How New Mexico Stole My Heart (Part 1)

I am in grave danger of getting to the point of no return.  Of course, Wyoming and the Dakotas will give me a chance to catch up, but I want to experience them as well!  I’m in sunny and enchanting San Diego at the moment, sitting at a coffee shop at the intersection of 5th and K St like a big fat bohemian.  I took off my Flyers beanie and am sitting here banging away.  The others would think I’m cool, but let’s be honest.  Look at me.  I’m fat and clearly haven’t bathed in a day or two.  My hair is unkempt, and my green polo is faded.  Any chance I had at looking cool went away a long time ago.  As I travel, however, my firm belief that the cooler one looks is generally directly disproportional to their actual coolness has been confirmed.  I am, therefore, the coolest mah on this block.

Enough about how cool I am, and on to it!  I have less than an hour to get writing, and that’s a damn shame.  This will be my only entry about New Mexico, and I won’t be able to say it all.  I’m going to do the best I can.

I had no idea what to expect from the “Land of Enchantment,” and wasn’t particularly looking forward to my planned night in Albuquerque before heading up to the 4 corners to golf the next day.  As it turned out, I had one of my best days of adventuring on the trip.  While playing in Amarillo, it was recommended by my playing partners that I check out a golf course known as the “Inn of the Mountain Gods” in Ruidoso, NM.  The name of the course alone was awfully appealing, and once they told me I’d be going through Roswell to get there, I was sold.

Following my round in Amarillo, I took off for Roswell.  It was a detour far from where I was eventually heading, but I wanted to see some aliens, dammit!  After an uneventful trip through the desert, I descended on Roswell, eerily anticipating the nothingness I knew I was going to find.

I had been to some isolated places on the trip, but Roswell is isolated.  At the crossroads of US 380 and US 285, it is a city of roughly 50,000.  There are no other settlements within 100 miles in any direction.  Once you’re there, you better do what you have to do.  So I ate, fueled up, and began my search for aliens in earnest.  Of course, the only aliens I ended up finding were the ones that decorated the main boulevards going up and down the streets of Roswell.  Even the McDonald’s was patterned after a UFO:

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The street lights were fashioned after alien heads:

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I arrived to Roswell around 7:30 local time, and was dismayed to find out that the UFO museum was open only 10 AM – 5 PM daily.  What a tragedy!  I had come out of my way to find the truth, and was confronted with the truth that tourism has hours.  Not to fear, I was going to find the crash site myself.  A brief google search yielded an indicator of the real truth, that Roswellians themselves can’t even get the story straight.  There are 3 suggested crash sites.

One is way off in hundseimarsh (Hundseimarsh is an old PA German word meaning the middle of fuckin’ nowhere.  Roughly translates to the “male dog’s ass”), and requires a 4 wheeler.  One is on some guy’s farm, and is accessible only after paying a $15 tour fee, and the third, actual (c’mon, work with me here) site is on Bureau of Land Management Land about 45 miles NW of Roswell.  Public land, but you gotta go through private ranches to get there.  I was still an hour away from this site, and it was getting dark.  I could either forget it and hike up to Albuquerque, or I could stay in Roswell for the evening.

I did neither.  I meandered through the desert, turning off on assorted dirt roads:

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About half an hour after it got dark, I found myself on a dirt road traveling through Lincoln National Forest, about an hour’s ride from Corona.  The sky was large, it was dark, and I was enamored.  There was a raging thunderstorm to my east, and lightning bolts littered the night sky every few seconds.  I had to stop every few miles to get out of my car and take it all in.  Stars far more numerous than anyone could count.  A still silence and complete darkness in the night.  A cool wind was blowing.  It was magnificent.

Hell with finding a place to stay for the night – a place had found me.  I parked on the side of the road, put my back seat down and crawled in to lay me down for the night.  I cracked the windows just a hair and did my best to get comfortable.  My best efforts were thwarted, and my night’s sleep was frequently interrupted as I awoke with a different part of my body aching due to the cramped quarters.  In spite of it all, it was tremendous.

I woke up for the last time about half an hour before the sunrise, and made sure to enjoy it.  After numerous pictures (sorry, didn’t have the chance to upload any – I’m crunched for time and uploaded what I could… missed some.  I’ll perhaps get them later) of the rising sun, I took a few of my car in the desert and carried on:

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My hotel room for the night.  Probably the most scenic one I had on the trip.

After waking up, I continued on my way through the desert.  I was only 90 minutes through country roads to the supposed crash site, so I figured I’d get on out there.  On the way there and back, I passed through many picturesque sites.  Private ranch after private ranch had their cattle guards down, allowing road warriors such as myself to pass by on the public dirt roads to get wherever it was I was going.

I passed rustic railroad crossings,

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Old one room school houses,

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And encountered wild horses.

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Eventually, I got to the supposed crash site.  It was not labeled, and was indistinguishable from the surrounding ranch land.  Any aliens which had once landed here likely saw no reason to stay, and had long since vacated.  With that, it was just a short rip through the desert back to the highway.  It was off to Santa Fe.

