Section 10: Rio Grande Village to Langtry
Another painfully early wake-up, another nice morning of semi-doable hiking. We started on the US side, nervously edging around a collection of large tents, vehicles and campers. It was a bit unclear where the public land started and we didn’t want any surprises. Plus the barking dogs were intimidating! After successfully clearing the campsite, we wandered through fields aglow with brilliant green grasses that lined the inside of the river bends. A tapestry of yellow, pink, orange and white primroses poked their heads out against the greenery. Breathtaking!
As the canyon walls narrowed again, the US side became harder to move across and we switched sides. Thanks to private landowners, the Mexican side of the river was surprisingly passable, with large swathes of burnt and cleared cane. We followed a trail that was too wide and established for a cow trail. There were constant signs of human passage; used toilet paper, discarded clothes, trash. An old backpack and a bottle of clear nail polish. A box labeled “Pollo Frito” and spanish-language candy wrappers. We kept thinking the trail had ended, only to pick it up a quarter mile later. We knew it was the same trail because of the fresh footprints; one pair in particular had such fresh tracks we could almost make out the letters of the “R-something-D” brand. Occasionally, the trail would dip into the cane and we would follow a tunnel clearly made by and for humans.
This had to be a migrant trail. Right? We could not figure out what they would be doing out here, with virtually nowhere to go.
What would you do once you reached the US side? Scale the canyon walls and trek 40 miles through cliffs and desert and mountains to the distant highway? It was a mystery that we pondered all day. The tracks continued along this trail for a good half of the day, before we lost them in the brush. It was weird and curious and sketchy and we didn’t love the dubious legality of being in Mexico. But then again...it was easy hiking.
Right on cue, we hit the major navigation debacle of the day. No matter how straightforward the hiking in the morning, you run into some kind of problem by afternoon. We were making great time ahead of the boaters, stopping to wait as they were held up by a series of class II rapids. But then...we lost our trail. But not before following it into an absolute tangle of mesquite and Acacia. Our way forward was blocked so we retraced backwards. Rather than go all the way back to a spot we knew to be clear, we wasted a shocking amount of time trying unsuccessfully to punch through the cane. There was a point, in all the floundering and panting and sweating, that we seriously considered the possibility of never making it out, and slowly dying from exhaustion and starvation as the cane grew around our decomposing bodies.
After at least an hour of unnecessary strain, we pulled the plug on moving forward and fully committed to backtracking. We had long abandoned our “wooo-oos” to the boaters, opting for the more alarming “ay-yi-yi” that signalled danger. Still, they kept calling, trying to locate us in all the monotonous cane. Shut up! Even knowing the logic of regular communication, it was impossible to summon the energy. The boaters had pulled their boats out of the water downstream and were wading back up towards us, searching for a way to help. We flopped into the water and stumbled with the current to the boats. Whew. Time to kiss the ground and give thanks for freedom!
There wasn’t much daylight left after our giant time waste but we made up what we could. At one point, we floated past a boat ramp and road on the US side. The small clearing was marked by a line of red surveyor flags. Across the river on the Mexican side we could see our trail from earlier emerging from the cane. A pair of men’s jeans and women’s shorts were folded next to it. Back on the US side, a couple hand-placed limestone steps led out of the water to a line of waiting shoes. Weird! Not entirely sure how to interpret the clues we floated on, making camp a short time after in the shadow of Castle Butte. The sunset cast a magical golden light over everything, erasing all frustrations from the day and sending us straight back to giddy.