Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Papers: Jim Knighten

"Missing those things that have passed on is okay, but the new things that have replaced them, will themselves be replaced, and the next generation will lament their passing with equal sincerity."

On the turntable; Charlie Parker, "Bird: The Original Recordings"

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fourth Corner

One of the first things we see on the horizon is Agathla, the tall spire that holds up the Navajo sky. The random buttes begin to gather and outside Kayenta, become a crowd of mountains. We stop for gas in town. Near the pumps, a group of bikers is dancing the parking lot. A leather-clad man in a beard swirls his 'Mama' round and round. We follow their Harleys until they turn off into Navajo National Monument. Throughout the day we'll pass more bikes heading in this direction for what appears to be some kind of rally. I'm glad that we hadn't camped there last night.

To our left Black Mesa looms up. It runs parallel to a set of rails that eventually leads to a tall tower with tracks extending from it like the drop of a roller coaster. This is the terminus from which Mr. Peabody's Coal Trains come and take it away. The drive beside the rails is flat, broken only by a few buildings. A Standard Oil gas station is covered with some beautifully drawn graffiti. Red Lake Trading Post stands as it has for over a century, but for one detail. While filming a movie, the crew found some of the walls had been constructed of the wood of old coffee cases, plastered over for fifty years.

We follow this chain of trading posts west and south through the Badlands of the Painted Desert to the Painted Desert itself. The sun is high by now, the colors fading on the palette. The earth turns black near our turnoff toward Wupatki. The former residents here fled during the very volcanic eruption that stained this land. It is here we meet Mike, Holly, and the boys, and wander the ruins through the last of the morning's cool. I'm not as focused on the place's history as much as I am focused on my own. Mike and I were best friends back in college and haven't seen one another in almost four years. A few details do distract me from the conversation. Near the lower ruins, a blowhole thrusts cold wind into the air now growing hot. This natural cooling system is caused by changes in barometric pressure. On colder days, it'll blow hot. I overhear another visitor asking why we don't use such a system as climate control in our own homes. Beside the blowhole, a shamaness is going through a series of prayers, fiddling with beads and stones. Miki and I inch closer, suspecting that she's Japanese. There are another pair of Asian-looking women sitting on a nearby wall, and I walk up and say hello in Japanese. They respond in kind. They both live in Sedona, and are taking the shamaness, from Okinawa, around the West in order to pray at power spots as a form of healing for the recent disasters in Japan. I wonder if I've met the shamaness before, during my own visit to Okinawa's sacred groves nearly a decade ago.

We do the short drive toward the Sunset Crater volcano itself. Near a series of lava flows, we do a short but steep hike up a trail covered over with ash. Where the trail tops out we sit on the trunk of a fallen tree and admire the meadow around us, and the San Francisco Peaks further out. It is gorgeous here, the green of pine standing in strong contrast to the black of soil and rock. It is hard to leave.

We pass through Flagstaff and get on I-40. We only expect to be on it for a few miles. Just before our exit at Walnut Canyon, I look in my rearview mirror to see Mike's car being pushed sideways by a semi. Somehow, he gets the car off the front of the truck, accelerates off the road, and brakes before bottoming out onto the median. I pull off the road and sprint back up the highway to find everyone okay. For such a horrific incident, the damage is mild. I ask Mike how he had the presence of mind to act, well, perfectly. He laughs and says that he doesn't really recall anything about the accident despite it happening mere minutes before. The next couple hours are spent with the formalities of cops and insurance. The trucker is obviously at fault, but I can't help feel sad for him. He squats beside his cab, head in hands. He'll surely pay hell with his bosses.

We change the tire and putter back to town. We are staying at the famous Monte Vista hotel, with its history and ghost. After a quick check in, we grab a beer in the bar in order to decompress. These beers are the first of many, as we grab dinner in yet another pan-Asian joint, then Mike and I will set off alone later. This last drink is superfluous, what I always refer to as going "a beer too far." My head will hate me tomorrow. We stumble back to the Monte Vista. It is graduation weekend for NAU, and this hotel seems the center of the party. I sit in the lobby, much entertained in watching the grads and their families. Later in my room, their noise carries up, but I'm too exhausted and drunk to care, and sleep solidly...

...there's breakfast a short walk away through the quiet of morning. This little renowned cafe is packed, which is a surprise as it has little atmosphere and surprisingly poor food. It takes a lot to mess up coffee and pancakes, but somehow they manage.

