We’re at 6200 feet and James Darren is singing in my head. My old college buddy Carl and I are climbing basalt rocks at 8:00 in the morning. It’s already 90 degrees here in New Mexico, and we are on the hunt for petroglyphs, pre-Columbian symbols etched into the rock, presumably by a tool harder than basalt.
To get to the petroglyphs, you drive ten minutes east of the subdivision, park just below a mesa and walk up a dusty unmarked trail, past the “decorated tree.” This is a dead tree with rusty cans hung from its branches. Nobody knows why the random decorating, except for the people who do it.
Up up up, and the trail becomes less trail and more rock. We’re frankly climbing now, three points of contact, careful not to step into tumbleweed bogs – where the spaces between rocks are filled with stickery dried tumbleweeds that obscure the depth and angle of the potentially ankle-twisting space. Carl has reported hearing rattlesnakes up here, too. My eyes are on the next rock and my hands and feet. Every now and then I glance up to see how far I am from the top of the mesa. We’re at a point where if I really stretch and hoist myself energetically for twenty feet or so, I will scramble onto the top of the flatland. Then Carl says, “Brenda, look up.”
I look up. Just above my head, on the flat wall of the basalt that is the edge of the mesa, are alien-looking symbols. Heads with antennae. Spirals. Corn. Eagles. Lizards. Not a “Tiffany loves Ryan” in sight. They’ve been here for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, the artists long dead. Pagan graffiti? Good luck for hunting? Pre-historic art gallery? Nobody knows. But there I am, out of cell and wi-fi range, hanging onto a rock in the hot early morning sun, eyes trying to make sense of what they’re seeing.
Sometimes it’s not about getting to the top.