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Day 8

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Today we doubled back northeast of Santa Fe to to see a Civil War memorial we were curious about. Not only was it located on a pull-out on the wrong side of the interstate as we headed toward Santa Fe yesterday, but we had “taken the time” to enjoy our visit with a new friend (Roger) to its fullest measure and wanted to high tail it to ABQ to enjoy dinner with some old friends. The memorial far exceeded our expectations, and almost this entire post will be devoted to that adventure.

But before we dig in, we would be remiss if we didn’t include a few pictures of the house that our friend John took us to on the way to breakfast. Almost all of the houses in John and Stacey’s neighborhood are of the single story, flat roof, pueblo-style variety. John and Stacey have a great house in this style with a kiva fireplace, wood floors, cool architectural details and these two dogs. Just to state the obvious; Merx and Coppy are the most lovable animals west of the Mississippi. Here they are warming up the guest bed for us:

OK. Now that the dog fix is out of the way, here’s the house-addition we spied:

It seems like the first level is an original post-war pueblo-style structure, but then there is this crazy cantilevered addition.

The house on the corner next door was even better….

and why was the corner house better? Because of the dinosaurs, of course.

These amazing structures are the work of Bart Prince. We highly recommend a detour to his site where you can get a look at the interiors of some of his projects. (you probably need to have Flash installed to see his site). We have noticed that the  high desert climate, the clarity of the light and the crispness of the air…it changes people. And in this way, Bart Prince’ architecture hits the bullseye in terms of setting a tone.

Onward. After a great breakfast at the Flying Star (on Route 66!) we went back north of Santa Fe to check out the Civil War memorial site that our book described as:

“Between HWY markers 296 and 295, on the left, is an informal pullout…Behind the pullout you can see a memorial that commemorates the Battle of Glorietta, as well as a skirmish [that happened] here two days before the major battle at Pigeon’s Ranch.”

Normally, we would skip something like this

You really have to pay attention to see this thing. Most of it is over the drop-off out of view.

because the stop would basically result in seeing a plaque that repeats what we read in the book with perhaps a few more details re: dates and casualties. Not that these markers are unimportant, but there is only so much daylight….Anyway, we decided to check it out because Ginny had mentioned that the memorial was some sort of home-made endeavor by the owner of the land.

Well… is a total understatement to say that we were not prepared for the genius vision of Al Sanchez.

Background: Alfonso Sanchez is a veteran of WWII and the Korean war. He was a district attorney and at  some point decades ago bought this land in Apache Canyon.  In 1998, while reading a book on local history, he realized that the “skirmish” before the major Battle of Glorietta Pass (1862) was fought, “smack dab in the middle of my property,” and thus began the endeavor to honor the dead who had fallen and were buried somewhere there. The result is a moving, if somewhat rambling, collection of trails, markers, signs, and paintings depicting the battle and honoring (in general) fallen Americans from all wars.

We had to spend time with the wording of some of the signs to figure out whether his sympathies lay with the Confederate or Union army. But we finally realized that he was putting those ideologies aside and simply honoring the dead who fell and didn’t have a decent burial. (In the end, it is clear that like most New Mexicans he feels that Union had a case worth fighting for.)

notice the little crosses in the cement

We took about nine thousand pictures and will post a fraction here to walk you through this amazing place. But if you are ever heading northbound on hwy 25, this is a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED stop.

Here is the first thing you see.

Union: 51 dead - 78 wounded -15 captured /// Confederate: 48 dead- 80 wounded - 92 captured

This installation of Jesus and MLK was amazing


Signs listing dates and casualties for US wars

On the far left is a sign for the War of 1812 and several stanchions down the row, this is the last one you get to. Not a war, but an "Era"....oy.

There was a “museum” down the embankment behind the cross. Inside this open-air structure were a number of amazing paintings. There was also a laminated newspaper article (from 2007) about the artist, Robert Guesnard. Apparently, the itinerant Guesnard showed up at Sanchez’ land with a bike so overladen with packs, bedrolls, and art gear that he was pushing it, not riding it. In fact, he had pushed this bike for over 5,000 miles. He asked if he could camp on the land in exchange for helping with the memorial. In the article Sanchez refers to Guesnard as “a blessing.”

