Respite at Inscription Rock
Words and photo by Deer Roberts
everal folks have expressed an interest on my take of this land. To live here is to accommodate extremes.
The land itself is eccentric, sporting odd names like El Morro, a Spanish term meaning “the nose,” a regal, promontory mesa into which snuggles a cool tranquil oasis and lovely box canyon; Candy Kitchen, born of sly workings around prohibition; Zuni, a Native American navel, the center of life, found in the funnel of a spiral journey spanning eras; Ramah, religious innovation gestated on a new-found continent, finding itself a safe harbor; Zuni Mountain Sanctuary, nesting androgyny within embattled green living. Then there is the Continental Divide, a division of primal power; Inscription Rock, a testament of all those who have weathered lone pilgrimages through this scrubby ancient bone-dry seabed. The Notches’ emptiness looms like a celestial crocodile bite, luring F19s through its gate for the pure fun of it. Like an underground railway of lone windowed candles strung across the wilderness, The Ancient Way beacons hospitality, camaraderie, culture and trade . . . the seat of civilized behavior amongst diversity and hard empty spaces. Pinehill and Mountain View are two of three Midwest, suburban-type names, but are actually the seat of the local Navajo communities within which one views the hardest living in the area, little electricity or running water. Seventy percent unemployment. Timberlake is the other, full of comfortably retired Anglos, many who spend but the warm season in the area, local snowbirds. Behind the Zuni Mountains are a chain of east-west valleys. In contrast to the desert at the mountains’ feet, one sees Aspen amongst the regal Ponderosas and wild iris fields, clovered lakes and creeks (dry this year). Don’t be fooled. There one finds the signature of ghost towns; Sawyer, Copperton, Cold Springs,
where dry farming was attempted, sawmills once flourished, railroads snaked through, mining came and went. More recently, Sky Mountain Properties, near McGaffey, sports two huge gates through which to enter a modern subdivision. Between the gates, empty space: no homes. Winter snows make sure any residents would be permanently ensconced for the season. Glorious, but no way out. Could be hell for those pampered by the money necessary. El Malpais to the east will cut your best hiking boots to shreds; forlorn and rugged enough to once be considered as an atom bomb test site by the Manhattan Project. Bodies of lost hikers have been collected there. Iron in rocks and soil render compasses nil. That is the land. But then there is the sky. New Mexico is the kiss between land and sky. One cannot record the land without recording the sky. And so it is here. If the land kills you, and it might, a luminous exit into the heavens awaits. Perhaps it is the sky that lends the land its monumental unbroken dignity. In this place of little lushness or softness one is made aware of the sanctity of existence, the holiness of water, the scrub of the land challenging seeds to geminate into the bleaching sun. Unlike the east, cattle find little shade, water, or sweet greens, but bear the most beautiful heavens upon their backs. What the stern daytime robs between the opalescent dawns and the legendary sunsets is given back within the bosom of jeweled nights where nature celebrates survival. Every ounce of possible life rejuvenates in the numinous dark coolness. There are no gray areas here. No room to pander, oscillate. The land is decisive, brutal, hard-charactered, regal. Many come full of dreams and leave disillusioned. But, if you survive here long, you become the land, and die here in grace.
If the land kills you, and it might, a luminous exit into the heavens awaits.