Friday, December 31, 2010

Hueco Tanks

Hueco means tank in Spanish, so the name of this Texas State Park is a little redundant.  The tanks are round holes large and small in a 5 acre series of volcanic rock piles.  Since we are in the desert, these holes which hold what rain water there is makes this an oasis of sorts for animals and for people.  From the ancient archaic people who chased mastodons and giant bison, and on through the Jornada Mogollon, and up to the Mescalero Apaches, this was a holy place and they came and painted on the undersides of the caves where light colored rock made a perfect canvas.  Later, Spanish and Anglo people came, the Butterfield Stage line that briefly connected St. Louis and Los Angeles, a ranching family, an old Apache woman who lived in a cave with her goats.  Some of them carved their names and dates.

Up until the 1950’s, this place was practically unknown to the rest of the world.  At that time, a developer bought the area, built dams and intended a resort in the desert.  He did collect one great rainstorm in his lake, but the water leaked away and the rains didn’t come again, so he went bust, and eventually the state of Texas got it.

The piles of huge boulders and shoulders of pockmarked rock make for great climbing and this place is world famous for free climbing. Just fingers and toes and chalk for grip, and they often are climbing like spiders upside down.  They carry 4’ square pads of thick foam to fall on, and we can see them trudging along the sky line like pack animals.

The pressure of so many climbers, as well as those who just want to frolic on the rocks (and maybe vandalize the rock art) has made the Texas State Park folks limit the number of people who can come in the park to 70 at any one time, and getting a camping spot is pretty hard.

Steve and I are petroglyph and pictograph fanatics and we have tried to come here to see the paintings many times, but didn’t realize the need to make reservations both to camp and clamber, 2-3 months ahead of time. So in October, we resolved to come here for a few days between Christmas and New Years.

As we drove in, there were 8-10 cars waiting to be allowed in to climb, but the Airstream sailed in.  We were lucky enough to get a slot to clamber and also took a guided tour into the areas of the park now closed unless you have a guide.

Amazing sights, masks, animals, zigzags, person like creatures with huge eyes. Some are in broad strokes of white or black, and others, the masks especially are red, crisp and thin lined, astonishing sights to find on the ceiling of a cave.  We explored and crept and climbed and wormed our way into cave after cave snapping hundreds of photos, and pinching ourselves when we got to see things we have only seen in books.

Today, the end of our second day, the wind came up and the air darkened with blowing dirt, and as we came back to the trailer, it began to rain, and now it is snowing!  In the desert.  The climbers in their tents have mostly fled, and it will go down into the 20’s tonight. 

We lucked out and get to stay another day, but it was still snowing so we went into the El Paso Archeological Museum. This turned out to be most excellent, a good mix of basic information, hard data studies and lots and lots of beautiful artifacts.  They have faux rock walls on which they have put replicas of some of the best petroglyphs and pictographs, many of which we have seen on site.  It was a treat, and really the only thing in El Paso that tempts me at all.

Back in Las Cruces, there was no snow here, but last night it got down to 15.  If this keeps up, I will be tempted to do some serious work on the insulation in here.  There isn’t anywhere this winter that is just cool.

New Year, full of possibilities and prospects, hope yours is a good one, gentle reader.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I will lift mine eyes to the hills

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

These are the Organ Mountains east of Las Cruces, glowing pink and purple as the sun sets, and the light leaves the desert below.  I can see these mountains from everywhere in town, and I find myself looking up at them often.  Sometimes clouds gather among the peaks, even when the rest of the sky is clear and dry like a blue glass.  The angle of the sunlight on these rocky pillars on this shortest day sets them in sharp relief, and as the day passes, the shadows move into the canyons and over the heights, so the mountains never look the same from one day to the next.

The desert surrounds the city, and a short drive in any direction is the silence, the dried, prickly beauty of the plants, the rocky soil carved by rare but violent rain storms into wrinkles and rivers of only rocks and sand. 

This place is very like where Jesus learned to build with wood, and it occurred to me that if He needed a way to learn how to be human, building things out of wood is a good place to start.  I spend much of my time working with wood these days, and what with splinters, the frustrations of splitting out or trying to muscle a less than perfect stud into a wall, learning carpentry is certainly a humbling experience.  Jesus could presumably make a door or a chair as easily as he turned water into wine or multiplied the loaves and fishes, just by wishing it so.  But instead He chose to learn submission to the grain and knots in wood,  to select the right piece of wood, to scrape and sand to a nice finish.  Unless you can do miracles, there is no way to “Lord” it over wood.  A good parallel with how we get on with people, and how we move through our lives.  Going with the grain, selecting well, bringing mountains of patience and looking always to increase our skills.

In the quote at the top, from the 121st Psalm, the second half of the phrase about help coming, is often translated as a question.  Is our help coming from the mountains?  From Zion or Jerusalem?  From on high where the angels are multiplying into a heavenly host, from God himself?  It’s hard in this time to imagine a cherubic cavalry galloping to save us, so the question mark seems more appropriate.

Instead, I look up to these mountains, to see what they look like right now, but also because looking up means I am neither looking down, at what work I am doing, nor around at the minutiae of life, nor at the people around me with their needs and prickles.  Up where it’s quiet, and peaceful, where my soul can be rebalanced.

Today, the sun is up just a little bit longer, so winter will pass again.

Merry Christmas, Happy Solstice, and a New Year of possibilities, prosperity, and peace.

Nitey nite,