It was our last sunny Saturday in the Lower 48 during the middle of winter. My husband and I boarded a flight from Alaska on Dec. 30 and landed in New Mexico for an entire month.
Looking back at it, we agreed next time we’d probably go with the masses and pick somewhere warmer. But our full month in beautiful and quirky Silver City, four hours south of Albuquerque and seated at the foot of the massive Gila wilderness, was stellar.
Silver City itself, early in January, was quite sleepy. I visited downtown once, twice, five times and found the library, distillery/brewery, and co-op market. There were many galleries and a very cute ice cream shop I had my eye on, but somehow whenever I visited neither were open.
Still, we were busy and happy. Every weekend we were there, we took mini-adventures in the region.
For our last weekend before returning to Alaska we wanted to get in one final big outdoor experience. We chose a hike.
Little did we know.
If you’ve driven the 40 miles between Silver City and the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, an amazing and worthwhile destination, you know why the drive takes two hours. Route 15 starts out fairly straightforward, until it starts weaving, climbing and side-hilling through mountainous national forest.
My husband drove it, and at points I quietly asked him to slow down. I didn’t like contemplating what was — not — over the guardrail. The views were vast and spectacular, a sea of sunlit mountains and forests, punctuated with occasional cliffs and hoodoos. The road was quite high.
For our final hike, we didn’t take the full two-hour drive. We settled on what my husband would call “an objective” 40 minutes away.
When we left Silver City, it was a classic winter 20 degree high-desert morning with air that pinches dry cold, but promises warmth as the sun blazes its way up. Still, there was no snow on the ground and the forecast read a high of low 50s.
When we arrived at our supposed trailhead, a pullout just past a rumbling cattle guard, snow covered the ground. The sun halfheartedly prodded through trees here and there, but for the most part the air had the slightly humid chill of ice in shadow.
I looked at the snow. I looked at my porous sneakers. I thought about sunny, dry New Mexico versus wintry cold Alaska.
I cried uncle. In the most subdued adult temper tantrum possible, I coolly informed my husband that I didn’t want to spend my last weekend in New Mexico post-holing through snow. Plenty of that awaited me back in Alaska.
He was surprisingly OK with my change of heart. We decided to drive down to a lower and sunnier trailhead.
Still, our mood shifted as we backtracked. My husband was realizing we likely weren’t going to make the objective — peak — he had in mind. I felt his silence. We bickered about what to do the rest of the day. Him: “I don’t want to just go for a chill walk, if we’re going to do something I really want to do it.” Me: “I don’t want pressure or a sufferfest, I just want to go for a hike.”
At the new trailhead, I sat in sullen silence for a moment before getting out of the truck.
The snow turned up immediately. But it didn’t become an issue until about 30 minutes in. At that point, there were still hard-packed footsteps to follow. That changed at the top of a sidehill, where we stood in place. The trail had ended in deep snow. I checked my watch: 10:45 a.m.
My husband grumbled, “I should have researched this better; we could have hiked something with a southern aspect” as we turned around.
I said, “Sometimes these things just don’t work out.”
We chatted about other things as we retraced our steps, and for a solid 10 minutes walking back into the sun, I felt pleasantly warm.
I started thinking about what to do with the rest of the day.
But our adventure wasn’t done: upon return to the trailhead, our rental truck alarm went off. My husband and I stared down at the key fob as we pushed it, futilely. This hadn’t happened in our full month of being there.
It wasn’t responding. The car was wailing its alarm into the open forest. We had no cell service.
The panic of disarming a very loud car alarm, anyplace really, is visceral. We pressed various combinations of buttons on the key fob. Nothing. We tried to turn the ignition. Nothing. We fumbled around for a manual for the after-market car alarm: you get the beat by now. Nothing.
Finally, we noticed the battery signal was low. I realized I had my headlamp with me, buried in my backpack. Upon replacing the triple A battery, the truck ceased its meltdown and calmly chirped its usual “unlock” noise when we pushed the button.
Driving away, it was the feeling of one crisis solved, but amid a day that had not turned out as planned.
We decided, in one last-ditch effort, to head to downtown Silver City and see what was going on. In a turn of fortune, and a lovely way to spend one final sunny Saturday, the town had finally come to life in the new year.
The ice cream shop was open. We sat on a sunny park bench with our puffy jackets on, me eating my delicious, long-awaited dessert and my husband eating pizza. We enjoyed watching people and being part of the thrum.
Sometimes that’s the adventure: trying for the big goal, turning around, and life handing you ice cream instead. I’m not complaining. It turned out to be the perfect conclusion to our adventure, actually getting to experience the core of the place we were in.
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