s. is racing across the hard desert. he is imagining himself a pony express rider. his cheek is pressed to don juan’s neck.
the reins are long enough to hold in his left hand while the right flicks the ends on the horse’s rump. how fast will this conquistador horse really go he wonders.
suddenly, the horse stops, on a dime, veers to the right, which catapults s. into a lovely arc flying through the air. s’s body makes a dent in the hard ground. he looks back about twenty feet where don juan is snorting; probably laughing in horse language. undaunted, s. remounts, trots off, begins to canter, then low down again is galloping like the wind.
s. is totally attentive. waiting for the slightest sign. once again the horse starts to stop and like a sledge hammer, s’s right fist lands on don juan’s cheek. now the horse is stunned and stops. one more time s. puts don juan through the paces. horse and rider gallop back to the house on pilar hill. now they are ready for the trip.
the next day at dawn they take off into the desert towards taos, fifteen miles away. the horse is fresh and carries only rider and seventy pounds of supplies. walking into the small town, s. sees a breakfast place with a hitching post in front. he dismounts and tethering his horse enters the establishment and orders a big breakfast of bacon and eggs and oatmeal.
somehow out of the corner of his eye s. sees his horse going by. he jumps up and runs to the door. some guy is leading his horse away.
“what the hell?…”
“is this your horse?” asks the man.
indignantly, “yeah… what’s the problem?”
“well,” says the irate proprietor of the greasy spoon pointing to the pile of steaming manure. “that’s the problem, and you can’t park a horse in front of my restaurant.”, then, “you’re going to clean that up you know!”
s. doesn’t bother arguing about what the hitching post is doing there if not to accommodate customers on horseback, just goes back to his breakfast. the same man brings a shovel. s. is fuming a little now and plays with the idea of just paying and taking off. he thinks better of it and figures a dose of humility is always good for the soul. after finishing breakfast s. shovels the shit, goes around to the back and rides off towards the mountains. not without stopping at the liquor store for a fifth of courvoisier cognac for the cold nights by the campfire.
there’s a mountain north of taos, sacred mountain of the hopi indians. chris had said that in the old days if a white man were found there he would be killed for sure. nowadays the braves would just beat the hell out of him and escort him off the reservation.
wheeler peak is over 14,000 feet. it’s an extinct volcano filled with ice cold blue water. s wanted to see it. there was a horse trail to the ridge which circumnavigated the peak and then dropped down into the red river valley and colorado.
half the day in the hot sun s. made his way straight to the base of wheeler. they went west for an hour looking for the way up.
the alders and poplars were yellow this time of the year. s. could hear the river to the right. he felt an urge to see the river and made a path to it. don juan was happily nuzzling the fresh water when looking back through the trees s. saw a quiet party of twenty braves trotting by. that was lucky, thought s., or was that just some deep-rooted instinct. he was 1/8th indian on his father’s side.
the rest of the day was spent climbing the trail to the summit of wheeler mountain. s. ate while riding up the winding trail. at last, around early evening they arrived on the rim trail and looked down into the enormous midnight blue of the still water in dark shadow far below. the trail along the rim was no more than three feet wide. as they made their way northeast s. looked for signs of the way down the north face.
black clouds came pouring in from the north and then there were gale winds and hailstones as big as golf balls and they hurt. s. jumped off the horse and found a crevice where he balled up and covered his head with his arms. looking out from this semi-shelter he could see don juan in the blur of the storm tail tucked in, his backside to the wind perpendicular to the trail with all four legs gathered together he hung his head low beneath his chest. poor don juan. he thought.
in a few minutes the storm passed. the sun was setting. s. worried that it would get dark before he got down off the cold mountain. they found the trail. but the horse was exhausted and making his way slowly over the bare rock where the trail was only marked by piles of rocks. it was twilight when s. saw the dirt trail and some vegetation and eventually trees, but it was getting almost too dark to see.
so screaming like a banshee and kicking his heels in, they began to gallop down the mountain. every five minutes or so don juan would slow down to a snails pace. then s. would let out a bloodcurdling scream. don juan thought a devil was on his back and always took off again like a bat out of hell. they made their way this way in increments until they were about halfway down the mountain. and it was dark.