Bellies full, Miki and I make our way east. At Canyon Diablo, we pull off the road. This is a destination I've wanted to visit since the early nineties, but I don't recall why. For over two decades, I've been making lists of places I want to visit, but of the places near the top, I rarely remember the reason I wrote them in the first place. Despite this, we slowly roll our Subaru over what can hardly be considered 'road,' taking care not to smack the car's tires into some surprisingly large rocks. My head and shoulders begin to ache from tension and concentration. This place better be worth it. It isn't. We find Canyon Diablo to be a few buildings crumbling back into the desert. Worse is that we can't even approach them: a fence and a set of railroad tracks stand between the ruins and us. Back down the road, we find Two Guns to be a similar story. Here are the remains of a far larger community, but it is on private land and we don't have permission. Without even taking photos, we continue east. It is a relief to be back on blacktop again. This isn't the 'softer' desert of northern New Mexico. Arizona is made of the harder stuff, the type of place in which Hollywood heroes often die.

It isn't long before we arrive in Winslow.
Standing on the corner is the shop, "Standing on the Corner." The moment we walk in, what comes over the speakers but that very line from "Take it Easy." I asked the proprietress if she gets sick of the song. She says that it is actually a DVD playing, so there is some variety. How weird that I time my entrance with the very line that willed this shop into existence. Besides the obvious "Eagles" theme, it is filled with Route 66 paraphernalia. Across the street stands the statue of a man, long haired, holding a guitar. Could be Jackson Browne. Further up the road is a monument of real history: The Posada Hotel, long and lean against the tracks.

Just north of here are the Homolovi ruins. They're barely excavated, a mere few walls dug from the earth. The path bisects large holes where pot-hunters made their search. It reminds me a little of bombed-out Laos. Pottery shards litter the earth absolutely everywhere. A team of archaeologists work at the lower ruins near the river. We chat with them but don't stay long. The real attraction here is the desert, stretching broad and colorfully toward the Hopi mesa's up north.

It is that direction we head next. A ranger had told us of some dances at Second Mesa. We drive the long flat road, tracing a course we took four years ago. That day, we hadn't seen anything but a few houses. Now, we see the villages themselves, up on the rocks,well camouflaged and hidden from the desert road. We wind the narrow road up there, park, then ascend the rock and trash filled path up to the village itself. Entering the village square, we're immediately confronted by the sight of dozens of colorful kachina, dancing to the steady beat of drums. They are surrounded by dozens more mudhead kachina, their plain brown faces slightly creepy. There are also a few characters who stand out, tricksters perhaps, with their full, painted bellies, holding watermelons under their arm. In the center two older men sing, giving verbal cues for the dancers to shift. Most of the villagers seem to be in attendance, sitting and standing on the roofs of the houses surrounding the square. As the drums keep up their steady pulse, I note the hands and fingers of the viewers moving in time to the rhythm. Miki and I too are transfixed, barely noticing the hot sun or the wind that keeps swirling dust into our eyes. When the drums cease, the mudheads move to the perimeter, throwing food up to the crowd. I like this idea, of villagers offering food to the ceremony, and then in turn receiving it back, the food truly shared by the whole community. We catch an apple and a couple of loaves of Hopi bread. Treats for the road.

We make one last stop, at Hubbell Trading Post. I walk in its cool shade, the wooden planks creaking beneath my steps. I talk awhile with the Navajo proprietor, buy some tea. Miki and I then walk between the buildings, take photos of the old tools and machinery. It is lovely out here, and quiet, in the shade of the tall cottonwoods nourished by the passing creek. The perpetual flow of the water reminds of journeys not yet finished. We turn and walk to the car.

On the turntable: The Smiths, "The Queen is Dead"

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Third Corner

Painted Hand ruin stands at the edge of a cliff, a lone tower set above the fertile valley. I first saw its round, almost European shape in a film back at the Anasazi Heritage Center. This tower served as background artist for what had been for me the most memorable scene in the movie. A Native American father was explaining to his son the importance of these ruins. What struck me was how fidgety, how uncomfortable the boy seemed. His discomfort betrayed that this wasn't some random documentary moment captured on film, but something scripted. The boy was not at ease in being an actor.

