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Sunday, March 22, 2009 - Leasburg Dam State Park, Radium Springs NM

Site 12, City of Rocks State Park, Faywood NM, March 21, 2009
Site 12, City of Rocks State Park, Faywood NM, March 21, 2009

Acting on a whim

Today I broke camp at Site 12. I was low on supplies and my waste tanks were full (there is no dump station at City of Rocks State Park). My plan was to head off to Deming, stock up, do laundry, and then head out to Rockhound State Park for a dump and a night before heading over to the Rio Grande valley to begin a slow drift north to Albuquerque where I will rendezvous with my friend Jane for a few days in early April before beginning the long trek back to Red Rock for the summer.

Best laid plans and all that. On a whim when I pulled out of Peppers Supermarket in Deming I took off for Leasburg Dam State Park on the Rio Grande instead.

So here I am looking out at spring popping out all along the now mightily flowing river.

Circles at Finger-Ring Draw

Coming over the Hatch Cut-off I took a look for the dirt road that leads in to the mysterious formation I noted yesterday. I found it right next to a little ranch and chickened out about running in there - the road, Cook's Canyon Road, looks like a farm road and I'm not sure what the etiquette is about traveling such roads. Maybe next time I'll be braver.

Yesterday I learned from a neighbor at City of Rocks that the formation is on BLM lands so it is probably ok to walk in. We'll see. This thing fascinates me.

A couple of articles that might bear on my explorations in this area

In a New Mexico Wilderness Alliance article Cookes Range - Florida Mountains Complex there is information here about accessing the Cook's Spring / Cook's Canyon area in the neighborhood of these circles.

In a Desert Exposure article HIKING APACHERIA - Who Walks with the Warriors? the author describes how back in the day when the Apaches and the American Buffalo Soldiers were getting it on the Apaches had a view point in the Florida Mountains down across from Rockhound State Park where they could get a few hours warning when an Army party left their Cook's Spring encampment, which was visible to them as a plume of dust. Cook's Spring is less than 2 miles west of these circles. Here's how the author, Jerry Eagan, puts it:

Today, I'm searching for a place in the Floridas I'd found two years ago. It wasn't much, but I'd seen it a week earlier, and wanted to check it out again. I feel at peace here, in these rugged mountains, as if I'd always been here.

I choose a route I'd never used before to get to the top. I'd been intrigued by a rock outcropping on the ridge line, and wanted to investigate it. I'm not let down. After eating lunch, I come around a rocky bluff and find what I believe were once Apache breastworks. Notches had been cleaned out beneath large boulders: spaces that gave shelter from sun, heat, wind, rain, snow, if one wasn't looking for luxury. Between those large boulders I spot the suspected "breastwork." From behind them I can see Camel Mountain, 20 miles to the southeast, in the West Portillos, directly on the border. Beyond Camel Mountain, in Chihuahua, lies Laguna Guzmanā€”a favorite watering hole for the Apache on their annual migrations in winter and spring.

In battle after battle, the Apaches automatically built rock breastworks for cover. Breastworks have been used by white men for centuries, but Chihinne survivor James Kaywakla humorously stated that his ancestors "invented trench warfare" when they built these defilade to hide behind in a gunfight. Whoever built these breastworks, they knew what they were meant to do. Apache or American? Americans always leave trash. An absence of trash, to me, suggests Apache. Even so, no prize, because I won't dig to confirm the origins of this rock wall.

Defilade. An odd word very important for soldiers. Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary says: "def-e-lade: n. v., protection or shielding from hostile observation and flat projecting fire provided by an artificial or natural obstacle [such] as a hill . . . to shield from enemy fire by using natural or artificial obstacles." Crazy or not, I'd asked "them" to "show me what you want," and my curiosity and instincts had paid off by exploring this outcrop.

Go there! Take your time. See what is there! the Apache seem to urge.

