by Kacey Barton
This past weekend, I was presented the opportunity to visit Cloudcroft, New Mexico, with a friend. We spent a total of four days in a cabin hidden behind pine trees which towered high above the soft forest ground. Sounds of the forest filled the cool mountain air, while elk grazed in the sprawling green meadows. Without a phone signal or Internet connection, this was the perfect place to get lost for a while.
We set out from Texas to New Mexico at midday, arriving at a small café just outside of Cloudcroft as the sky began to dim. We were welcomed by the sound of a local band performing for a crowd of happy customers who listened with rapt attention, clapping along and laughing heartily. We departed the café with a feeling of happiness ourselves; ready to face the rest of our time in New Mexico with an air of peace. Driving along a road framed by the mountainsides and green meadows, were greeted by several large bull elk relaxing in a meadow near the road to the cabin, their proud antlers still velvety.
My initial impression of the cabin is that it came out of a fairy tale. It was settled within tall pine trees and crafted out of large wooden logs put together as if they were a perfect puzzle, a large deck overlooking the forests beyond. Birds sang as the sun began to retreat past the horizon as everyone settled into rooms which felt so natural and inviting. Perhaps my most memorable experience was going out on the deck the first night, coffee in hand, and gazing up at the sea of stars that shone almost as bright as the ones in the Big Bend. Shooting stars fell from the sky and airplanes coasted on to their destinations. I wondered in that moment what the forest looked like from one of those planes.
The next day was a bit of an adventure. We made our way into town, our destination a small collection of shops and cafés. It rained intermittently causing us to seek refuge in shops until there was a moment of respite. My friend and I decided to hide out in our car, having seen most of the shops. We were called out to come see a Garter snake my friend’s mother found in a store. The small snake found himself among some scarves, calmly curled up enjoying the warmth and escaping the chilly rainy day outside. A local shopkeeper recommended we take him back to our cabin and set him free in the woods to protect him from being killed in town. We named him Arthur and kept him warm and safe until we made it back to our cabin and watched him slither away.
We would later make our way to another cabin in the woods for a visit, exploring other forests. We were met with an unfortunate sight; four proud bull elk reduced to bones in a dry creek bed, all for the sake of their antlers. A local there informed us that this was not uncommon, which did make for a depressing first impression. Beyond the creek bed, cows and horses grazed in the fields that connected with the road we were driving on, casually ,glancing at us from time to time. Within the forest. massive trees lay on their side, moss and mushrooms overtaking them. As if in solidarity with their fallen comrade, no other trees grew where the other had once stood. Elk danced among the trees, calves in tow, the sky changing color; blue to pink, pink to orange before growing dark, and with it, the forest became still and silent.
The rest of our time in Cloudcroft was spent exploring the outdoors, relaxing in hammocks, and having meaningful conversations over hot tea and good food. Our last day began with a 2.5-mile hike into the wilderness. We found fossils and bones in the dry river beds, fields of sunflowers and thistles reaching towards the sky in the sun-dappled forest clearings, and babbling brooks running out of the land and down the sides of hills. The winding roads, fertile meadows and dense forests held a treasure trove of discovery and experiences for all of us on that trip. We learned about ourselves, each other, and the nature we so often take for granted.