The primitive road leading to San Lorenzo Canyon gives the term “washboard” a vivid new meaning. We drove approximately an hour south of our Village of Los Lunas, New Mexico, on speedy I-25, and we now faced a wilderness road that would guarantee a top speed of ten miles per hour. We figured a good half hour to our destination.
It mattered not.
On this beautiful Sunday morning, we packed water (an absolute requirement for hiking in New Mexico), sunscreen, safety necessities and two very excited pups. We anticipated a day beneath the fabled mesas of central New Mexico.
Barely north of Socorro, New Mexico, we traveled along a two-lane road that featured a cattle crossing approximately every quarter mile. The sides of this road were dotted with folks living on this planet on their own terms. Out here they call it “living off the grid.”
One outpost promised the sale of New Mexico honey. I wish we had stopped. Goats, sheep, lamas, donkeys and rusted out hulks of abandoned school buses filled the junk-strewn compound. I would guess that forlorn destination could be the fodder of three Rome News-Tribune columns, at least.
We turned onto the washboard road and our forward motion slowed to a bumpy crawl. The pups were alarmed as the truck shuddered above the rocky lane, and we slowed to a creep. The wilderness ahead beckoned.
My wife remarked that although the dirt road revealed a good deal of traffic, trash was a no show. Beyond the edge of the road we were treated to a western vista. We couldn’t see a single power line. I loved it.
Slowly a rocky mesa revealed itself as if announcing a scene out of a classic western movie. Our rough and winding road rapidly narrowed.
Why do we seek the empty, the vast and the quiet? Perhaps we seek to experience the emotions our ancestors felt when they encountered new natural experiences those ages ago. The land here in New Mexico, while beautiful, is completely unforgiving. Flash floods, all manner of prickly plants and wild animals all compete to make humans uncomfortable, yet beauty abounds.
The walls of San Lorenzo Canyon slowly embraced us. Prehistoric rock formations leaned in as if inspecting our suitability for entrance. Each moment brought another stunning formation framed against our turquoise sky.
After a couple of slow canyon curves, the floor widened. We saw our first fellow humans in a while, a young couple strapping on backpacks. They gave us a friendly wave and then set out from their vehicle down a canyon trail.
We parked next to an empty truck hitched to a livestock trailer. The pups whined in excitement, and we exited the truck with anticipation.
The quiet was deafening on the canyon floor. We instantly became attenuated to the natural sounds of the area as we set out. A screech of a low-flying hawk echoed through the ancient stone walls.
We were completely alone. We hiked for a bit and the only sounds were the panting of the dogs and the scratch of rocky sand against our boots. Every few yards we stopped and took photos that certainly would be at home in National Geographic, or at least Facebook.
Every turn in the trail offered a view into ancient earth. I wondered if Spanish conquistadors experienced the same magic.
We turned back after a while, and the return portion of our hike provided even more visual delights. Becoming bolder, the pups scrambled up some low-setting rock formations, both dogs straining against their leashes.
Back at our parking spot we refreshed ourselves with water still cold in our modern water containers. The pups were even more thirsty than we humans and they lapped until they were content.
Filled with peace, we exited the sacred land. It was as if the bride and myself had been rejuvenated down to the cellular level. A bit of motion high on the canyon wall caught my eye, and there stood a bighorn sheep watching from her safe distance.
As we rounded a curve on the way out a posse of riders cheerfully greeted us. A family, owners of the stock trailer, was enjoying a Sunday trail ride. They all waved and we returned the greeting. Bringing up the rear was a child, no more than six or seven years old, guiding his paint pony behind the grownups.
We stopped one more time before returning to the paved road. A slight rise in the desert afforded a spectacular view that demanded a pause. We could see from our desert vantage point all the way across the Rio Grande Valley and out to mountains in the east. The angle prevented any 21st century visual intrusion. Even the pups grew quiet.
I’m going back soon. My soul requires it. I hope you find your quiet canyon no matter where you live.