Monday, January 16, 2012

Minor Characters

Two days spent tracing the Enchanted Circle, that gorgeous
enso that wraps itself around Mt. Wheeler. Through Taos north, pulling the wheel slightly right just below that old church in Questa. The road is clear but the hillsides clung to the week-old snow. Red River came and went, the hotels a testament to a strong vital town; nightly music in the saloons a testament to a vigorous nightlife. The road to Elizabethtown, ice-covered and bad, makes me table plans for a visit. A few piles of crumbling adobe and stone decorate the hillside. Mt Baldy stands tall across the road. Beyond her, Dawson, Cimarron and the plains.

We stop in Eagle Nest only long enough to drop our bags, then move on to Angel Fire. There's a quick lunch at Zebs before separating. I literally drive up to the slope, snap into my gear, and lift off toward the summit. It's late in the day, so I get in few runs. I start on the backside of the mountain, but this proves to be a bad choice as the hill is icy, the occasional hand grabbing one of my feet from time to time. Somehow I stay up. The sun is still lingering so the front side has slightly better conditions. But the lifts stop early, and I'm in my car again by 4.

I warm up with a coffee, then turn off the road down to the lake. It is thickly frozen over, but I show prudence in following footprints and sled tracks further out onto the ice. I pass a few
viejos, faces dark and weathered after a long day in the cold. One pair pulls a sled loaded with gear. I'm alone on the lake now but for a few crows that are poaching at the holes the fishermen left in the ice. I stop and look around me. But for the wind, all is still, quiet, white. The last of the sun has streaked the sky above Wheeler with yellow and pink. I want to stay longer but the cold comes quickly on a frozen lake after nightfall. I'll find out later that this was the coldest day so far this winter, dropping well below zero.

Back in Eagle Nest, Miki, Sora, and I cross the street to Calamity Jane's, closed for whatever reason. We find that most everything is closed in this the off season, the high season being summer, when we'd seen the town active and lively. The only choice is a pizza joint straight out of a David Lynch film. It's run by an eccentric woman with an oxygen tube in her nose. She has a very expressive face, but her way of conversation is frustratingly arrhythmic, punctuated by long silences that would make John Cage proud. The shop too is bizarre, the walls covered with signed dollar bills and license plates. Rather than order what we like, she serves us hot wings and slices, the latter undercooked and of the frozen supermarket variety. As we eat, the TV news above us is a veritable parade of murders and epidemics and other fearful things. It not only puts us of our food, but attempts to put us off life itself. Before leaving, I open a door that I think is the bathroom, but instead find a small room partitioned the size of the bed it contains. And Director Lynch says cut.

We're traveling with another couple, the husband Kyle and I have a beer in the saloon, passing through the Old West wooden-floored front section to the back, with its 70's ski resort theme of sofas and stone fireplace. I haven't known Kyle long, so it is good to talk a while with him. We are interrupted at one point by the day bartendress, drunkenly trying to engage us as her husband stands behind her looking angry. The fire roaring on, but our beers played out, we make our way back to our cabins... is still quite cold as I walk the empty streets of town, past the shuttered doors of local businesses. I find breakfast at D&D, a place where I'd grabbed a bad coffee on a road trip back in the spring. The food doesn't thrill either, the butter and syrup putting the chill on my pancakes, and the bacon the same color and consistency as my right shoe. The heater is off for some reason, and not even the coffee has enough strength to warm me. The fellow who runs the place is humorous and entertaining, so I do find some warmth there.

The car takes awhile to get up this morning, but soon enough we're heading south. Through the hills to Taos again, then along the high road to Sipapu. The skiing is better here, but then again skiing usually is better in the morning. I like the narrow, tree-lined runs. Two of the lifts aren't up, and many runs are closed off, so I quit early. I find Miki and Sora by the ski school, then take a couple of the bunny slopes with my daughter in my arms.

Drive down to Mora. I'd taken this road back in October, when the fog had obscured the view of the plains stretching away just to the east. Stop in La Cueva to find the cafe closed yet again. This is the third time, and I won't make the effort again. (But it does continue nicely the theme of food misadventure.) We instead have a picnic in the warm sun above the mill. Kyle and Yumiko head home, but Miki and I follow a side road along a high grass-covered plateau, then drop beside the Mora river out to Loma Prada, a town of some infamy. A town that was born with, and died with nearby Fort Union, it served as a place of vice for its soldiers. Now it is a single road flanked by two rows crumbling bricks.

We drive through Watrous, then Tiptonville, both lesser ghost towns, with only a few ruins remaining amidst newer structures. We don't even leave the car. In Las Vegas now, to find the Rough Rider museum closed. Like La Cueva, it is the third time we've made the effort. I give the door a couple of good kicks, Miki throwing me a frown. I love my home state, but am sometimes frustrated by how shipshod many things seem to 'run' here. Nearing my return to Japan, I feel strongly that I'm done here, ready to return to that land which operates with machine-like precision. (For better or worse.). Slightly frustrated, slightly bemused, we turn toward home, bringing to a close our final New Mexico roadtrip.....

On the turntable: Joe Walsh, "You Bought It, You Name It"
On the nighttable: Edward Abbey, "Confessions of a Barbarian"


  1. All the way across the sea here in Japan I feel your frustration! I hope we can meet up sometime when you get here. Until then, I hope to read more of your adventures!

    1. It won't be long now, Zack, coming back Feb 7.

      There will be beer...


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