Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Days Away

This was a summer of sacrifice, but there was still time allotted for road trips. Early in the summer, we drove the short drive out to Pecos National Monument, following the Santa Fe Trail where we could. The clouds were low but it didn't detract any from this valley's beauty, between the tall, squared mesas, and the softer, higher peaks where the gods dwell above the trees. We wandered the ruins for most of the morning; above the open grassy field where tribes once came together to trade; around the ruined, roofless Pueblo looking like a game board; and in the shadows of the crumbling mission church standing imposing on the bluff. One could imagine the sight of this place, abandoned and forlorn, from a wagon lumbering slowly along the Santa Fe trail.

Our admission ticket enabled us entrance also to Fort Union, so on a day far hotter we followed the Trail up its northern spur to that monument, now little more than a handful of wooden dwellings lined up in rows of rotting frames of exposed wood pointing out in random displays of geographic possibilities. We were beyond the mountains here, where the plains stretch away for a thousand miles east. It was exposed and very hot, as we walked what were once roads, our eyes open for snakes. There was very little to see, but it was quite romantic to imagine the town that once was, and the soldiers' families who tried to fake a semblance of a life in a place well beyond civilization. Most appealing to me was the parallel lines ground into the earth, the Santa Fe trailing ambling off toward Santa Fe. Back in the visitor center we watched a film in a room that looked like a funeral home, then walked among the exhibits which helped me fill in the blanks about the place I was now living. Earlier in the day we'd stopped at a bizarre little DIY monument at Glorietta Pass, marking where the westernmost battle of the Civil War had been fought. It was no surprise to see here that Arizona had been confederate, especially with the recent immigration laws controversially playing out in the press.

On the way home, we stopped at Las Vegas, NM. We walked the old town that is just down the hill from Highland U. While most of the traditional architecture remains, horseshoeing around a lovely little plaza, the businesses inside have not. Many of these shuttered businesses had fliers or posters from 2005, announcing pride in the place and the intent to restore this little town to its former glory. But the economic downturn had done its thing. Las Vegas, 2005-2010. RIP. A few blocks over we found some life in the old timey Spic'n'Span diner. As we were pulled out, a well-to-do white couple was pulling a small Indian girl (SW Asia, not SW US) along by the hand, her eyes turned in the direction of the Ganesha sticker affixed to our front bumper.

Later still in the summer, we drove south for an intended hike up to 10000 foot Monzano Peak, which I'd never climbed but had seen daily from the house where I'd grown up. After a night visiting with mom, we drove south, turning east onto Rte 60 toward Mountainair. A forest fire had devastated the hills out here, including the trail where we'd hike. Where the scenery had been burned away was now the lair of aggressive bears looking futilely for food. Perhaps the hike can wait. Mountainair itself was charming enough, with an old hotel which, like most of its vintage, had a look seeped in history, a menu filled with comfort food (though not for poor vegetarian Miki), and a resident ghost rattling around upstairs. After lunch, we lurked awhile in the aged shops filled with aged merchandise, had a malt at the pharmacy counter, then moved out to explore the trio of Salinas ruins near town. The name Salinas comes from the huge saline lake on whose banks mammoths were once hunted. Water still plays a part out at Abo, in the form of a stream cutting across the rocky desert floor. Wildflowers filled in the arroyo with color, while above, a reddish mission church was in a bad state of ruin. Unique to this place was the kiva built within the mission itself, hinting at a semblance of religious understanding between the natives and the Spanish conquerors. Some archeology students from UNM were hard at work at restoration, but they could do little for the pueblo itself, most of which had been reclaimed by the clay earth. The discoverer and original preserver of this site lay buried beneath a lone cottonwood at the streams edge. A long drove to the south brought us to Gran Quivira, isolated and lonely out on the storm-swept low desert. I stood out on the bluffs at the edge of the site, watching storms play above the mountains further out. What better metaphor for the dangers presented by the Apache and Comanche tribes which continually harassed this place until the residents moved west to mingle with the Puebloans of the Rio Grande. How did they survive out here, far from any visible water source and on land that looked like it gave up little but the salt reminder of that long dead lake. To complete the trilogy, we visited a site who's name had me punning badly: Quarai (For the Straight Guy). It was in a more hospitable place, nestled in some low mountains beside a lovely stream lined with cottonwoods. Miki and I walked awhile beneath the trees, happy to finally get out of the sun. Like at Abo, the ruins here are unexcavated, giving up little but the crumbling Mission, sticking up literally like a sore, red thumb.

On the turntable: Derek and the Dominos, "Let's Play Domino"

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