Walk Beneath a Long Dead Sea: Part 2
I pulled my sunglasses from my face, lifted my hat from my head, and wiped away the sweat already beginning to bead just beneath my hairline. The dark clouds that had blotted out the sun now ventured forth to lands unknown and the sun shown full bore in the hazy blue sky. The air was dry and warm but a cool breeze found its way to my skin intermittently. I looked on as the gentle breath sent the green grass waving like an emerald ocean. A trail of almost non existent footprints led into the open prairie where they would soon disappear and the trail would be up to me to decipher. Narrow lanes of barren, dusty earth snaked their way through the field, looking like a maze of trails that led to nowhere and everywhere all at ounce. Not so far off in the distance was a small orange marker, just like the ones that led me up the cliff face, I put one foot forward and off I went. I wished greatly to be able to explore the areas off the trails, but out of respect for the wildlife and their home I opted to stay relatively close to the mapped path. In a place like this, be it State Park, National Park, game reserve or whatever, it is important to not disturb what little patch of ground we have designated as wilderness. Haven't we as humans taken enough from what was already here?
I walked slowly through prairie imagining the bygone years. Once this was home to number of great beasts; rhinoceros, North American camels, a variety of horses that would later migrate to Europe and Asia before being sealed off from this continent, only for their descendants to find their way back here aboard great Spanish galleons. Giant land tortoises once munched on reeds growing alongside muddy watering holes. Tall, spindle legged birds would watch carefully and quietly, the diminutive deer ever wary of the the scimitar-cats stalking through the tall grass. Just below their feet lay dormant the fossils of a once teaming sea. Time marches on and in another epoch, man has found its way here. Now great Mammoths are hunted by roving bands of nomads, travelers from Asia far from their homeland. And farther on still, their memory erased, no sign left except chipped stone spear points and scenes of a fresh kill. New waves of people immigrate to this land, the Lakota, the Dakota peoples, all travelers journeying through space and time only to once again be displaced as settlers from Europe claim America as their home.
As I walked I looked carefully at all the earth formations and along the ground, part habit from my days in Archaeology field school, part desire to find some sort of fossil, some tangible proof that there was once something else here, that there is more to the story than the cover. I walked between two small bluffs with barren sides and hats of bright green grass, the layers of sediment were stacked high like a tower of crepes on a breakfast plate. My map warned of two animals that I might encounter: the American Bison, and the Mountain Lion. I had seen both before, albeit behind fence and Plexiglas. I knew the size a Bison could achieve and that can be ornery, but I relished the idea of seeing some of the last wild Bison on the continent. What really gave me a case of the chills was the idea that a Cougar could be watching me, just like the saber toothed cats of old.
In Arizona there have been a number of fatal lion attacks in the mountains, and I had read heavily about how to change your status as prey if need be. First off, mountain lions mark their territory heavily and if one is in the area you should recognize it by its pungent urine odor. If you should happen to see one, the idea is to make yourself look as big and loud as possible. Wave your coat or shirt in the air, hold your backpack high above your head, yell and jump around. What do predators generally prey upon? Deer, young cows, gazelle in Africa, all animals that are quiet and skittish, much like bears, they are not looking for a fight, they want an easy meal. Note that these methods are not guaranteed but have been shown to improve your likelihood, if the need should ever arise.
The grass gave way to a scene that I found very interesting, here on a barren patch of ground lay scattered hundreds of small roundish rocks. To me it looked very much like they had been washed ashore on a beach. Much to my amusement, some travelers coming through this place long before me had written messages with the stones. One greeted me, one told me I was on the right track, another was just simply a smiling face. The messages weren't big, and for that I was grateful, it could have been relatively easy to eliminate this sight by moving the rocks around. It was also nice to see there was nothing obscene written in tiny rock messages. Don't get me wrong, I am by no means a prude, but I find it infinitely distasteful when someone simply has to scrawl vulgar words or whatever in places that are public. I like to think of it as preserving the innocence of a child just a little a bit longer.
Once again, I found myself off the map, and wandering only where I thought the trail was leading. I stood atop a small mound and peered through my binoculars partly admiring the scenery, partly wondering where the hell I was, when something caught my eye. A small pile of rocks, deliberate, placed conveniently where someone looking would be able to find it. Then I saw more. The little stone cairns were left to help those lost to find their way...