We walk toward the ruins themselves, along a smooth trail that is in far better condition than the dirt track we drove upon earlier to reach it. I am impressed by how Miki can scramble down steep rock faces despite the protrusion of a belly swelling eight months into pregnancy. We joke, "Don't tell Seva." Our midwife. The ruins impress in their dignity, and as we often do in these remote forlorn places, we sink into the silence.

Further on up the road is the canyon of Hovenweep, ringed with a half dozen similar towers. It is remarkable how they cling to the cliff's edge, majestic yet destined to eventually fall. Miki continues to impress me with her endurance, as this loop will bring her daily walking mileage up to four. We drop into the canyon, and I place my hand between her shoulder blades with my elbow tucked into my own waist, the strength of my legs propelling us both up the other side. This one hour walk is hot in the midday sun, and we mentally reward ourselves with ice cream.

We find some down in Bluff, at a restaurant/trading post that has the impressive backdrop of tall twin rock spires rising proudly from the clifftop. The ice cream occupies us for the short drive to Sand Island Petroglyph site. We walk the tall red wall right to left, reading as the Asians do. This is a short stop and soon we're back in the car. For us, today's road ends at Monument Valley.

We get to the park around 6, after the Rangers have gone home. We drop down onto the rough unsealed road, our tires banging and bouncing toward the impressive spires we've all seen chewing the scenery behind John Wayne. We've timed it perfectly, the walls of the buttes changing colors with every degree that the sun drops. We stop a few times to shoot pictures. Out at John Ford Point, we meet a group of Japanese men in leather. They're a Harley Motorcycle Club from Hokkaido, riding through the park and living out a dream. As such they're in high spirits, though the most subdued of them admits that they'd overdone it with the drink a little the night before in Vegas.

We make camp on a rise before the famous Mittens. To my surprise, every other camper here is European, even the ones in RVs. One Frenchman tries to park his white behemoth sideways at the extreme edge of the camp ground, blocking the view for everyone. A German goes over to talk to him, and quite expectedly, the Frenchman retreats. Miki and I have a lovely night here with our dinner and the Mittens beneath a moon nearly full. The small piece that detracts is the new hotel built where the old campground used to be. While the architects did a fine of job of making sure it didn't contrast with the scenery, the glare of its lights and the hum of the generators take away some of what the desert was trying to offer us...

...early morning, with the wind so strong that we can no longer sleep. There are no trees or vegetation here, nothing to slow the wind that flaps the cold tent wall against my head. I peek outside to see the eastern sky aglow with the dawn. We climb out of warms bags to watch the sun come up. I break the tent down quickly before it tries to collude with the wind and make an escape.

We have breakfast up at the picnic tables beside the visitor center. There's a low wall here that blocks the wind some, but Miki is chilly and eventually decides to sit awhile in the car. I brave it out here, my eyes triangulating between the view, poems by Gary Snyder, and Robert Casey's wonderful "Journey to the High Southwest."

It's hard to break away, but we do, making a quick stop into Goulding's Trading Post, then leaving the buttes behind as we enter Arizona...

On the turntable: Dead Milkmen, "Big Lizard in my Backyard."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Papers: Marcus Aurelius

"The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."

On the turntable: Jane's Addiction, "Nothing's Shocking"

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Second Corner

It's an observation I've made before, but my friend Dante says it pretty well. He says that once you cross the state line from New Mexico, it's as if someone says, "We'll take over from here." The change in scenery is that dramatic. We cruise along a high plateau, the valley falling away just beyond the farms to our right. Further on, the high peaks take away our breath. Where the plateau ends the road drops down into Durango.

We meet Dante and his three boys at 'East meets Southwest,' a slightly funky, slightly posh pan-Asian place that does some interesting things with raw fish. Dante was one of my best friends in high school, and it is good to catch up, this our first meeting in 16 years(!). Like all good friendships, we easily slip back into familiar rhythms. The conversation continues back at the house, joined by Jessica and the dog. It is a wonderful night.

In the morning Miki and I agree we love Durango, and question our motives for living in Santa Fe. But Colorado has dozens of small, bike-able, affordable towns like this. Grad school in one of the larger ones, Boulder, is still a possibility. We drive west out of town, running along the base of the mountains that had so impressed us the day before. There's a lightness to the people too. In front of one farm, a farm spool had been painted with the recognizable 'Taiji' swirl.

