Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Boring Road

-  There is a road in New Mexico that no locals want to drive.  "It's the most boring drive in the world", they say.  "Look harder", I tell them.
-  Hauling a load of European tourists, I kept hearing how beautiful the rocks were.  (The ROCKS!)  How the layered colors of the badlands played the light between snow and shadow, the sedimentary folds in the cliffs.  I remember feeling closed in when I first visited a place where the vegetation was so thick you couldn't see into the forest.  I remember visiting a place where the sun didn't come up that day, at all, and the still cold caused the cabin smoke to shoot a fifty foot column into the air before it dispersed.  I thought it was beautiful, but I didn't live there.  Those who did live there thought it dreary, and miserable, much the same way most feel about this road.  It's a matter of perspective, and the willingness to look.
  - Folks used to mount plates that read PRAY FOR ME. I DRIVE NM44. The highway number has changed. The speeds have dropped while the surface is better. But black ice and alcohol, large wild animals and very rural driving habits still kill people here too often. The old road ran along the cliff edge. You can still see remnants of Dead Man's curve, where a pile of old cars used to rest.
-  There is a place close by where water flows in decent volumes from the ground, so hot you can't touch it without scalding.  But cold water flows on the surface here too, and by careful placement of a rock or two, you can soak in a healing bath, take in the clean pine scented air, and study 600 million years of geology in the red sandstone cliffs across the canyon.  When the air is still and cold, you can see the steam plumes here; hundreds of them.  There was a hotel, with a swimming pool, once.  Then it became a commune catering to "flower children", and they predictably didn't pay their bills, and the tribe that owns the land bulldozed it. 
-  There is the old Blanco trading post, where the trader McDonald was murdered, and his ghost still wanders.  Navajos avoid the place.  The "chindi" drives them away.
-  There is the long white hill, at the north end of magic valley, so full of fossils that a young mother told her little daughter that a whale had died, and all the little creatures it had eaten are preserved there in stone.
-  A rancher still runs his cattle along the Rio Puerco in a place infested with tree cactus.  On the day he rented equipment and chains to clear it, the blooms were stunning, and he couldn't destroy them.  The same rancher found the body of a man who had "fallen" from an airplane on a remote part of his property.  How did he know where to look?
-  The ghost town of Cabezon somehow still exists near the volcanic remnant with the same name.  They filmed a movie there, but nobody knows it's name.  The Spanish conquistadors camped near long before.  What maladies did they encounter along the trail of the seven cities of gold to have named the mountain "Head of the Devil?"
-  There is a place the bureaucrats call a wilderness, where no tree grows, just round clay hills, plates of sandstone, hoodoos, and wide fossil filled washes.  I did have a picnic under a tree there, however.  Sticking out of the undercut bank of a black arroyo was a huge petrified log.  The sand was moist and cool, and the shade was most welcome. 
-  A narrow guage rail line ran here, to haul lumber and coal.  The real old-timers still hear a steam whistle now and then. 
-  Just over the hill on the old road, before the washed out bridge, is a field of random large white boulders.  There are no white mountains nearby. How did they get there?  In the fall, the fields around those boulders are filled with purple aster and grey sage.  One hill beyond is arch spring, with its little black and red painted Ansazi birds, and the outlier ruins on the bald hill across the valley.
-  Near the gypsum cliff is a square rock that will warp your radio signal.  A physicist told me that is impossible.  His radio didn't work either. 
-  Two sandstone owls used to guard the magic valley, the boundary between the nomadic Navajo and Apache lands, and those of the more citified pueblos.  The legend says the owls warned the pueblos when raiding parties came near, and that as long as the owls stand guard, an uneasy peace will exist between the tribes.  Today, the owls have eroded to nubs.
-  "La Ventana" was a long stone arch you could walk across only fifty years ago.  Today, it's a pile of rubble, and almost nobody knows why it has a name. 
-  There is a gnarled grove of pinon trees, just hundreds of feet from the highway and hundreds of years old, that will produce, every seven years, the sweetest fattest nuts you can gather anywhere.  At the right time you can lay an old sheet under a tree, send a limber young person into the branches to shake it, and within minutes you'll have more pinons than you can use.  You will also have one filthy, tarry limber young person in the car with you, so take an extra sheet. 
-  There. We've traveled the road some think is boring, and we didn't get into any of the outlaw stories, or the tales of the rough and tumble Truby sisters.  We didn't discuss horse rustlers, or quicksand in Largo Canyon or barfights at the Coon's Holler.  We didn't mention that the whole town of Counselor was for sale not long ago.  Wiese's place with the ancient orchard, sawmill stories, Chaco canyon... Shoot, we're really just getting started. 
- Every boring road has a thousand stories.  Many quiet persons have a tale or two to tell.