This is where Guesnard's paintings are hung. We were happy to see they were screwed securely to the wall.

Victory = whiskey. (and blankets)


This is how they did it.

They are looking at each other!


To see all of Guesnard’s paintings (and really, we HIGHLY RECOMMEND!), click here.

After you look at the museum, there is an area further into the canyon where the fighting took place. This area is clearly marked by big signs that say “The Killing Field.”

Sanchez has placed a chunk of concrete to represent every Union soldier positioned along the ridge overlooking the killing Fields.

marker for Union troop position

As you follow the concrete markers along the edge of the canyon and up to the overlook, you get a good sense of how being in the canyon would have been a crappy choice.

Museum Pavilion? Wha???

Detour to the museum pavilion.

Ah. The museum pavilion has a kitchen. Excellent!

Back to Chivington’s trail. A little further along we came across a marker and a flagstone patio where Guesnard executed one of the battle paintings.

This is a site from which one of the paintings was made

The climb was snowy (and muddy).

Heading up to the lookout

More troops. These concrete chunks fringed he trail and were spaced, at most, about every twenty feet. Here they are elbow to elbow.

each rock a Union soldier

Here’s Chivington’s point; clearly this presents a tactical advantage:

The little cave displays Chivington's report

This is what the Union soldiers saw (but without train tracks… the soldiers used the SFT and military covered wagons):

looking south

You can see the Killing Fields below (and the museum, the cross, etc)

and this is how Guesnard depicted it:

soldiers sniping from above

Check out the bullets flying.


What really blew us away was the dedication to this vision. Of all the museums we’d visited, this was by far the most moving. Part of the impact was because the whole thing was so un-self-conscious and humble:

this jug is attached by a wire to the wall and next to a dusty guest book

and too, this sweeping gesture was so full of respect for the sacrifices on both sides. It was about the Civil War –the bloody awfulness of it– but beyond the historical account lay something else. Perhaps a need to connect the past to the present; a montage working against forgetting the sacrifices others have made whether by choice or conscription – from Jesus to Martin Luther King; from the soldiers of the War of 1812 to the untold thousands yet to die in the Middle East. We read about these events; we watch in real time as missiles rip through the night; it is delivered as ‘shock and awe’… and we make judgements as to whether or not these actions, ordered by our government, reflect who we are and what we believe.

The genius of  this memorial, though, is that it doesn’t really express a personal opinion at all. It doesn’t even come across as gung-ho American. It simply asks us to be present to something that wasn’t one event but instead, an outcome. The dead were the result of an unimaginable number of smaller historical exploits/ideas/follies/decisions and, ultimately, abstractions that led to a cataclysmic event on March 26, 1862 in which two groups of people were determined to annihilate each other. It is a crazy melange, but Al Sanchez, you touched our hearts and we are still processing the experience.

We left rather speechless. We did a U-turn and looked for an exit to get off of HWY 25 to pick up a more faithful trace of the final leg of the SFT. We were giddy about the morning adventure, muddy, and starving.

Have you tried the Booty? Excellent car snack.

Just before exiting the HWY, we spied this home-made billboard:

Oy. They need a lesson from Al Sanchez about roadside monuments.

But immediately following this sighting was this!

fluttering prayer flags!

Thank the lord! Good as Booty may be, we needed some lunch. This place was amazing; in the middle of nowhere we found excellent local, organic, home made food, sweet people, and a place to re-charge the two camera batteries drained at the memorial.

such a sweet place!

And just to give you an idea of how perfect it was (aside from flawless food)

they even had table shims! no more disgusting wadded up napkins to level a rocking table!

Why doesn’t every cafe have table shims?

We met a crazy/cute kid on the way into the cafe. He was jabbing small mushy, rotting pumpkins (an autumn display way past its prime) with a stick. We made a zombie-brain joke and he roared something in return. Here’s Oliver and his older brother Gilman.