The beauty continues into Delores Valley. We take some time at the Anasazi Heritage center, with the films and the displays. There's a small ruin atop the hill behind the museum, but it is the view that truly inspires. The valley below had been flooded, creating a large picturesque reservoir. Prior to the dam's construction, archaeologists had gone over the valley, speedily gathering ruins as if in a shopping spree. Their finds make up the exhibits inside the museum. The ever-present peaks are further out now, their white-caps rising directly from the fields stretching toward them. To the south is Mesa Verde. A narrow pillar of grey smoke reveals a fire out that way. Beyond is Sleeping Ute mountain, and further still, I can barely make out Shiprock, a dull blue against the brown earth of New Mexico.

We move further west. We pass a town called "Mancos," a name shared in Japanese to mean the crude word for a woman's private bits. I giggle and make bad puns until we've reached the town limits. We stop further out, at a cafe called 'Roundup.' Above the door, a swallow is frightened from its nest by the chirp of our car alarm. Inside the decor is frontier to be sure, with plenty of wood and the disembodied heads of hunting trophies. The latter always bring to mind that line from the film 'Arthur,' "You must've hated that moose." The waitress comes over and gives Miki a long look, as if trying to guess her tribe. This always happens when we go rural.

West again. A hawk flies over. its belly dark against wings backlit by the sun. A long straight road runs through green rolling farmland. I once rode a motorbike through similar territory, up in South Dakota where my step-dad grew up. At road's end is Lowry Ruin, another smaller site, covered over by a large iron roof. It gives shade for us as we duck through doorways in order to look at the kiva walls, painted with blocky zig-zag shapes signifying rain clouds. But the weather for us today is good, the sky blue, the white peaks still with us. We have the ruins to ourselves. It is quiet and pleasant out here, as we stroll between sage bushes, pinching their leaves and smelling our fingers. Good for headaches, they say.

We contine back the way we came, then turn south on a dirt road. Somewhere along the way, we pass into Utah...

On the turntable: Peter Gabriel, "Plays Live"

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

First Corner

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"

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday Papers: Red Pine

"The problem that arises when we reflect on our experience is that we reflect on our experience. We think, therefore we are. And once we are, we are in trouble, forever divided by what we use to define our existence."

--The Heart Sutra

On the turntable: Lyle Lovett, "Anthology, Vol. 1"

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Turning West

Maybe I'd overdosed on UFOlogy the previous day, but the entire valley below us looked as if it were taking flight. From our view from the tower of The Lodge we could see all the way to White Sands, where we'd hoped to camp. I didn't like how the landscape was spreading vertically as well as horizontally.

Down the mountain in Alamogordo, we stopped at a rusting antique shop that had a special attraction. For a quarter, the proprietor would extend a balloon on a stick into a pit of rattlesnakes. I'd read that he did it, but today he offered to let me do it myself. I leaned over the rim of the pit, looking down at a couple dozen dozing rattlers. Reading my previous work, it is no surprise that I'm terrified by snakes. I really wanted to become familiar with the sound of their buzz, see the speed of their strike, but I couldn't work up the nerve to do it. I asked Miki, but she didn't want to either. Slightly embarrassed, we got back into our car and drove off.

Alamogordo was a much bigger town than I'd imagined. But even a town of this size looked on the brink of extinction. The older part of town was shuttered mainly, with only a few shops hanging on. But the parallel strip that marks the main highway was bustling with chain shops. Surely, the money in this town is flying away faster than all that white sand now high on the wind. Why aren't the locals angry about this? How is it possible that centuries of local history can be inundated within a couple of decades? Before heading out of town, we stopped at a local deli for picnic sandwiches. The girl on the other side of the counter handed mine to me in a bag written with the name, "Tedd." While waiting, I noticed an Air Force Sergeant standing behind me, and asked him about the weather. After all, who knows better about wind than the Air Force?

We passed his base on the way to White Sands National Park, then asked the opinion of a couple rangers there. They said that camping on the dunes would probably be a bad idea. So too was our planned hike out across the dunes to the flats beyond. There was no trail to speak of, the usual path being marked with stones that would disappear in strong winds like these. Miki and I settled on a drive. The gusts had blown inches of sand across the road, and when my tires hit these, I'd flinch as if expecting to slide. The world outside was all snow and ice, at least to the mind. We stopped at a small picnic shelter for lunch, our backs protected by the high curved walls of the shelter. All national parks were free this week, and White Sands was quite busy for a weekday. In front of us, a family flew kites, while the dog and the youngest son flip-flopped in the dunes. Miki and I too walked to the top of a tall dune, then lay on our backs and looked out at the blue of sky and purple of far off peaks beyond all this white. The contrast of color where the blue met white blurred in the movement of wind. In places, all the dust in the sky looked like fog, the sand rising a mile or so up, up, up...

