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The animal trapped in the mire served as a monument to the white mineral of Juan Cordona Lake. It was the 1920s, and Cowden Ranch cowboys rode hard across Pecos country sand dunes in pursuit of a mustang that was too fast for their lariats. Then a rider noticed that the chase was leading to the salt lake Juan Cordona, the bed of which was nothing but muck this time of year, and he shouted an idea to his companions. They headed the mustang down the bank of the lake where it would have to yield to their ropes. But the mustang splashed onward through the shallows and made for the far shore. Reining their mounts to a stop, the cowboys watched helplessly as the stallion struggled farther into the mire that finally pinned it wither-deep. The cowhands shook their heads; Juan Cordona Lake had claimed a gruesome sentinel which, preserved by the salt, would testify of nature’s Juan Cordona Lake A solitary man dwarfed by the sea of white at Juan Cordona Lake. Juan Cordona Lake 47 dominion to future generations.1 Situated two miles north of the Pecos River and fifty miles southwest of Midland, Texas, the lake consists of two basins, the larger of which is two and a half miles by three-quarters of a mile in size. A neck eight hundred feet wide connects that basin to one half as big. Sand dunes rise thirty-five to fifty-five feet above Juan Cordona’s white flats on three sides, but on the fourth the terrain rises only five vertical feet, except for island knolls, between the lake and the Pecos. The lake amid desert seems barren, but its life-sustaining salt brought men from afar even in prehistoric times. Through the gateway of Castle Gap fifteen miles east they came from Central Texas; along the crooked Pecos they came from both north and south; and from the Chihuahuan Desert to the southwest they approached along an ancient route. Viewed from the air, the lake in centuries past would have resembled the hub of a wheel with spokes—trails—leading to it from all directions. Formed by capillary action over a bulge in the subterranean salt dome, the lake lay within a great forest eighteen thousand years ago. Pine, spruce, and piñon crowded the stream courses of the Llano Estacado and Pecos country and left pollen to fossilize in the lakebed and banks. When the climate changed 11,200 years ago, the pines and spruces yielded, leaving only piñons to shade the first known inhabitant of West Texas—Midland Man. The remains of this prehistoric Indian, who actually was a woman, lay fossilizing for millennia until 1953 when they were unearthed in Midland County sandhills forty-five miles northeast of the lake. In a mid-1950s effort to recreate the environment in which she lived, paleontologists Dr. Fred Wendorf of the Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe and Dr. Ulf Hafsten of Norway recovered fossil pollen from playas on the Llano Estacado and Juan Cordona Lake. These finds attested to the coniferous environment of which the basin once was a part.2 Midland Man, or other nomadic hunters of her kind, well may have scraped salt from the lake and worn footpaths to it from all directions. For not only did the basin supply a vital bodily nutrient, but a means whereby meat could be preserved. That dual benefit enticed Jumano Indians to beat out a trail to the lake from their pueblos and croplands at modern-day Ojinaga-Presidio, where the Rio Conchos tumbles into the Rio Grande. By foot it was a journey of twelve days to the good gravel crossing on the Pecos four to five miles east-northeast of Buena Vista and adjacent to the basin. Once across, they cut salt for domestic use and for barter with the tribes of the Rio Conchos, and then scanned the plains and mesaland east of the Pecos for cibola—buffalo. That shaggy beast generally did not range south and west of the river; the treacherous waters of the canal and severity of the terrain proved natural barriers. The Jumanos’ route to Juan Cordona came to be called the Salt Trail, and the Pecos ford the Salt Crossing. From the confluence of the Rio 48 Juan Cordona Lake Grande and Rio Conchos at present-day Presidio, the trail went north up Alamito Creek, cut through the Davis Mountains at Paisano Pass...


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