THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK: Ben H. English
“For a moment of night we have a glimpse of ourselves and of our world islanded in its steam of stars—pilgrims in mortality, voyaging between horizons across the eternal seas of space and time.”
THE STORY BEHIND THE PHOTO:
The summer sun was setting as I made my way up the very tip of Dagger Flat, the place where it contorts and pinches into suitable form to enter the upper end of Devil’s Den. It had been a long, hot day and I savored the coming coolness much like an old man does the fading memories of his first real love.
As the old trail from a century ago and more began to ascend, I looked over my shoulder to the mouth of the rocky crevice. Having been over, through and along its shoulders at different times of my life had given me better perspective for this natural anomaly than most. It had also led to a startling discovery, the presence of a good sized cave below the crest for the southern rim.
For some reason that has continued to evade me, there is a sizable amount of information available about Devil’s Den that is either bad or incomplete. More so some of it could prove even dangerous, if anyone took that information whole cloth without question or verification. Just because one finds something in print or on the internet does not mean that it is necessarily true.
Even the National Park Service seems to have less than a full grasp of this unusual area. Firstly they take the longer, somewhat more difficult route from Dog Canyon trailhead, down through brush choked creek banks, and up the ledge for the southern shoulder to view the crevice. Due to this and other factors, the casual hiker often comes away with less than a full appreciation of the sights involving Devil’s Den and what can be found there.
There are shorter, easier, more scenic ways to the top of Devil’s Den. The biggest problem is how the NPS trail takes you up there, and on which side of the cut. In effect, one misses so much that serves as a feast for the eyes, a salve for the spirit and a ready-made jump start for the imagination.
I mentioned before about being on a trail that was over a hundred years old, and likely far older than that. This mostly now vanished path once ran all the way from at least Dagger Tank to Bone Spring. But if you know this country and the folds of the terrain that wiggle away in every direction, you can keep to the old trail easily enough as far as general terms.
In doing so you enter a new level of appreciation for Devil’s Den. The biggest jog that it makes, the most important detour, the crowning achievement when compared to the park route is how it goes over the north rim of Devil’s Den rather than the south. And when you take this track and make your way along up to the crest, the true magic of Devil’s Den begins to present itself you.
On either side one can find tinajas and shelters used by man and animal alike since long before any record was kept of their existence. There are rotting posts and rusting barbed wire fences, including a gap that once stood at the top for the herding of livestock. The trail where dropping into the northernmost edges of Dagger Flat is still in good shape, kept so by generations of wildlife who know the easy way up and over these craggy, roughhewn hills.
And, of course, there is this cave. For those who have stood above and wondered about the hollow sound under your feet, now you know why. Note the smaller ‘window’ to the left side of the cave’s entrance. I would be slightly less that surprised if that entire section of escarpment was hollowed out in many places underneath the rim.
I stood there on that old trail, staring at the cave and wondering what secrets were concealed there. I also wondered how many other men had stood in this very same spot, wondering the same thing.
Each of us pilgrims in our own mortality, journeying but briefly between those eternal seas of space and time.
Ben H. English