Posted by: fiddlehead | September 9, 2007

Hiking story from Jicarrilla Indian Reservation, NM

 

Jicarilla Indian ReservationA few years ago, during an attempt to hike the “Triple Crown” of backpacking: The Appalacian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail, we were in the New Mexico portion of the CDT and looking at our options for getting thru the area around the Tierra Amarillo Land Grant or the Jicarrilla Indian Reservation.

Having hiked the CDT before in ’98, we then went through the Tierra Amarillo Land Grant and although it was very beautiful, we could tell that we were not wanted on their land.

This is a land grant that remains from the Spanish American War and the old Mexican families who lived in the area were granted this huge, beautiful piece of land to exist inside US territory. It’s been grandfathered in all of these years and now all private land.

So, this trip in 2002, we decided to go for the Jicarilla Apache Reservation. This was the land that the Continental Divide goes through but it is not open to the public. (same as the Tierra Amarilla) The only alternative is to walk the fairly busy two land road in between the two. That is what the guidebooks recommend as they cannot tell you to go on private land.

We got to the southern entrance to the Apache reservation and ignored the signs and started walking some old dirt roads there. This was in early March and there was snow on the ground so we could see that no one had been through there in a long time as there were no tracks in the snow.

We hiked thru the “res” for a few hours following our GPS bearing to a point where we would turn and head for some water and a meal. We found the terrain very interesting and much different from the green, lush wilderness of the Tierra Amarilla land grant.
Here it was more like desert land but with a beauty not unlike the sandstone formations of Bryce canyon or the “Badlands” of South Dakota. Very beautiful and quite different from the local terrain.
Fiddlehead hiking in the Jicarilla

All was going great until about 4 PM, we suddenly heard drums nearby. We had seen no sign of man up to this point and thought we might be the only ones within miles and miles of our location.
But now, we heard the steady TOM tom tom tom beat that most would recognize as the basic Indian toms heavily accented by the first beat. And wow, it seemed close.
So, all of a sudden, we went from our leisurely stroll enjoying the views to the scared feeling of the hunted. We were in the middle of a huge Indian reservation and we felt like we were surrounded by Indians.

So now we started hiding behind brush and trees and dashing across openings as fast as possible and seeking out the cover.Jicarilla Indian Reservation

We made a beeline for the road about 5 miles to our north and were in a clump of brush that may have been some old boundary as we found a 3 foot high barbed wire fence in the middle.

We heard a slight noise and looked over and to our horror, we saw a huge cow elk laying on the ground, with it’s leg almost straight up in the air and twisted around the top rung of the barbed wire.
It’s eyes gave us a pleading look as it grunted and squealed in pain. It didn’t take us long to figure out what happened. The elk tried to jump the fence and misjudged the height and caught it’s foot in the top strand of wire. This must’ve tripped the huge elk and it twisted around and stretched the wire so much that it completely wrapped around the leg just above the hoof.

It fell down and we judged that it may have been lying there for a few days and probably was within a day or two of dying as it could only move it’s head a few inches at a time. It was begging us with it’s eyes to do something to try to help.
But what could we do? We tested the top rung of wire and it was as tight as a high pitched piano string. We got a rock and tried to hack at it to no avail.

Now we are lightweight backpackers meaning we don’t carry anything we don’t need and our only knife between the two of us was a box cutter knife with razor like blade.
We could do nothing to help the poor animal.

We GPS’d the location thinking that once we were out of the “res” and in a safe environment (for us) we could tell someone who could send help or come and cut the wire.

We got out of there as fast as we could and got back to the road and followed it for the rest of the day. We then realized that we couldn’t very well tell people what we saw as we had been in there without permission

There was nothing we could do with our secret. GPS’s were fairly new (this was in 2002) and not many people had them. We have kept our secret to ourselves until now, 5 years later when I am here writing it all down.

It was such a shame for a beautiful animal to die in such a long and tortuous way. I doubt the barbed wire fence had much of a purpose anymore as it seemed wilderness where we were.

I feel pretty bad even now that we told no one at the time.

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Responses

  1. I can’t believe you left a beautiful animal to die just so you wouldn’t get into trouble. I doubt they would have done anything to you. I believe the Indians would have been glad to find out about the elk so they could have helped it. Even killing it outright would have been preferable to what you did!

  2. You are right!
    We should have somehow killed it.
    I’m not sure how as we only had a box cutter with about a 1/2″ blade with us. (we travel very light)
    We did think about it but at the time thought that we would tell someone the GPS point and they could do it.
    The elk was near death in our estimation.

    However when we got back to the road, we thought about flagging down a truck or car or something and telling them and that’s when we realized that it probably wouldn’t work. Not many people had even heard of a GPS back 6 years ago. And there is so much wilderness in the area, i don’t think they would’ve found it.

    I believe if the elk would’ve been kicking and thrashing and apparantly lots of life left in it, we would’ve tried harder to find someone to help. but it appeared very near death.


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