I’d found a place I’d thought was pretty safe last night after the session at Denny’s. It was just across from there in a huge dusty car park by the levy of the Animus river. I’d bedded down and was off. I was gone fast asleep when I heard tapping on the window. I have got used to the sound of Hummingbird closing down for the night over the past few weeks, subtle little noises and groans clunks and wheezes. This was different. At first I though cop and all Jeff’s warning came flooding back.
I looked up there was a Hispanic looking guy outside saying something and pointing to the back of the car.
“What? I said irritated but slightly apprehensive. I sat up.
He was saying ‘your taillights on’ I wasn’t sure, I cautiously opened the back door he stepped back. Taillights were on.
“Ok” I said “I’ll sort it” He still stood there.
I locked the door and attempted to switch them off. They wouldn’t. He was still stood there. Saying
You need to switch them off man”
“I know” I snapped flustered.
It was in the far corner of a dark dusty parking lot, there was a dark figure beckoning me out of the car, what was he doing there anyway?
“Alright mate” I said, cross now. He held both hands up “Ok man” and backed off slowly back into the shadows and made his way muttering towards the lights of Denny’s right across the way.
Turned out I just had to press the brake pad and it went out. Hm, now a guy knew there was somebody sleeping in a car over in a dark spot in the parking lot out of the way. He seemed harmless but I thought no, move. So I rolled Hummingbird out and we drove around the apparently deserted town of Farmington. The place has space that is for sure, but everywhere I tried somebody was doing something. It was gone 2.30am in a dusty sprawling Northern New Mexican town. I tried another place got out to pee and I heard voices just across the road in the shadows. Damn, eventually I found a place that seemed quiet near a bank.
As a lay down and was drifting off and I thought I could distinctly hear singing, and what appeared to dreamy women’s voices. I’d honestly thought I was dreaming or going into a seeing after what had happened earlier that day. So I didn’t mind at all, I could even pick out a vague melody. But the place I’d parked up in turned out to be on the truck by pass through town. Damn, so eventually I got up and out to get into the front and realized that what I’d imagined to be the sirens was if fact the piped music from an all night ‘Sonic’ fast food drive through across the road, the winds had blown and contorted the sounds, so much for the desert Sirens lulling me off to oblivion. I had to laugh.
Eventually found an enormous parking lot, I thought come on it must be ok here. It was now 4.10am
I was woken at 7am by cars tearing past us where I’d parked in the lot. A road just out of view behind the mall building led down from the hills, locals coming into town for work veered left into the lot at high speed it was obviously a daily routine. Tearing over to a coffee cabin right on the corner by the main road. I was right in their path, a few times I saw a car come flying round the corner of the gun store see hummingbird and swerve around us without slowing.
“Ok, I give up” I said.
Got directions for a coffee bar I could sit and work in from a black guy in a gas station, sweet and helpful. If you ever ask for directions abroad always watch the hands they never lie
“Ok, Left out of here, then right onto San Juan boulevard then along till you hit Main, then follow that all the way along till you come to Largo and then there on the left on the corner is a Starbucks they got wifi and you can plug in there”
I could see him seeing it in his mind and his hands said exactly the same. Good guy.
Farmington is where the Animus and the San Juan rivers meet but is not what you’d call pretty, not at all, but sprawling it is, expanding back from the roads with all sorts of sticky signs for fast food places, everything set away from everything else, Space in between so to speak, so much so I wasn’t sure which drive was for which. Nope Farmington isn’t pretty, not at all and there was a dust storm coming in.
I keep thinking about what happened yesterday at ship rock. I keep welling up thinking about it. I feel really good about it
I’d sat there for a good few hours and got a lot done, then time to head off, destination Ghost Ranch. Outside there was a full on dust storm blowing now. I couldn’t see much at all the whole horizon had disappeared everything was whited out. Got directions and headed off toward Bloomfield across the San Juan.
