Ningún Santuario Pt. 5
I disembarked the crowded tram and made my way to the upper La Luz trailhead. Most of the tourists that had taken the slow, wobbly 3 mile ascent with me made an immediate beeline for the High Finance Restaurant to experience drunkenness at an altitude of 11,000 feet.
I adjusted my backpack and hiked the La Luz until I came to an outcropping of rock a considerable distance from the restaurant and visitor’s center. Facing west with an aerial view of the City of Albuquerque sprawling outward from the base of the mountain, I settled into a half-lotus position on the rock and fished in my pack for the baggie of psychedelic mushrooms I had smuggled up to the peak. I choked down six or seven of the acrid caps and stems, then closed my eyes and meditated while awaiting the effects of the psilocybin.
A deep, resonant gong sounded from no discernible location.
My eyes opened to a peripheral kaleidoscope of translucent paisley paramecia appearing and fading until my vision adjusted to the breathing, pulsating atmosphere that had enveloped Sandia Peak while I was meditating. A steady breeze shook the leaves of Cibola Forest at my back like gentle maracas. I leaned forward and gazed out over the distant street grid of the city below, abuzz with life invisible and silent from this vantage point.
Standing up, I noticed a similar rocky clearing to the one I occupied across a jagged-edged chasm of sporadic pines breaking through the shadowy earth tones of the mountain. When I fixed my gaze on the nearly identical spot about a hundred yards across the abyss, a coyote materialized – I don’t know what other word to use, as there was no apparent access to the outcropping from the surrounding densely forested area. For several minutes, we stared each other down. Just as I was readying to resume my hike, the coyote raised his head and howled. The sound, forlorn but threatening, made me freeze in my tracks as a palpable sense of dread washed over me. I had to leave this spot, but before I finished securing my backpack and hooking it over my shoulders, I glanced back across the gorge and watched the coyote stand upright, his mangy coat falling from his body in large clumps until its skin glinted in the sunlight. From that distance, I could just make out a rapid transformation occurring to his hands and feet, paws giving birth to fingers and toes while his snout receded into his face until the coyote completed his inexplicable transformation into a man. The man stood motionless and stared at me, giving the scene the feel of a showdown between two lone cowboys separated by a treacherous canyon. Shaking my head in an effort to break the hypnotic spell of the man and his disquieting scrutiny, I hurried back to the trail and retraced my steps to the waiting area for the return tram.
“Damn. These are some good fucking ‘shrooms,” I said to myself with a laugh, though I didn’t believe that one bit. The rationalizations of my skeptical east coast mind seemed to have lost all of their efficacy out here in the Wild West.
He pushed through the wooden swinging doors of Los Ojos Saloon and the entire Friday evening crowd fell silent. Ambling to the bar with a slight limp, he slid a twenty dollar bill to the bartender and in a raspy voice said, “Corona”. Hesitantly, the bartender reached into a cooler and handed the man his beer without making eye contact, then fetched his change from the register.
“Tab,” said the man as he motioned for the bartender to take back the change sitting in a puddle of beer on the oaken surface.
At that, the rest of the patrons in the establishment cashed out and made a steady exodus into the warm Jemez night.
The bartender watched the man nursing his beer and intently observing the faces of every person as they passed him on their way out. The saloon now virtually empty, the man craned his neck in all directions to ensure that he hadn’t overlooked anyone, stood, pulled down the brim of his corduroy John Deere cap and exited, leaving the bartender staring befuddled at the half-empty Corona on the bar.