I was at my camp in the Huachuca mountains of South Eastern Arizona, and getting a little bored. I had been living there for the winter, Surviving on the meager funds I had at my disposal and a lot of dumpster diving on the army base. There were some pretty rich pickings in those dumpsters at the training areas. One morning, over coffee, I decided to head for New Mexico. I had no clear destination in mind, I would just headed east to see where I would end up. I packed up and Cached some of my extra gear, then hiked the 5 miles down to town from my "Stealth camp" in the mountains.
After a stop over at my storage locker in the town of Sierra Vista, where I swapped out some gear and clothing. I walked over to the dollar store and bought some sardines, crackers and the cheapest jar of instant coffee I could find. On my way back to the locker to get my pack I stopped at the tortilla factory and picked up 2 packages of corn tortillas, that left me enough $$ to buy a can of skoal dip, and a small bottle of coke. Im not really a pop drinker but I have found that, a few drops of coke in a canteen of water makes it a bit more palateable, especially warm or tepid water that has been sloshing around in a plastic canteen.
I crammed all of my gear into a small Northface "Krag dancer" pack and headed out. I walked to the edge of town then caught my first ride that dropped me off near tombstone. I took Highway 191 north through Arizona, and finally , in the town of Strawberry, Arizona. I caught a ride East with a kid who was going to new mexico. He wasnt a bad cat as I recall, and worked as a chef in phoenix. It was a long ride , and about 20 miles outside of Gallop, NM, I asked him to drop me off. Going into a town at night when you are hitch hiking is a pain in the ass unless you have the funds to get a hotel room.
After I got out of the car and my eyes adjusted to the moon light, I could see some cottonwood trees in the distance and could smell cow crap, so I knew there was a coulee near by. I jumped the fence and walked toward the cottonwoods, After about 300 meters and came upon a bluff over looking the coulee. I set my tent up near there with some sage brush shielding me from any view of the road. I have always made hidden camps, mostly for 2 reasons; 1. im probably trespassing and 2. I dont trust folks 100%. There is a line from a movie I remember, "It is very imprudent to let your presence be known in hostile country". Words to live by.
It was good to relax, eat some food, then stretch out in my tent. It had been a long day of travel and I was tired. I didnt have a sleeping bag with me, Just an Army poncho liner, and it got a bit cool toward morning. I tend to go by the old U.S. Army Infantry saying "Travel light freeze at night", it certainly held true that night.
In the morning, it was see your breath cold. After packing up, I headed down into the coulee out of site of the road, then built a small twig fire from sage brush. I took out my canteen cup, with lid, G.I. Spoon, coffee and tortillas. I heated some water for coffee, and scorched a few tortillas for breakfast. The cheap coffee I bought was horrible, so I added some coke to sweeten it up. The combo of coke and coffee is my own version of "Jolt cola".
Thusly refreshed, I headed up to the road and stuck out my thumb, the rest of the day was a series of rides with some very interesting folks.
My last ride picked me up just outside of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation near the town of Jicarilla, new Mexico, the term Jicarilla comes from Mexican Spanish and means "Little Baskets". This guy was a self proclaimed pot grower and claimed he had plantations all over the mountains. He told me he was heading toward Taos and knew of a place near Valdez that was good for camping.
The Dude dropped me off in the mountains outside of Valdez, New Mexico, in the Hondo river valley, of the Beautiful Sangre De Cristo Mountains. It is a pretty, riparian area with lots of wild edibles to be had. Its only drawback is that it is near Taos, NM, which like Tombstone, Az, has become a major tourist trap, with over priced everything.
I shouldered my pack then headed off the road and into the woods, walking toward the river. I didn't have much food left in my pack, but my last ride gave me some beer, corn chips and donuts. It was late in the afternoon so I dropped my pack , took off my leather hiking boots and changed into my canvas high top sneakers. There were numerous large dandelion plants growing at this spot so I pulled up several and cut out the "crown" where the leaves meet the root. Earlier in the day I had collected some burdock root and curly dock while on the Jicarilla Apache reservation.
wading knee deep into the river, I went searching for crayfish or any type of wild plant edibles that I may find. I had already bagged 2 decent sized crayfish when I spied a bunch of water cress growing in a small stream feeding into the Hondo.
