Tinaja Altas by Josie Arnold

Josie Arnold

I quite recently went with my dad and twelve college students on a road trip through the southwest to look at water scarcity and arid lands. One of our many stops along the way to our final destination which is Dixon, NM, is a place called the Tinaja Altas. The Tinaja Altas are natural occurring ponds in the side of a cliff in the middle of the desert. Because of this many big horn sheep live there.

In order to get to the Tinaja Altas we had to cross the Marine Corps’ bombing range and in order to cross the bombing range you have to have a permit. We stopped at the Marine Corps base in Yuma, AZ. Everyone got a permit except me and my dog Levi, I did not get a permit because I am a minor which means I am under 18 and as for Levi, well, you can guess.

One of the students freaked out about going to the bombing range because the man at the place where they gave us our permits said that there are probably live bombs that have not yet exploded near where we were going. I did not worry and neither did anybody else because if there were live bombs where we were going they would not let us go there. Although I did know that there were unexploded bombs in restricted areas but there was no need to worry because that was nowhere near where we were going. The bombing range is in the middle of nowhere. We drove 25 miles down a dirt road to get to the Tinaja Altas which are 2 miles from the Mexican border. On the way 3 border patrol officers stopped us because they wanted to know who we were and if we had permits. While we were driving down the dirt road that said things like “DO NOT GO FURTHER, LASERS IN USE.” I can only imagine how much more spooked our paranoid student got.

When we got to the campsite it was pitch black outside. Everyone was hurrying about trying to set up their tents and cots before they collapsed in total exhaustion. Once everyone had calmed down and everything was pretty much under control, the group that was making dinner called us over. Each night a different group makes dinner. There are usually about 2 to 3 people in each group. Tonight there were three people and they made chicken tacos. Even though we were in the middle of the desert the temperature had dropped significantly and it was incredibly soothing to bite into a nice warm taco.

In the morning everyone woke up early and changed into hiking clothes. We all ate breakfast in a huge hurry because we could not wait to see the Tinaja Altas. After everyone had finished at about 8:30 my dad called them over. He then told them which mountain we were climbing and I sat back and watched the faces. I watched them with their jaws dropped staring up at the huge mountain covered in only rock and in some places, it was straight up. We took a small hike up to the base of the mountain and then started our long journey upward.

The first Tinaja was at the very bottom. It was covered in slimy green algae and smelled like a septic tank. I could not wait to start rock climbing so I went ahead with one of the students. I later found out that she used to be a professional rock climber. We had to go on all four limbs to get up a part of the mountain. It did not take long for us but the others had a hard time doing it. We then went ahead to try to find an easier route than the one they were already on to get to the other Tinajas. We decided the best way was to just keep going on the route they were on. We went back to them and led them straight up instead of to the side. We thought the side would be too challenging because of rocks that were not stable. Levi (my dog) came with us.

We saw another Tinaja but it was no better than the first (quality wise). We also saw many big horn sheep bones that looked like they had been eaten by something. At one point we had to go down a rock and onto another one and that’s when Levi decided he could not go any further. Two students had given up on rock climbing earlier on so Levi stayed with them while we pushed on. We then stopped at the third Tinaja. This one was significantly larger than the first two and did not smell as bad. This was the ending point for most students.

Four of us including, my dad, Mona, Fawaz, and I, kept going. We went up the part of the mountain that was straight up. It was difficult to climb but we found that it was easier to go as quickly as possible instead of inching yourself up. We stopped right before we got to the top. We could not go any further because if we did we would have to have better gear, ropes, and climbing shoes, none of which we had. We went down a little and then crawled across a narrow ledge over to the fourth Tinaja. This Tinaja was the largest of them all, also probably the deepest. It was only dirty around the edges. I found that the higher we went the better the water quality. We came back across the ledge and started to lower ourselves down the side of the cliff. That took a long time because it was difficult and we were quite high up. When we got back to where we left the students we found half of them crammed into a small cave and the rest drawing in their note books. As we headed back I spotted a pile of bones and in them was a curled horn from a big horn sheep. I wanted to keep it but my dad said no because it was illegal to take anything from that area. I asked him and he said even dirt. When we got to where we left the two students and Levi we were welcomed by a big ball of green, slimy, wet, fluff. The students said he went swimming in one of the Tinajas. As we reached camp I noticed two things, one, I was exhausted and two, I really missed climbing the mountain.

I am glad my mom and dad picked that as a place to camp and I hope I get to go back soon.