Like the lid on a boiling pot, the azure sky held the morning heat close to the gritty ground. Eager to hike solo for the first time, and just as enthusiastic to get away from the field house of nearly 20 people, I slipped silently away from Deep Creek Ranch.
I loved my work as a member of a survey team searching in the Mogollon Mountains for Pueblo ruins. From sunrise to early afternoon we wandered through the Gila Wilderness Area in New Mexico making maps and notes of locations of archeological remains for future research. But this Saturday I had my heart set on an adventure to Sunflower Mesa by myself.
Beneath my feet, the southwestern sand accompanied my pace with a steady shah-shuh, shah-shuh tempo.This cadence was interrupted when I reached a boulder-strewn ravine and chose a path that would lead me higher. I felt at ease as I picked my way around the rocks, cradled amidst stubby junipers that filled the crevice. In contrast to the luminous light, in this barranca, mottled mosaics of dappled darkness danced upon the soil from light reflecting through branches.
A movement in my periphery caught my attention. I felt fear surface as a primordial instinct. I startled to see a ghostly, ashen figure stalk by. My distress manifested in the back of my throat, as I tasted terror.
A wolf? I smelled the dryness of the dead air, now as I drew in my breath. I faced a coyote no more than 12 ft away as he turned his head back to stare straight at me. Relieved that he was much smaller as he made his way up the side of the wash, I made my escape into the dim sanctuaries of shade. Conveniently located a short distance away, underneath a juniper was a low-lying rock for my seat.
Refreshed with water and rest, once again, I felt the grace that nature’s cathedrals bestow. What first seemed like a life and death encounter now appeared as a once-in-a-lifetime gift of a close encounter with one of God’s wild creatures.
As I relaxed in the shelter of the vegetation, my eyes settled on the ground at my feet. A perfectly shaped arrowhead floated on the surface of the sand. I picked it up as carefully as if it were Waterford crystal. My fingers caressed the surfaces of this speckled, silvery stone, a finely worked point of cryptocrystalline quartzite or chalcedony. In each tiny concavity where human hands flaked off flecks to form the point, the hues of this mineral ranged from a creamy color to rusty buff. I imagined the ancient hands that crafted this projectile point so many years before.
Along with a grateful heart for such an unexpected occurrence with nature, the memory of this day has remained dear to me all these years.
Unforgettable is the coyote that crossed my path in an intimate chance encounter, so close, that such an event has not been repeated since.
Martha works as an instructional designer with faculty to develop multimedia learning materials.
While earning a Master’s in Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin, she was crew chief at the WS Ranch archeological site in Alma, New Mexico and also did reconnaissance survey in the Gila Wilderness.