Forfeiting our ideas about camping, we headed north to Three Rivers Petroglyph Site. This land was barren desert, with a single hot walk through the afternoon up a rock outcrop decorated with over 21000 petroglyphs dating back to 900 CE. Miki and I shared our stories about what we thought these all meant, what the shapes were trying to say. It was not so different than the Art Walk on Canyon Road in Santa Fe. I liked our speculation that all of these were all part of a single story, rather than the individual statements of different artists. In that case, neither Miki nor I got the full story, she seeing glyphs that I missed, and vice-versa. Further on, my eyes were distracted by the slopes of Sierra Blanca dominating all out here.

We moved north along the eastern edge of the Tularosa Basin. Small cyclones broke the flat monotony of the landscape. Just past Carrizozo, we found our Valley of Fires campsite. But we weren't alone. There appeared to be some kind of Airstream gathering this weekend, dozens of curved silver forms clustering 6 or 8 to a campsite. It was slightly annoying, but luckily the tent sites were further down in the valley. We set up just beside a lava flow that towered and wrapped around us, giving good protection from the wind. All those holes in the porous rock was prime real estate to snakes, so I never felt relaxed the entire time there. Once camp was set, we hiked the nature walk at sunset, throwing long shadows across gold yucca and black stone. After a shower and supper, we made a small fire, which we watched
diligently due to the winds. Ours was the only site that didn't have an actual fire ring. It looked as if someone had previously made a fire nearer to the lava walls, which would've given off good reflected heat. But the grasses along the walls and the low overhanging tree limbs worried us. We eventually found a good spot between some rocks nearer the road. The winds had died considerably but still threw the odd gust our way, so we smothered the fire early. It was a warm night and we didn't really need the fire anyhow. What followed was probably the best sleep I've ever had camping...

...The morning was still, but I knew the winds would return once the sun came up. As it rose behind the long smooth walls of Sierra Blanca, the desert floor turned gold. With the features of the world once again coming into view, it was time to get back on the road. In the rear view mirror, the campsite looked like a small city, all those Airstreams glimmering in the sun. We welcomed the absence of tourists at Bosque Apache. It was the wrong season to see hundreds of birds simultaneously take flight, but we found enough reward in the quiet of morning, and the variety of forms and colors seen through the binocular's lens.

Just north, we had lunch at the rustic Owl Bar and Cafe, a place I hadn't been in 30 years. I'd always remembered their hamburgers, considered them the best I'd ever had. But today they seemed thin, a little lacking. It's as if they've chosen to rest on their reputation. Bobcat Bites in Santa Fe has now set the bar. After lunch, Miki chatted up a Danish woman who ran a small shop next door. Again, we neglected to ask her how she'd wound up in a town the size of San Antonio, NM.

Our final stop was in Socorro, a town I'd lived for a few weeks after moving to New Mexico back in 1981. We drove up to the campus of NM Tech, where my father had had a long teaching career. I'd done a weeklong course here the summer before my senior year in high school. Strangely, I don't remember a single moment in the classroom, nor what I had studied. My only memories of that time are of sitting out on the cool grassy lawn at night, talking to friends long forgotten, and sneaking into the darker shadows of trees to kiss a girl with the intense passion of 17. Later, Miki and I went to Socorro's beautiful town center. I sat looking across the town square, at the old buildings hugging it on three sides. The humidity was up. Rainclouds were building, with the rain falling but evaporating before touching earth. We were ringed in by dark curtains, but never felt a drop.

We finished out Easter weekend up in Belen with my mom. Her birthday had fallen a few days before, so we took her to Luna Mansion. This too was time travel for me. After a wonderful meal for Junior Prom, my date and I had returned to my car locked with the keys inside. This Saturday, the bar upstairs was busy with those who've bought houses out by the highway, within commuting distance of their jobs in Albuquerque. Being Easter, I noticed no Latinos other than the staff. These moneyed white newcomers probably had no family here, currently building a history of their own, seeds germinating in new soil.

