I made it to Bandelier National Monument with one hour to go before the gates were due to close. Luckily there were very few cars on the tight, winding road down into the canyon, because I spent a lot of time swerving around as I craned my neck left and right, trying to catch every bit of the landscape as shadows crept up the walls and the sun prepared to set.
I borrowed a map from the Visitor Center and planned to walk quickly up a nature trail, but decided to make time for the larger loop through ancient dwellings and across a stream back toward the parking lot. After I managed to escape a very loud, raucous family with multiple kids clambering everywhere, I climbed high along the path and into one of the houses. The feeling of safety and quiet in that small room was palpable. There was lichen everywhere on the rocks, in so many different colors. The sun was pouring down the walls, golden in the late afternoon last gasp of daylight.
A couple stopped me and pointed out a buck and two does in the field below us; I told them about how I see deer everywhere on this trip and then they told me about how they always see snakes. We watched for a while, and then I moved on up the path, turning a corner to count 12 more deer grazing in a small field. They were not afraid, cautious, but clearly used to human presence. I spent a long time watching them and they followed me down toward the stream, pausing to drink. Mule deer are a dime a dozen in this part of the world, but seeing them is still magical for me. As I left the park, I came upon a buck waiting to cross the road. I stopped for him. We watched each other for a minute, and then he made his way across the tarmac, sunlight burnishing his fur as he clambered into the brush.
Some day I'll make it back to this place and give it the time and attention it deserves.