Day 9

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

We said goodbye to our friend Stacey and gave her a camera before she left for work. One of the categories in the booklet that we hand out with each camera asks the collaborator to take pictures that have to do with work. In part the prompt asks, “…[if] there is a difference between where you are employed and what you consider your true work.” Where Stacey is concerned, we already know the answer to this question.

Stacey’s painting is incredible…in this pic there are new starts on the walls; but for now there is just time enough to scrape the palette clean before heading off to the day job. We said goodbye to John in his studio behind the house:

It was great to see John and Stacey – we got to catch up over strong coffee in the mornings, an excellent Thai dinner last night, and we got a much needed dose of puppy love from Merx and Coppy.

Today we finally had enough on the blog to send an e-mail (en masse) inviting people to check it out. We thought we would execute this simple task in a matter of minutes, but after a fitful couple of hours of mail bouncing back and contact groups disappearing, we finally gave up and decided to go to the Apple store on the way out of town– it was supposed to be a day in which we got “an early start.” This notion has become a running joke because we can never seem to make any serious headway before noon.

The Albuquerque Apple Store was friendly and helpful, and they straightened out the uncooperative tangle of  POP, STMP, ISP numbers, incoming and outgoing servers….yech.


Geeky Apple fans that we are, we located ourselves on Chele’s iPhone map, navigated our way out of the mall, found HWY25 south, and we were on our way. Time of departure, 1:45pm. Whatever.

We found the El Camino Real International Heritage Center, and it was as described – some miles off of hwy25, in the middle of the desert and nowhere near anything.

The building/museum is only 6 years old and it is located south of Socorro, NM on El Camino Real. The building is also referred to as a monument and architecturally the form is sculptural, insinuating a passageway and journey. Here is the entrance:

looking south

And this is a view from the south end of the building looking north. There there is an observation platform that  juts off the large outdoor theatre:

(full disclosure: we snagged this photo from the internet!)

this observation deck looks south down the trail

The exhibits are text heavy and being who we are, we read it all. For every idiosyncrasy we have discovered about each other on this trip (Chele will not eat apples in the car; BA travels with her kombucha scoby) being glacially slow in museums is a trait we (luckily) share.

El Camino Real (The Royal Road) was claimed for the Spanish Crown by Juan de Oñate in 1598. It was established, however, by the footfall of indigenous cultures for thousands of years before the Spaniards arrived. The trail starts in Zacatecas, Mexico and stretches 1,500 miles terminating in what is now New Mexico. Technically, the trail ends at the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo in NM. Established more than twenty years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, El Camino Real is the oldest European route in the US. Eventually, the trail became HWY 25.

The museum tells the story of how ancient civilizations of Aztec culture became New Spain, how New Spain became  Mexico, and how Mexico became New Mexico, Arizona, California, southern Nevada and Texas. The route was used for Spanish colonization and also retreat:

The museum also tells the story of Mexican Independence (1821), the Mexican-American war (1846) how 4,000 Mexicans kicked the butts of 8,000 heavily armed Napoleanic III troops (May 5, 1862, aka Cinco de Mayo. Power to the people). If anyone is keeping track, this battle took place just a little over a month before the Civil War battle of Glorietta (see Day 8).

What we didn’t know was that the reason Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the US (though not so much in Mexico outside of Puebla- it’s not even a federal holiday in MX) is because even though the French eventually took back the gains achieved with the Battle of Puebla, it slowed them down by about a year. If the Mexicans hadn’t set their undies in a bunch, the French–who were concerned about America’s growing power and wanted the Confederacy recognized a legitimate government–  could have supplied Confederate forces even more ammunition at a critical moment when the war was turning. Once the Civil War was (technically) over, the US sent tens of thousands of  guns to Juarez’ troops and helped defeat the French once and for all.

Since ancient times, El Camino Real has been an international thoroughfare for exploration,culture, religion, trade, arms, troops, romance…etc. One of the best perqs of traveling in the dead of winter is that you have these museums all to yourself. Even better, the guards and docents have plenty of time to chat. Lucky for us. At the ECRIHC we met José Guzman. José has an encyclopaedic grasp of history and its influence in contemporary issues. He has worked at a number of NM cultural institutions and we talked for quite some time. At some point, while discussing the importance of history, museums, re-enactment, etc José made the comment that if we actually took the time to learn about people’s stories there wouldn’t be so much hate in the world. We couldn’t agree more. Of course we asked him to be part of the camera project…

Camera #14 now spoken for!

José told us about two things we’ll follow up on in the short term. He told us about a character named Tom Horn and that there was a movie of that name with Steve McQueen. Apparently Horn was an Apache scout, a lawman, a detective of dubious repute and eventually an outlaw. José told us that he had done re-enactments of Horn but had morphed him into a Vaquero scout…we are intrigued and have already put Tom Horn in the Netflix queue and José in the tumbler of potential collaborators in the future.

The other tip was that there is a section of El Camino Real that you can actually drive (the trail just parallels HWY25) by heading east into the desert just south of Truth or Consequences. It was already after 5PM and the idea that we would make it to Tucson seemed increasingly remote. And how could we resist experiencing a stretch of the actual El Camino Real known as the Jornada del Muerto (Journey of Death)? The Heritage Center sits in the Jornada del Muerto. Here’s a picture looking south into it:

Looking south from the cantilever deck (those are modern park trails, not the El Camino Real. But you can pretend)

We had to let José lock up the museum, so we said goodbye knowing that we really meant hasta luego.

