A Night Out in the Wilderness – Capitan Mountain, New Mexico

I was bored one evening in El Paso so I determined that I wanted to go and spend the night out in the mountains. I looked at my maps and determined that the Capitan Mountain Wilderness would be a good place to find some solitude so I left Fort Bliss around 6:30 pm and drive…

I was bored one evening in El Paso so I determined that I wanted to go and spend the night out in the mountains. I looked at my maps and determined that the Capitan Mountain Wilderness would be a good place to find some solitude so I left Fort Bliss around 6:30 pm and drive up US HWY 54 toward Capitan Mountain.

I drive up a very rough Forest Road 56 from Capitan Gap to Padilla Point at 9,627 feet. As I climbed the mountain on the rocky dirt road in the dark, I could see stars peeking through the trees and far below the twinkling lights of the tiny town of Capitan, New Mexico. As I turned the corner at Capitan Gap, a large half moon rose over the peak and I came face to face with it through the trees as it bathed the rock slides – what an impressive sight.

At Padilla Point I parked in a large grassy meadow and shut down my truck and turned off all the lights. It was 12:51 am and an inviting two track leading into a thick group of Aspen beckoned me in the moonlight and I could not resist so I put on my gortex jacket, grabbed my USMC K-bar which is a pretty serious knife in a leather sheath and I walked toward the forest.

As I approached the edge of the trees I could smell the autumn leaves on the breeze and it seemed as though the forest was breathing and her breath was sweet. Even though it was dark, I could tell that the Aspen leaves were no longer green but a brilliant yellow / gold. The moonlight turned the grass in the meadow a ghostly white. As I entered the forest the night closed in and it got quite dark. I felt my feet kicking through a blanket of golden leaves on the ground and with each step I again smelled the must of autumn.

The scene was one of utter somber beauty – Thick bunches of match stick aspen leaned in from either side of the two track with their canopies meeting in the center forming a kind of tunnel. The moonlight washed through the partially denuded trees and reflected brightly off the white trunks. The canopy cast eerie spider web shadows on the ground and the wind caused the Aspen to quake and flutter their leaves sending golden leaves into the air which swirled and finally came to rest with many thousands of leaves on the ground that fell before.

As I emerged from my Aspen tunnel I looked across the open meadow and the sky and forest edge made a striking scene with whispy see through clouds around the moon and hundreds of stars over head and at the edges of the trees. Just above the evergreens was Orion in all his majesty. As I stand in the moonlight at 1:25 am, I noticed the different sounds the wind makes on the grass – swooshing; on the evergreens – whooshing; and in the Aspens – rustling … interestingly distinct different sounds.

I then had the macabre thought that there might be a corpse just out of view in the treeline and I determined I would rather find it in the daylight as opposed to the moonlight if it was there so I avoided the woods. I then felt a pang of sorrow for the imagined corpse out here all alone but I was complimented to know that it's spirit was gone, hopefully to a better place.

The strange things you think about out in the woods all alone miles away in the middle of the night. I then considered the Lincoln County War and I wondered if Billy the Kid and his Regulators ever fled into the Capitan wilds while eluding Sherriff Pat Garrett and the hang man's nuece. I expected they did as the town of Lincoln was only a few miles south east and about 5,000 feet below of my current position at Padilla Point.

As my eyes grow heavy and the icy chill began to freeze my nose, ears, fingers and toes, I turned my thoughts to the Mescalero Apache. How they must have loved these lands. I hear them and feel them in the grass, forest and leaves. I sense their spirits on the wind and the tears they shed on the banks of the Pecos. Although I never knew them, I miss them and their ways and I said a prayer for those who vanished and perished long ago as I feel sleep in the waving moonlight on the summit of Capitan Mountain.