We noticed that Oliver had great taste in boots:


BTW. There have been more roadside shrines from Clayton, NM to Santa Fe than the entire stretch from Madison to Dodge City. This is the first time we saw a Star of David, however.

At this point we were about 6 miles from the Santa Fe Plaza:

the last bit of trail

We were running late AGAIN! It was 4:00 and we wanted to visit museums in Santa Fe. Even with this do-over, we still needed more time. And then we saw this enormous, bronze statue:

Life sized!

What was this place? We drove around the building to the parking lot and found this:


Lucky for us, someone was in the bus. Turns out that we were at the Center for Museum Resources, the cultural advocacy hub of New Mexico. We met Jamie Brytowski who is the statewide outreach coordinator. She took us through the mobile museums (very cool) and introduced us to a couple of her colleagues. They gave us some CD’s of oral histories and trails songs that have to do with travel in New Mexico. Honestly– could this day get any better?!

The Center for Museum Resources

Jamie also told us that if we were interested in routes of trade and migration, we should visit a museum way out in the desert… the El Camino Real International Heritage Center.

We thanked them and got into Santa Fe just before 5pm. Damn! Where does the time go? We begged the guard at the courthouse to let us in to see a couple of WPA murals about the SFT by William Henderson. These two faced each other in the lobby of the main entrance. Check it out:

SFT Painting on right

Painting on left


Seeing these William Penhallow Henderson murals at the end of the line provided a poetic conclusion to our trek which began in Independance, MO with the SFT mural by Thomas Hart Benton at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library/Museum. Here’s the Benton from Day 1:

Benton's "Independence and the Opening of the West"

These works each reflected a sense of place that we found fascinating; Henderson’s slightly surreal impressionistic use of color, composition, and scale as subject matter  is so prevalent in the southwest vernacular. The wide open landscape and the dwarfed, isolated wagon are (literally and figuratively) miles away from Benton’s Regionalist depiction of  the encroaching commercial interests and industrialization of the East into the landscape of the frontier.

Benton = Bodies dominating landscape.

Henderson = Landscape dwarfing bodies.

In reality, both depictions hold true and in the overlapping area of the venn diagram would be our experience of the west; both romantic and cynical. New Mexico is rough land and water is of primary concern whether you are a small rancher or a hotelier. Big cities are a burden on the environment and grassroots communities need to be vigilant lest commercial interests with power and connections will (and do) take more than their fair share of resources. There is a lot of poverty here and the connection between that and the fact that NM is home to Alamogordo, nuclear waste burial sites and missile testing is no mistake. On the other hand, this country is vast, beautiful and full of people who are aware of their unique, multi-cultural (and international) history and are generous enough to “take the time.”

Tomorrow we will visit the El Camino Real museum and try to make it all the way to Tucson, AZ. We will miss you, beautiful New Mexico…

<< Day 7 | Day 9 >>

Day 7

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Today we will finally made it to Santa Fe. It seemed strangely anti-climactic thus proving that it’s the journey and not the destination that counts. We keep forgetting that we still have nearly 1,000 miles of driving left. We checked out the site where William Becknell, ‘the father of the SFT’ met up with Captain Pedro Gallego and his 400 troops in 1821. The meeting was friendly and it officially opened the trade route. Who knew where that was going to lead (?!) San Miguel del Vado, established in the 1790s, is the first town the traders would have encountered, though they were well across the border of Mexico by the time they got there. The town is on the Pecos and to say it is a town today is a bit of a stretch. Aside from the church, there’s not much going on. Although it has been remodeled many times, the outline of the facade remains basically the same as when it was built in 1805.

We were impressed by the formal elegance and double irony of the railroad spikes. San Miguel flourished in the SFT days, but lost it’s prominence when the railroad was routed to nearby Las Vegas which then became the trade hub. And to fashion Jesus Christ from oversized nails….well….