I found a major dose of the missing Latin element at Mass the next morning. Tome Church was packed. We sat on the rickety old balcony, looking down on the priest as he ran through his rites. It was an interesting perspective, behind the scenes somewhat, catching a glimpse of the little gestures and tics that keep the mass going smoothly. I love the folk element of mass here, the feeling of community. I looked forward to the lunch that was to follow. I'd finally get the Red Chile that I'd missed all week. Hard to do in New Mexico. But this trip had surprised me in many ways. I finally got to see many of those places I'd only known as names on the TV weather map. And passing through the eastern parts of the state, I'd come to a new understanding of its residents. I'd always thought that New Mexico is one of the more effective melting pots in the nations. Sure, there is the occasional racial tension, as there is everywhere, but here the races seems to mingle pretty well. Yet on this trip, their segregation became apparent. New Mexico is striped. The eastern half is the white of Texas. The middle strip, along the Rio Grande is brown, mainly Latin outside the freckle of Pueblos. And the west is red, the land of the Navajo, the Zuni, the Apache. Striped. The edges are porous, the colors do run together. And where they do, there is where you find New Mexico's magic.

On the turntable: Steve Winwood, "Arc of a Diver"

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sunday Papers: Moorish Proverb

"Every beetle is a gazelle in the eyes of its mother."

On the turntable: Peter Gabriel, "Passion Sources"

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Turning South

Early the next morning, we awoke to the sound of trucks idling in the parking lot. They seemed particularly loud, then we realized that our motel room window had been open all night. With our heater on high, we'd attempted to warm the northern third of New Mexico. The drivers of the trucks appeared to be long term residents here, in town on some sort of work project. They stood beside their vehicles in the morning sun, breakfasting on bad, complimentary coffee and donuts. Then they were off. It wasn't long before we followed suit.

We filled our tank at a rare full-service gas station, then left the highway where a homeless man stood obviously crazed beside an off-ramp, his skin black with the sun. This road had once been called Route 66, and it led us through low rocky hills before depositing us once again on the open plains. Compared to the flat and featureless nature of yesterday's scenery, this land was covered with low shrubs that rose from the tall grass which glowed yellow in the early morning sun. A group of antelope ran up a hill and watched us pass. The air around Santa Rosa was misty, the town's church spire rising from the haze toward the sun like a flower.

We spent the morning in Fort Sumner, working through the Billy the Kid museum here. The proprietor, Don Sweet, showed us a few of the exhibits that flanked the front desk, before returning to his rocking-chair perch beside his wife who merely rocked and said nothing. Despite the name, only the front room of the museum is dedicated to The Kid. The rest is filled with artifacts dated to the first half of the 20th Century. It was these artifacts that kept Miki and I here for a couple hours. Looking at the old cars and buggies, I could imagine the terror of riders of the latter type of vehicles, as they wound down the steep and rutty trail of Mills Canyon.

We moved along to the Fort Sumner's other museum, located a few miles south of town. Where the earlier museum had been a thorough look at the facts surrounding Billy the Kid, this latter place seemed more interested in promoting the legend. The exhibits were sparse, with a handful of nice oil paintings and far too many movie stills from Young Guns 2. Most memorable were a couple of mannequins dressed in old west garb, nearly covered with signatures. This had forced the museum's owners to hang a sign asking visitors not to write on them. Unlike the hours spent earlier at the other museum, we were here less than 15 minutes. Out back was the grave of The Kid, flanked by his "pals." Beside these three, there were only a few other grave markers. Don Sweet had earlier told me that someone had removed the gravestones in order to trim the grass, then couldn't remember where the markers went. He said that this was something that could be done with a bit of research, giving me a look like he expected me to do it myself.

A short drive away was the Bosque Redondo site, where in the 1860s the Navajo and their Apache enemies had been housed in order to keep them from causing trouble with the white homesteaders who were busy stealing their land. Many people from both tribes had died during their forced marches here. The Navajo, traditionally being farmers and having strong spiritual connections to the land had adapted slightly better than the nomadic Apache, who refused to be tied down anywhere. All this was during the American Civil War, and as the battles grew more heated back east, rations at the Bosque began to thin out. Incredibly, one night, 200 Apache lit out en masse, making their way on stolen Navajo horses. Only 9 Apache had stayed behind, keeping the cooking fires going to fool the US soldiers keeping guard, until they too disappeared a few nights later. Even more incredibly, the entire tribe had eluded recapture for two whole years. Miki and I walked the grounds here, which where bare but for the rays of the sun now growing hot, and the call of insects.

