Monday, July 1, 2013

A Deep Place in the Earth III

Continued from the preceding post.

Looking down at the Rio Grande from the rim rock. (Photo by Tom Baugh)
As I have said several times before in this blog, I’m attracted to the study of water…I like to play in the mud.  In early May 2013 this attraction led me, along with my artist wife Penny Baugh ( to the edge of the Rio Grande Gorge in an area referred to by the USDI Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as the Wild Rivers Recreation Area.  The Rio Grande and the Red River flow through this region of sagebrush, pinyon pine and juniper.  But it was the Rio Grande that called to us this day.  We had decided to walk down into the canyon 800 feet below to visit Big Arsenic Springs. 
Big Arsenic Springs on the Rio Grande. (Photo by tom Baugh)
The trail dropped away steeply below our perch down through layers and layers of ancient lava flows until rock flowed into water.  From high above, the river looked peaceful along some stretches and turbulent with white water along others.  In driving along the miles of roads and through the thousands of acres leading into the site we had not seen another human since the community of Cerro some miles back.  The BLM visitor center was closed. And there were no other cars on the roads or parked at the campsites. To the best of our knowledge, we were alone in the immensity.  It was a very liberating, and I suspect these days a very rare, experience.  

Our descent along the crumbly surface of the trail took longer than any other mile-long stretch we have ever walked.  But eventually we reached Big Arsenic Spring at the river’s edge.  According to the story, possibly a myth, the spring was named by a hermit who wanted to keep the water all to himself.  Perhaps somebody finally did the science, found out that this was not an arsenic spring, and the hermit lost his exclusivity.  A flow of 5000 gallons per minute makes Big Arsenic Springs a rarity in this parched region of the earth.  This artesian, subaqueous spring rushes from the base of a great tumble of lava rock and bursts out into the river in a white plume.   We had the spring all to ourselves that morning and it was not until our journey back up the trail, when we had almost reached the rimrock, that we encountered a party of four, the first humans we had seen that day.

The canyon rim above the Rio Grande. (Photo by Tom Baugh)