Further down the road is another small town called San José del Vado. Ginny used to live there and still has a post office box so we stopped by to check her mail. Check out the bus stop.

Chele parked in the far left spot and Ginny told her, in all seriousness, that that spot was reserved for the postmaster. Whoa. Except for the church across from the PO, there are no other commercial buildings in San José and this parking lot was undifferentiated from the street. There are, however, some very old adobe houses from the original plaza that are still inhabited.

On the way into San José we had passed a yellow house onto which the sun was casting a beautiful glow and Chele wanted to stop and get a photo on the way out of town.

The light had changed so the photo-op was not as enticing. But we noticed this curious sign, and as we stood wondering what it was about

a truck pulled up and we met Sugar

and Roger, the creator of the Habitat Rescue.

Roger invited us in to walk around. He owns about five acres along the Pecos River and is presently working on, among other things, building a Buddhist temple surrounded by a heart-shaped moat. The moat is just about done and the temple is in the works.

excellent outhouse design!

everyone is welcome…

We talked to Roger for a couple of hours about the state of the state, the environment, what it means to do good work, the insistence of fleas, the luxury of travel, and the importance of art. We talked about poverty, drugs, and failing social infrastructure (both Ginny and Roger had been employed by the state as social workers and though they had never met they kept coming up with mutual acquaintances). We talked about notions of progress and how things can’t stay the same, no matter how romantically attached we are to the idea that the past was better/simpler than the present.We taped much of our conversation and if we ever get caught up with this blog, we’ll post some of the meandering conversation.

After a while, Roger said that the guy we should really be talking to is Russell Means who lives up by the post office in the old plaza complex. The same complex, in fact, that Ginny used to live in. We walked back to town to see if we could find him. Russell is an activist and early leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM). (We checked him out later online and learned that he was also in The Last of the Mohicans…)

Alas, no one was home. One more indication that we need to do this trip a second time. On the way back to Roger’s house we soaked up some details we missed earlier:

(We both ended up taking a picture of this porch. There was just something about it.)

Vigil? Really?

We explored a possible shooting (with cameras, that is) location.

The scale of these eroded embankments was interesting. A western landscape in miniature.

Roger showed us a great way to avoid getting snagged by the barbed-wire fence. Though he demonstrated this stop:drop:and roll (also useful if you happen to catch on fire) technique several times,

BA still needed more practice.

We met one of Roger’s neighbors

and  we both could swear that he called out, “I love you guys” as we all walked away.

And that moment kind of summed up our afternoon with Roger. It’s difficult to express in a string of snapshots how we thoroughly loved meeting this new friend, and how simply being present felt like such a gift. Ginny, who had errands to run in Santa Fe before getting back to Las Vegas by five, had long given up on her ‘planned’ day. And at some point we both separately came to the same conclusion– that Santa Fe and the other sites on our itenerary could wait. Over the course of the afternoon, in several unrelated contexts, Roger said “You have to take the time.” This was mentioned in reference to understanding: landscape, people’s motives, problems, travel, art, and, most of all, we think, friendships. In those unplanned moments we catch glimpses of the thing we did not know we were looking for.

We gave him a camera and as we bid adieu, Ginny and Roger were still talking. They receded in our rear view mirror as we turned the wrong way down hwy 25. How embarrassing.

We are both missing our dogs and it is for this reason alone that we are posting two more pictures of Sugar. This is her cow skull.

Don’t ask her to share (though she was so sweet, she’d probably let you gnaw on it for a while).

We had originally planned to seek out a civil war memorial site built on private land north of Santa Fe, but the sun was already starting to set and we weren’t too sure of where it was. We decided to double back from Albuquerque and find it the next day. We were running late to meet up with our friends John and Stacey (in ABQ) but we had to at least visit the Santa Fe Plaza to “officially” conclude the SFT chapter of our trek. In the center of the plaza is the Memorial to the Indian Wars, an obelisk shaped monument with text on all four sides. This curious plaque was attached beneath the text on one side:

On the other side, we saw that the original text had been edited–and indeed, with some attitude:

Power to the people.

