camping in the Canadian Rockies near Banff. Having pitched the tent in darkness it was only on emerging in the dawn that I realized that a towering mountain was in my front yard and I briefly staggered.
Tomorrow morning I will strike this campsite and head east traveling past San Antonio. By Tuesday I will have dropped the Shack at a Houston sales lot and prepare to launch the truck swiftly home. It will be sweet to be reunited with my bride in our cozy ranch house in an area that once was considered America’s western frontier. I’ll leave behind the desert and its endless vistas and easy, embracing solitude. Back east I will begin to unpack, turn-over, examine and consider the experiences of the last three weeks and find ways to make them always mine.