Carry a Big Stick – Walking in the Chihauhua Desert

West TX Mountains smallWe try to spend the coldest winter months far south, in a warm locale that will allows you to be outside every day.

We also try to pick places of true wilderness, where you’re constantly reminded that as humans, we are only here by the grace of nature keeping its power in restraint. This year, the spot is beautiful rugged desert country near the Mexican border. But this place…

Day 1: “Caution – Mountain Lions Spotted in THIS Area”
This was the first thing I saw in the adobe house we’re renting for two months. Reallllly? Is this one of those “cover your ass” notices everyone puts up just to be on the safe side or should I be worried? I read further “sighted within 1/4 mile of themountain lion note house – if encountered do not crouch or bend over – do not run away – try to make yourself look as large as possible – children should not hike alone.”

I am kid-sized. On a good day, I’m barely 5’2″ and no matter what I do, I won’t ever look big and tall. But really, how much of a risk is it? I decide I am not going to worry. I decide that the note is probably just a hyper-safety notice for tourists like me, and ignore it.

Day 5: “Our neighbor carries a rifle, but what good will that do? You’ll just wound him.”  I start taking daily hikes along the 10 mile dirt road that leads up to our house, sans weapons. I do, however, carry my cell phone – for the camera, of course. I keep my hikes limited to the main roads – no side trips on little dirt paths where no one but a mountain lion knows where to find me. I even start jogging on the dirt roads – easier on the knees.

Apparently, nobody is all that interested in hiking out here. Even on the main road, I am alone most days. Every time I encounter a car on the road, which is about twice in two old farmhouse Big Bend NPhours, the driver stops and asks, “You all right? You need help?”

We’re on a ranch community with a smattering of houses spread across 200,000 acres of desert. I never see anyone other than people in their cars, so other than the drivers, I think my movements go unnoticed. But on about the fifth day, as I trudge back up the long dirt road to the house, I can see a man and a dog cutting across the field straight toward me. When we meet, I am not sure if I should say hi or not, mindful of what our landlord has said, “a lot of end of the roaders live here – people who don’t want to be bothered.” But this guy definitely wants to talk:

“Where you from?”

“Minnesota. Here for a couple of months.”

“Ah, snowbirds. You walk a lot?”

“I like to. Is it all right if I walk along these main dirt roads around here?”

He pauses for a moment, palm over beard. “Stay on the roads and you should be all right. But don’t cut across anyone’s property or get too close to anyone’s house. If you see a “no trespassing” sign or get within 100 yards of house, back off. Otherwise, you’ll be okay. Most people out here won’t mind.”

We talk some more and he’s pretty friendly, so I decide to ask about the mountain lion. I don’t like to look like a chump, but …. “I saw the note about the mountain lion at our place, but I didn’t think it would come down this low. Do I really need to be concerned?”

hiking the chihauhua - sml

I soon learned to outfit myself much differently for hiking and other exercise in the desert. But that’s another blog…

He gives me long droll look, head to toe, as if to check out my gear. I have none. Just a yellow wind breaker and a bottle of water. I notice that he’s walking with a thick walking pole and pepper spray.

“Our FedEx driver has seen that lion even closer to the main road than we are now, so yeah. Don’t go walking alone at dawn or dusk, that’s when they hunt,” he said, “I carry pepper spray so if it goes after me or my dog, I can give it a blast that’ll allow us to get away. But our neighbor Paul carries a gun when he walks the dog. Don’t know why, he’ll just wound it with that gun and that’ll only make it mad.”

Shoot, I’ve been hiking up to 7 or 8 miles a day, completely ignoring my husband’s chiding to carry a knife or a stick. Given the sober look this guy is giving me, I decide to mend my ways. I thank him and make a move to head on out.

As I turn away he says, “One more thing, head to the left out of your driveway you should be all right, but don’t turn to the right. There’s a lady who lives alone up there – she’s been known to shoot at people who get too close to her gate.”

Welcome to West Texas……the last frontier.

Categories: Fitness

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1 reply

  1. What a lovely post – very interesting.


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