We were getting cold, and decided we’d better hit the road. As we walked back to the car, we spied a group of people sitting at Starbucks. We plotted for a moment about how BA could run interference while Chele stole a picture, but when we walked in we lost our nerve and Chele simply fessed up. She told them they were beautiful like a snow-drift which was just strange enough to make them smile.

We didn’t ask any questions so we have no idea what their story was…but leaving it a mystery seemed like the right thing to do. Just a group of people with amazing crystal brooches sharing some coffee. What could be more American than that?

We were off to Albuquerque and the next chapter of The Grapes of Wrath in which the Joad family learns that being called an ‘Okie’ is not meant as a compliment.

<< Day 6 | Day 8 >>

Day 6

Monday, January 17, 2011

Today we split forces. Chele hung out at a coffee shop on the plaza to edit pictures and post on the blog while Ginny shepherded BA around Las Vegas and San Miguel County to fill her in on local history. Aside from being gracious hosts who feed us chiles and tortillas at every meal, William and Ginny are an invaluable fount of both historical and contemporary information about the region and state.

Like most Spanish colonial towns, Las Vegas is organized around a central plaza. This plaza has a lot of history, but the event that had the most lasting consequences was when Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearney, under the command of President Polk, stood on top of this building

facing the plaza and delivered this proclamation to the Las Vegas citizenry.

(view PDF)

He declared  that the people of Las Vegas were now American citizens, like it or lump it. Click the image above to read a more legible version (PDF) of the proclamation- it’s crazy…”not a pepper nor an onion shall be disturbed…” we will not (even though we are Protestants) “ill treat your women and brand them upon the cheek as you do your mules on the hip.”

But there it is. New Mexico was ceded to the US without a drop of blood being spilled. Some claim that General Armijo (the governor) was paid off by powerful and politically connected Santa Fe Trail merchant James McGoffin. If this name seems familiar, he was the brother of Samuel McGoffin. Samuel was paramour of Susan McGoffin, the 17 year old ingénue whose diary we read at the top of Pawnee rock. The brothers were both traders along the SFT and Susan accompanied Samuel on one of his treks shortly after they married. (They had a winter/spring sort of relationship. Interestingly, Susan/Samuel’s sister in law (Jame’s wife) Maria Gertrudis Valdez de Frias was a cousin of the General Armijo…) at any rate, the bribe theory is probably only partially true. The fact is that Armijo was terribly outnumbered and militaristically ill-equipped  to put up a good fight; it would have been a blood bath. Kearney went on to Santa Fe with nearly the same speech and though there were some small uprisings and tension amidst the people who naturally weren’t fond of having their sovereignty stripped, Mexico basically ceded New Mexico.  For an interesting account of James McGoffin – a Spanish-speaking, confederate backing, salt seizing, Howitzer wielding, merchant, click here .

With its annexation, New Mexico underwent a major shift in attitude about how land should be shared. The fact that land was suddenly being exploited for commercial gain caused a lot of friction. The Land Grant and acequia systems (see day 5) were more than a method of how to utilize land and distribute water from a river. It seems to us that it underscores a philosophical difference between a communal way of life and a commercial exploitation of labor and resources. It’s not that New Mexico was equally shared before the US takeover; the typical situation of the majority of the land in the hands of a few held true. But there were rules about shared resources and protections for small farmers. When the pressure of commercial trade increased, fences went up and grazing rights changed. It’s complicated. But read this manifesto from Las Gurras Blancos for a clear vision of resistance. Here are a few excerpts from this amazing document:

Our purpose is to protect the rights and interests of the people in general; especially those of the helpless classes.

We want the Las Vegas Grant settled to the benefit of all concerned, and this we hold is the entire community within the grant.

We are not down on lawyers as a class, but the usual knavery and unfair treatment of the people must be stopped.

We are down on race issues, and will watch race agitators. We are all human brethren, under the same glorious flag.

We favor irrigation enterprises, but will fight any scheme that tends to monopolize the supply of water courses to the detriment of residents living on lands watered by the same streams.

