Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Profile of a Walk
Accepting that there is no well-worn path between Denver and Mexico City, I've been poring over maps and books trying to create one. I'm turned on by the historical significance, of course, and I want to visit interesting places, not to mention beautiful ones. I don't mind mountainous strolls, but I don't want to go too far out of my way to make the walk more challenging than it has to be.
I've broken the journey into seemingly logical stages based on history and geography:
1. Denver, Colorado to Chimayo, New Mexico
~369 miles (637 km)
There no marked route from the historic transportation hub of Colorado's capital city to the San Luis Valley, former northernmost dominion of the Spanish colonists. During Colorado's mining boom of the mid 19th century, numerous routes developed, some now paved over, others a network of old pack trails. Where I can, I'll certainly opt for the trails. I'll walk south along the plains to cross over the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains behind Pike's 14,000-foot Peak into the heart of the mining district of Cripple Creek, the highest town I think I'll see at 9,500 feet (2,900 meters). Let's hope the early snows hold off for another three weeks. After a rather easy hop over the Wet Mountains, I'll make a hard day's push over the towering, snowy Sangre de Cristos into the high valley of the Rio Grande River. Cresting the pass between a number of 14ers will fittingly mark the half-way point of the way to Chimayo. I'll hug the base of the western slope of the Sangre de Cristos, through the remnant Spanish land grant villages and across the Taos and the Picuris Indian Reservations (permission granted!) to get to Chimayo, famed pilgrim destination.
2. Chimayo, New Mexico to El Paso, Texas
~295 miles (475 km)
The difficult thing about the first etape is that, surprisingly, towns are widely spaced; the miles per day will be many, and the daily elevation changes great. The serious workout in store during the first two weeks will set me up well for an easy second two weeks when I'll slow it down and enjoy the cultural variations afforded not only by the Native American territories but also the imprint of the historic New Spain. Taos Pueblo is a UNESCO site of cultural significance and has been inhabited for 1,000 years. I'm honored that I was able to negotiate a passage through the tribal lands to get to the pueblo itself, where I'm invited to the War Chief's office for a greeting - I'm hoping for a unique stamp in my credenziale!
Then it's off to Santa Fe, former capital of the New Spain northern provinces followed by a string of historic Franciscan missions that predate the missions of California by at least a century. This will lead me to the ominous Jornada del Muerto, the Dead Man' Walk... 96 miles of ruggedness, with no water. Those Spanish explorers had it tough... can I make it across in 3 days??? Superimposing more recent events, Trinity Site, the first nuclear bomb testing range, is just a skosh to the east. Experience gives me the assurance that there's no need to pack a Geiger counter, but what a cool waltz through a different kind of history.
3. El Paso, Texas to Ciudad de Chihuahua, Mexico
~254 miles (409 km)
Even before arriving in El Paso, formerly known as El Paso del Norte, the gateway to New Mexico within New Spain, I'll be fully ensconced in the Chihuahua Desert, the largest in the Americas, and I'll walk through the entire length of it. (Yikes, does this give me a tad of apprehension! More so even than the Jornada del Muerto.) Being a humble pilgrim, I'm not unnecessarily worried about the border crossing - it's so tragically a difficult and dangerous place these days for law-enforcement officials, journalists, and merchants because of the intensive dealings with the drug lords and runners, but I haven't heard of any pilgrims coming into trouble and trust that even the most nefarious will respect the medallion of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I want to visit both El Paso and Ciudad Juarez for their historical importance, but don't plan on lingering on the border crossing. When the Spaniards explored, colonized and supported their missions, the Camino Real sprang up with watering holes where ever a spring was found linking Santa Fe with the rest of New Spain. Chihuahua was an early mining center and a crossroads between trade with Texas and the early Pacific coast cities.
4. Chihuahua to Zacatecas, Mexico
~640 miles (1,030 km)
Boff! this will be a long stretch. As much as I can, I'll walk parallel to the historic Camino Real, now paved as a national highway, and walk as long each day as it takes to find a village or a hacienda where to sleep. I don't expect it will be so easy, and the high desert in the dry season won't make such a hospitable environment for sleeping in the rough. I've never faced a long steady climb lasting more than four weeks... yet I don't know what to expect culturally in these hinterlands. Even people I've asked who are familiar with Chihuahua tell me simply that there's nothing there. Nothing must manifest as something, and I'll have to see what it is. In Zacatecas, however, I can expect a beautiful, vivacious city with a long history of silver mining - one of the largest sources of income for the Spanish monarchy. Silver means wealth and wealth means interesting period architecture - a fine reward after a grueling trial of miles.
5. Zacatecas to Mexico City and Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico
~430 miles (692 km)
The last stage - It will be the most populated and hilly, as opposed to mountainous. I'll pass through several historical provincial capitals - Aguascalientes and Leon, in particular, and in between these, the famed pilgrim destination of Our Lady of St John of the Lake, San Juan de los Lagos, second-most visited cathedral city in Mexico. There's bound to be lots of history there, and I understand that they're famed for their gastronomy as well - amen to that! If I walk briskly and encounter no big troubles, I'll arrive at the santuario in the middle of January, plus or minus a few weeks. It might turn out that I'll spend Christmas in Zacatecas. It'll make an interesting experience where ever I'll be.
All tolled, I'll walk about 2,000 miles (3,200 km) there in around 100 days, more or less. The round-trip maybe 4,000 miles (6,400 km) in about 6 months. What a trip this will be! Relying on the graciousness of local inhabitants, I presage switching borscht for beans on this trip, and blizzards and rain for sand storms and drought across the lands. Villages, and therefore people, will be few and far between, and before even reaching New Mexico, Spanish will be the dominant language. In the hands of merciful weather, my return journey will be slightly different, but generally through the same territories and I'll be back by Easter. I'm excited to get on with it... the unknown beckons loudly.