Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lincoln County or Armageddon II

...Midafternoon, and we leave the main road for a smaller one that is well-maintained enough for us not to worry about the twists that bring us closer to the valley floor. In this wide, grassy space is Fort Stanton. The yard here is about the size of a football field, completely ringed by low, white building of the sort that belong in the antebellum American South. After a quick turn through the modest museum here, we sit a spell on a bench, relaxing into the quiet here. Then we walk the wide porches and peer into windows. This fort has gone through many guises since it had first been built to defend the local citizens against Apache retribution. But today it seems deserted, devoid even of a sign denoting the structure from where Billy the Kid once escaped. As we wander, I think about how much trouble the government went to so as to help what was essentially a bunch of thieves to protect the land from its rightful owners. Such was the Domestic Policy of the day. Little has changed as one hundred and fifty years later, this same government now gives equal protection to the banks.

Backtracking 10 miles brings us to Capitan, and the Smokey Bear Motel, which is our digs for the night. The unfriendly woman who checks us in slightly annoys my wife with a thoughtless comment. When we get to our room, we're not impressed, considering the price. We'd expected rustic, but it exceeds it into the realm of run down. Besides, it is cold, and without linens. It takes the unfriendly woman an awfully long time to get the pilot lit. We're just about to say forget it and change hotels, when she gets it going. The strong odor of gas and dust sends us out for an early supper. The attached cafe actually delivers a decent meal, the best of the trip for me. Sadly, there isn't a beer to be had.

Later, back at the room, I drag onto the front sidewalk a heavy chair carved of adolescent birches, and read for a couple of hours. But I'm distracted. An unmufflered roadster drives up, of a vintage most often seen wrapped around a tree just that side of Dead Man's Curve. From which steps a guy of such incredible height and belly girth that I can only compare to a slightly diminutive Sasquatch, which he is now affectionately dubbed. But my affection stops there. His every move is noisy and violent, and I begin to worry that he'll wake my daughter. From the apparently spacious trunk of his vehicle he begins to take out maybe three dozen small garbage bags, making a couple dozen cacophonous trips to a room on the opposite side of the motel. It's entirely possible that there are body parts in all those bags. From his room I hear an occasional roar, the timbre of which alternates between the syllables of either, "GODDAMMIT!" or "SONUVABITCH!" Following said roars, he's back to the car again, futzing about in the loudest way possible. I'm actually a little afraid of the man, and I pray he doesn't turn his by now obviously drunken (in-)attention toward me, sitting about twenty feet away, captured by every move. There is poetry in the book I'm reading (The Hidden West: Journey in the American Outback
by Rob Schultheis ), but there's even greater poetry in the absolute lack of poetry in this man's movements, as if every limb is uncoordinatedly trying to escape for its life. Then, with a final slam of his door, all is still again. Then, I notice the chill, and make for an early bedtime...

...early to bed and thus early to rise. The cafe is open at 6 am, and I'm there not long afterward. There are already quite a few diners here, fueling before going off to the hills and killing themselves some defenseless critters. Before stepping back outside, I grab a local newspaper that reads like a bilious mouthpiece for the Tea Party. As I check out, the unfriendly woman at the desk makes her first friendly move, asking me if I'm the guy from the Britney Spears video. I wonder what a woman 10 years my senior finds in watching teeny bopper vids, then I remember the newspaper and the quality of 'writing' within. Despite long wanting to visit, I've found Capitan a major disappointment. I'd thought it would be a quaint mountain town, rather than a mere cluster of buildings along a busy highway. Am I being unfair? Perhaps, but neither the town nor its citizens had shown their best face. I don't think I'd go back.

The town's main attraction, the Smokey Bear Museum, attempts to sway my opinion. Though the guide book is apt in writing that the exhibits are geared toward kids, they do entertain. The encapsulation of six of this state's ecosystems in the gardens outside are gorgeous and hold us awhile. Then we return to the car and happily leave Capitan behind.

A miles later we've entering the valley of the Rio Bonito which had charmed me back in April when we'd tapped the eastern end. At her heart lies Lincoln, which is everything that Capitan isn't, what I'd been so hoping for the night before. Historically this town was the justification for the existence of nearby Fort Stanton. Mexican settlers kept up a constant warfare with the nearby Mescolero Apache, violence that would eventually be topped in the Anglo Land Wars that brought fame, and William Bonney, to the area. All three races were given fair representation in the Lincoln museum. In fact the entire town is a museum, which one visits by walking up one side of the street, then back the other, popping into buildings along the way. Stepping across the creaky floors of Tunstall's mercantile is one highlight, as is stepping across the impossibly creakier floor of the old courthouse, a building that lives forever in the multitude of films about Bonney, despite the differences in the surrounding landscape. Bonney the Kid killed a deputy who'd been dining across the street at a local hotel. The hotel still exists, and I nearly wept when I found that we could have stayed here for about ten dollars more than we'd paid in Capitan. I imagined myself sitting out on the front porch under a roof of stars, whistling to myself 'Peace in the Valley.' Lincoln warrants a future visit.

The rest of the day was filled with brief stops. Lunch up at Tinnie Silver Dollar, in an lovely old Victorian beside the river. A far too brief stop in Ruidoso, far more beautiful than I'd have thought, set high in the mountains. A squall found us here, chasing us back to the desert floor of Carizozo again. Roy's was closed again, depriving us of the fountain drinks we'd been thinking about since the day before. Thus it was north to Ancho, a ghost town with a picturesque old station beside the defunct railroad whose closure had been the death of both this town and of nearby White Oaks. I'm told the building had been a funky little museum, but the tall weeds out front hinted at a closure years ago. Gran Quivera were ruins of an older age, though we didn't stop since we'd been here last year. Rain anointed us all the way to Mountainair, then we made the turn north to Belen, both towns seeming more a part of the 19th Century than the current. This road trip had essentially been a tour of ghost towns, and judging from the fact that better than half of my hometown's businesses are now shuttered, it too could very well join the list in the 22nd. But amidst the ruins of past glories, life persists. As we pulled into the driveway, my mom stepped outside, arms outstretched to take her granddaughter into her arms.

On the turntable: The The, "Infected"
On the nighttable: Peggy Pond Church, "The House at Otowi Bridge"

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