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1998-07-16 - 10:54:36

New Mexico

MONDAY, JULY 13, SILVER CITY, N. MEX. — At 9:50 a.m., after six days and seven nights (without Ann Heche), I finally fucking left Texas.

Nap before dinner dreaming of driving — A cop comes up behind me, lights flashing; I hear the siren too. Pissed, I pull over, then turn my head back to the road and there’s a backup — he’s not after me, but I slam on the brakes and can’t stop, crashing into the cars in front of me — Then wake up.

Leaving El Paso’s Mexican scenery behind, I headed into New Mexico — and it just got prettier — mountains in the distance, blue sky, unusual plants — and a checkpoint for illegal aliens. Across the desert, into country Billy the Kid ruled more than 100 years ago.

Chris and Jon’s house sits atop a mountain looking down to Silver City — 7,440 ft. above sea level — at the foot of more distant mountains. Blue sky, white clouds overhead. Saw a roadrunner shoot across the driveway of the hilltop adobe abode.

Once the kids returned, it was off to North Cherry Creek for tadpole hunting and a look at the Hoo-Doos in the hillsides — rocks mounted upon one another precariously overlooking the valley below. Pinos Altos, tiny one-horse town with its post office and opera house still standing — old dirt roads and shoddily paved ones winding up and down the mountain side. The sun’s hot, but not so bad as Texas and the humidity does seem milder.

Pablo and Julia are funny. Both are very outgoing and will be very talkative and active once they get to know you — again. Chris reminded Julia of her visit to our NJ house and her enjoyment chasing Oreo. “Oh yeah,” Julia remembered — “Did you bring your cat?”

Clear air, warm weather, exotic plants and animals and a part of American history few other places can claim — New Mexico, a part of the Wild West.

A wild West showdown —
It happened here for Billy,
Lincoln County War.

Open desert drive —
Towering peaks, deep blue sky,
America stretches out.

TUESDAY, JULY 14, SILVER CITY — Gila Wilderness National Monument/Forest, whatever, sits — looms — north of Silver City. The city sits tucked beneath the mountains looming north, a reminder of what this area and this country used to look like. A one-and-a-half to two-hour winding drive along 44 miles of Rt. 15 takes you from Silver City through Pinos Altos into the wilderness, up to 7, 8, 9000 ft. along the edges of mountains, and back down into Gila Hot Springs and the cliff dwellings — 700-year-old cave apartments built and inhabited by the Mogollon Indians. Their rooms and walls still stand 180 ft. above the floor of the canyon, nestled in among the mountains and trees. Beneath the rock, the temperature drops noticeably, maybe 5, maybe 10 degrees. It’s a perfect location — high, panoramic view, cool, dry place and quiet privacy, solitude — remote nearly perfect solitude. Thanks to Aldo Leopold who realized in the 1910s or 20s that places like Gila needed to be preserved — as a wilderness, where wild things flourish and humans are the out-of-place intruders, or visitors, as the case may be. There are few places in the world, especially America conserved — untouched and unreachable — solely for their own sakes. The views along the drive are of miles of hills, trees, mountain sides valleys where few people ever go — some hopefully, where no person has or will ever set foot. Wilderness as far as the eye can see — that’s what America was, and that’s why I’m on this trip, to see it today but realize its yesterday.

Tall pines covering
The landscape is untouched yet
Can we keep it so?

There is a place I once went
Where wilderness ruled and I was the visitor.
High above New Mexico I looked across
Miles of untouched mountainsides
Nothing but hills, the trees decorating the slopes
And fires burned as of old —
All this preserved because Aldo saw the need.
I truly looked at American history.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 15, SILVER CITY — The tiny old mining town of Mogollon sits hidden in the mountains of western New Mexico. A 9-mile drive from US 180 — the nearest road to the west — Mogollon is not easily reached. At the outset, they warn you not to drive it in snow, at night or with trailers more than 17 feet long. This is because, four miles in, after a drive across the mesa up there it becomes a one-lane road. For two-way traffic. Around mountains and above cliffs. The kind of place you do not want to see your “BRAKE FAILURE” light go on. It’s not somewhere to take a person who’s afraid of heights. And forget turning around — Once you pass four miles, you’re going to Mogollon. Eventually, after all the climbing around tight wall-or-air turns, a decent around the same curves begins. And soon, you see across the canyon, the abandoned mine shafts with the white-stained rocks of the mountainside. Down and around the curves, and then there’s two mailboxes close together and you wonder who would live out here. Then a few more noticeable and closer mine remnants right beside the road — even tracks remain and one of those tiny carts for hauling the product. Then — around another turn — is Mogollon. It’s not a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it town — you can’t go fast enough through it. Instead, it’s a “mining ghost town,” pop. about 30, with many of the old buildings and doorways into the mountains remaining. An old gas pump and some cars still sit along the street. These people certainly are cut off on their own — their snowplow sits right there, year round, off the road just after you come into town. It’s really amazing Mogollon hasn’t turned into a real ghost town.

What lead me up that way was the Catwalk — just that suspended over Whitewater Canyon where a water pipeline once stood to supply a mining culture. To get to the actual catwalk requires a 1.1 miles walk through the canyon where Butch Cassidy and Geronimo once hid. The walk follows the water sometimes around rock-faced cliffs or an iron walkway, others up the hill on a stairway or along the shore on the gravel. It’s a hot but pleasant walk with plenty of shade and a decent breeze coming through the canyon rather frequently. At the end, just beyond the catwalk, the rock has been cut away so that you’re standing both on and under it, in cool rock-shade beside a modest waterfall and the sound of the stream making its way through the rocks.

The drive from Silver City along US 180 was a lot of little. Mostly ranches and dried-up streams make up the foreground to the mountains in the distance. It’s the edge of the Gila/Leopold Wilderness. I saw some stagnant tumbleweed and a small cattle drive, and lots of people waving as we passed each other on the highway. Certainly small-town, laid-back America here.

Mogollon ghost town
So far from anything else
Tucked in the mountains

The road curves around —
Up mountainside, down cliffside —
Please no vertigo

Take a good look now —
One wrong turn and it's your last —
Off into the sky!

THURSDAY, JULY 16, SILVER CITY — A quiet, relaxing recovery day. I slept in, woke slowly, showered, finished post cards, hit the post office, explored Western New Mexico University, grabbed lunch, came back, read and considered Grand Canyon and Arches options, read and napped.

When Chris got home, the four of us went out to City of Rocks State Park — rock towers and formations formed by wind and water eroding the land surrounding the volcanic ash. Late afternoon was a good time of day — cool, tolerable sunshine and pleasant breezes when under the shade provided by the trees and rocks. I photographed the scenery as well as Pable and Julia. After leaving we passed by feeding vultures again, and one waited until the last moment to take off — right in front of the car; had Chris not slowed down quickly, vultures would’ve been eating one of their own. The bird accelerated and turned like the Titanic — slow and laboriously.

Another great dinner, some ice cream and conversation watching far-off lightning show from the courtyard concluded the evening.

Tomorrow to Arizona.

Amazing towers —
Centuries-old rocks rise high.
Our desert stonehenge

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