Stopped in at the Ancient Pueblo of Salmon ruins which belonged to the Chacoan culture in the area, abandoned in 1280’s when for some reason it burned down. Also interesting was the homestead site still preserved of Peter Milton Salmon. Who I believe was the first to homestead and next to it by accident in NM in 1877. The homestead is quite a thing to see, and though curios to our eyes pales sat there next to the marvelously constructed ruins of the Chacoans whom he described as “those clever people” A busy highway runs right across the top but in its day must have been tough. His son claimed homestead rites of the actual site in 1890 to stop it people from ransacking and looting the site. I don’t know why I find that s remarkable, do we imagine all homesteaders as starving uneducated and unable to appreciate something beautiful or ancient, I suppose I had. I was obviously vey wrong.
I didn’t stay long but enough to be getting an idea on the Chacoan’s and the pueblo Indians from that time. I hope to visit a few more sites.
Stopped in at a store to get supplies. I was down to one time of kidney beans and thought I may just need somethig in the evenings at the Ranch.
From there we zoomed along the 550 heading south, Hummingbird easily holding 90mp. While the winds outside slammed into her from the side, I had to focus to hold her in line. Everything was just creamy white out there. In those sort of conditions there isn’t much to occupy you and I soon realized how tired I was. So again pulled off the road and parked up on a dirt road and slept again. There is a pattern building here. I slept for around an hour sat there, out for the count.
All the way along I’d been seeing the Indian trailer homes as I’ve said deposited in hap hazard odd places I knew we were coming up towards the Jicarilla Apache reservation and just presumed they were from there. But as the reservation sign passed us by all the homes vanished, almost immediately, it was the same with the Utes. It is a puzzle to me.
I noted all the way along many many trailer churches. I really wanted to stop and go and have a look, particularly at the churches, some of them painted bright yellow or blue, but I had second thoughts. It may be interesting to me, actually fascinating, But I supposed people lived there and somehow it seemed like an imposition, The opening lines of Holidays in the sun – The Sex Pistols, ‘A cheap holiday in other peoples misery’ sounded in my minds eye and so I just drove on. But I was really torn. That song was somehow perfect for that section of the road, funny what comes up.
All along the 550, about a 100 miles I counted only 2 gas stations and 1 Casino. At times when the winds dropped I got the impression we were in the badlands somewhere, glimpses of domes, dissolving creams, whites browns and pink hills of clay, clay and tumbling rocks.
Just before Cuba we turned onto the 96 the road that led across to the 84 and Ghost Ranch 54 miles away. That road is what I call the Hispanic valley. We wove though the tiny towns of La Jara, Regina, Gallina, Coyote and Youngsville. The change from the Res to Hispanic was instant.
There is a something more coherent amongst these communities. These people are not Mexicans. They are descendants of the first Spanish to come here and are proud of their Spanish heritage and history. Some would argue courageous some would argue brutal and bloody, Coronado and Ornate for example. By many accounts there is no love lost between the Hispanics and the Reservation Native Americans. The Piedra Lumbra (Shining Stone) land Grant where Ghost Ranch and the surrounding area is situated for instance was granted to Hispanic settlers in 1766 by Charles III of Spain.
The 96 wove and ducked, the Juniper forests became thinker and not so much dust. Lots of Spanish houses, and the first adobe ones I had seen so far on this journey. Just about every house along the place had at least 10 rusting junk old pick ups in their dusty yards, classic NM landscape, Picket fences, dirt drives. The churches now became obviously Catholic were painted and obviously tended and looked after.
All along New Mexican roads you will see roadside grave markers where, somebody had lost control on these winding roads. They are all local deaths because the are all tended by the people or families that obviously pass the crash sites on a regular basis. Tragic and more effective than any slow down speed signs, you’d think. But obviously young men, Mostly I presume, have tried that bend just a little too fast one to many times. It is part of the landscape here, I remembered. There were tended graves all along the 96 to Abiquiu.
Then I thought I spotted Pedernal the flat-topped mountain that dominates the area and particularly views west from Ghost Ranch. I was getting really quite excited. Then Abiquiu Lake which is the result of the Chama river Damn there and the flooded valley of everything north for a good few miles. An odd looking piece of water, I had always thought so.
