Friday, January 21, 2011 (still…)
After barely making it through what Chele perceived as a driveway apron, and BA (correctly) perceived as a rock barrier, we were stopped by uniformed border agents. Reluctant to try and drive back through the rip-rap, Chele jumped out and decided to fess-up and appeal to the sympathy of the guards while BA (illegally, it turns out) took pictures.
>Tip of the day. You are not allowed to take pictures at checkpoints. They will take your camera.
We led with, “Where are we?!” and then explained that we were doing research (if you are ever in a jam, pull out the “research” card) on the El Camino Real, and that we were artists (if you are in a REAL jam, blame it on art) and at this point we just needed to head back north on HWY 25. And by the way, “Are we in Mexico?” The agent was really nice. No. We weren’t in Mexico. This was just a checkpoint about 20 miles north of Las Cruces. We would have to go a few more miles to reach the end of the Jornada and find the entrance for hwy 25. There were cars lined up further than we could see. Chele whined a little about having to drive back over the barricade and another guard came over and told her to get back in the car. Then he did the unthinkable. He stepped in front of a semi-truck, held up an authoritative hand and used the other to wave us in like a maitre d’ ushering us to the best table in the restaurant.
It was really disorienting to encounter this place. Except for the occasional holiday drunk-driving sting operation when police will block a road and do random sobriety surveys, we had never been interrogated for simply being in a car on the road in our own country. In her book, ‘Something in the Soil’ Patricia Limerick writes about factors that distinguish the west as ‘The West’; a culture that finds distinction from the rest of the U.S. (and world, for that matter) based on it’s geography, it’s conquest, it’s aridity…and we would add, it’s tension regarding the border. For all the time she has spent paddling the boundary waters of far northern Minnesota, Chele has never encountered a check-point. BA was hassled crossing into Canada last year, but she was driving a U-Haul loaded with dead insects for one of Jennifer Angus’ art installations– and she was actually crossing into another country. This checkpoint was 60 miles north of the border.
The other odd thing about this encounter is that we had come out of the middle of the desert. Our car was packed almost to the roof, from the front seats to the tailgate, with a pile of stuff. Not neatly packed boxes or suitcases, but a kind of organic pile. One would think that would present a kind of, well, red flag to a patrol agent looking for drugs, weapons, or smuggled people. And could we have a person curled up beneath our pillows and jackets and maps and food? Could we have been to the border in our all-wheel drive vehicle on a 1,000′s year old trail that goes through remote desert STRAIGHT TO MEXICO? Naw. “You ladies have a nice day.”
We had decided to double back half-way to T or C in order to take a route through the Mimbres Mountains in the Gila National Forest. Here is a picture of the Caballo Mountains on the west side of the Jornada. In between us and the mountain is the Rio Grande.
Heading west, we climbed through the mountains towards Silver City. It was absolutely stunning and a complete shift from the arid desert:
This shot isn’t quite at the top (8,228 ft) but it’s close. You can see all the way back to the Caballo Mountains, probably 40 miles away:
The mountains shift from looking like sand to solid rock.
As we descended towards Silver City, we would be treated to seeing what the inside of a mountain really looks like.
Santa Rita is about 15 miles from Silver City and was established during colonial times as a copper mine. It seems they’ve been shaving away ever since.
Speaking of shaving the tops off of things, we found an interesting bit of history about Santa Rita. Back in 1837 an American trader, James Johnson, lured a local Apache tribe to a supposedly friendly trade meeting and feast, then massacred them from the brush with Horwitzers. He had been after a couple of scalps of high ranking warriors in the group. The call by a Spanish governor of Santa Fe to kill every Apache man, woman, and child by any method necessary and without mercy had been made 40 years previous. Though the Apaches and locals (now Mexicans) had been living in relative harmony all the interceding years, technically the bounty offer was still valid. Johnson managed to kill a number of women and other unsuspecting, peaceful people, but his targets escaped. In retaliation, the Apaches attacked and killed nearly 500 townspeople; basically everybody except for a lucky six inhabitants who escaped to Chihuahua.
Tip> do not piss off the Apache.
The bad mojo left the town abandoned for over a decade and mining didn’t resume until 1873. In 1901 they started open pit mining and the town had to keep moving as the pit grew outwards. In 1957, heavy rains washed boulders and mud through the most recent townsite and they basically hung it up for good about ten years later. Santa Rita is now considered a ghost town. It is not listed in our trusty 2010 Road Atlas.
But the mining continues.
As we were driving through the Mimbres, we kept coming round bends to a blinding setting sun. Every time we thought that surely the sun would be over the horizon, we’d crest another curve and get blinded again. As we left the massive mining area, the sun was finally petering out for real.
We pulled into Silver City in desperate need for coffee before the last push to Tucson. We found a great place called Javalina and we wished we’d had time to linger:
BA chatted with Tricia, a friendly barrista who was especially interested in stories from the beginning of our trip since she hails from Arkansas City, Kansas. Tricia recently moved to Silver City, but she also maintains some sort of home-base near Atlanta, Georgia, where she spends time white-water rafting on the Chattooga River.
Tricia sent us a few blocks down Main Street to Nancy’s Silver Cafe for tamales. Downtown Silver City is historically intact and well maintained. It is on our list for more exploration at a later date.
Nancy’s looked promising…
The food was amazing! And the only sad part was that
we were too full for pie.
We hit the road, bound for Tucson, and listened to The Grapes of Wrath. The family finally makes it to California and Grandma Joad dies; mostly from heartbreak. Grandpa Joad died right in the beginning of the journey and they had to secretly bury him because they couldn’t afford an undertaker. Burying someone and not reporting the death is illegal, so they stuck a note in a bottle explaining the situation and wrapped Grandpa’s hands around it. A curious detail was when they smoothed out the dirt to conceal the burial and Ma Joad said, “It just ain’t right” to not mound up the dirt.
We will look into this.