Southwest New Mexico: A nameless sidecanyon quickly fell into untrailed, watery grottoes and shaded, rocky bottoms devoured in lichens.
Pour-offs dropped into pools and glens, oaks overwhelmed with wild grapevines. Found along the steep floor; bear skull half-white, half chestnut from soil. Big bear. We'd been seeing old sign, big scat where you'd imagine some large brown black bear rambling, shambling, pawing up and down the canyon breaking branches. Keith hoisted the thing into his hand and said, "I'm taking this back to my Lila."
He carried it in one hand through steep, shaded corridors, gripping the skull through its eyeholes. Greek pillars of cottowoods led down the main canyon floor through the chortle of running water into a canyon named after an old hermit known around here as Bear Moore. This isn't one of those places that pop up on a map, no destination with a sign or pull out, just a place in the land, a crease down which the earth drains itself.
We walked through cliff-sided bog-bottoms and bear wallows ankle-deep in running, cool water and watercress. Through grape thickets and archways of oak trunks, battlefields of fallen trees, we entered open light. The canyon fell to the Gila, cliffs sliding back as the creek disappeared under its own sand and gravel beds. We stepped into the clear-running East Fork of the river. Heading for camp, we walked down the middle of the knee-deep river, water parting around us, Keith carrying that skull like a cave man, taking it back to his little girl at home.