Then the 84, a left turn and I just had to stop and take a look, everything North of there for as far as you could see was Ghost ranch land. Vast and beautiful, the layered pastel cliffs and petrified dunes bands of cream white yellow salmon and deep red.
“Just as I had left it” I smiled.
Home ground. I drove easily the 15 miles or so to the ranch gates stopped again.
Then over the cattle grid, along the washboard road and down into the ranch.
On first impressions the place looked brown yellow dusty and deserted, it’s out of season so obviously very quiet I reasoned. Ghost Ranch is a retreat. It is bare bones and purposefully so. Once you get over the lack of apparent facilities it is full of charm and being cut off from the outside is such a blessing. As I said I considered it an in-between stage. I am a little apprehensive about stepping back into town
I stepped up to the reception, everything so familiar to me. Asked the guy on the desk if he had a room for the night, I just presumed he would. I explained that I’d worked here and down at HQ in Santa Fe. I was always told down there to always ask for staff discount when your up there. So I asked for X staff discount which sent the poor chap into palpitations,
I said ‘Come on, you’ve got to ask”
He wrung his hands and sweated and ummed and Ah’d and in the end I let him off the hook. I didn’t care anyway. Just though I’d ask. My old bunk was now being used for something else, but he let me see all the rooms available and choose where I wanted, so, Room No1 it was coral block and that was that, paid for two nights and a dinner that evening and I was out strolling across the ranch to my room.
It was such a surreal feeling. I had spent some of the happiest days of my life here.
I’d first come here to visit a friend, she’d invited me up though I distinctly remember turning my nose up at the name “Ghost Ranch” I was expecting a novelty ranch with a fun fair or something. But it would prove to be one of the most profound experiences of my life.
I got all my stuff out in the old beamed roofed room. Had two double beds a lamp and two small windows that looked out onto the dusty work shop and the other up to the corals.
I put all my meager things onto the bed, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself so I wandered up to the dinning room just in time for it opening
Walked in long high room with the river washed rock fireplace at the end. It was so good to walk back in there. I kept myself to myself as it was obvious there was nobody I knew there anymore. Everyone has moved on and that is how it should be I supposed
Got myself a plastic tray got myself some rice and asked the kitchen if they had any vegetarian, they always do but you have to ask, it was delicious. Then went to sit at the window looking south out onto the Alfalfa lawn the dust still blowing from the northwest into and up the valley sipping coffee that is always was on tap here
I had forgotten just how quiet the place was. There was one group in all sat at a long table, the class together as it tends to be chatting, but everything hushed everyone respectful. I looked deeply at all the faces in the room but I saw not a single familiar face but that was really very ok
I sat in my own quietness enjoying the memories flooding back, I think I had a sweet smile on my face, and then noticed the time 6.30. Chimney rock yeah.
Before that over to see the horses where I’d spent such a lot of time. The coral fences had been painted brown, The horses where in the far open field by the dried arroyo, and were just milling about nibbling the alfafa flowers off of the dusty earth with those sensitive remarkable lips they have. It was so good to see them again. I had a chat to one of them just to see if I’d lost my touch, he came and listened but it would take a little more time which I didn’t have right this time. I was just happy to be near them and around the smell of them once again.
I have wondered about a ride, but probably wont its $85 part of me did long to throw a saddle on and set off. Of course I couldn’t and any ride I would have we’d have to stick to the trails and it would frustrate me. I know the ranchlands out here intimately; a polite ride along the tourist trail was not was I wanted. So I dropped down into the Arroyo just by my old bunk house and the rusting farm machinery and onto the Chimney rock trail.
It rises quickly giving great views of the ranch I was enjoying the strain in the high desert air walking off dinner. Ghost Ranch is I believe 7500ft up and when you’re trotting up the side of a mesa, to nearly 8000ft you feel it, I always enjoyed that lightheaded feeling.
Up we went along the trail my ears had a distant ring I said “Hello guys” I was being left to my own feelings.
