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Oh Mesa de Anguila, you slippery, slidey thing you

I swing the saddle up, lean into the horse and gaze toward Mesa de Anguila - one of the least visited areas of Big Bend National Park - and she has me nervous this mesa.  In knots in fact, with her switchbacks and steep inclines.  I can hardly take my eyes off the rising access trail so I stand there staring a moment and then turn to pull the girth tight.

The trail leads us down and into Comanche Creek where patches of fresh water stand and there I stop to let the horse drink before continuing on.  Soon the gentle brush of creosote gives to the rattle of yucca and I let the horse trot up the first few steps of our ascent and then halt him at the initial basin to assess what comes next.

And now the desert has turned on us, from gentle lover to treacherous addiction.  The desert gravel releases its hold to a solid swath of limestone, slick and polished in places, terraced and broken in others, rolling like the scrolls of a swan somewhere in the middle. The horse’s breath comes fast and hard and it is here I make the decision to dismount and walk up.  

We climb across expanses of limestone and through narrow bends, knowing his metal shoes are no match for the ground ahead and cursing my forgetfulness in not bringing a back-up pair of boots.  But I go to the things I love and eventually we crest the mesa and therein lies the ocean this desert once was. The horse stands beside me, his breath settling, and I am suddenly full with the blood of it all. 

Whose job is it to teach you not to fear the dark?  To get up on the horse with courage and ride into battle?  Did they do it?

I have taught myself, and this thing we call “riding alone” has its own set of rules. There is no pride lost in stepping out of stirrups onto solid ground.  In turning to find a different route or leaving altogether.  There is only one rule when you ride alone, and that is to stay alive.

But back to rocky inclines and vast mesas – they are never flat on top in case you were wondering and I have already made my decision to walk the horse down when it comes time, but for now we move on and ride slowly into this headland square on the edge of Mexico.   Distant mountains and ridges blur together and below us the Rio Grande carves her way through canyons and lowlands.  I look across to a series of mesas and mesitas stretching wide into the horizon.

There is much ground to cover here, days of walking to reach the southernmost point where this tabletop upends into the sheer cliffs of Santa Elena Canyon, but I am satisfied and after a while we turn to tackle the route home.  The horse watches me step by step as I lead, reins in hand, calculating each foot placement – his and mine. 

Where the trail is narrow and slick I step aside, tie the reins and give him his head.   This is not a tumble I’m willing to take and he finds his way with minimal damage, accompanied by the scrape of metal shoes and the fall of loose rock.  I stop at times overwhelmed by his utter trust in me.


I got us here and I can get us out, I tell him - I tell myself - and so we trod slowly downward in this manner until we reach the foot of the mesa and there I slip my boot into the stirrup and hoist up onto the horse.  We travel back through spotted creosote, into the creek bed and then up to the parking area.

Aluminum is always best on the lips fresh from a soak in ice and I am ready but the horse keeps going, past the trailer and further into the dirt lot as if he has already forgotten our climb and wants to carry on.

Perhaps there is a lesson here - I should listen. 


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