Like a painted backdrop
We were new to New Mexico, living in the beautiful city of Las Cruces right under the Organ Mountains--those mountains that always seem like a fake painted backdrop for a cowboy movie.
Wanting to get a little closer to the land, we drove in our little Subaru over to City of Rocks State Park near Deming for a bit of back-to-nature camping. In those pre-arthritic days we did real camping, the kind you do on the ground in a tent. On the ground. In a tent.
The first thing we learned about City of Rocks was that it was, well, rocky. We tried every which way to drive our tent pegs into that ground, but all we did was bend them. Eventually we recalled the First Rule of Camping:
Rule #1: Sit down and have a nice iced tea. A well-hydrated camper is a happy camper.
We were sitting there, perched on some flat rocks while sipping tea and marveling at the views when the Park Ranger stopped by to give us our camper registration. We got our paperwork in order and he stayed on a bit. Gosh, he was a friendly fellow and was happy to give us a few tips about hiking around the City of Rocks.
“Watch your step,” he said, “and always know where you are placing your feet.” We nodded, sagely.
“Never put your hand down where you can’t see it.” Okay, we were happy to agree with that.
“And never, never step over a log or a rock without checking the other side first…” We tilted our heads quizzically, not wanting to give away our total ignorance with any comment, but we leaned forward waiting for the rest of the sentence.” …because that’s where the rattlers like to lie, right there in the shade!” he finished up triumphantly.
We stood up kind of abruptly from those flat rocks that were casting a bit of shade and reached out to shake his hand, carefully watching to be sure that our hands were in plain sight the whole time. He waved us a good-bye, stepped off in a lively way to his truck, and drove away to enlighten some more campers. In the meantime, we were mentally making a revision to our first rule of camping.
Rule #1: Have a beer, right away. Have two. You can do this standing up with your feet right where you can watch them.
In one of those golden moments of marriage where no words need be spoken, we set about picking up and stowing our tent pegs back in their little bag. No need to pitch that tent on such hard ground and no need to talk about it, either. The Subaru’s seats folded down and we could quite happily sleep in there, while keeping mental tabs on all of our extremities.
Better than a tent
But the sun was setting, and the day was cooling off. It was a perfect time for taking a nice walk along some of the ancient Mimbres Indian pathways that wound through the incredible rock formations. So, we set off for some exploration.
It was just as we were strolling down a little incline when it happened. I sensed an abrupt movement at my side, and there was something strange and unexpected about it. I later found out that Mr. Zee had seen a little slither out of the corner of his eye, and having those snakes quite clearly on his mind, had taken immediate evasive action. What I saw as I turned toward him was a sight that has stayed in my mind for all these many years: Mr. Zee went up. He went up in a fashion that would have done Michael Jordan proud. He went up and up, and up some more, and he kind of stayed there for a while. I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since. I just waited, gazing up into the sky at him, with my hands and feet right there in plain sight.
It took a while, but when he came down again he was looking kind of lightheaded from his recent venture into higher altitude. We searched around a bit and discovered our little slitherer, a tiny red snake who was as anxious to clear the area as we were.
Later that night, lying cozily on our reclining seats and watching the stars through the moon roof, we revised that camping rule one last time. We had just realized that all that beer consumption meant a night time trip to the loo, in the dark, without being able to keep a careful watch on our hands and feet. Thus:
Rule #1: Henceforth, Jack Daniels will be the refreshment of choice when camping. A little goes a long way, and it can be consumed without ever stepping out onto the ground at all.