It isn’t the rain chasing us off the mountain, so much as the lightning. The old mine complex is full of metal. Roofs, walls, random steel poles and fixtures sunk into the earth in cement. The whole affair already quasi-mystical in its abstruse purposefulness. An industrial henge to confound the archaeologists of the future. Such steel mysteries tend to bring lightning strikes, however, so we cut short our exploration.
Hard-faced nylon jackets pulled up under our chins, hoods over baseball caps, we rustle as we walk. The road, or what had once been, glistens and glitters. Broken glass, bits of pyrite and galena, chunks of dishes long ago shattered. The scattered remains of a century of mining that ended half again as many years ago. These bits come up through the soil, only to be washed and kicked back under again. Archaeologists won’t understand them. The soft, ornate roses networked around the rim of a broken china plate must’ve had some deep religious significance. Beautiful women, not haggard dust ruined miners, must’ve held them cupped to their breasts. Dancing naked around the steel winches atop the hill, feet cut and bleeding on the ore rich ground.
We walk on back to the car. We wonder, maybe worry, someone has taken notice of the bright red station wagon parked outside the gate. Its warrantless, the locals are frightened of rain. It melts adobes and cuts arroyos across perfectly good pasture. Rain is ruin, in the desert. No one goes out in the rain. Looking down the slope, the town is small far below, rain clouds reaching down to it. I can see people, behind their windows, hiding from the outstretched limbs of the sky.
Outside the car, where someone had parked before, is an empty Codeine cough syrup bottle. More mystical refuse. Some strange and complex love rite, consecrated in the passing of the amber plastic vessel from one set of lips to another. Greedy, choking down the foul contents, washing it out with beer. I kick it and point so my buddy will see. We shake our heads.
Neither of us wants to go home. On the drive down we’re looking out at the grey sky, wisps of rain and dry, desperate, earth. Seeking something other than the discomfiting surrounds of a trailer house by the railroad tracks. We want to earn the cold beer that’s sitting in the fridge.
He slows and pulls off the highway, bumping onto a dirt road in a little valley. Framing the east boundary, are small red hills with darker rock upthrusts. To the west, even heavier basalt ridges rose. On our right, the western ridges are full of climbing spots, with names like Spook and Wallflower, the quirkiness of those who would identify and first trump the rock’s challenging paths. Between us, sits a small private burial, fenced with a small structure covering the grave. About the size of a dog house, with a cross on top, it looks like a long forgotten Rocky Mountain Baptist church, alone in some great expanse, seen from miles away.
I look over it, looking up the slope to Wallflower. There are no ropes set, no climbers on the face, none gathered below. Driven away by the fear of rain, getting stuck in the awful exposed clay. I am disappointed.
We drive on, finally stopping at some weathered board corrals and leaving the car behind. We walk east at first, and I am bored with this. The overhanging cave we want to investigate proves to be full of Catholic santos and prayer candles. The black soot of the candles covers the walls and ceiling, one new layer in generations of them. Mirrored glass Christmas balls hang from this same ceiling. I reholster the pistol I’d drawn as we approached, on the off chance of habitation, and we turn toward the big climbing walls.
We cross down to the road and walk up it a ways. A small sedan passes us, bumping roughly on the washboards. The driver gives us a slightly panicked look, but we all press on. Leaving the road, my buddy and I move up the bank of a shallow gully. He’s talking about the erosion patterns, and says something about making one of his own. I leave him to piss and keep walking.
The dry soil crunches under my shoes. Hard grazed grass exists in sparse, grey, clumps that crackle and rasp just to be looked at. Moving silently is impossible I find. I look from the ground to the rock rising in front of me. I walk faster, stepping harder, moving further from my buddy.
I walk towards Wallflower like I will see her there. The face I remember, and have been disappointed not to see. The little Hispanic girl we’d been climbing with one day. Small, muscular and thin, dark hair and green eyes in an angular, pretty face. Wide smile and good bright teeth. A beauty mark. She exists as more of an idea, ghosting from my memory of that day. My mind has wandered, leaving my feet to drive me towards where I know she isn’t. The archeology of memory may be the most troublesome yet, with its desire for reverence. It’s far too easy to make broken things holy in hindsight.
Before long my buddy catches up, and we see another overhanging cave down the ridge. South of where I want to be. We strike out for it. I know it’s better for me than indulging the ghosts. The rock ahead looks darker in the late, overcast, afternoon. Pistol shots ring out, echoing back off the wall ahead of us. We stop, crouching, our hands going to our own guns. We listen, turn outward toward the valley. It takes minutes for more shots to ring out. I point, whisper the direction of the sound is on the other side of the little hill we’ve rounded. Back where the car is at. A slim rock spine runs up the side of the hill, I point, suggest we go up that, look over the top. See if its just target shooters or what. My buddy nods, mutters agreement. Focused, I don’t look over my shoulder as we begin to move away from the climbing faces. The breeze in the grass, coming in ahead of a light rain, pulls scents into the air, and for just a moment I smell her. Her hair and sweat, her breath while speaking, the way she smelled that day rock climbing.