Before we could get to Texas, a few literary stops were necessary. We were driving through Monkey Wrench Gang country and stomping grounds of Hayduke and Edward Abbey. Stopping at Lee's Ferry we marveled at the stark and unforgiving landscape. The struggle for scraping out life in such remote places is quite palpable. It is easy to see how Edward Abbey could create it as the birthplace of such eco-terrorism. Every action here has long reaching consequences which are often permanent. The Barracuda couldn't understand why on Earth we cared about such a place. He was busy navigating us quickly to camp.
He did quite well with the map and we are hoping to have a significant focus on trail and topographical mapping this year as another added skill for our backpacking. My father can read the trees, Lee is pretty darn amazing at it, and I'm rather hopeless. If The Barracuda can fall somewhere in there, I'll be very happy!
The Gila National Forest of New Mexico was calling. Inside it resides the Aldo Leopold Wilderness, the first designated wilderness area in the United States and an homage to one of the great environmentalists of our time. If we were going to be driving through New Mexico the need to stop was imperative. As we were driving, we couldn't quite understand what exactly it was that Leopold saw in the area.
Though the skies were incredible and there was a definite beauty in the bleak landscape, this wasn't really screaming "Sand County Almanac" (which was written in Wisconson but inspired here). This was the area that inspired the works of Leopold? The area which enticed him to work for Wilderness protection and be a founding member of The Wilderness Society? The area which caused him to write his famous work "Land Ethics", which still stands as a poignant and founding document of the environmental movement?
We ventured on, partially wondering if we weren't enlightened enough to realize the great wonders which seemed to be invisible.
Then completely out of no where, there were trees ahead. A large, gorgeous clump of trees, sloping hills, and meandering lush grasslands, all framed by the incredible setting sun. I'm sorry we doubted you, Mr. Leopold. If there was ever a place to designate the miraculous quality of nature, you found it.
The skies were clear as we began our hike in to camp just north of the sacred spring and the beginning of the watershed. Then came a rain drop. Just one. We are from the Pacific NW. We eat, sleep, and breath rain. No big deal. After all, it slightly smelled of rain, but there were no clouds. After just under a mile in the skies opened up and dumped more rain than I have ever seen directly on us. It POURED. Our clothes began sticking to us like second skin. Unrelenting torrents of rain turned the trail into a river causing us to have to walk along the banked sides. Thunder clapped overhead loud enough to make both Jules and I jump and terrify The Barracuda. Stoic as ever, he held it together and soldiered on. This seemed bad enough, but it still hadn't begun hailing. Once the BB sized hails began to pelt us, The Barracuda broke down into tears sniffling, "The...hail...hurts...." There was nothing to do but continue. Jules took his pack and we covered him in my larger coat to hopefully deflect the stinging ice bits. As quickly as it came, it went. In under 45 minutes we had wet clothes hanging to dry and the tent was up.
In the morning out hike back out was very uneventful. Nature was indoctrinating our son into a respect for the land and direct knowledge of who the boss is when you backpack. It is an important lesson to learn that you are not the one in control. Even when it sucks, even when you hurt or are wet, even when you don't want to, you carry your weight and keep on walking.
The Barracuda was unscathed by the exceptionally exciting storm and decided to take on the roll of ninja backpacker! Jules and I had never quite realized how much a balaclava resembled ninja gear, but leave it to the five year old boy to find the likeness. At this point, our son can now hike through anything and we are quite happy he still wants to. More than ever, he has developed a conscience about the life of the woods. You can try to control it, but in the end, she's going to remind you just who you are messing with.
~Aldo Leopold; "Land Ethics"