Before that, however, I needed some…. thing…. in my stomach.  Sleeping in the desert, no coffee or other consumables magically appeared.  I was hungry, but thousands of light years from civilization.  I popped in at the Corona Mini-Mart, and gorged myself on the breakfast of champions:

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I never claimed I was the best eater in the world.  But hey, I was in the middle of nowhere!

The drive to Santa Fe was scenic, and once I got there, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next.  It was roughly noon, and I could have either hiked it to Farmington to play a round ahead of schedule, or I could go see what Albuquerque was about.  I could have done untold other things as well.  I looked over the map and saw a road called the Turquoise Trail, which led back South through some mountains to Albuquerque.  It was a no brainer.  While en route to Albuquerque, I passed through Madrid.  Read about my fun there here.

Not more than 15 miles south of Madrid, I saw a sign for the Sandia Crest scenic biway.  Off I was.  I followed the road to the end, and thoroughly enjoyed my 25 mile mountain climb.  25 miles of tight turns, scenic views and exhilarating elevation changes, by the time I stepped out of my Jetta, I was 10,700 feet up there.  Amazing.  One of the best drives of the trip for sure.

Once I was up there, however, things got even better.  I was gazing out over the city,

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enjoying the vista and cool breeze, when a middle aged man with a significant portion of native blood asked me if I was a golfer.  He had been sitting there drinking a Bud with one of his pals, and they had been discussing fires that they had fought.  I responded that I was a golfer, and told him of my trip.  He asked for a club, as he wanted to bash a ball off the crest.  I declined, and he was distraught that I didn’t trust him.  He told me he was a 4 handicap, and loved loved loved golf.  We shared in the beauty of the game, explaining to each other how we found it beautiful and quickly found brotherhood in each other.  He was there with his children, and was a proud and dedicated father.  Each time he referenced his son or daughter, a look of reverence came to his eyes.  His son is on the middle school golf team, and is supposedly quite a player.

A firefighter who is now a single father, raising his children the best he can, Mike was a stellar human being.  Open to a stranger, and kind.  A great perspective on life.  We continued chatting, sharing stories of golf, and deciding to overlook each other’s NFL affiliations (he is a Giants fan, I’m a Redskins fan), and before too long, he was there showing me how to identify, pick, peel and enjoy a wild onion.  I’m not really sure how that happened, but it did.  The mountain side was littered with onions, and once picked, it was a matter of a few seconds to peel one and bite it off the stem.  Sweet, succulent and just a bit spicy, the onions were magnificent.  He showed me which part to use as the chives, and let me know that these onions would be the best spice you could possibly add to some ground beef.  Tragically, I had to be on my way and had to depart shortly after picking the onions.  Before I went though, I picked a bunch.  I said later on to Mike, shook his hand and instructed his kids (roughly 11 and 14 years old) to listen to him; to follow his sage wisdom.  He made it clear he was concerned about raising his kids right.  I reassured him that it looked to me that he was doing fine.  His kids were smiling, friendly and more than willing to engage in conversation with a stranger on top of the mountain.  They’ll be fine.  He’s doing his job well.  I could go on here, but must digress.

As I was leaving the mountain, a large group of old teenagers, young 20 somethings noticed I had some plants in my hand, and asked what “all that grass is.”  I stooped down to talk to the kids and let them know they were wild onions.  Speaking as if it were I who had garnered all the knowledge necessary to explain the art of the wild onion, I peeled one and offered it to them.  No one in the crowed wanted it, so I bit into it deliciously.  One of the kids let me know that he was very high, and was hungry, but didn’t like onions.  “Just in case you change your mind, have one,” I said as I picked one from my bunch and gave it to him.  They all chuckled as I moved on.

The beauty of my hour up on that mountain was that race didn’t exist for anyone up there.  I was the only white guy, everyone else was either Hispanic or Native.  And we all got on like brothers.  It was beautiful.  The north, for all of its historical progressiveness with regards to race, has never impressed upon me the unity of diversity that I saw in New Mexico.  That was perhaps the most beautiful thing that happened to me in the state.

It was time to head back down the mountain, and I had two choices.  Either go back the way I came, or go on the road proceeded by the sign “Warning.  Unimproved Road.  No Turning Around.”  Of course, I chose this road.  A 16 mile descent from the mountain, I must have passed 30 other cars heading up the mountain.  A county sheriff patrolled a particularly dangerous stretch, waving at passers by as we made our way out of the mountain.

Way down

 

 

I know I said this will be my only post about New Mexico, but I’m a dirty sinful liar.  I was unable to finish what I had to say about the “Land of Entrapment,” as Mike called it, and will finish later.  For now, I’m off to Poway for lunch with an old buddy.  Later, I’m playing at the legendary Torrey Pines South Course!  Home of the 2008 US Open!  Amazing!  It will be the golf highlight of the trip for sure!

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