I drew my old Green River knife from its raw hide neck sheath and carefully cut several bunches of cress. This combined with the burdock root,dandelion crowns, and curly dock I had collected earlier would make the base for a decent stew. Placing the cress into my net bag along with my crayfish ,I waded back into the stream to look for more. After about 15 minutes more searching I ended up with a total of 5 Crayfish for my stew. It was a good haul.
Wading back down stream to where my pack was stashed, I Picked up my gear and looked about for a decent place to camp. I spotted a good looking area with some rocks behind and a small cosp of aspens to the front, I decided to pitch my tent there.
It took me about 10 minutes to set up my tent and tarp and to change out of my wet high top sneakers and back into my hiking boots. Grabbing my fishing line I headed back to the stream to try my luck , I was surprised to catch 2 decent sized trout, one right after the other.
A sprinkle of rain had began, so I cleaned my fish at the stream and headed back to my camp to gathered some fire wood and tinder. I wanted to get a fire going and cook my fish and wild veggies.
I chopped up the fish and veggies and threw that, along with the crayfish into my small blue enameled cooking pot. I added some salt,and let it cook until the fish fell apart. After the stew had cooked I added some crushed chillies, olive oil,and a dash of vinegar for flavoring. I had a few beat up corn tortillas in my pack so I heated those on the coals and made a canteen cup of coffee.
All in all it was a tasty meal, I rounded it off with a few handfulls of home made trail mix and raw oatmeal. Sitting there by my fire looking around, I noticed that the river bluffs reminded me of sleeping mountain lions, I listened to the sound of the aspen leaves as they danced on the wind, and in the gathering twilight I could see bats and nightjars swoop and dive at the insects along the river. It was a good way to spend a summer evening. You dont see Riparian animals too much in my neck of the Arizona Mountains.
It was refreshing to be there along the Hondo.I hung out for a few days along the river and the Bull of the woods area, it was beautiful there, and I did some hiking near Wheeler peak , which is the highest point in New Mexico.
After about a week of hiking around and hitching rides into Taos for supplies, I packed up and headed north to Raton to stop off and see my friend Alan and check on my favorite Mule Arlene. I managed to get to Raton with 3 rides, one was from a game warden....It marks the first time I was ever given a ride by law enforcement while Hitchhiking. Alan was out and About when I arrived so I dropped my pack in the Tack room and walked out in the pasture to see if his Remuda was around. but, no, they were not there except for Chief and another horse I didnt recognize. The rest of the remuda must be up in the hills above Raton, grazing on fresh grass.
I went back to the tack room and raided one of the Kayak boxes for some mountain house meals, I got down a stove, then heated some water for javva and to rehydrate the meals. I was 1/2 way through my 2nd freeze dried meal when Alan showed up. Ha had to run a few errands and as luck would have it, getting ready to head up to the NM/Colorado state line to set up a camp for a horse pack trip. We hopped on the quad runner and went out to wrangle the rest of the stock. Followed by a pack of dogs and a cloud of dust.
The area where the Remuda was at, is one of my favorite environments, it is where the mountains meet the prairie, so you find plants and trees from both areas there. It is a very rich environment. With lots of great Elk, deer, and Bear hunting in the Fall. We drove the quad up the fire break and the dogs were out ahead of us - they knew the deal and so did the horses and mules. With a lot of barking, some shouting and a bit of whistling, we got the equines headed down hill. I was actually able to rope tequila - one of my favorite horses, and hopped up on him for the ride back down the mountain. I dont know why, but for me, the scenery seems to be prettier if you are forked up on a good horse or mule.
