The terrain, from our vantage point, looked simple. The invisible river beds looked a heck of a lot like nice little valleys between the skyrocketing sedimentary rock formations, which, from there, appeared to be easy enough to walk around and walk up, if we felt the need.
We came upon the first riverbed by accident, as we almost fell into it on our way in. The falling walls ended some thirty feet down. At the bottom, once we found our way, we stood in a riverbed of natural salt. It covered us, turning our boots into slip-and-slides of the footwear world.
That first ascended wall wasn’t bad; it was pretty easy, in fact.
Another river bed, another not-so-steep climb later and we stood here, looking up, realizing that to canvas the area for that elusive and delicious muley meat we had been craving, we had to go up, way up.
This area, we assumed, looked the best and safest to climb. He made his way, propelling his 6’5” body up the side like a camo-clad spiderman. I, perfectly aware that the only thing to break my fall were rocks and no harness had I, was hesitant. But hunting is what we came here to do, so I put my boot forward and climbed.
Had I known then what I know now, I would have saved myself the moments of pure terror, the seconds of sheer, heart-stopping climbing, by strapping my bow to my back. No, I had stubbornly told myself, I could do this. It turned out, I couldn’t.
With one hand gripping the side of the rock face and the other my bow, I looked down and saw my head smashed against the rocks, blood pouring from every crevice of my small body. I saw him screaming, scaling the cliff down, again like Spiderman, but this time in the full superhero regalia. I saw my dogs running from across the valley, crowding around my lifeless body in an effort to rouse me more quickly.
I saw all this at the moment that I saw the small ledge. I stood, legs earthquaking, and slowly strapped my bow and quiver, to my pack. The world swayed slightly as I hefted the gear to my back. From above, kind of like God, except not at all, more like a movie rendition, my husband directed which way to go, told me to take it slow, to press myself against the rock ledge, throw all my weight at it as if by some force of will, I could make it so that I would not fall.
Minutes, or hours, I’m unsure which, later, we stood atop the cliff. I looked down, around, and up. I collected myself, swearing that it was only sweat that dripped down my face, staining the rock-hard clay below.
Once we paused for pictures, our trek continued. We saw another ledge that would prove to be a better vantage point, so we scaled that one too.
Ten miles later, here we sit, looking at all we had done. Well, I sat, he stood. His rear end had battled a hidden cactus when an impromptu lunch break turned into a half hour of extracting hidden spines from his pants. It would have helped, in retrospect, if he had looked before he sat but he was committed to sitting and enjoying that bottom-of-my backpack-squished sandwich.
Cows meandered by, some 400 yards away. We watched them, wondering what it must be like to have full reign of the area. Our answer came in a skeletal form buried deep in a pit we almost fell into, just as she did.
A concave, oblong circle, much like the Native American historical site in Menoken, N.D., sat below us. We walked the clear exit, the entrance, the circle in the center where the fire roared. We wondered how it must have been, to wake up to this alien landscape every morning, to the rainbow of colors, the dust, the wind, the land not yet, or never, touched by the modern hand, to hunt the buffalo atop it, or to battle those within it.
Our bows stayed out almost the entire hunt. We canvassed for a muley, assuring one another, “if I get a shot, I’m going to take it.”
I shot everything I could.
The cracked ground sprouting vegetation, contradicting life itself, boasting breath when none should be. Petrified wood pushing through rock walls, salt pastures. Cows running free, following the heard, seemingly unknowing of the surrounding beauty. Tables for giants, set up along a rock wall, waiting for a tankard of ale, a whole sheep, wool and all.
I shot it all not to remind myself of its beauty but to prove that it was real, that I had been there, climbed it, saw it, lived it.
It’s safe to say that I am no longer the huntress who patiently waited for a whitetail to meander by my larger-than-life stand. I no longer relish in walking to and fro my plastic, man-made stands, the sounds of the near road broaching the otherwise still silence.
That huntress gauged the success of a hunt in the deer seen, the venison harvested. As the number of hunts has progressed, so has my attitude towards it. I had always believed the hunt to be ancient, spiritual but now I know, it never leaves you, nor do you it.
I stare once again at the revolutions of my fan, blowing the chilly forty degree air around this fortress of a house. Blinking, I see the Badlands, my torn hands reaching over one another to make it another foot up the wall, my tired legs pushing up another hill.
Next time, I’ll taste the natural salt, walk two more miles, and maybe look down that rock wall. But as for now, I’ll relish in the memories.
The hunt may have been, for all the purposes of mainstream outdoor TV, unfruitful, as no monster, trophy muley sagged from the bag of our truck, bouncing with the uneven road. But in reality, it was anything but.
It was solitary, it was stunning, it proved that I could reach outside myself, it was all this, and it was mine.
Check out The Deer Huntress’ Facebook Page, Hunt Like You’re Hungry, for more breathtaking photos of the hunt!