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It’s culture, adventure, history. It’s desert prickly and canyon lush. It’s large furry animals in whom you put your trust as they pick their ways down impressive trails. It’s morning light through the palms and flashes of color chirping in the willows. I never thought this trip would stick in my heart so deeply, but it did.
And the caves. Yes the caves are are a good excuse to get you there, but it’s about so much more than that. The caves are mysteries left over 10,000 years ago. Why are the figures so big? How did they paint them way up there? Were they a race of giant people? What happened to the painters? The culture encountered here by the Padres did not know.
The families living here now descended from the Padres’ military force and the native women. They live off the land without vehicles, as they have for generations. Everything on their ranches was made here, born here, or brought in on the back of a burro down a canyon trail.
Cowboy Lupito and his family hosted us at Rancho Santa Teresa, complete with a tour of their orchard and home. Like most ranch families here, goat cheese and leather work are what they do for cash. The most impressive item in their possession was a chest freezer, which was hard to imagine bringing down the steep canyon trail on the back of a burro, but that’s exactly how it arrived! The solar panel and battery were its sources of power, which ran it at a fridge temperature.
Trudi Angell was our guide and organizer. She has run trips with her company Saddling South for a few decades, always working with Chema as her “Guia de Confianza”. Their guitar and vocal duets between the canyon walls one night were sublime. It was our luck as well, that Chema’s son Tete could join us as one of the other guides, and could bring his 8-year old daughter Azucena, who could drive a string of mules with confidence. Family ties and hard work are what keep this 300-year old ranching culture going strong in the canyons where there are no roads and few modern influences.
It was truly a perspective-changing experience of a lifetime, and every other cliche you can think of, because I’m out of words! Even for someone who does trips for a living.
More photos at the Gallery.