My greatest friend in all the time I was there was ‘Tatter’ my dog. I think Tatter was the first ever thing I remember doing healing on though at the time I wasn’t sure what I was doing, just loving him I think.
He’d be sit by my in the stables in between rides and I’d be just resting my left or right hand on him depending which side he sat, I knew something was flowing to him, I felt it. He’d always look up at me sideways, knowing, when ever it started and then he’d just roll over. It definitely pricked up my curiosity.
He was a cross between a Sharpe and Labrador, I presume the later because he had that golden color. Connie my boss liked to say some Wolf too, she reckoned he was offspring from the wild dogs at El Rito 20 or 30 miles away. There had been a pack over there that had grown very large and had gone wild in the hills, local Hispanics had got a little nervous, gone out there and hunted them all down, Connie said he limped into Ghost Ranch one day half dead in tatters she said. Hence the name Tatter. Connie was always saving things, She saved me too when I think back.
Anyway Tatter and I bonded and he began sneaking out of Connie & Tom’s house at night and coming to stay in my bunkhouse. At first I think she was a little annoyed until I think Tom stepped in an said
“Maybe Mick needs some company” He was right
She used to wag her finger at him “You little piece of shit, I saved your god dammed life and you’re desertin’ me for that English guy, you little shit”
He’d go back and get his dinner of course and then turn up in the middle of the night scratching on my door, I’d let him in. He never made a fuss,
“Hey Tatter, what you up to, come on in” He’d be wagging his tail then just sit for a while then would curl up and sleep at the foot of my bed. Sometimes we’d just sit in the doorway with the lights out looking at the stars, the full moon always used to puzzle him, he’d sit and just watch it moving across the heavens cocking his head one way and then the other while I smoked my pipe.
He was also my companion on all the rides. Connie would always be shouting after him, It used to drive him nuts. He would disappear and then pop up behind a far off hill top tongue hanging out ears sticking up
“He’s looking for his damned Coyote girlfriend that’s what he’s doing.” She say
Connie had a lot of dogs but he was the only one who was allowed to wander. If you let him, you always new he was going to turn up just when your about to give up on him, I liked to think he was reflection of me, he definitely had a free spirited nature.
When all the tourist rides were done. I’d saddle up any of the horses I fancied and he and I, and the horse would run trot and walk across the range and the mesa’s. I got to know Ghost ranch Intimately.
From the ancient cliff dwellings above the Chama I found interesting things there, over and across to Georgia O’Keeffe’s house racing across her back garden, right up along under kitchen Mesa’s west side, up Box Canyon across on the range to Abiquiu lake with all its drowned trees below the surface still visible on clear days. Following Coyote and deer trails, right across to the very limits of the ranch. He was my companion for most of it. I loved that dog and he loved me.
I got to the top of the trail through the ancient twisted juniper trees and there laid before me was the spectacular landscape, just as it had always been pastels, dramatic, wide open the cliffs to the right Ranch to the left Georgia’s house below, Pedernal across the valley. The place does shine and was given the name for a reason. It was wonderful to be back.
Getting back down we timed it just right, I was itching to go and sit in the library. There on its own is a hidden gem of the South West with a wonderful collection. I had looked forward to it very much to just sit there and write. Just as I’d always done
There was a man talking quite loudly in the other room, his voice im ashamed to say irritated me after a while he wouldn’t shut up. He was obviously staff, but what struck me was that he talked about the Ranch as if it belonged to him, I remembered I did exactly the same. If you lived there somehow it belonged to you. It made me smile and i forgave him, but boy did he rabbit on.
Later in the pitch black and silence I walked back to my room crunching along the dirt road. All the deer were in the alfalfa field. They stopped stood and watched me pass by, then just carried on with a shrug. I went in to the room it was cold, so I wrapped up and was lost to the happiest and deepest sleep it seemed in a long long time. Ghost ranch was mysterious, beautiful, mystical, rough around the edges, deeply peaceful, amazing and it still is.