Section 8: Fort Hancock to Presidio
A little cross country travel this morning, giving us a feel for what animals and people push through in these parts. Lots of silty drains, small shrubs, cacti. And a thorny bush we haven't been able to identify yet, besides that it’s mean and it grabs our clothing, backpacks and whatever else it can rip to shreds.
Maybe just cat’s claw?
The cross country section took us to the edge of the Eagle Mountains. On a bluff above us three cows stood gazing serenely out at the riverbottom. Why they were standing at the edge of a precipice who knows, but it was kind of welcoming seeing them perched up there. Or maybe we’re just lonely and happy to see any life.
The road staggered back and forth around every hill. Up and down, over and around, back and forth. We came round one of the multiple bends and were face to face with a bighorn sheep. Hey buddy! It was a beautiful creature, very woolly with a dark umber winter coat, two big horns curved around its shaggy face. We scared him and couldn't find where he disappeared to among the hills.
Our footsteps were loud. The road and washes we trudged through were composed of fragments of resistant rock and our weight made the pieces scrape together with a screeching sound. Just like last night’s footsteps our passage caused a bit of a ruckus against the quiet background of the uninhabited mountains.
There was very little moving out here and we felt jumpy and nervous and particularly visible scurrying along the road. Should we be this nervous?
The mountains and twisty curves in the road slowly took us away from the river and hid us from view. As we moved away from the river we talked through our options and decided not to continue right along the river. Our usual confidence had been shaken by last night’s events and the many warnings we’d received about the “dangers” of the area. It’s difficult to know when something is just in your head or an actual reality so it was a hard decision but we decided to err on the safe side and see if we could find a different route that would keep us a couple miles north of the river and slightly less visible.
After more miles than we had anticipated we reached the comforting bulk of the Indio Research Center. Five to six buildings were positioned neatly by the road, forming a small campus with a picnic table and fire pit stationed in the middle. We didn’t quite know what to expect but we knew that the property belonged to the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) and that it was used to house students and faculty on various research trips. Our Border Patrol agent had told us that people only came up on the weekend and that we would be able to find water there. We figured that university owned property might be a bit more welcoming to trespassers and that the buildings would give us a sense of security.
Plus isn't their educational mission in line with ours? We really hoped they would see it that way!
The buildings weren't barricaded only locked, waiting peacefully for the owners to return or students to fill the buildings with life. Loose straps flapped in the gusty wind and individual structures creaked. We were a bit jumpy but thrilled to collapse under one of awnings to rest. As we sat there, looking at maps and brainstorming alternate routes forward, the sky opened up and a deluge of hail peppered the tin roofs, creating a musical crescendo. Cool! The tiniest human structure makes the elements infinitely more manageable and we felt cozy and secure hidden under a roof but with the cool air on our faces.
Thanks to an air control station and cell tower high on a nearby peak we had service in the middle of nowhere. Robert had told us to give him a call and we were eager to incorporate his advice on our new route forward. A little before dark we curled up in our sleeping bags, ready to ask him about some upcoming springs and general info. Robert knows every nook and cranny of this country. He reminded us that we’re heading into more and more private property and that means most water sources are off limits. He addressed our concerns about the footsteps we heard: everyone has their path through the mountains, some smuggling and others coming for a good job. We think about this, that it’s all part of life down here, everyone does their thing. No one bothers us because we fall outside the scope of their mission. Robert joked around with us for a bit, lightening our mood then ended the call reiterating that we should keep him in the loop regarding our plans. It is tremendously reassuring to have someone looking out for us. Our tent was tucked securely against the edge of the building but even here it’s difficult not to indulge the creeping sense of paranoia. All the fictions that we’ve heard about this place crowd out any realities that we’ve experienced and we toss and turn all night, poised for the return of the footsteps.