In the beginning, the New Mexican southwest was born as the floor of an ocean. Primordial giants and tiny shellfish fused with stone to become the bones of mountains that now rise to heights where air is rare. The living legacies of these ancient denizens are a species that was old before the dinosaurs came into being. In the vernal pools formed by early summer monsoons, eggs that lay dormant and exposed for years in the burning sun finally hatch. Having survived a long litany of mass extinctions, and evolving an utterly divergent life cycle without changing its form, the humble tadpole shrimp is destined to live only as long as the puddle to which it was born.
This is a land of extremes with no in-betweens, and no compromises, and that is the kind of beauty one finds here. Fierce, and like most things that are extraordinary without pretension, it is utterly indifferent to its power to inspire reverence and yearning. Here the temperatures can climb and drop enough to kill in just one day and night cycle, and the terrain makes invisible yet drastic changes in its lay against horizons so distant one's sense of perspective is distorted. This is a place where the atmosphere is so tense and still it feels like everything is holding its collective breath. In the next second that breath is released, and one suddenly finds they are in the midst of being scoured by acidic hot sand, or dodging hail and flood waters in a violent lightening storm.
The battle for survival is emphasized in every feature of the landscape. Even the Rio Grande's Cottonwood tree lined path struggles in its quest to pioneer through stretches of high prairie grasslands and mesquite bush mazes. Sandstone peaks hundreds of feet high were formed by the persistence of a single cap rock that defied being dislodged by tornado force winds. A caustic mix of elements and forces carves enormous works of art out of cliff faces, and leaves wizened, ancient, but vibrantly living trees standing with their entire root systems above ground. The natives of this land know better than to use these unshackled trees as landmarks, because the young learn early that the elderly are inclined to have their sport when they can.
The enormous timeline of this place is burned into every rock and tree as well. Here, arroyos and canyons etch flashflood age lines into the faces and foothills of dormant volcanic mountain gods. Our finite existence did not witness the violent birth that lifted these giants from the ocean and granted them their crowns of clouds. All that is left of those mighty forces are the living rivers of lava and water that still pulse through sleeping deities before once again pouring into the underground ley lines of this land. It is a thing of wonder to know that these ancient entities still live, but it is clear that they had grown old and went to sleep long before we came here to give names to them, and we as a species will return to the dust long before they too give way to the wind.
Everywhere, there are signs that migrant humans made their homes within and among these elder gods, bringing with them their symbols, and rationale and civilizations. They sat around campfires and told stories of fabulous beasts, utterly unaware that every day they trod on the remains of creatures that were once far more wondrous and real. Early man believed that his barely newborn and temporal consciousness could create the name or ritual to command all things. But then as now, the wishes of man are unheeded by the enormous elemental entities that have no cause to be anything but indifferent to his very existence. In time, all who believe in magic discover that none could make an impression on those whose memories encompass millennia of ages, nor can we wake those whose dreams span epochs only the stars can recall. We are as restless as the infants that we are, unable to attain the stillness of being that would let us speak as equals to the mountains, trees and rivers. But those who believe in magic know that we can still learn from our silent elders. Before we can hear their voices and be heard in turn, humankind must first learn to hear the voices among ourselves.