Section 8: Fort Hancock to Presidio
Not the best night. By the time dawn rolled around we were both wide awake and had been for hours. We had agonized over where to camp the night before and had finally settled on a hill out of sight of the road and wash below. It was an ok spot security wise but it was completely exposed, and - when the wind started up 5 minutes after we went to sleep - completely deafening. We were also camped on a slant and kept having to push ourselves up from the bottom of the tent where gravity took us.
So were we groggy and grumpy when morning finally came? Yes.
We packed up slowly, complaining about the wind (which only gathered strength with the dawn) and the temperature (which had dropped significantly during the night). The road lasted only a quarter mile before disappearing altogether and we moved through a totally cool and surprising canyon that came out of nowhere. Signs of human foot traffic were everywhere, from footprints to trash to a barbed wire handhold tied to a rock pile that bypassed a pour off. We felt relieved that we stopped where we had, this was a busy highway during night hours.
Aside from the eerie feel of the canyon caused by gloomy skies and a feeling of being watched, the canyon was one of the more beautiful spots of the trip. It reminded us of the Jacumba wilderness way back in California during our first week. The volcanic rock walls rose craggy and massive around us and the stone glinted with a shiny tint. A deep perfectly round pool of perennial water lay at the base of a pour off and fed a quiet little stream surrounded by towering cottonwoods and willows. A crashing noise in the bushes next to us caused some anxiety which turned into excitement when a pair of javelinas ran out.
We weren’t exactly sure where we were (wasn’t this supposed to be a road?) but we were happy to be here!
After stumbling through the canyon we rejoined a perfectly graded road which wound its way up down and around the foothills of the Van Horn Mountains and into the valley below. The wind blasted us with every step, forcing us at times to turn sideways so it wouldn’t blow us backwards. Even though the surrounding mountains and vista unfolding before us were vast and epic and beautiful we felt more inclined towards self pity as we shifted our heavy gallon water jugs from hand to hand and thought longingly of yesterday’s sun bake. What we would give to be sweating right now!
(How many ways can we describe these ridiculously winding roads?)
Our road pinballed through the terrain from windmill to windmill. Always in the distance was another dandelion looking windmill on the horizon. We huddled next to one at lunch, hoping it would shelter us from the wind!
So far we have seen no one out here other than the Border Patrol car from yesterday. As we neared the public road running north south through the valley we see a house and barn before us. Crap. We were not exactly sure whose land we were currently on and it made us uneasy to see signs of residential ownership. Sure enough the road took us directly in front of the front yard, maybe 5 yards from the door. We nervously called out a greeting as we crept by but we were in luck and no one was home. Thank God. At the roads end we had to hop a huge gate with a clear “no trespassing “ sign. Oops. In our defense there was no sign on the side we came in on.
The county road was slightly wider than the road we had come in on but otherwise indistinguishable. All the roads out here are perfectly graded and maintained, with one clean set of tire tracks marking an otherwise pristine dirt path. We hadn’t seen any cars or signs of life and we walked straight down the middle, debating our course of action if the roads continue to be gated and marked as private property. On one hand we desperately want to find a way through this but on the other we’re really not out here to ruffle feathers. We don’t want to be so caught up in our mission that we feel entitled to trespass. But this is our last option and if it doesn’t work out we’re going to have to bail and skip ahead. We do not want to do this, especially after making it so far in.
We held off on a break wanting to make it to the next intersection. Ahead of us we could see a large gate crossing the road, not a good sign. Sure enough as we neared we could make out the sign which stated in no uncertain terms, private property, private road, no trespassing. This was a blow. Can’t plead ignorance in this case. We sat down to consider our options and figure out which one sounded the least awful.
They were all terrible. Trespass and potentially get caught? Go back down to the river where we didn’t feel totally safe? Bail and have to return in the future, still with no way of getting through? Skip?
As we considered we spiraled further into a cycle of gloom and doom, feeling defeated and angry and frustrated. We didn’t know which instincts to trust. Were we exaggerating the safety concerns we’d felt closer to the border? Were we letting down all the people who’d stuck their necks out for us and helped us through this section? If we were just a little tougher or a little more confident could we do this? How important was getting every mile to us? And so on and so on.
When you’re feeling this way and you’re far from town there's only one option: set up the tent! Crawling into your own little space and getting in your sleeping bag is the best route to finding your way back to happiness. As we were shuffling into clean(ish) socks and sleeping bags we heard the sound of a car approaching. In the time it took Tenny to flounder around in the tent collecting her shoes, jacket and courage, the vehicle had reached the gate. Pounce!
Tenny popped out of the bushes and ran for the car, badly startling the poor guy opening the gate. (He later told us he was on his way back to his car to get his gun when he first met us). Fortunately, Fred listened to the excited introduction and explanation Tenny threw at him. First he needed to know who “we" were as Claire hadn’t emerged from the hidden tent yet. Once he understood Claire was the missing person that Tenny kept pointing back to to describe “we" he began helping. We thought getting permission would require some convincing but Fred was generous right from the start, calmly explaining the route we would need to take and offering his ranch as a spot to fill up on water. He didn’t question why we wanted to hike, he seemed to get it, telling us it would be an interesting walk. He also corrected our fears about the river road, claiming that the road is actually pretty safe and people don’t want to bother you. Recently he’s been leaving the gate open so the oil investors can drive their equipment through. Lots of development going on in the area.
We said goodbye to Fred, enthusiastically showering him with thanks. We were pumped. Sometimes the universe steps in to help. This was pretty much the best case scenario. We have permission! Time for bed and sleep.