Intimidation and the “indictment” plan have no further fears for us. If the old system should continue, death would be a relief to our sufferings. And for our rights our lives are the least we can pledge.

If the fact that we are law abiding citizens is questioned, come out to our homes and see the hunger and desolation we are suffering; and “this” is the result of the deceitful and corrupt methods of “bossism.”

Be fair and just and we are with you, do otherwise and take the consequences.

Whatever happened to manifestos? We need more manifestos. Power to the people.

The history of the Las Gurras Blancos and their tactics of resistence to the concentration of commercial power is worth reading as it has an instructive parallel with the fate of the small farmer in America. (The Joads in Grapes of Wrath are a perfect example). When you have a spare moment, read this document about the Las Guerros Blancos.

For now, we’ll post a small excerpt:

The goal of Las Gorras Blancas was not merely the eradication of barbed wire fences, but the destruction of the underlying logic and ideology that fueled the commercial and industrial transformation of New Mexico.

San Miguel County in the late 1880s was a microcosm of America’s gilded age. Vast personal fortunes were produced at the expense of subsistence and working class communities. Elaborate structures of political power were constructed to extend the interests of capital accumulation while repressive agents of social control were needed to defend the interests of capital against resistance by groups such as Las Gorras Blancas.

Interestingly, I spent the day in a coffee shop that started as a weaving co-op.

The Tapetes de Lana is a 501.c non-profit organization that teaches traditional weaving skills to women to help them out of poverty and off of welfare. Though the group has moved up to the town of Mora, this cafe seems to carry on the vibe of community involvement and grassroots activism. As we sat and enjoyed a strong wifi connection and home made croissant, we overheard several conversations about water use, land rights, and social justice. And not to paint with too Woody Guthrie of a brush, there were also young hipsters talking art, fashion and the latest sagas unfolding on Bravo reality shows.

We gave a camera to one of the barristas at the cafe.

Rachelle, who hails from Alaska, is an art student at New Mexico Highlands University and has traveled extensively in the northwest as well as making the 2,000 mile drive from Alaska to Las Vegas…we’re psyched to see what she sends us.

We ended the day with another home-cooked New Mexican meal, posole, a traditional stew made from hominy soaked in lime and traditionally eaten at ceremonies.

It is indicative of the blending of cultures in New Mexico: Native American, Mexican, and European. We get the feeling this blending is something New Mexicans are not only well aware of but proud of today. It’s been a part of their heritage for centuries–well before their annexation to the US.

We spent the evening with Ginny and William talking about Las Gurras Blancas and working on the blog. Of course we left a camera with both of them.

What a lovely respite this has been. Tomorrow Ginny is going to show us a few sites and we will part ways in Santa Fe, the end of the trail!

<< Day 5 | Day 7 >>

Day 5

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Saturday started with a big breakfast of eggs, home fries, tortillas, and enchiladas with fresh green chili sauce leftover from an amazing dinner the night before. We will travel onward knowing superior methods of how to roast and peel chilies, and how to warm tortillas without turning them to cardboard. After breakfast, Ginny packed food to make dinner and we headed out to the ranch.

But not without Zorrita who is clearly in charge of the Johnson-Gonzales household:

The ranch is 15 miles from Las Vegas, NM. It is part of a larger land grant that William shares with about 84 other people, most of whom are family or extended family (as we mentioned, his family has been on this land since it was Mexico–over 7 generations ago). The land (roughly 5,000 acres) encompasses a canyon through which the Gallinas river flows.

Separate from their stake in the land grant, Ginny and William personally own 317 acres. They maintain several structures in the valley where they care for some cows,

chop wood,

maintain fences,

and tend an orchard (pears, apples, quince, grapes, and raspberries)

The cows had found their way into the orchard and left their mark. William told us that there’s always a fence to mend or a ditch to clear.

The orchard is flood irrigated with an acequia system built in 1841. Acequias are man-made ditches that divert water upstream from a river. The dirt channel has a perfect box-like shape and seems more sculpted than a “ditch.” None the less, they are referred to as ditches. There are lateral ditches that branch off the acequia madre or, mother ditch.