Roswell was another hour south. Driving in was like moving through a mall for cars. On the northern end of town were signs erected by the local chamber of commerce advertising the town's food options, but all the ads were for the ubiquitous big chain shops. I wondered if local restaurant owners were angered by this, but after a few minutes in town, I doubted that there were any local shops left. Almost everyone I know who's been to Roswell is unanimous in their dislike for the town, and I could quickly understand why. Aside from the beautiful domed courthouse, there was little of interest for the eye. We had a quick lunch at a (local) Italian place whose excellent food was nearly overwhelmed by a bland decor. Under a circa-80's TV set that blared the day's soaps, there was a sign on the wall that said that the restaurant owners now longer took checks as of March 1. Beside this date, someone had handwritten "2008."

Despite what the townspeople want you to believe, Roswell's main attraction is of course UFO's. A defunct movie theater now houses the UFO museum, the chairs all torn out and incredibly thorough displays hung unimaginatively on removable walls. The old timer who took our money was of the generation of the 1947 sightings, possibly one of the main eyewitnesses, who I'd heard sometimes hangs out here. The sheer amount of photos and news clippings was overwhelming, of interest mainly to die-hard UFO buffs. Or for those who love irony. There weren't too many visitors today, but those that were seemed, and I don't mean to be uncharitable, damaged somehow. People who have the odds stacked against them but have never lost the ability to dream. In fact, due to the surrounding landscape, it is little wonder that UFOs were seen near here. Driving across these wide and empty plains, the mind does its best to fill the landscape. It stands to reason that people growing up here would have vivid and active imaginations. Yet as I ponder this, I also remember the late 1940's nuke tests that were conducted not far to the south, and the fact that one of the earliest rocket pioneers did his best work in Roswell during World War II. Either of these events could have attracted the attention of a more advanced society curious to see what the Joneses were up too.

More interesting than the museum to me personally was seeing the town's kitsch. Outside was UFO wirt large, on Coke machines, in the shape of street lights, on the pattern of the iron bars serving as security for a loan company. The old neighborhood around the museum was now filled with shops selling UFO-related
paraphernalia. We poked around in a few shops before making a longer stop at a slightly posh wine-tasting den. I had long wanted to try the town's local ale, but hadn't found any at lunch. Happily, this shop had free samples on tap. I chatted with the woman on the other side of the bar, a Chilean woman who'd been in the US for twenty years. We discussed the nature of being an expat, and the strange nature of my feeling an expat here more than I did in Japan. As we pulled out of town I regretted that I didn't ask here why she'd moved to this remote location of Roswell in the first place.

The plains we'd been traveling through finally dropped into canyonlands. As my eyes traced the twists and turns of valley and arroyo, it was easy to see how the Apache could elude their government pursuers for 2 whole years. The land leveled off to follow the Rio Hondo, a gorgeous stretch of landscape the home of artists stretching back to the famous Wyeth family. Near Ruidoso, the road curved south, then we suddenly cut abruptly over the mountains of the Mescalero Apache, before arriving at our final destination of Cloudcroft, and the hilltop Lodge. The hotel has hosted moviestars (Judy Garland, Clark Gable) as well as the ghost of a chambermaid stabbed to death by a jealous lover.

After checking in, Miki and I poked around a little bit before heading back down to town.
Cloudcroft is of a size and an age when everything shutters at five. We walked the boarded walks, peeking into shops and reading fliers taped to their glass doors. A few real estate agencies seemed to do good business here, and the quaint nature of the town made it obvious why moneyed Texans would buy second homes in the surrounding forested hills. There were a few more ads for homes in the Western Bar & Cafe. As I waited for yet another in a long chain of 'famous burgers,' I scanned a few and dreamed.

After dinner, I sat awhile at the bar in The Lodge, one formerly owned by Al Capone. Sipping my long awaited pint of Alien Ale, I was distracted by my reading of a Gary Snyder essay by some overheard conversation, the locals giving a pointillist picture of life up in these mountains. Afterward, I heated the cold beer in my belly in the hot tub out back, with a field of stars overhead. Sleep came easy...

On the turntable: Wire, "Pink Flag"
On the nighttable: Rudolfo Anaya, "Jemez Springs"

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sunday Papers: Stephen Wright

"Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time."

On the turntable: Paul Simon: "So Beautiful or So What