On the way back to 25, we stopped at the Santa Fe Truckstop to gas up; it’s the only built structure between the museum and the highway. We knew when we pulled into the lot that it was different. The building looked like it had been randomly expanded through the years to accommodate various new ventures. Inside, there was an enormous hearth and a crackling fire.

BA and Salem

Ice cream!

A train car had been tacked on as a cafe

there was a bar:

circa 1940

And a crazy painting:

Salem told us who that guy was, but I forgot to write it down; hopefully he’ll post it in a comment…

BA was buying an awesome covered wagon belt buckle that she found in a small collection of antiquey things for sale in a dusty old case, and Chele was snapping pictures of some toy wagons on ledges above the booths

this is a hearse!

when a guy came in and sat down. Chele enthusiastically asked him if he minded being in a picture for our blog and he said, dryly, “You girls aren’t from out west, are you?”

Joe is a trucker living in Florida but he drives all over the country. He had just driven from Miami, made eighteen drops at Lowes all the way across Texas (tropical plants) with his last drop in Albuquerque. He had left Monday morning. We were amazed that someone could cover so much ground in four days, especially considering that at each drop site he unloads and loads all the pallets, scaffolding and cargo by himself. He was staying here at the Santa Fe (the truckstop rents two rooms…we considered taking the other but after hearing how much ground Joe covered we couldn’t bear the thought of having traveled only 75 miles today) and driving to Las Cruces in the morning to load cheese. A truck full of cheese. Think about that. We asked about soup and Salem said that he had home-made chicken. Since Chele was on a sort of de facto cross-country chicken soup tour starting with the Mexican chicken-avocado soup in Great Bend, KS, we each ordered a bowl. We have to say– it was the best yet. Fresh zucchini, carrots, sweet potatoes…outstanding on a chilly night and so completely unexpected in this desert outpost.

Joe asked us to sit down and join him for dinner, which of course is what we were secretly hoping for.  Our conversation veered from his experience as a coal miner in western Pennsylvania (age 16-23), where he was buried alive a few times, to transporting mysterious cargo for the gov’t, to his rig being used as target practice by the air-force as he drove through the desert, UFO’s, etc…

OK. We should explain. We were talking about kooky Roswell, NM and strange things that happen out in the desert. Joe told us he thinks that sometimes people get freaked by stuff the military is doing. Like when they use laser-lights (instead of artillery, thank god) and night time highway traffic as ground targets. Joe has seen that more than once and said that it would be really eerie if you didn’t know what was going on. The gov’t job entailed picking up a padlocked refrigerated trailer from a pharmaceutical company in NY and delivering it to a remote building in the Nevada desert. When he arrived, Joe was escorted to the nearest hotel 70 miles away and redelivered to the site the next morning to find the truck turned around, keys in the ignition, and not one mile added to the odometer since leaving NY. The ‘disappeared’ job. Joe said he had no idea what had been in the trailer. Maybe test animals, but he couldn’t be sure. And did you know that while mining companies are responsible for getting miners bodies, dead or alive, out of a collapsed mine, they really only have to get something that identifies them. And that is why one’s name is on every single thing carried into a mineshaft; goggles, respirator, underwear –everything.

Joe was a natural storyteller, but only because we asked. And kept asking. There were stories that he told us but politely asked that we not share publicly, and in the end he gave us his cell number in case we ever got lost or needed advice about a route or perhaps a tip on where to find a good truckstop. If this trip is about understanding what America is up to, with Joe we hit pay-dirt. We reluctantly said good-bye, paid for his dinner, gave him a hug and asked him to be part of the camera project.

We decided to travel the Jornada del Muerto in the morning and therefore it made sense to get a room in Truth or Consequences (T or C as the locals refer to it). Salem, the owner of the truck stop (a Palestinian immigrant whose been in NM for 25 years), said it was a cute town and he thought we’d like it. T or C has plenty of motels which, as a rule, we choose over hotel chains.

didn't choose this, but loved the font

The main drag through T or C was really dead and it felt later than it actually was. We looped through town and decided on a motel at the north end by the way it looked on the rise of the road, it’s cute orange picket fence and old mullioned windows. We were greeted by a friendly British guy and his enormous bear of a dog, Penny. We had been talking to Hans for 15 minutes (about hot springs, kombucha, medicinal kelp… you know, typical check-in stuff) when his daughter Felicia peeked through the office door. He chided her about coming out when there were guests, but she was bored. She asked us if we wanted to see her fish made from a sock. Are you kidding? We are total sock-fish enthusiasts.

the fins were cardboard!

Of course, there was more. An eel —

the teeth are a hair clip. Genius.

and an ostrich—

incredible things happen in the desert

We noticed a pile of instrument cases and mics stacked at the back of the small lobby. Hans told us he was a musician and that, among other things, he played the accordion. Felicia whispered to BA that her dad could yodel. First a truckload of cheese and down the road a yodeling, accordian-playing hotelier?!?  Had we even left Wisconsin? Chele signed for the room on the condition that Hans yodel for us in the morning. Done! It took an hour to check in, but was worth every minute.

So, in the end we just weren’t ready to leave New Mexico and, in fact, we were nowhere near Tucson. But that was just fine. If we hadn’t had the computer problems that made Chele such a wreck, we wouldn’t have been running hours behind schedule. We would’ve been at the Heritage Site early enough to talk ourselves out of the Jornada detour to make tracks to Tucson; and we never would have met Joe, Salem, Hans, Felicia or the sock menagerie. We channeled Roger’s words which have become a mantra. We were “taking the time” which, we’ve discovered, is the only way to find the thing that you don’t know you’re looking for.

Tomorrow- The Journey of DEATH!

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