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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   November 2009

Hiking Apacheria

Page: 2

I almost always make a helluva lot of noise when I hike — by design. I've never encountered bears. I recently encountered an adolescent mountain lion, which left me with the notion that, finally, I should carry a revolver. I wouldn't shoot any animal if I didn't have to. Had that adolescent lion been fully grown, though, it could have been on me in two big leaps.

I've climbed some serious rocky outcroppings. One required ropes, along with a harness, to explore a special cliff-dwelling site that will forever remain undisclosed and in my memory as long as I live. The drop from there would be fatal.

Cave exploring is also an activity never to do alone.



Take plenty of photos, but please, don't damage the artwork you find. The Mogollon, the interim dwellers after them, and the Apache left many wonderful rock art sites, which always humble me. I sit and ponder just who those folks were. What are those objects they painted? Some are very childlike in their design, and others are mind-blowing in symbolism. A few remind me of M.C. Escher's work, painted in up to five different colors.

Hundreds of Mogollon sites are "out there." The Mimbres Valley is loaded with them. There are many sites within five miles of the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Many were shown me by a guy I worked with for a year and a half at the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Pete Crum has shown me many. People I know in the Archaeological Society have told me about others. Same for folks in the rockhound groups. There are various hiking groups that often hike on Thursdays, and they have excellent and informed leaders, who take people to these places.

I hike twice a week when I can. Once during the week, once on Saturdays. I don't do groups because often folks who talk all the way and the pace is far faster than I walk. If I'm hiking so fast that I see something interesting, and yet don't investigate it because the folks in front of me are going too fast I'd instantly lose sight of them, I don't hike with those folks. I can walk that fast in town.

Honestly, I have never gotten over the sense of moving quietly through the area I'm hiking, unless there's evidence of recent and close mountain lion, javelina or bear scat and/or tracks. In Vietnam we whispered if we needed to talk, moved at a slow pace and were poised like tigers ourselves, ready to snap into action instantly. There it was possible to fall into a 10-foot-deep "tiger trap" with six-foot spikes at the bottom, set there to impale a tiger or some unlucky American. I almost fell into a "tiger trap" in Vietnam and the memory haunts me still. I also saw many "punji stick" injuries, from walking too fast. Here the danger is more often than not cacti, although it's possible to go so fast you find yourself at a steep ledge.

Open-shaft mines exist in many areas around Silver City, and there's literally no warning they're there. It could be fatal for small kids to run ahead of Mom and Dad, go right over the lip of the tailings and down into those mines. I've dropped rocks into them, and guessed some were a hundred feet deep.



Always tell your best friend or spouse where you're going, and what time they should expect you back. Sometimes, hiking in a known area becomes stale, and I wish I'd gone elsewhere. But the deal is, I left a note about where I was. I won't go elsewhere then, because my survival may depend on being where I said I was going.

If you must stay out, hunker down in some kind of shelter that will protect you from wind, snow, rain. Remember that hypothermia can occur anywhere, anytime.

My wife and I were hiking down a major creek in June 2003. We had shorts, T-shirts, boots, shorts, socks. In less than an hour, a major storm hit, bringing intense rain. The fear of being trapped in a canyon was ever present, and so we prepared ourselves to get the hell out of the canyon at the sound of rushing water.

That, however, wasn't the problem. The rain came down hard and heavy, and then turned to hail. The air was suddenly frigid, and within 20 minutes, the ground was covered with two inches of hail. The temperature dropped 30-40 degrees. Had we been at the farthest extent of our hike, we'd have suffered serious cooling.

We had extra warm clothes in the truck and were glad for that. It was obvious that a storm was coming in from the north and east. As soon as the storm darkened the skies and the thunder began, we turned around and headed back to the truck. The lesson, besides what to wear, is: There's never anything worth pushing on for if your instincts tell you dire weather is about to be unleashed. Always be prudent and sensible. Pushing on because you've done it before elsewhere doesn't mean it will work in New Mexico's southwestern corner.



The next part of the trip is to explore. I've always been an explorer. What's over in that overhang, or cave? What are the green deciduous trees about, up there in that ravine? Could there be water there? Hiking Apacheria is definitely about learning where water is, and what it does when it comes, and under what circumstances.

