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Hiking Apacheria
Spirits, Turtles... and Dorothy

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The Characters I’ve Met

Apache spirits, Table Mountain, turtles and Dorothy Eagan


Jerry Eagan

Jerry Eagan on Table Mountain

Over the 13 years I’ve lived here, I’ve attended three or four Red Paint Powwows. They were the first Pow Wows I’d ever attended. In those years I looked at

many crafts made by Apaches but only bought one: it was the shell (complete) of a Desert Box Turtle, with a wooden handle and feather attached. Inside were beads of some kind, because I wanted something that would rattle. To this day, I have NO idea why I chose that turtle rattle, but I did.

My turtle rattle had a nice shishshing sound to it when I shook it; I bought it because I wanted to shake shake and rattle something as I danced in what I called “the returning warrior dance.”

I couldn’t find the person who could authorize me to join them, so I didn’t interrupt. It wasn’t my time or place.

I stopped going to the Pow Wows after a few years but continued “Hiking Apacheria.” I felt it was more important for me to hike rather than wander around the WNMU gymnasium. I had plenty of books on Apacheria. What I wanted and needed more of was actually “hiking in Apacheria.” I never took the turtle shell rattle out hiking with me as I thought it too fragile.

I hiked many places from 2002 to 2012. Probably 800 hikes in all seasons, places, levels of strenuousness and other diffi-culties. Many I hiked were alone. In the beginning, my very first partner “hiking Apacheria” was a character I’d married named Dorothy Eagan. Of all those I hiked with, she was the most memorable. She was my wife, but also the very best friend I’ve ever had. Now, she’s gone. So, I write this article in her memory.

We’d built part of our relationship around hiking in Yellow Springs, Ohio, prior to moving here. She was such an observant woman, her beautiful brown eyes taking in so much, and she identified many plants she knew in our walks.

In the first few years, she hiked various places with me. We were both learning Apacheria. Me, “on point.”

Once, I took Dorothy on a hike that required we cross a sloping, angled rock field, the rock granular, and a slip or slide, unchecked, would see the slider go directly over the lip of the rock field and fall 60- to 70-feet to death or horrible injury on a lava bed. She said she would never hike with me again except on trails. This is too much. It’s too scary. She never did.

She began to spend more time in her garden, and I proceeded to hike all over, every week, twice a week, all day. One series of hikes was on Table (Top) Mountain, later part of the City of Rocks property, but my ventures onto “table top,” six to eight times, in search of reputed Apache sites, occurred before that.

A Park Ranger had told me he’d been told by Apaches that there were at least two Apache “things” in the park or on the mountain. That was all I needed to go. He didn’t say I couldn’t go. He only gave me a rough idea of where one was. I think I found them. I’ve always believed the Apache showed me and led me to these places.

Table Top is shaped like a pork chop, with an open center that water courses down during big rains. With layers of rock that work inward like a stack of smaller and smaller pancakes, the mesa columns of rock eventually have to be scrambled up in order to “top out” and explore the mesa flats.

Readers of Apache history often see reports that Apaches could bolt across such a mesa top, and seemingly jump straight off the edge of precipitous rock faces, and when chasers reached the mesa ledges, the Apaches were down below, running full tilt, away.

My first hikes worked west to east, rounding the rim rock. As I climbed, always wary of rattlers in the tall grass and rock, I often climbed several layers, looking for petroglyphs or pictographs. I don’t believe I ever found pictographs, but think I found petroglyphs.

At one point, near the northern end of the mountain, I ventured up into several chasms or chimney areas. I found what looked like petroglyphs at various locations, but I wasn’t certain.

On one occasion, I worked my way into a chasm and explored various possible ways to the top.

As I did, I “felt” there were some rocks that had purposely been shoved, or wedged into cracks, as if to cover or conceal something. Apaches often cached goods in such places.

I began to explore those cracks and crevices, thinking perhaps they were caches.

The views from Table Mountain were incredible. In Spanish days, mule trains traveled south, on El Camino del Cobre, hauling raw copper to Janos or Chihuahua City. The mule trains would have been visible for miles, as they headed perhaps for the Hot Springs, or, Cow Springs and other areas where water could be found.

As I moved dirt around in that particular cul de sac with rocks wedged and jammed into cracks, I found the remains of what I believe was a Desert Box Turtle. The shells – perhaps six or eight pieces total – I carefully uncovered with a small quarter inch paint brush I carried for such purposes.

As I uncovered more of the remains of the shell of this animal, a sudden gust of wind whipped up with tornadic intensity: it blew and swirled around me, casting pebbles against my face, dust into my eyes. Being a Midwesterner, it felt like a mini-tornado. It also felt very specifically malevolent. That was a rare feeling, and it struck me as significant.

At that moment I believed that whatever or whoever had been in this area – and I’d found some chips or flakes from someone making possible arrowheads or scrapers at the same site – didn’t want me messing around anymore.

True, or not, whether as a result of flashbacks to the sixties, I stopped what I was doing and left the area.

Later I found some evidence of Apache presence on the mountain – and a geocache – as well as more snakes, deer and bugs. But it was always quiet and it felt like I was alone to the world.

My wife Dorothy, whom I called “my Dearable,” was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer in August, 2012. I believed she was sick as early as May or in June, 2012. She was placed on hospice in 2013.

Dorothy left Silver City on Jan. 8, 2014, to visit three cancer centers and spend time with her two sons on the west coast. Her daughter accompanied her. Dorothy died in Bellingham, Wash. Feb. 24, 2014.

Many people had known Dorothy, as she was the incredible smiling circulation supervisor at the Silver City Library for half a dozen years.

In the search for healthy meals, I met Terry Todd, who runs the Green Turtle Noshery. She and I have chatted, and swapped some stories. As Terry and I’ve talked, she’s shared her own losses with me. I told her about the turtle hiking story. There are turtles everywhere in the Noshery. I don’t know what her story is on the turtles beyond that the turtle is a totem animal for her.

I think of all the times I returned from hikes and told my darling wife the stories of my adventures.

I loved hearing and seeing her garden expand and grow. There is a rhythm there – the first tree budded this spring on the Feb. 23, the day before she died and the last time I spoke with her on the phone.

I called her at 9:02 p.m., Sunday.

“Hello, sweetie! I’m sorry I missed your call! I love you. I’m with you!”

“I love you, too. Goodbye.”

Dorothy died at 3 a.m., Monday.

Now, she belongs to the ages.

Her garden blooms anew every day.

A koan came to me once, hiking alone in Wooden Shoe Cañon, near Natural Bridges National Monment, in Utah.

The wind that blows today, has always blown before;

The wind that blows today, will always blow.

The wind that blows today, has never blown before;

The wind that blows today, will never blow again.


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