A little walk in the Park in which Mile Markers 11 and 1 are discovered without walking eleven miles
Updated: Jan 8
On the first day of November, the sun played hide and seek all morning as I worked outback, tidying, moving rocks around, spreading compost and planting the first garlic and shallot bed of this season.
Thinking about pelicans and autumn colour, I decided to take Little Yoni canoe out to what I remembered as the northernmost boat launch of Elephant Butte Lake, only to discover that the lake isn't there anymore.
It's been a while since I have used this boat launch. I'm thinking it was November 2019 when Last Emperor and I launched from here. In three years, the Southwest drought cycle, which has kept lake levels low, has turned the place we paddled then, into a salt cedar (tamarix) jungle, glowing golden with autum colour under the moody afternoon sky.
Acres of ghosts of drowned shrubs now stand in bleached grey testimony to former water levels.
The autumn colour palette is gentle here, muted and subtle with a when the fire is low feel, heightened by the overcast skies.
Since a little reconnaissance at the once and former boat launch seemed to indicate that I wasn't anywhere near water to launch the canoe, enter plan B: walk another stretch of the previously mentioned West Lakeshore Trail.
Prior discovery of mile marker 10, had led me to believe that the trailhead beginning was at the northernmost point, at the somewhat confusingly named South Monticello campsite, and not far from the non-functioning, abandoned boat launch with its expansive tiers of cement parking lots slowly succumbing to colonization by tumbleweed and other prickly pioneers. The Rio Grande floodplain is reclaiming its pre lake nature in this place.
I found the Monticello trailhead parking lot and headed out, hoping for a sunset to brighten the walk.
Not far along the trail, something unexpected happened: mile marker 11 appeared, facing in the opposite direction to that which I was walking. Obviously this marker was for folks walking the trail south to north and not an indication that toilet facilities lay, in some unit of measurement represented by two parallel lines, ahead. They do, in fact, since the South Monticello campground offers very clean, typical park service pit toilets.
I continued walking, wondering whether I would find another 10 marker, or a 1. I really wanted mile marker 1, because lizard! but since I have not found a map showing the specific location of these mile makers, at that point I had no idea what lay ahead on the superbly maintained trail which I had all to myself on this gloomily atmospheric afternoon of Dia de las Muertos
The scenery on this section of the trail is beautiful minimalist northern Chihuahuan desert: creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) scented, punctuated by the occasional really prickly opuntia, horizons ringed around with distant indigo mountain ranges. Benches have been placed at strategic viewpoints alongside the trail where one can pause, drink some water and contemplate the immensity of sand and sky, rock, pebble, twig and leaf.
Mile maker 1 appeared. The lizard icon of my quest, achieved! At that exact moment the sun broke through in sudden, brief illumination.
The crack in everything, allows the light to get in. The lizard is the crack. The lizard, the sun, the sky, the clouds, the earth tilting on its axis all collude to define the moment.
And incidentally to also present the message of counter culture guru and disgraced Harvard professor Baba Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) in Be Here Now , the 1971 book originally created in northern New Mexico. A book which I read a long time ago and far away in another country, while gestating and breast feeding the Last Emperor.
Knowing there wasn't much daylight left, I retraced my steps after the lizard mile marker. As the earth grew dark, the sky flared with a brief sunset.
This unplanned little walk with its magical timing of sudden, illuminated lizard revelation, was a good way to commemorate the ancestors, not just my own dead, but all who have walked before us.
In some respects, all the earth, is an offrenda
The other walks always beside us. Even, or perhaps more noticeably, when we walk alone.
"...be like the swallow and remember home as a loving tree..."
Windswept: Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women by Annabel Abbs. More details here
The trail is in Elephant Butte Lake State Park. Use fees apply with various options available. I purchase an annual day use pass which allows me entry to any NM State Park, and, besides great walking opportunities in beautiful geographies, the yellow pass which hangs on my rear view mirror, is my ticket to year round dawn prayer paddles. I live between two big lakes.
The desert crust is fragile. It is essential that trail users stay on the marked trails to reduce negative impact.