Calling it a night around 10:30, we left the fire embers glowing and crawled into the tent. After a few minutes of light conversation, the night was again broken by unexpected sounds... this time it was the banging of pots and pans and murmuring voices. It actually sounded like an entire campsite was being set up next to us. By now, my kids were in a near panic. We grabbed our flashlights and looked around outside – and again we found nothing.
In a weak attempt to calm everyone down, I suggested we just try to relax and get some sleep. We'd break camp down at dawn and head back home. It'd be too hard to try to pack up in the middle of the pitch black night, and it wouldn't hurt us to get a few hours rest. Also, I was beginning to realize that driving those few miles overland back to the country road would be no picnic. I had to be so very careful and drive so very slow just to get to this spot. A frantic drive out at night while trying to avoid those bus-sized boulders and car-eating arroyos would be a nightmare.
GHOSTS ON THE HOOF
After about 45 minutes of relative quiet, there was a sudden eruption right outside our tent of – believe it or not – the sound of cattle! There was mooing and hoofs shuffling. Then the pots and pans started again and the murmuring voices. It sounded like hundreds of people making dinner and bedding down for the night.
That was it. We jumped up, tore down the tent and stuffed it into the back of the SUV. We grabbed the cooler and everything else and threw it in the back, too. We all climbed into the vehicle and tried to decide what to do next. I really couldn't fathom trying to make that overland drive, but it was beginning to look like more and more of a reality. After about 20 minutes, we all calmed down. We realized how tired we were and decided that if we locked the doors, maybe we could all still get a few hours rest and head out at first light.
I cautiously climbed out of the vehicle to double check and make sure we weren't leaving anything behind. I dumped a couple of bottles of water on the almost dead campfire. The night remained silent and still. I climbed back into the vehicle and half convinced myself that everything would be ok. Maybe we were just hearing a far off radio (from where?) and we could all get some much-needed rest.
SHRIEKS AND FIREBALL
Five more minutes of silence.
And then the night erupted in a series of shrieks that would have left the strongest men trembling – and we weren't strong men! We were a mom and three kids! Right behind that came a deep breathing sound, like someone had run a long way. Then the pots and pans started again. That was it – we were through. I started the vehicle, threw it into gear and headed for the road. To heck with the overland obstacle course – we were out of there!
Somehow, we made it safely to the road and I gratefully turned onto it, thanking God the whole time. We were now heading south into Santa Rosa. Our tension eased and was slowly being replaced by relief.
During that evening's events, we had heard plenty of freaky things, but hadn't seen anything unusual. That would soon change on that lonely country road.
Within a few miles of town, my oldest daughter started shouting, "Look, look!" and pointing out the front passenger side window. About 15 feet away was what I can only describe as a flying ball of fire! It looked like a campfire turned sideways, flying through the desert next to us. I slowed the car to a crawl and we all watched in horrified fascination as the fireball kept pace with our car. When we sped up, it sped up; when we slowed down, it slowed down. It never got any closer. After pacing us for about five minutes, it made a u-turn and sped away into the dark of the night. The same dark night we left behind as we hit the lights of Santa Rosa.
We got on the highway and made it home without further incident.
An interesting side note: I've since learned that there's a belief that New Mexico witches ride balls of fire instead of broomsticks. As far as everything else, I have no idea what may have been going on in that isolated area north of Santa Rosa. I've found no evidence that there was ever a town there. Maybe it was part of a wagon trail years ago.