Our journey home started when we left White Sands. We stopped in Three Rivers Petroglyphs, we visited rescued wolves and wolf mixes on the western edge of New Mexico, and we stayed two nights in the Grand Canyon, but they all felt like stops on the way home. While there had constantly been a part of me that was excited for the summer in New Zealand, and ready for the end of the trip as our funds dwindled, I realised as we started back towards the west that there was a quiet anxiety building inside me, a small dread for the end of the freedom that life on the road offers. I had to accept that it was all coming to an end.
Three Rivers Petroglyphs was another site that had been abandoned many hundreds of years previously. There are no known descendants of the people that lived there, but thousands of petroglyphs adorn the rock and lava piled about on the grassy hillsides. It’s a place of stories without endings, nestled beneath the mountains and overlooking that broad southern New Mexico basin.
At dawn, we packed swiftly and left Three Rivers. From the basin we drove north and then west, and rose into high elevations again. Through the badlands, the malpais, and past El Morro, we found ourselves on a dirt road off the freeway that was still covered in snow. We had one stop planned on the way to Grand Canyon. We followed the road through high desert forest. The car skidded lightly in the snow. Mud splattered up on its side, and we cruised on.
Our destination was Wild Spirt, a refuge for wolf, wolf mixes, and other wild dogs that were rescued from the exotic pet trade. Wolves move something deep inside me. Their eyes, their fur, their mournful howls, their social and familial heirarchies, pack life, and all this of a creature that moves with an air of immaculate wild intelligence. They pierce me right through, leaving me speechless and breathless with their untamed grace. It is a dream of mine to see wolves in the wild. At Wild Spirit, spending time in their company, I felt a rugged beauty inside that tugged at my innate wild nature and only strengthened this dream.
There is a saying that our guide tells us: lions may be king of the jungle, but you’ll never see a wolf performing in the circus. There is something that sets wolves apart from other terrestrial predators. They do not care to impress humans and are not interested in our treats and gifts. Just to be in the presence of humans causes some wolves at the sanctuary such anxiety that they are given homes at the backs of other enclosures to minimise their interactions with humans as much as possible.
While we walked the property and learned of different individuals, their names and partners and stories, two dogs entered the property with their owner, and the wolves knew it long before we did. The air resonated as their voices escaped their throats and cascaded through the spaces between us. Deep long howls filled the sky. One took up as another finished and another started not long after so that deep howls turned into deep howls and danced into our chests like rounds of a song. There were barks mixed in too, and coyotes yipped and whined. Our guide reminded us that wolves don’t bark. Wolf mixes that barked were considered to be far towards the dog end of the spectrum.
At length the howls subsided and the wolves held their silence again, but the moment lingers in my memory and in the tissues of my body. A wolf howl never leaves you. My skin still tingles as their song plays through my mind.
Our tour ended and we left Wild Spirit for Grand Canyon. As dark fell and we became wary of elk jumping out on to the road. These high elevations of the desert have trees and cold frozen nights. As we ascended the pass that would drop down towards Grand Canyon Village, snow started to fall. Soft at first, and then it picked up in intensity and the road became blanketed. It wasn’t like the snow leaving Santa Fe. It was sinister, more dangerous, and with the constant fear of elk jumping into the road, we started to worry about reaching the national forest outside Grand Canyon.
We persisted at a slow speed, large utes zigzagging in the rearview mirror looking to get around us, and once we were over the highest point and started descending, the snow disappeared. When we arrived at the national forest, we found ourselves again driving into the night on forest roads away from the freeway, reminiscent of our journey into Shasta-Trinity National Forest, only this time we were getting used to it. The forest roads were covered in snow. Piles of snow on the edges of the road hinted at snow ploughs. We drove into the night outside the safety net of the national park boundary, into lands where anyone might wander.
It was dark as we set up our home, our feet crunched across the frozen blanket of snow, and we pitched the tent under the cover of a tree where the ground was still dirt. In the morning, again seeing the extent of our surroundings for the first time at sunrise, we were utterly enchanted. I accepted then that it was almost time to say goodbye to sunrise in the tent, but I wasn’t yet ready to let it go….
We were back where our American journey started. The Grand Canyon.