Mother Ditch. Yes. We like the sound of that.

Acequias are inherently dependent on community cooperation– channels need to be cleared and maintained every year and agreements have to be struck as to what an equitable distribution of the common resource will be. Everyone who draws from the system is expected to help with he maintenance. This technology dates back to the eighth century and was introduced to the Spanish by the Moors. By using gates, one can control and conserve water. The orchard is flooded with about four inches of water every two weeks during growing season. William focuses much of his energy around issues of water preservation, education, and rights. The further we travel into the west, the more ubiquitous this discussion is. Water (or lack of it) in the west drives everything from politics to economic viability to environmental sustainability. While it seems obvious that this would be an issue in the high desert, historic decrees and present day politics ensnare what should be common sense decisions into protracted debates. We were impressed by what seemed to be a keen community-wide awareness of the need for grassroots activism to make sure the best decisions are put into practice. Here’s a link to more information about acequias:

At one point, around three thousand people lived in the valley. William’s grandfather lived here and his father was born in a house like this:

Zorrita followed us everywhere. She is very protective.

There are amazing ruins throughout the valley. The walls used to be adobe, but now all the mud has washed away. The stone work is incredible.

William and Ginny have found numerous spearpoints, arrow heads, pottery shards and tools. They told us that the best way to find stuff was “to look for something that seems out of place.” We spent a few hours chilling out and looking for clues.

BA and Chele were pretty clueless (above:  Chele is obsessed with investigating a scene where the bluejay got ‘et) but William found numerous shards.

The find of the day was a piece of pottery (about 3×4 inches) with a pressed pattern that looked like basket weave. Usually, Ginny and William leave their finds in the field, but that piece was so amazing that we insisted they bring it along so that it would stay intact.  (Artists. They are so precious about everything)

There are a few inhabitable structures in the valley, but no one lives there full time. There is no electricity and having it installed wold be cost prohibitive. Las Veags is at 6,00 feet above sea level, and to get to the valley, you travel a rough trail down switchbacks to about 5,700 feet. Of the 84 vested parties, only a handful make use of the land. William was the first child in his family to be born in a hospital after his family moved into town and started commuting to the ranch. While growing up, however, he spent his summers living full time in he valley. Ginny and William  have painstakingly restored one of the original stone structures. It has one bedroom, a living-room with a wood stove for heat, a full kitchen with a stove, fridge and water heater that run on propane and a generator for lights. Ginny’s favorite upgrade is indoor plumbing…making the outhouse a relic of the past:

Ginny made chili (while William employed his tortilla warming technique)

and BA and Chele shucked chicos:

Chicos are made from small ears of sweet corn. The corn is steamed in an horno (an adobe, wood stoked oven) then dried for storage. The steaming/drying in the horno gives the corn a smoky flavor when it is reconstituted. We were told to mix a half cup of chicos with two cups of pinto beans for  a delicious and authentic dish. We say yes to chicos.

William and Ginny take produce and flowers to the farmers market in the spring, summer, and fall. The seeds from produce and flowers are saved for the next year’s planting. William tried to find some black hollyhock seeds for BA. None of the (many, many) bags are marked and we wonder what will come up.

William’s brother Sonny was working the future alfalfa field when we got back from the ruins and he and his wife Virginia joined us for dinner.

It was a fabulous day.

The only thing we didn’t do was steal this bob-tailed dog.

She belonged to someone else in the valley, but we thought she’d love San Diego. Chele named her Elma.

<< Day 4 | Day 6 >>

Day 4

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Today we woke up in Clayton, New Mexico. After a substantial breakfast at the Kokopelli (scrambled eggs and green chili for Chele; homemade biscuits and gravy for BA) and some writing and planning, we set out to explore town and stop at the Crossroads Cafe for road coffee. Clayton is known for its fossilized  dinosaur footprints and there are some crazy concrete dinosaurs down the road from the Kokopelli. It was tempting to check it out, but we were already running a late and decided to stay on task (history from the last 200 years, not 200,000,000).

