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Into the Sierra de San Francisco

by C.M. Mayo

Mid-way up the Baja California peninsula the highway arrows through the Vizcaíno Desert. The Sierra de San Francisco rises bronze-gray and ragged in the east; to the far west, towards the Pacific Ocean, are the scattered pointed peaks of the Santa Claras, faded to a dusky lavender in the distance. The sand and the cactus were bathed in golden light when I angled off the highway onto a long straight stretch of graded dirt road. Ahead, just above the ridge of the mountains, hung a large round moon, though the sky was still blue with day.

Where the desert met the mountains, the road suddenly wound upwards like a corkscrew, no railings, all rocks and rubble, wheel ruts and potholes. I shifted the jeep into four-wheel-drive and continued climbing, the water jugs and tins and duffel bags sloshing and bouncing in the backseat. Soon I was on a high mesa where everything looked green, although the green was cactus. A few feet from the road, the green opened up, a yawning chasm of canyon, its walls sheer black rock.

I’d driven a few hundred feet higher when I stopped for the view. The plain of the Vizcaíno Desert looked like sea, the peaks of the Santa Claras like islands in the hazy blue. Ahead was the moon, bright now in the Prussian blue sky. The air had cooled, become crisp. A small white goat leapt across the road.

More climbing, another mesa. A herd of goats swarmed down the embankment onto the road behind me, their heads bobbing like pigeons', their bells tinkling chimes. In the rearview mirror, I saw a small boy jogging behind them, flailing at them with a switch. The road went on, 180 degree turns around cliff edges, for which I braked to a rolling crawl. The canyons were so deep I couldn't see their floors. And then the road leveled into a high cove ringed with rocky peaks. More goats, two here, three there tearing at a cactus. Around a corral came a herd flowing like a slip of black river. The goats sounded like children laughing, a pretty, silly sweet sound.

 


C.M. Mayo is the author of Sky Over el Nido, which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction.   The brief essay above is contained in her forthcoming Miraculous Air: In Baja California.  Her creative nonfiction is forthcoming in Fourth Genre, Massachusetts Review, and Southwest Review; and her stories have appeared in The Paris Review, Northwest Review, The Quarterly, and Witness, among others.  Mayo has been a fellow in fiction at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference and the Sewanee Writers Conference, and a fellow in both fiction and nonfiction at the Wesleyan Writers Conference. Mayo's website is www.cmmayo.com

 

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