Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Escape from Ojito

From what I can tell from a reconstructed second-hand conversation made days later, about the time my brother Reece and I coasted to a stop on a mudslick road west of San Ysidro, New Mexico, to inspect what appeared to be a sodden hay bale blocking our route, my wife asked my parents why my brother and I seemed incapable of going anywhere without our excursions devolving into disasters or routs. Her unfair and spurious question went largely unanswered, probably because my parents had no concrete answer. But it’s not like we welcomed “adventure,” my preferred euphemism for when things go horribly wrong, nor do we actively seek out dangerous situations. It’s just that, well, stuff happens when we get together. We call it Parker Luck, though Parker Curse might be more appropriate.

We went into the Ojito Wilderness in late afternoon, hoping for clouds to soften the westering sun. Clouds we got. They built in the west in staggered ranks and spread across the horizons to encompass the four corners of the sky. They darkened and roiled and spat lightning. They unleashed a torrent of hail and rain and wind that liquified the sandy soil and skimmed the hardpan in silken currents and cascaded off the red-rock bluffs in plumed waterfalls. Within minutes the road turned to muck and low-lying areas surged with flash foods and our leisurely afternoon became a slow march toward pavement and civilization.

The hail was the worst, a true Kansas storm in all its violence and terror but without the vegetation to slow the rush of waters. Two inches of hail whitened the ground before the rains got serious, by which time we took shelter beneath a stand of salt cedars. When we could see the road again we went forward, the slightest touch of gas sending the truck sideways toward the deepening fissures where rivulets carved into the shoulders, and stopping whenever we reached low areas. Most were submerged with foaming rivers, so we waited them out while inspecting what could be seen. 

“We’re in a pickle,” my brother said, “Should we call home and let them know?”

The sun was setting somewhere behind us, noticeable only by the sudden dimming of gloom. “Might as well,” I said.

Night fell. Low crossings were even scarier and required careful scrutiny. We usually waited until the waters receded but once I walked ahead of the truck to make sure the road wasn’t washed out. The non-Gore-Tex boots I’d brought quickly grew sodden. Every quarter mile meant a halt to check the road. At one arroyo we found a four-foot-high mass of soggy tumbleweeds blocking the road with a good eighteen inches of silt choking their lee. By the light of our flashlights we tore apart the blockage and scattered it across the silt for traction, and then goosed the truck in four low to make it across. 

With about five miles yet to go we came to what used to be a broad spot overlying three wide culverts. It was now a raging river. The current had washed out most of the roadway and what was left was being chewed up as we watched. It was as far as we could go.

We debated trying to go out the back way. From what he knew the road wandered about 30 miles northwest toward San Luis and Cabazon before reaching pavement, but Reece had never gone that far. Nor did we know if the road was even passable. While we debated the finer points of spending the night versus walking out, headlights cut the darkness behind us. It was a Zia Pueblo man and his son and nephew; the road behind was underwater, he said, and after studying the flood in front of us declared that he was abandoning his truck and horse trailer in favor of walking out. He called a friend who promised to get as far as he could, and, once the waters receded enough for us to cross what was left of the road, we set off on foot.

A mile and a half, two miles, we slogged through muck and water while making small talk. His name was Myron Galvon and he lived at the pueblo. Sheet lightning flared above the Jemez, Pecos and Sandia Mountains but we passed through the wet lands without concern. In all that Stygian vastness we were five tiny pinpricks of movement, incapable of anything other than forward momentum. 

It was almost midnight when headlights approached. We rode in the bed of the truck to the highway where we were let off at an abandoned gas station across from the pueblo. And it was there that what had been a rout—not a normal occurrence despite my wife’s accusation—suddenly took a turn for the unexpected when Myron invited us and our families as guests of the tribe to the pueblo sacred dances. 

Though I couldn’t see my brother’s expression in the dark, I knew it mirrored my own. The invitation was so rare, so unheard of, that we were instantly not just off the hook with our parents and spouses but guaranteed to be welcomed for our good fortune. 

We promised we’d be there, and watching the night swallow their taillights settled onto our haunches to await our rescue. 


shoreacres said...

Oh, my. Terrifying and magical, and wonderfully told. Of course there will be more, yes?

Tom Parker said...

One more, Linda, so stay tuned!