A plane flew overhead noisily, shattering the stillness of the air and releasing a flock of bluebirds from a nearby tree. It seemed to be flying rather low, which was surprising, because the nearest airport was about 200 miles away.
Was it my imagination or was it circling? Had the rescuers started searching for us ? Surely it was a little too early? We hadn’t been gone for more than a couple of hours, after all..
The Guadalupe Mountains were covered in snow. So were our trail, the trees and cacti. This was a little unusual – New Mexico is not, after all, known for snow. But snow had decided to follow us everywhere we went this winter, and we shouldn’t have been surprised when nearby Carlsbad, NM received 4-5 inches of snow in a single day (it usually receives less than an inch in December). It would have snowed a little more in the Mountains, and would definitely get colder.
Rational creatures wouldn’t be out in this weather. Not surprisingly, the very rational Mr. Bear and Mr. Mountain Lion were snug in their dens, possibly watching reality shows on TV and sniggering at human beings.
It was just as well. We did very much like to meet these denizens of the Park, but certainly not on the trail. We would have liked to be at a safe distance, inside a tank-like SUV, with cameras ready and so on. We definitely weren’t autograph hunters, we were just paparazzi.
There had been other animals about – you could see their tracks clearly on the fresh snow – hoof prints of a deer, smaller depressions where a rabbit might have hopped, and other prints that belonged to a larger animal – maybe an elk?
There weren’t too many human beings around either. In fact, we were the only people for miles around.
But there were birds. Tens of them. Eastern bluebirds, Cardinals, Bushtits, Robins, unknown yellow and orange birds, all kinds of Little Brown Birds – Meadowlarks? Wrens? The only Little Brown Bird I recognized was the sparrow, and these were abundant too, merrily hopping in the snow. Sparrows in the Snow. A sight stranger than my imagination.
We had set off on a trail that passed through 2 springs, and beside each one there were dozens of trees and tens of birds. The rest of the place was scrub land – with lots of multi0colored cacti.
This wasn’t one of those bold, dashing trails. This was a trail which didn’t like to stand out. It was trying its best to remain inconspicuous, to blend in with its surroundings. Or perhaps it was sick of being trampled upon by all animals at all times of the day and night. Whatever its reasons, it was plotting a career change from being Mr. Trail to becoming Mr. Part of Desert. Right now, it was Mr. Indistinguishable Part of Snowfield, but you could see it was content to remain that way.
The weather was a few degrees below freezing (i.e. say minus 7 deg Celsius or so) , but we were bundled up in our jackets, gloves and thick hiking boots, and even my freezing toes were getting warmer with each step I took.
It would have been all too easy to get off the trail. It was staying on the trail that was much harder.
“Wasn’t it Emerson who said that about going where there is no path and leaving a trail?”
We agreed that he had no idea what he was talking about. Clearly, he had never hiked in snow.
For our part, we were quite content to remain on the beaten track. We even wished it was a little more of a beaten track.
It was a beautiful and desolate place, and we were taking our time walking through it, stopping every now and then to take pictures.
The worries began later.
(to be continued..)