Saturday, June 15, 2019

you go out eighty two, east of cloudcroft, and it's a classic mountain road. it winds and curves, with green valleys on each side and mountains rising up to peaks on both sides. below is a kind of dry creek and the road follows it. a couple of houses are backed up against the hillside on the right. around a few bends you come to a horse arena, and a couple of roads cut off to the north.

one of these is sixteen springs canyon road. once i let off a hitchhiker at that corner, and he knew he was in the heart of the mountains, but i'm pretty sure he got a ride, and didn't starve or have to go camp somewhere. it's a green valley, and mountain roads go off in both directions. sixteen springs canyon road has some houses at the bottom there, where you go twenty-five and drive back and forth up to a gooseneck turn, but then you start climbing james ridge until, way at the top, you come to a lookout that someone is often in, looking for fire across the ridges.

way up there on the ridge, it has its own weather. cloudcroft could be raining or snowing, but james ridge is eight miles east, and almost as high, and it's not always the same. there's no weather report for james ridge, and the roads are frequently icy. one day i came through there and there was a fog thick as pea soup, and there was a kid in camo with a shotgun. but behind him was his dad, on a cell phone, because up there at the lookout is pretty much the only cell reception on the whole mountain. and once you come back down, you are in a valley, green and mountainy on the side, and this valley has a few elk in it. the elk are often gazing at us as we come down the valley, like they're wondering what we're doing down there. but they're pretty - large-shouldered, different shades of brown, sometimes huge antlers. i'm tempted to stop for a photo shoot.

further on down the hill and you're in sixteen springs canyon. the sign back at the highway says sixteen springs canyon eight miles, but now, an old rusty sign just identifies the place as sixteen springs canyon, and you cross a little dry creek, and head down, following the creek, going east again. you still have about four or five miles to our house, but it's a paved, windy road and it comes down into walker's ranch, where it is now smooth and straight, and there's a little spring to the side there. walker owns most of the cows in the valley; they graze on the roadsides, sometimes just walk across the road, and head up into the valley where the elk are, though they seem to get along with the elk ok. they also don't seem to worry about bears or lions much. they look healthy, well-fed, and family-oriented, the mothers watching after the little ones as they do experiments running off the road, or in it, as the case may be. at walker's ranch you go twenty, or at least the sign tells you to. this may be too slow for some people, but if you're curious about ranching, it's just about right. you can slow down and watch these folks round up the cows, or the horses, or feed them, or whatever. old man walker is ninety-five or six, they say, and his son is maybe eighty or something, i'm not sure, but they appreciate it if you're going twenty. i feel like promising to build them a bypass, but first we'd have to put a town where their house and barn are, and we'd have to have some real action on the other side, enough people to generate some traffic. it's not a totally dead road, but it's pretty quiet.

further down the road is a fire house. it's pretty new and it's the center of the community, i'd say, though it's unassuming, and mostly just a garage with a little cement-floor dining area. they're serious about fighting fires out here, and that's good, because you have to be. i plan on helping them once i get my act together here, soon.

two roads come off sixteen springs road here that are important. one is bell canyon road, that heads up bell canyon to the right, back south, toward the highway, and it has the most houses, maybe three or four, and all the people take this way down to sixteen springs because the south way back is way to rocky and treacherous. they come north to sixteen springs, only to wind back around west and then south, and to them, it's a long way but well worth it. and the other one is walker canyon road - this is the one where i left a car for about five days, because it got a flat on some sharp rocks that we apparently had no business trying to drive on. at first i thought sixteen springs canyon road was the most exotic, remote, beautiful road i'd ever been on, but now it turns out that walker canyon road makes sixteen springs appear to be a main highway, paved, with traffic, and even with a speed limit sign down there by the ranch. walker canyon road is like, well, there was probably only one or two people who knew that car was sitting there for five days, and fortunately, we knew them, as they'd given my wife and daughters a ride home that day. there weren't a whole lot of people who even saw it sitting there, the road is pretty much untraveled in that part. and i'm sure folks like it that way.

right before the walker canyon road cutoff is board tree canyon, our canyon. here a big honking mountain dominates the view when you turn into it; this mountain is 8000 feet, and is also the edge of private land; the other side of the mountain is the reservation. i'm not sure what it's called, but it's just a bit bigger than most of the mountains in the area, so it stands up there as a landmark. and board tree canyon runs right up beside it i assume, though i haven't been up there. my plan is to know this mountain, and to know the line between private and reservation, and to know the paths in the area. i haven't enacted my plan, though.

in our little encampment, we're kind of out on the edge of civilization. the national forest is up against us to the north, and a couple miles beyond that, the reservation, and you could keep that mountain in view if you got lost. somewhere back there is the "board tree," but i'm not exactly sure what that is. and then to the east, nothing. national forest, that turns into an enormous burn scar, where it burned completely up maybe eight years ago, thousands of acres. that was a major fire - they called in people from all around; whole mountainsides went up. i wasn't living in the area at the time, but still i kind of remember it. maybe what i remember is people talking about it, the minute i got up here. or seeing the devastation, driving through mayhill. this is our local town now - maybe seventeen miles east of cloudcroft, and so small, it makes cloudcroft look like a city.

that's the way it is out here. you think you're remote, and you find someone more remote. you think you got away from it all, and you find out, you are "it all." a small campfire gets ready to disappear; i'm about to call it a night.


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