Below Carousel Mountain and off the Dodson Trail runs an ancient path few know of and even fewer venture upon. To me it is ‘The Shortcut,’ a rather unpoetic moniker for a route that has likely felt the impact of human feet for a thousand years and more.

When I first stumbled upon this path some years back, it was on a prowl to try finding a way from Blue Creek down to east of Mule Ears, using Smoky Creek as a main way between. This old trail fit my needs admirably, thus the rather utilitarian nickname.

But while traveling it time and again I formed a lasting appreciation for what was, once upon a time. Like so many other such routes through this gnarled up, roughhewn country, this one had been used by one culture upon another for various purposes befitting their own needs.

Much of this trail has since disappeared due to erosion, encroaching vegetation, slides and disuse; man has moved on or been displaced as is so common in this fearsome land. Now save for the wildlife who use it to navigate for water or forage, it continues to fade away ever so slowly from the human eye.
Yet the visual is only one sense we possess and sound argument abounds for more than the usually thought upon five. When zig-zagging your way up or down, you can actually feel where the trail ran under your feet, even through the thick soles of a pair of military issue Bellevilles.

Your hand reaches out to touch a massive boulder alongside to steady yourself, and your mind snaps to the fact that others have done the same countless times before.

Then, on an evening so quiet you can hear this desert breathe the sigh of a resting newborn, you stand near the top of the highest pass and survey all there is behind you. This is the golden hour, just as the sun is settling in the west but before the night creatures begin their natural duties.

To the south you can see the canyon where the path continues hither and yon. You can also pick out the very lips of the crevice containing Smoky Creek, where this path dips into. Farther on are the northern slopes of the Punta de la Sierra, a tiny slice of the Sierra Chino and the massive bluffs of the Sierra Ponce jutting skyward.

Yes, it is a short cut but also so much more. For this is not only a portal for traveling from Point A to Point B but to another time and place, the remnants of which are not only under the soles of your boots but all around.

The sun continues to drop lower as you stare off into that other time and place, pondering upon what might have been. It will be dark soon and you still have miles to go.

But no misgivings accompany that thought, as you have the path of the ancients to lead you home…

God bless to all and Merry Christmas,


Ben H. English
Alpine, Texas
USMC: 1976-1983
THP: 1986-2008
HS Teacher: 2008-2010
Author of five books: 2017-2023
Facebook: Ben H. English
‘Graying but still game’