The waterfall itself, pure and graceful from above, when seen from down there against its stained brown cliff suggested a factory sewer draining into a canal. We climbed back out to the smooth rock and clean sand above, and put our tents back where they had been that morning.
In unfamiliar country you come upon the best campsites about 10 a.m. When you do find a good one at quitting time, you linger the next day and enjoy it. This was a good one, so we loafed a little on our second morning, drinking extra cups of coffee and doubling our breakfast ration of powdered eggs. The pale mountain sunlight stenciled our undershirts on our backs in half an hour. We mended things, washed socks, bathed in the stream.
The kids who climbed in and out of the canyon with fishing poles and cans of hellgrammites said they came from the village of Basaseachic, which was all�—over yonder. Yes, they said, we could get a meal there, at Do�a Trini's. Over yonder was an hour's walk, the village perhaps 20 houses strung out over miles in a high, dry valley. There were no signboards of any kind in the remote mountain settlements. Commercial establishments were few, and all but a tiny fraction of their customers were local people who knew what and where they were. A 10-year-old boy agreed to lead us to Do�a Trini's. On the trail we met a slightly bigger boy. We all halted. Newt and I waited while the boys, muttering rapidly, both heads bent over an open palm, worked out a trade of marbles. Then we resumed our walk.
In Do�a Trini's 1895 kitchen we sat at an oilcloth-covered table while she built up the fire in her wood-burning range. She was a lively little woman of about 70, with long gray braids and an apron. Her kitchen was well scrubbed and it smelled good. It was midafternoon, but we were in the habit of eating whenever we found purchasable food. Do�a Trini fried us three eggs apiece, served beans with goat cheese melted on top and made a pot of good Mexican coffee. All through the meal her teen-aged helper brought us hot tortillas while our young guide sat in a corner drinking a large room-temperature Pepsi-Cola.
"Would you like some peaches?" the old woman asked as she got down a quart of the pickled fruit from a shelf. "I put these up last year." We ate them all, with more coffee and with pan dulces, which are pastries about midway in sweetness between bread and cake.
"You have been to the waterfall," Do�a Trini told us. The local people have their own tracking system for strangers. They always knew where we were and where we had been. "Come back in the time of the waters. It is larger then."
And so it is. Although we were never to see it that way, an aerial photomural in an office in the city of Chihuahua shows the waterfall in rainy season. It isn't a chaste white ribbon; it is, after a heavy rain, a muddy horror 70 yards wide, filling its canyon, taking drowned cows and uprooted trees and 1,000-pound rocks over the brink and down. Not many people ever see it like that, for the logging roads and the foot trails become impassable after the heavy rains and the mountain communities are cut off even from one another.
Recently, again in the dry season, I went back to Basaseachic to see if I could, with caution, crawl up to the gap left by the rock that dropped from under me in 1966 and peer down and see how far I might have fallen. I couldn't find it. Everything looked as if there had been no change in centuries. Except, alas, for the tracks made by off-road vehicles, and litter, and the words EL PASO CITY LIMIT sprayed on the canyon wall.