Friday, November 11, 2011

De Los Muertos

In this season of Halloween, I find myself not quite done with ghosts. On the dark morning of Day of the Dead, the girls and I headed back toward the north and east, to visit a handful of towns in various stages of abandon. Snow falling thickly as we drop to the bottom of the valley of San Geronimo. The winds swirls the flurries around me as I walk around the old adobe church, its color a profound red against the frosted grass. The creek beyond flows fast despite the falling temperature. A gunshot sounds up in the forest, somebody hunting perhaps a rabbit for stew. A quick stop at the cemetery back on the mesatop, to walk the juniper and look at the wildflowers growing pale as they die. Weeds rise sturdy from dried cow paddies. The sky is beginning to open up, revealing the nearness of mountains just west, peaks socked in higher up.

Driving down the razor cut road down toward La Liendre, thankful for the blacktop, but eying warily the long drop to the left down into Canon de Agua. Where the road bottoms out, a well-groomed dirt road takes us to a stream crossing, which makes for a good picnic spot. The Gallina river is flowing fast today, its tall cottonwoods bright with color. Cows graze on the other bank, between the junipers. The beauty of his place doesn't seem real, having the perfection of a film set. We feel lucky as not many make the trek out here. But the wind is cold and strong, so we eat quickly, then go up to the town site. There is little left, just a few structures crumbling back into piles of brick. In other places, raised platforms of dirt hint where other homes once stood. It is amazing how fast this town is turning back into desert. There had been a post office here as recently as the 1950s, but in a decade or two, there will be nothing to suggest that dozens of families once lived here. There is a certain pathos to this. When we think of the history of a place, it is usually a collection of events detailing what occurred there. But each of these stone foundations represents the history of a person, the history of a family, each with its own story of hope and eventual despair.

The next place adds a piece to my own history. After a long 50 mile drive toward Tucumcari, I found that the town of Trementia to be barred behind a locked fence. This is supposedly one of the nicest ghost towns in New Mexico, but new owners must have acquired the site, something not mentioned in my 2003 guidebook. There is a older set of ruins a mile away by the river, but they're fenced in too, barring our welcome. I would have no qualms about climbing through the barbed wire, but for the baby. We satisfy ourselves with a mere glimpse, then drive the 50 miles back to Las Vegas. It is not a whole loss, as the drive takes us through some lovely canyons, the taller buttes crowned with exposed rock like bathtub rings, proud reminder of when all this was under the sea.

And finally, up to the hot springs below the Montezuma Castle ruins. The highest 'tub' is the hottest, and here I bob awhile, my tingling feet barely connecting with the bottom. The tubs are mere circular shapes cut from concrete into the hillside, overlooking a stream and the woods beyond. It is the perfect way to cut the chill from the day, an act that recognizes the fast approach of winter.

On the turntable: The Kinks, "One for the Road"

On the nighttable: Raymond Otis, "Miguel of the Bright Mountain"

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