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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


Hiking How-To

Before you head for the remote reaches of Apacheria yourself, read how Jerry packs and prepares for his own outings.

By Jerry Eagan



I'd been asked to write an article on "gear and tech stuff" for hiking in Apacheria, but I tried to put it off. When I think of "gear and tech stuff," my mind goes to the annual Backpacker Gear Guide, Outside Magazine's ads or the REI catalog. I've been a member of REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated) ever since my first wife and I lived in Oregon in the 1970s. For my money, REI's the best place to buy not only high-tech hiking gear, but hiking and camping gear of any kind.

hiking
What the well-prepared Apacheria hiker totes: Complete light pack with gear, knee and elbow pads, photographer's vest.

Over three decades, I've spent several thousand dollars on gear, but aside from, say, a windproof lighter or fire-maker flints, I could hardly call myself a "techie" or "gear head." About the most sophisticated gear item I have is a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receiver, which shows me where I'm at on the planet's surface.

The first GPS I bought was in 1998, when I was sounding out several places out west to move. My current device is more sophisticated, and has a nice backlit color screen, which I firmly recommend. While I have a National Geographic CD-ROM kit for mapping both Arizona and New Mexico, and theoretically could download both onto the GPS, I never have done so.

A word about GPS devices: If you've set it up correctly and you find yourself saying, "That can't be north!," ix-nay that nagging voice. Trust the GPS, no matter how weird the direction pointer appears to be. The only times I nearly spent the night out because I was "turned around" weren't due to the GPS device. What "felt" like north to my mind and body was totally wrong.

This might be a good place to discuss "panic." I've experienced panic several times on my hikes. I think "panic" may manifest differently in different people. For me, panic is a sense of urgency that's translated into moving too fast, not stopping long enough to catch my breath, and knowing the slopes I was traversing were becoming increasingly steeper, with dicier ledges to cross. I was so tired I realized I'd begun to avoid any stretches that required steep ascents. As a consequence, I saw I was driving farther down these steep slopes. And taking too many chances.

The cause? The sun was closer to setting; I didn't want to spend the night. I was very tired. I lost hope I'd make my car before dark, and I knew that in those steep slopes, I'd have a hard time even finding a place to sleep.

I said: "Jerry, this is panic. Stop. Take a long break. You are prepared to stay the night. This is not a lethal situation right now."

I ate something, consumed several "GU" packs, and, even though I had to crawl about 50 feet, I made the car 15 minutes ahead of sunset.

A neat variation on the GPS is a gadget that allows you to post terse messages, such as "I'm OK," "911" or "Help. Hurt," or "need assistance but not hurt." A trusted friend or spouse would get a signal, on a computer or phone, alerting them to your precise location if need be.

These devices cost around $125 and service, per year, to send out the hounds and choppers to find you is roughly another $85-$95 per year. I'm deliberating on purchasing one. My friends Dennis Jennings (www.steelhorseadventures.com) and Pete Crum both have one of these devices plus a cell phone.

Cell phones don't always work in many places I hike, but sometimes they provide entertainment. Once, out hiking in the Burros, in the middle of a rainstorm, Pete got a call from his wife. We were amazed, but there were several cell towers nearby. Great amusement and irony, because we were at a very powerful pictographic site, watching a huge summer storm dump an inch or more of water on the parched landscape.



I also have several hundred maps. I have Bureau of Land Management (BLM) maps and US Forest Service (USFS) maps, as well a half-dozen rubberized coated paper wilderness maps, and, best of all, a hundred or so 7.5" US Geological Survey (USGS) maps.

Typically, I have these maps broken down into gallon-size baggies, with a series of related quadrangle maps and at least one, sometimes two BLM Surface Management maps. I've seen people hike with no maps or a broad-scale Gila Wilderness map, but these are only general maps that won't do you much good if you're "turned around" and need to relate the map to specific topographic features around you. These rubberized paper maps can be purchased at the Cliff Dwellings headquarters.

