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One of the great outdoor joys of my life is to simply meander through the countryside. That means to hike along with no particular place in mind as my destination, and to do it in a very slow manner. I do my best meandering while hunting. A good example of what I’m talking about happened during my last elk hunt.
Rod Chandler and I decided to drop off of a high ridge and descend about a thousand feet or so into the depths of a canyon. Upon reaching the bottom, we started meandering on an old cowboy trail. Immediately we came upon a very large predator track. At first we thought that it was from a lion, but closer examination proved it to be from a very large canine. The track was more than double the size of a coyote, and we speculated whether it was made by a lost hound dog or even a wolf. (We both believe that these critters still roam the wilderness.)
Later we split up to hunt back along a mesa. I was meandering above rim rock when I came upon the ruins of a square pit house, the kind commonly made by the Mogollon Indians hundreds of years ago.
I found a lone shard of pottery with rope marks on its exterior side, and placed it on a stone, then moved on. Not fifty yards further, I found a second building site, but this one was full of dirt and covered with stones. It was about five-foot by ten-foot in size.
I rejoined Rod and took him to my find knowing that he had studied Indian cultures in college and could give me some insight into what I was looking at. There were pottery bits everywhere.
I also found another foundation, much larger than the rest. Rod explained that it was their Kiva, or meeting place. These “finds” made our day and our hunt, and they came from meandering.
The next day we abandoned our hunt for elk and made a trip to the area of Mule Creek to hunt squirrels. Again, we were meandering up a remote canyon when we came upon the remains of two buildings cut into the side of the hill. Large stones were used as walls and then mortared in place with mud. One building had a tin roof, and inside we discovered old bed springs. There was a hole in the side wall for a cook stove and another hole in the roof to accommodate a wood heater, probably a pot belly.
The remains of a spring house stood across the dry creek bed, and it held black, brackish water in its belly.
A short ways up the draw we found the evidence to tell us what this ancient camp had been. There was a deep, vertical, uncovered shaft and next to it about 20 feet away sat a huge 6x8x4-foot piece of machinery. It was a winch of some sort, and we could surmise that it had used a three-foot wide belt of canvas or leather to accomplish its task. We estimated that this hunk of machinery had to weigh four or five tons. The name of the maker, Fraser Chalmers of Chicago, could still be read, and the patent date of 1896 still showed clear.
Amazingly, the two long handles that worked the gears and wooden brake were still free and easily moved! Imagine that - and after nearly 100 years out in the elements! We could also see that this machine had been powered by a steam engine and boiler. What a work of art! I wish we could have loaded it onto the back of Rod’s pickup and taken it home. How many men and mules had broken their backs to get this behemoth up here and working?
The draw revealed many coarse chunks of golden quartz, none of which revealed any “color” to us. I did find several large pieces of white quartz which I brought home with me.
Down below the mine ruins I found a clear piece of quartz that Rod told me was “high grade”; it had a rose colored hue to it. Then in a short stand of grass, I found my most unusual find: It was the remains of a pipe made from the leg bone of a deer. It had a small half-inch bowl, and the stem was broken, probably the reason the miner threw it away.
A few years back, my son, Joey, and I were coyote calling up north a ways when we happened upon a brown boulder the size of a house. We meandered around a bit and discovered that the monster was made of obsidian, a neat looking black, glass-like stone. Soon we discovered “Apache tears” littered everywhere at its base.
I never forgot about that boulder, and last year I took my wife, Jeri, and two friends up there to look around. We not only explored that rock, but found two others of similar size. On top of all of them we found ancient drill holes used by Indians to grind grain and corn and other foods.
Meandering further we discovered more obsidian, but this was the rarer brown variety. A neat find.
Old shacks tucked up in brush-covered side draws and caves are always a treat to find while meandering. The other day I came upon a huge rock as big as a house; it was arched upward and underneath it was a cavity that went from one end to the other, very cave like. The ceiling of the opening was black from ancient campfires.
About a half mile below the rock was a spring, and at this site I found the track of a big male cougar. It was fresh. My friend Billy Lee and I will have to give this further consideration in the future. Beside the lion tracks were the tracks of a female cougar and her cub. Whether the male was with them or just happened to be drinking from the same glass is unknown to me, but it was a great find.
There have been many other finds over the years in this part of Southwest New Mexico, but they are fodder for other tales at other times. I hope you include some meanderings in your next trip afield. Who knows what awaits you.