Recently, I went hiking with a videographer and his wife in the Mimbres area, on a 100-degree day, in very little shade, with a steady climb of several hundred feet. The videographer's wife, from a big city in Texas, found herself sick from the heat or altitude. She had a headache and began vomiting. Then she said she felt lethargic.

Having hiked in that area a dozen or more times, I saw standing water in a rocky streambed below. I had a high confidence there was more water in the streambed in rocky holes in the shade. I suggested to the man and his wife that they sit under the paltry shade some junipers provided while I searched for water.

I walked along the rocky arroyos and, sure enough, found a series of rocky holes where water had collected. In some places, it was deep enough to crawl into the pool, immerse oneself, and cool down. That's what I suggested she do. By then, she was shivering, another bad sign of altitude sickness, heat exhaustion or both. By pouring water over her head and body for 20 minutes, she recovered enough to head back to the truck, which was only a half-mile away.

Neither of them had brought sufficient water. They literally both needed, I'd guess, a gallon of water. They had far less than that. As it turned out, that's when I saw that I, too, hadn't enough water or Gatorade-type liquid (Recharge, bought at the Silver City Food Coop), and decided I should have brought my nifty squeeze water bottle purifier — 99.99% bacteria-free purification! Had I brought it, I could have safely gathered and purified several liters of water for all of us.



To experience Apacheria is to understand when the agave century plants or the soaptree yucca blossom. That the fruit on a barrel cactus tastes like ripe kiwi. Know what prickly pear "tuna" buds look when they're ripe. Black-walnut trees abound in the Large Burros. Oaks are out there, too. The acorns need to be treated, as do the walnuts, but they're harvestable and edible. Pion trees abound in many places. There are herbs and spices out there, too, as well as other edible plants.

Apacheria is the immediate and personal experience of where, how and to what degree the Apache lived here, and not all so long ago at that. When I realize that I may be looking at a possible wickiup site or rock art that is either Apache or Mogollon, or find what archeologists call "lithic scatter," which are the flakes and chips someone knapped from core rocks to make into blades, scrapers or arrowheads, who knows how long ago. . . I experience the Apache who were here. Somehow they covered this vast land, and survived. To do so took resilience, flexibility, awareness of nature's rhythms, a deep love for the silence, the vast emptiness, the country as it was, not as others would want to transform it.

There may have been no more than 10,000 Apaches in New Mexico and Arizona. I don't study the Jicarilla, Lipan, Kiowa-Apache or Mescalero west of the Rio Grande, north of I-40. If there were only 5,000-6,000 Chiricahua Apache in our area, that defines how much land these semi-nomadic Native Americans needed to sustain themselves in this arid country.

Sit and meditate on that.

There are many places you won't even hear birds calling to one another. Imagine this enormous space with no human-made noises that would be heard for miles. Cannons, trucks, the roar of 100,000 football fans! None of that! Stillness and silence just were. The Apache had never experienced non-natural human sounds until the Spanish arrived and fired off their harquebuses.

The sounds of silence are your reward for making the journey. There aren't many places where such silence can be experienced, places so quiet even the birds are still. Go find them.





This is the 19th article Jerry Eagan has written for Desert Exposure. You can read them all at www.desertexposure.com/apacheria. Jerry has also recently launched a website at www.hikingapacheria.com; it will soon include an active blog and photos Jerry has taken of Apacheria. Jerry will begin work soon on a book, Hiking Apacheria, which will provide updates to these previously published articles and more. He wishes to thank Teri Matelson, who developed his website; Edwin Sweeney and Sherry Robinson, for their support; Brian Huberman and Cynthia Wolfe; Dennis and Trudy O'Toole, of Caada Alamosa Institute; archeologist Gary Hein in Santa Fe, for reviewing pictographs and petroglyphs; Larry Foster, for taking him to interesting sites in the Robledos Mountains; LeRoy Unglab of Las Cruces, for sharing pictographic images he's found; and, of course, his "Apache brother," Eddy Montoya.



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