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El Capitan, Guadalupe Mountains Nat'l Park

Sometimes I drive until I find myself anew. Casing the southwest as if the dirt will scrub me clean. To the desert and mountains of New Mexico, the red earth of Arizona, the sky islands of Texas towering over scrub brush and cacti, seemingly never-ending barrancos, and mesquites with thorns strong enough to pierce a leather sole.

I’ve ridden in Gallup New Mexico, working my way through the dips and arroyos. Camping high on the hill surrounded by Bluestem - watching the lights along the highway which never sleeps. Through Magdalena, climbing my way up the Mangas mountains, down among the Badlands of sculpted grounds, alien eggs, and stingrays and finally - into the southern lands of Arizona where the indigenous past echoes so loudly and the Saguaro stand tall as trees.

But mostly I have been in Texas. Riding our seven regions and still not riding it all.

And so I drive – through the boot heel of Texas and layers of desert mountains. Along barren country and borders and rivers until I reach the Guadalupe’s. There, with the peak closed to horses we ride the famous El Capitan, skirting this fossilized reef along what appears to be an edge to nowhere – some divider between this moment and the next. As if you could drop into nothingness with every step.

It’s not a steady climb this path, but a sawtooth of ups and downs continuing on forever, like an itch that can’t be reached. It echoes my sentiments exactly.

Twice we attempt a short-cut and twice we double back. The off trail of this 8,000 foot mountain is littered with small boulders, cacti, and hidden ravines - crowding out any hope of safe footing - and it is in this way, we continue along. Through the anitpodes of hard and soft - the torrid zones - and there, close to 5 miles in, we find the look-out. I dismount, hobble, and unsaddle the horse giving him room to breathe freely and sit, resting among the remnants of an ocean that no longer is.

In the distance I can just make out a sliver of gypsum salt dunes to the west of the park – perhaps the only one in Texas. The clouds in their embankments drift slowly across the sky like giant blocks of marble sculpted by some hand much wiser than mine. And there is an authentic intimacy here, in a place so vast, so open. Things to be learned, to be discovered and worshiped.

I search for those unstudied things in the solitude of each ride. In the silence of traveling alone. But you know, I think perhaps they've been hiding in my heart all along.


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