Facing southeast, behind such a defilade, a rifleman would be covered, and could see Mexicans coming north for miles. If the Mexicans were chasing Apache, one warrior could hold them off for awhile. Facing north-northwest, the same man could see Americans coming into the canyon.

....

Another hour and a half and 500 feet more in elevation gain, across several talus slopes, and I find the cave I'd been looking for. I feel satisfied that my memory had served me so well. Crawling into the cave, it's clear a man could lie on his back and look north-northeast, towards Cooke's Peak and Fort Cummings, where American Buffalo Soldiers were stationed after the Civil War. From this small cave, one could stash gear, water and ammo, and remain hidden to anyone gazing south, towards the Floridas. There'd be no risk of sunlight glinting off metal or glass (the Apache valued binoculars very highly) they'd taken from Mexicans or Americans they'd killed.

The cave, roughly seven feet wide, perhaps two and a half high at the mouth, but eight to ten feet high inside, feels cool and felt safe as I take off my gear and slip inside.

Cooke's Peak, which some Apache called "White Rings Around Mountain" or "Standing Mountain," is partially lost in haze. No wind and plenty of exhaust fumes from I-10. The old Buffalo Soldier fort had been located south and slightly east of Cooke's Peak, at the mouth of Cooke's Canyon, near Cooke's Spring. Plenty of history, carnage, isolation and madness. People from all over the world have come and gone through here with the winds of time. Desperate mail riders and balking stagecoaches. At least 20 graves still litter the canyon. From this cave, knowing where those features were, an Apache could have seen dust clouds rising from cavalry headed out of the fort, prowling for Apache. A few hours' warning and then maybe they'd get behind those breastworks and fight the soldiers.

Update

I'vre started gathering my research on these circles at What are those Circular Symbols drawn in the desert at Finger Ring Draw?.

Night camp

Site 11 - Leasburg Dam State Park, Radium Springs NM

A Siberian dog signal-howl

A camp in the middle of a clear, dark winter's night presents a strange, wild appearance. I was awakened, soon after midnight, by cold feet, and, raising myself upon one elbow, I pushed my head out of my frosty fur bag to see by the stars what time it was. The fire had died away to a red heap of smouldering embers. There was just light enough to distinguish the dark outlines of the loaded sledges, the fur-clad forms of our men, lying here and there in groups about the fire, and the frosty dogs, curled up into a hundred little hairy balls upon the snow. Away beyond the limits of the camp stretched the desolate steppe in a series of long snowy undulations, which blended gradually into one great white frozen ocean, and were lost in the distance and darkness of night. High overhead, in a sky which was almost black, sparkled the bright constellations of Orion and the Pleiades--the celestial clocks which marked the long, weary hours between sunrise and sunset. The blue mysterious streamers of the aurora trembled in the north, now shooting up in clear bright lines to the zenith, then waving back and forth in great majestic curves over the silent camp, as if warning back the adventurous traveller from the unknown regions around the Pole. The silence was profound, oppressive. Nothing but the pulsating of the blood in my ears, and the heavy breathing of the sleeping men at my feet, broke the universal lull. Suddenly there rose upon the still night air a long, faint, wailing cry like that of a human being in the last extremity of suffering. Gradually it swelled and deepened until it seemed to fill the whole atmosphere with its volume of mournful sound, dying away at last into a low, despairing moan. It was the signal-howl of a Siberian dog; but so wild and unearthly did it seem in the stillness of the arctic midnight, that it sent the startled blood bounding through my veins to my very finger-ends. In a moment the mournful cry was taken up by another dog, upon a higher key--two or three more joined in, then ten, twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, until the whole pack of a hundred dogs howled one infernal chorus together, making the air fairly tremble with sound, as if from the heavy bass of a great organ. For fully a minute heaven and earth seemed to be filled with yelling, shrieking fiends. Then one by one they began gradually to drop off, the unearthly tumult grew momentarily fainter and fainter, until at last it ended as it began, in one long, inexpressibly melancholy wail, and all was still.

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