I use a photographer's vest that I wear all the time. In it I have survival gear such as: Ka-Bar knife; compass; extra pair of glasses; hand pruners, for clipping my way through thick brush; a signal mirror; four or five carbohydrate "GU" packs; fire starter; whistle; at least one head lamp and one Maglite; at least one safety blanket I can wrap up in if I have to spend the night outdoors; safety matches; a military-style poncho and wool hat; a small magnifying glass with a light in case both pair of glasses are lost or damaged; if possible, a very lightweight long-underwear shirt; snacks; and, finally, several water bottles.

Toilet paper is always essential, of course, as are a couple of extra hankies, in case, God forbid, the TP is ruined by rain.

One of the latest purchases I've made, which made sense, was a squeeze purification water bottle. A gallon of water, which, in the summer, is easy to consume, weighs 8.34 pounds. I've carried that much water at times, and when added to the normal load of around 20-25 pounds (I also carry a pack in addition to the photographer's vest), I lug around a bunch of weight.

Because I often climb rocks and divert to a high point — to orient myself and view Apacheria — the vest allows me to do so while leaving the more cumbersome pack at a rest spot. I still have enough survival gear in the vest to feel assured I could survive if I broke a leg while going high.

I carry duct tape to wrap around a broken bone. (Strapping tape, applied directly to the skin, can pull out nasty cholla needles. Press the tape down hard over the skin, then jerk hard. It works well enough to get home, where a spouse or friend can finish the job.)

I broke a rib hiking on one of the many Wildhorse Mesas around here, and slid on scree slopes that ripped the butt of my pants out, leaving me flapping in the breeze after that excursion. I've walked across scree slopes as steep as 60 degrees to get to places I want to investigate. One cave that has incredible pictographs is accessible only by crossing very steep scree (talus) slopes, where one could conceivably slide 300 feet. I doubt I'd ever go down that far, because I'd dig in my medium-to-heavy hiking boots to slow the slide, and always use a sotol stick as a hiking staff. (Agave yucca stalks, peeled, are also good natural hiking sticks, but they can be heavier and thicker.)

If you find yourself about to cross a rocky slope that also tops out over a seriously dangerous drop, and where there's plenty of caliche (a crumbly local rock that is generally white in color and breaks apart easily) that fragments underfoot, make certain you have very good boots. Don't mess with casual footgear. Serious hiking requires serious boots. If that means buying a new pair every 14-15 months, do it. Ankle and sole support are critical.



Most of what I've mentioned can be purchased locally at Gila Hike and Bike or hunting shops. But, for the best photo vests, military-type packs or gear, ponchos, etc., I use the US Cavalry catalog (www.uscav.com) I've also bought many smaller items from "US Cav," such as lighting devices, wool "Ernie Pyle" hats, and lightsticks. I also use the local Army-Navy surplus store, as well as one in Deming.

A recent purchase were some old WWII "spats" or lace-up "leggings," like most American combat soldiers wore then. They are heavy canvas and I think will protect against snake bites. I've been bitten once by a rattlesnake, but it was either a dry bite or the fangs couldn't sink into my flesh because the snake hit right on the inside of my left ankle bone. There was nowhere for the fangs to go.

Besides snakes, there are bees. Killer bees ARE in the area. I've wandered into them several times. If you do, don't panic. They're attracted to carbon dioxide, which you exhale, and also have a tendency to bump into you, to sense what kind of thing is in their territory. I've had to sit very, very still, breathing through my nose, and allow them to bump into me, until they get bored and move on.

When the bees seem less interested, move slowly and deliberately out of their way, prepared to run like hell for up to a mile if they swarm. Several years ago, Africanized "killer bees" killed a number of dogs in Deming. The sting is like a serious thump on the body. The only time I've been stung was when I was sweating profusely, in the Floridas, and the bees got stuck in my sweaty hair. I got whacked twice, and knew it.

At least half a dozen times, I've been bitten by something — spider, tarantula or scorpion — out there. Scorpions seem to have a kind of electric jolt to their sting, and the spider bites were sharp, quick and enough to make me wonder what the hell just happened. Several times, the bite turned purple or deep red, and there were fang marks. I look for agave plants and use the yucca juice to smear on any wounds of any kind.

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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