Anyway, we drove stock down to the corrall, and would come fetch them up in the morning, we threw out a few bales of hay , then went back to the barn and loaded into a 10 horse trailer, all of the needed saddles, tentage, ropes and food for an over night trip.We were taking along Chief, Tequila, Arlene, Jake, Janet, Josie, and a couple others I didnt know. But all of Alans stock are good stout bastards and trail savvy, not to mention well trained. In my 7 years as a hunting guide, working around Mules, I found that there are 2 things they dont like - dogs and strangers..and, they can spot a rookie pretty quick. Though Im far from a rookie about working with Equines, I didnt know some of the newer Animals in Alans remuda so, I was going to work with Arlene as my mount, then josie and janet as pack animals.
We made all things ready for an early morning departure, then Al broke out some elk steaks and a gallon of cheap red wine....What a great way to spend a summer evening! sitting around outside, sipping wine, grilling bush meat, and swapping yarns with an old friend....I always liked that part of New Mexico as well, it is one of my favorite places.
Wayyy too early the next AM,we made guides coffee, then hopped in the truck and drove the trailer down to get the Horses and Mules, we caught them up, tied them off to the trailer, then groomed and saddled each animal, hooking the bridle and bit to the horn of our riding mounts saddles. After loading up, we drove to the sugarite state park on the NM/Colorado state line, parked the trailer and truck, unloaded the animals, packed our mules, with tents to set up for the upcoming guests, our food, water, a stove and some fuel, along with an axe, and a cross cut saw. Then we bitted our riding mounts, saddled up and lit out down the trail.
It was cool in the forest, there was a slight chill in the air, but it was refreshing to be out. Mounted on a good savvy trail Mule has always been a pleasure to me, it is one of the things I have always enjoyed. We climbed higher into the mountains , parts of the trail were pretty steep but Arlene had no trouble hauling me. Alans little black pack Mule, Jake was being a bit of a problem though, by fighting the others, and constantly trying to pull the lead rope away from Al.
I heard my friend say "Jake, you little Bastard" about 1000 times on that ride. There is something about black mules, they are - in my experience - always causing problems. Compared to red mules, which I have found are easier to work with. In fact, one Guide outfit I worked at in Montana would not mix red and black mules together in the same string. It was either all red mules or black mules. Never mixing horses into the pack string either. Horses are a pain in the ass on the trail, and compared to a good tough mule are delicate. Needing grain, special care, always tearing up a pack string etc. I have found that even the dumbest mule is still 10 times smarter then the smartest horse.
It took a few hours to get up to the first camp site area. We set up a picket line, then unsaddled all but our riding mounts and 2 pack animals. Taking the Axe and crosscut saw we went out and cut dead standing trees to make a tent frame for the sheep herder tent we brought along for the future guests. We set up the tent, then saddled up and went to the next location to do the same thing. We returned to the 1st camp site, unsaddled the rest of the stock, watered them, and broke out the grain and alfalfa.
There was no fire danger as of yet so we kindled a flame in the true Guides fashion with Ohio blue tip matches and coleman fuel. I cooked up a big pot of spaghetti,on the coleman stove, made coffee, and Alan dug a mostly full bottle of crown royal whiskey out of his war bag. We polished off dinner with a few apples and gave the cores to the pack stock. We also fed the dogs from the bag of dried food we brought along.
We sat around sipping coffee fortified with crown royal, swapped some lies and war stories about past hunts, and the people and Animals we have known. Alan, like most mountain man/cowboy types is very well read, and has a college education, it is always a pleasure to talk to him. He can intelligently talk about or discuss most any topic, with the exception of sports - same with me. I have never had an interest in sports, and find it silly, that most city types spend their lives worrying about what team is going to the toilet bowl or what ever it is called. To each his or her own I guess.
It was a good time up there in the woods with my friend Al and some of my favorite Animals. We eventually grew quiet, there were longer pauses in the conversation. I could see that my friend was deep in thought about something besides being here in the moment. I soon fell to sleep there by the fire, and awoke to throw a saddle pad over me and under me, to help ward off the night time chill. In the morning we packed up, saddled up, and hit the trail back to Raton. It was a good trip, but I was bound for another adventure.