It started to get dark. I couldn't find my footprints. I looked over to see lights and made my way over there. A ranger directed me back to the backpacking trail. For the past couple of decades, I've always thought of that moment with a little shame, but also: nothing bad would have happened because it was a major road I saw. Right?
It's funny how memories trick you. I was in Alamogordo this week for a meeting. No offense to anyone who lives there, but it isn't a place high in scenic quality. So I took a couple of hours to go see the national monument, 15 miles away.
There's a five mile trail and I headed out on it. You follow posts in the dunes, and trudge your way up and down some significant sandy slopes. After the first half mile, there was nobody around. Just me in a sea of shockingly white sand.
People have died here, I found out. From thirst but also from getting lost and freezing to death. I was shocked to see that the "main road" I had walked to during my lost episode was just the park road, and the car lights I saw were of the ranger doing the final sweep. Turns out I was pretty lucky that night.
I'm a lot smarter now, and I didn't get lost. Instead I walked peacefully, charging down dunes and getting sand in my shoes (this would be a great place to try barefoot hiking). The five mile trail is the longest in the park, and they don't allow camping except for the one backcountry site. There's no campgrounds in the park, and the road closes at dusk. You can't linger long, but you can be completely alone for a time.
It was interesting to revisit my former self, a seasonal gypsy at the time, still so much left ahead to explore. I thought about passing her in the dunes, and what she would think of the life she had ahead of her. I'm sure she'd be happy to see herself still out hiking around.