he hated to backtrack and navigated the wilderness with a small countour map and the telltale sun.
under the bridge with the sun rising s. fried the last two eggs and the last of the bacon. a pot of coffee and a couple of slices of rye bread made a good breakfast.
taking off to the south now on a dirt trail in the flatland at a good pace s. pushed on. there was a little settlement at the confluence of the hondo river and the rio grande. here there was a little bar on the road. he knew the commune ‘buffalo’ was somewhere near, having seen it from a small airplane the week before. s. stopped for a beer to get directions. two hippies came in on their way to a peyote ceremony. after buying them a couple of beers and talking for an hour or so, they gave him directions to buffalo.
s. galloped all the way to the commune racing one of their cars returning from the store. he spent the rest of the day making adobe bricks with sixteen men from the commune and they didn’t stop talking for four hours. but they made a lot of bricks anyway. the hospitality at buffalo was matter of fact. over dinner the people chatted and gossiped about the neighboring commune ‘lama’, much more esoteric with many buildings and about 150 people. buffalo was more nitty gritty with a changing population of 50. one group there had formed a little band and played for everyone. s. had an opportunity to share the tale of the trip; the summer sun, the brain frying desert, the hallucinations of rainbow pebbles and getting out of the rain and the hailstorm at 14,000 feet. the company was enthralled. the drum circle drummed away until about 2:00 a.m. the moon was full.
(about a year later, a little band called ‘america’ came out with a song “a horse with no name”)
s. headed for the river in the early morning. he wanted to follow the river south to pilar and home. the gorge was cool compared to the plain where the sun was merciless. disappointed to find no real trail by the river s. took a chance and followed a cow path leading over boulders and grassy patches. it was rough and dangerous with huge jagged sharp volcanic rocks. then there was no path at all. s. deduced that the cows must have swam at that point. he had been picking his way between boulder cubes for over an hour and wasn’t about to turn back. so he coaxed don juan into the brown rio grande. the river was at least 20 feet deep from edge to edge of the canyon.
swimming side by side, s. stayed with the horse. the horse was panicky. he was afraid of the water and fought to get to the other side. they made it across with little difficulty; the river was deep and flowing smoothly. the water was the color of coffee with milk in it. s. would much rather have let the river take them thirty miles south and take his chances getting out on the east side at the hot spring and spanish ruins just west of pilar.
but don juan clambered up the basalt crystals. it was high cliffs and crumbling landslides (eight and twelve feet square boulders) all on hard angles and slippery. although s. led him very slowly the horse kept slipping because of the angles of the flat surfaces. they didn’t get a hundred yards before don juan slipped, flipped and fell. frantically, he tried to maintain his balance, with s. trying to help him as he slipped backwards and horse and rider fell together landing on s’s leg about thirty feet down to the edge of the river. they got up and started slowly again along the piles of rock. they came to a place where the horse would have to make a little jump. he balked and fell to the waters edge again, this time without s. . with hind legs crumpled underneath, his hind quarters were jammed into a hole between the rocks. don juan lurched forward again and again but his front legs were ineffectual and he could not budge an inch.
s. went down to don juan. he saw that his lip was badly cut and his legs were gashed by the rocks, maybe even broken.
he took off the saddlebags, canteen, binoculars and the saddle, leaving him free, but he could still not get up.
at this moment s. thought about the two inches of brandy in the saddlebag. he dismissed the thought. he sat still for an eternity. the horse had decided it was the end of the road for him and laid his head on the rock. s. could think of nothing except a helicopter rescue for him and since his legs were probably broken they would have shot him anyway.
you can imagine how sorry he was and how stupid he felt. he offered him a tuft of grass but don juan was not interested. at his wits end s. kicked the horse really hard hoping he would react and somehow free himself. that didn’t work. so he got down in the hole and with don juan’s forelegs over his shoulders he braced his feet on different rocks and pushed as hard as he could. 1500 pounds of muscle and bone he could barely rock him back and forth and out of breath he rested a few minutes again. it didn’t look like it would work but summoning up all the resolve he could muster s. got in position again and wished so hard and tried so hard he finally got him up a little bit and getting a new hold on his forelegs and pushing with his shoulder to the horses chest, his legs pushing on the boulders behind him, grunting and farting, he overbalanced him so that he toppled into the river.
don juan stood up in the sand and shook himself. s. checked his legs. none were broken. he walked a few feet to munch on a patch of lush green grass while s. lightened the load and threw away all the food except the two inches of brandy which he now downed in a few big gulps. it felt good.
once more they entered the rushing river. this time don juan accepted it. they swam and drifted for half an hour making their way to the east side looking for the sandbar, the landmark for the hot spring.
from a distance s. could made out the sandbar and a couple of young women. one was washing the other one’s hair. they were as naked as river nymphs and just as beautiful. s. came out of the river leading his horse towards them. with ten days of beard and browner than african mahogany, s. was not sure of the reception he might get. but they were very nice. and they were also very giggly and sisterly. he told them about the hot spring near by and invited them to come with him.
his secret thoughts were “maybe only one will want to come.” but they sweetly demurred and giggled together some more. so he went alone and enjoyed the glowing green grotto and slippery hot water. in a little while the girls joined him. long before some people had built adobe around the pool of hot clear water. the light and dark flickering made it feel like a grotto.