Tuesday, May 17, 2011
We move on early, heading northwest. It's familiar territory to Abiquiu, whose reservoir was a dark green as the wind rippled across the water's surface. The surrounding cottonwoods are alive with a green of their own. All this color is a treat after the winter months of brown. We turn onto the diminutive route 12, as we had back in February. Once again we would attempt the climb up Nogales Canyon. Last time, roads rutted and muddy with recent snow had made us turn back, settling for a picnic lunch deep in the neighboring valley. It had snowed again last night, but today the road had had time to dry out and our tires were true all the way to the trailhead. It is a short hike beside the stream. The morning had all the right elements of spring, with the birdsong, the new leaves, and the taste of the air. A final steep ascent past a bush buzzing with bees brings us to the ruins. We sit quietly, pondering once again why these Gallina people had chosen this rock face over all others. Our backs against the low curved earthen wall, we quietly look out over the forest below us, eating bison jerky.
Route 12 petered out to a rough dirt track before long. The low hills on either side crest like waves, their backs covered in low pine. On a higher ridge is the grinning baleen smile of a whale. A landscape like this leaves no doubt that it had all once been the sea floor. Before us, the mountains of Colorado thrust upward dramatically, a lovely vision in white. Cows loll by the roadside, their calves skittish with the sound of our engine. Miki and I both flinch at a dark object moving quickly under our wheels. Our eyes have tricked us into not recognizing the shadow of a hawk in flight above. Goats frolic on a large expanse of lawn, and before the laughter at their antic subsides, we are in Chama.
Our lunch is eaten before a mantle of 100 years, lichen still vibrant on its stone. I am happy with High Country Saloon's version of brisket and beer, listening to the conversation at a neighboring table drift seamlessly back and forth between English and Spanish. After, I chat with a busty Native woman sitting in front of the neighboring store. I hear the woes of a dry winter, one that kept the tourists away. I hope to do my part. I like the look of Chama and want to stay a night or two. But today, the road calls.
Across the Mescalero reservation, through a valley filled with pines that are more the taller trees of Colorado. Willie Nelson is on the stereo, who I explain to Miki as the counrty version of Bob Dylan. Then, "No scratch that, that'd be Johnny Cash." Entering a town called "Gobernator," I think of Schwartzenegger. The town of Bloomfield calls up the memory of a different man altogether, eponymous Mike and the sweet blues of his guitar. Here we stop at the Salmon Ruins. Beside them is a heritage park, small and kind of quaint but with a handful of interesting buildings. I learn much with every trip, and today I discover the collision of Native cultures, of the tension of Commance and Ute, Apache and Navajo. An older people, related to none of them once lived in the ruins out past the peach trees. Later when the whites came, there had been orchards. The whites seemingly have devolved, the trees long gone to make room for a trailer park. We look past these to the south, toward Angel Peak, Bisti, and Chaco Canyon, places from our trip last fall, places that now live in our memory. Those places have a special silence for us, a silence that undoubtedly had lived here too. But today, above us, the highway is a constant roar of the passing of oil trucks, their flags a warning, like the raised rattling tail of a snake. Warned off, we go.
Within a half hour, we're entering Colorado...
On the turntable: The Doors, "When You're Strange"
On the nighttable: Gary Snyder, "The Gary Snyder Reader"