I can smell creosote bush and prickly pear and somewhere in the western mountains, a fire is burning.
Under it all lies the smell of dust.
It’s 10,000 years of grass, fires from an eon, elk sheds and mule deer scat, feathers and foot prints, all ground and desicated into the gritty essence of this place, rising in small clouds at every step.
We are near the ridgetop, past the two benches that from below seemed the summit.
Ahead, the dog bares her teeth and nips at her foot. I whistle her in and stop for moment to pull the cholla from her foreleg.
I fish the pliers out, grab it and pull, check her mouth, pour a splash of water for us both and then we’re moving again.
The dust that is this place has settled into my sweat-soaked hair and across her muzzle. We are coated in fine, pottery-like clay.
Looking west I can see the the river and just this side, the alluvial fan stretches out before us like a crimson peacock tail. The arroyo we came up looks minor now, it’s 10-foot rock walls insignificant. There were birds in that place, but they’re here now, seeking refuge.
Rounded live oak trees dot the grassy mesa and there are junipers and cholla intermixed. A few century plants tower above us, their seed pods showering flat brown seeds when the wind gusts.
The thermometer said 16 degrees when we parked the truck, but it’s damn hot now. We stop again, a little water for me and a little for her. We brought a gallon, and if I stay out of it, we’ll cover most of this big expanse of grass before we are forced to drop off the edge and back to the truck at dark.
This place asks much, and we will give it.
Not to give all that is asked is to remain in the truck. To stay low in the sandy bottom, to perpetuate disbelief at coveys on the mesa.
We give what is asked and in return, we get more than dust.