Awake about 4:30 AM but lie still while Denny sleeps on. Orion and the Dogs are up high in the southern sky. Eventually there’s a slow graying to the east and Fra Cristobal Mountain catches the ruby red sunrise while the entire valley is still in shadow.
After morning ablutions, I’m sitting at the table as the sun clears the horizon behind Black Mesa. Light is coming in over my left shoulder and the entire valley is golden hued. Outside, a cottontail wanders through the side yard hopping a few feet, nibbling, then moving on for other food. It’s the kind of morning that makes your heart sing and grateful to be alive to see such a day begin.
Denny and I prepare to ride our “mule” today. The trail in this area is so poorly known and access is so uncertain that we decide to resort to using the off road vehicle (ORV) to help us cover far more ground than we could just by hiking alone. We return to Tiffany Canyon where we stopped yesterday and while Denny starts hiking the canal road, I drive to the base of the bluffs looking for evidence of original trail.
The Rio Grande valley in this area experienced some horrendous floods back in the 1860’s and in 1929. An area we passed this morning was reportedly covered by as much as 18 feet of silt, so I don’t expect much. With erosion from river course changes and deposition by floods – what are the chances?
Still, I drive over to the bluffs. Within a quarter-mile, I believe I can see faint swales to the east of the two-track road I’m following. Proceeding further south, there appear unmistakable traces of wagon road and old habitations. The foundation ruins are younger than the Battalion period, but back then, one didn’t build new roads just for fun, so major sections of this road were followed by the Battalion then used as the area developed with more settlers.
Once we find the road, we shift to it and hike the bluffs. As the journalists wrote, there’s lots of sand and hills to climb up and down. Not large hills, to be sure, but hills and sand don’t mix well. Their journey is more amazing to me every day.
There’s even a major cemetery with hundreds of graves. Most interesting to me is that so many graves lack headstones, covered instead by cobblestones – much like the descriptions of Battalion members who died and were buried along the way. Of those with headstones, many lack any inscription. A few have a just a cross to proclaim their faith, but whose names are known only unto God. It was tough out here for a long time.
We are guests on the Armandaris Land Grant Ranch that dates back to Spanish Colonial times. It’s currently owned by Ted Turner, a staunch preservationist, environmentalist and who wants to see this land returned to a more natural status. Large sections of the area are being worked to remove salt cedar and other invasive trees. Cottonwoods are being replanted to bring the area back to what it was like when the Chihuahua Trail was active – more like what the Battalion experienced.
Our campsite for the night – and the end of today’s hike is Fort Craig, an Army post from the Civil War period. In fact, a major CW battle – the Battle of Valverde, was fought right here. The Fort is in ruins but is very similar to Fort Union which we visited early this month back near Watrous. This site had over 20,000 visitors last year – amazing but true. We’re nearly ten miles by road to I-25 and five of that is via dirt road. You have to love CW history to come here but people do because it’s important to remember.
Tomorrow we have another eight miles to do, a mesa to hike and the el Camino Real International Heritage Center to visit. Until tomorrow evening, I remain YHS –
Ebenezer Brown, 2nd Sgt, Co A
PS – Riding the ORV today, I learned that my beard has become aerodynamic. Apparently it has a significant drag coefficient when I’m at speed. If I turn slightly sideways, it wants to snap my head around when it catches the wind. Weird. This effect isn’t noticeable at 3 mph or even 4 when I’m in a rush. – krh
PPS – Oh! And I found another live rattlesnake today – my second of the Trek. Was stooping to examine a mineral encrustation on a boulder when I noticed it moving a couple feet off to my right. Only 18 inches or so with just 2 or 3 buttons. He was buzzing those buttons for all he was worth as he worked his way backwards under some other boulders. Cute little guy. Didn’t have the camera though. Dang! - krh