Thursday, September 25 – McNees Crossing, NM

As you can tell, the internet connection wasn’t up last night.

We make a decent start in the morning and get along. Our route is west today and we are excited to see the “Rabbit Ears” mountain become a real mesa with two peaks rather than just a couple of blue bumps on the south-west horizon. We can see Sierra Grande to the west clearly and we realize we are coming to the end of the Great American Desert. Soon, we will be amongst the western peaks and climbing towards the continental divide.

We quickly exhaust our one county of Oklahoma and pass over into New Mexico. The ruts are just off the roadway and we “stair-step” the roads as they angle southwest towards the Rabbit Ears peaks. For lunch, I drive Denny over to McNees Crossing of the Canadian River. Don’t ask me why a “river” this far south is named “Canadian.” It’s a mystery to me.

We open the gate (closing it behind us) and drive down to the river crossing. Denny and I hike down the eroded swale to the river bottoms and we talk about how the teams would have come down the hill from the east, turned to cross the flat, solid rock bottom shelf, then turned short to the left to climb up the steep, deep sand cut in the western side of the arroyo. With teams behind “blowing their horns” so to speak, the bedlam must have been astounding.

After leaving McNees, we ask permission to hike a private ranch and get to go cross county for about five miles including a section of the Kiowa Grasslands. They are another unit of the National Grasslands like we were hiking the other day and all the same problems apply. Cacti, yucca, stickers. Ouch.

Again, I’m on my own, hiking solo out across rolling hills and gullies with just a few antelope and beeves in the fields. A bird of prey died near a stone marker, the skull having large orbital sockets for large eyes. No other trace remains and I’m not an ornithologist, so I don’t know what kind, but suspect a hawk. I find an old snake skin, shed quite a while ago since it’s falling apart. No sign of the former owner and inhabitant.

Still, it’s with great pleasure that I cross a ridge to see the sun glinting off glass a few miles away. The binoculars are handy at times like these, so I verify it’s Denny, then call her on the handheld radio. We talk and she can see me against the sky in my white shirt beside a ruined stone house. Since the day is getting on towards 5 PM, I start moving more quickly while still staying alert for potential dangers.

Near the end of the hike, I find a set of stone “stairs” – ledges a few inches high that make me think or Rocky Ridge in Wyoming. These ledges aren’t as big or as long but they still presented a challenge to the animals pulling the freight wagons, some weighing upwards of five tons – 10,000 pounds. The story of these pioneer trails is staggering in its complexity and scope.

As we drive back to the campsite, we come across an open cattle gate at McNees crossing – and yes, we did secure it as we left earlier in the day. Two yearlings are out, sampling the greener grass on the other side of the fence – and yes, it IS greener than the pasture they were in. But, not wanting the rancher to be miffed at Santa Fe Trail people who don’t know how to do simple things like close gates, Denny and I turn cowpokes and herd the two waywards home. Then, off to a very late dinner and bed for us. The internet is finally up and I’ll update tomorrow.

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