Downtown Clayton is mostly shuttered. There is a beautifully restored limestone hotel, The Eklund,  from the late 1800′s but the sign on the door said “Temporarily Closed.”

We hope they will re-open. Who will feed the pets?

The Crossraods Cafe was closing as we walked in (11am!), but they gave us a tip to stop in Gladstone, NM at the mercantile for a decent brew. They also said that we might want to fill up our tank because there might not be fuel at the gas pump in Gladstone.

Since we were in fossiltown, we figured filling up at the Sinclair would be the right thing to do. But alas,

the well was dry.

On the way out of town, we spied a small antique/junkshop and had to stop. BA bought a hologram belt buckle with an eagle suspended in front of fancy scroll work. Chele took this picture and is still thinking about it. Broomcorn.


Gladstone is about fifty miles from Clayton. We listened to The Grapes of Wrath (did we mention it’s the nineteen hour un-abridged version?) and were mesmerized by the the sky.

Distracted by beauty, we blew right past the mercantile. We did a u-turn and headed back. The store has one old-time, analog gas pump (they did have gas but it was spendy – $3.50/gal). Had we not found gas in Clayton, we would have bought it here just to see the numbers turn. The store is a mix of local canned goods, groceries, antiques, animal hides, books, and odds and ends. The mercantile also has a deli and they serve homemade brisket, sandwiches and chili. A red formica table anchors the room and when we walked in all four seats were occupied by ranchers- hats and all.  They were shelling peanuts (gratis and in a small pail on the table) and either they didn’t have much to say or they knew we were eavesdropping. We cannot report on what ranchers talk about at lunch. There is NOTHING better than finding a place that serves great food AND has rooms full of kooky embroidered tea towels, green Fire King glass and all sorts of things one doesn’t need (of course we both bought stuff).

Thelma Price and her daughter Shelley Wilson run the mercantile. It was established in 1938, and after retiring from ranching, Thelma bought it ten years ago. The Price’s have lived in northeast New Mexico for 45 years and Thelma, her husband and mother make up the entire population of Gladstone.

{Gladstone, NM, pop.3}

We were talking about cameras and Chele showed them the video feature of her point and shoot Canon. We had taken a short clip of a sweet old guy tearing up a side street in downtown Clayton on his Lil’ Rascal. He had a red felt hat and it was striking against such a blue sky. He was also the only soul out and about in Clayton. When I showed the video to Thelma and Shelley, Thelma said, “Oh, that’s Essy.”

This country is endless and intimate at the same time. Gives us the shivers.

Shelley told us that Thelma was the mayor of Gladstone. We didn’t question it.

Of course, we gave them a camera.

We got back on the road and New Mexico just kept getting more New Mexico-ish.


and the Rockies!

The route we are following is one fork of the Santa Fe Trail that split at Garden City in southwestern Kansas. The Mountain Route would have taken us up through the foothills in southeastern Colorado. Travelers would use the mountain trail because it was safer in terms of attack, and also because there was ample water for livestock. The Cimarron cutoff took a few days off the journey but could be deadly. I think we chose the Cimarron because of the aesthetic quality of the word. SSSSSimmmeronnn. Say it.

The two trails meet up near Watrous, NM at Fort Union. We are trying to figure out how the Fort got its name and will report back. Watrous is just north of Las Vegas, NM which is where we will be spending a few days with William Gonzales and Ginny Johnson. BA met them through our friend (and Ginny’s daughter) Niki. Niki is a 2nd year sculpture grad at UW-Madison- check out her work here. William and Ginny are retired but working tirelessly on land that has been in William’s family since New Mexico was Mexico– 7 generations.

Ginny met us near the highway and led us up to their in-town home at the bottom of Porkchop Hill. If we had a helicopter, the mesa would look like, well, a porkchop. Cool.

Adventures from the ranch to follow. For now, we leave you with a typical New Mexico evening:

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