So I’m back in Albuquerque, I’d promised no late night drives so why did I do one last night. I’m not really sure. One reason was the realization that I have a week left on the road here, there other that there was unfinished business in Albuquerque and the other I had some dear friends to say goodbye to here.
I also have a few things to sort for when I get back to the UK, solar panels, tools and things to organize so that when I get back, they will be waiting there and hopefully pick up be able to move straight into that mode when I get back to the UK.
It was rather a jolt of a realization I have to say as I had planned to go see Skeleton Canyon where the waitress Tara at Denny’s had said the Apache War Leader Geronimo had been killed but I think she meant been finally captured or surrendered because he actually died of pneumonia and still a prisoner of war after being thrown from his horse on February 19th 1909 at Fort Sill reservation Oklahoma. Apparently his last words were “ I should never have surrendered, I should have fought until I was the last man alive”
Last night in Lordsburg although there was plenty of space Tara the waitress had planted a seed in my mind as I’d been all set to drive back south down Highway 80 and into the perdrogosa Mountains.
“Don’t stop for anybody” she’d said. Also I’d seen some border patrol guys in there that night with the Khaki green uniforms, I am sure I would have been safe from any illegals as they called them but I didn’t want to be too hidden away in the shadows, I thought maybe I was tempting fate. So I’d driven around the town a few times and eventually thought.
“Play safe, even if it is noisy”
We final I parked up in Denny’s car park in with all the other cars, 4x4s and trucks it wasn’t wagon trains that circled the modern day Muleteers and sleeping drivers these days, it was a great circle of light with the Freeway rampart on two sides and the railroad tracks on another. The big trains rumbled close by all night shaking the ground and blowing their signature horns as they passed right by. Finally I remembered I had earplugs and I managed to get off for a few hours.
It was around 7.30am when the sun started to heat the interior of Hummingbird up. I didn’t stick around today there was no point in hanging around there, it was the northern end of the Sonoran Desert it was bleak and windswept. Though I have to say it definitely had a certain romance but not enough right then to hold my horses. We took off wings outstretched down the I-10 towards Deming where I planned to, I don’t know what now
I seemed to have a distant memory of it somehow. We raced trains heading east took trucks and wagons, stopped at one point for a breather gazing out to the grey brown volcanic cones and domes to the south and the black mountain peaks to the north, looked jagged and sharp and definitely unfriendly
The Mexican rebel army had made it up here back in 1916. Pancho Villa the Mexican Revolutionary leader who led the Division Del Norte with its brilliant cavalry nicknamed los Dorados had taken Northern Mexico in a series of stunning raids. The Bloody Mexican leader Victoriano Huerto had finally resigned in 1914. The then one time Allies General Pancho Villa and General Venustiano Carranza battled it out for leadership of the newly founded Mexican state. Villa was eventually driven into those mountains. The US had then recognized Carranza and so in an act of retaliation Villa had kidnapped 16 US citizens from a train in the Mexican town of Santa Isabel and then executed them in Jan 1916. He then attacked the US town of Columbus killing another 19 people and leaving the town in flames. Though the US actually invaded Mexico in pursuit they never did capture Villa. He was pardoned and though he later helped US, he was eventually assassinated by his enemies in the town of Parral Chihuahua 1923
It looked like a good place for an invasion by horse and wagon, flat and arid, though all the way along the signs warned of dust storms and zero visibility. It must be terrifying out there if a storm blew up, there is nowhere to hide or so it seemed from the safety of the freeway
Just before Las Cruces I noticed that suddenly all the bush and scrub became very definitely bright green. After a few hours driving through that apparently barren land you notice anything green, later I realized that the city was on the banks of the Rio Grande, though I never noticed it as we passed through. It was baking hot coming up to mid day and the heat of the traffic through there added to the shimmer. I stopped for a coffee but that was it, quickly on we navigated around the town and onto highway 70 towards White Sands up through the San Augustin pass and the sweep down onto another wide arid plain where the US had been testing out their missiles for the last few decades.
We tore along it was 145 miles from Lordsburg and White Sands and it was around 1.30pm when I saw what looked like a reflection little peeps and glints ahead over the dunes of the Tularosa basin.
It was baking hot down there as I stepped out the car. Inside the visitors center asked how much it was and was told by the lady that this week it was a centenary week and all national parks were free entry between 16th – 24th April to mark 100 years since the foundation of the National Parks service. Excellent.
So I asked cheerfully for the brochure with the trails and the lay of the land on, she pointed to a few of the shorter ones.
I asked “Where is the longest one you have?’
You’d think I’d slapped her or something and it has begun to become an irritation with me and the park rangers. I mean what is the point of having all this national park wilderness available if all you do is try to put people off going out there.
“Oh. It’s 5 miles and it’s over sand dunes all the way” she said darkly
I said “No way, over white sand, all the way ?”
“Well” she countered trying to sum me up “Do you have water, do you have a hat do you have sunglasses”
I said “I’m a very big boy and if you like ill check in with you on the way out and put your mind to rest, if you like”
“I’m telling you its over sand all the way, its baking hot and it’s going to seem like a long way”
I started hamming it up now much to the nervous laughter of a few people around me.
“Feeeeel the fear” I said “Feeeeeeel the fear. Listen love I’ll be fine I’m looking for the long walk over sand, ok?”
I did heed her though and stocked up with 3 bottles of water and as I didn’t have a hat I took my blue sleeping sarong to wrap around my head. I’m not a fool. Then took off into the dunes trying to shake her off. It was a 10 minute drive out there. We got the ‘Alkali flats’ trail head put a shirt on and just started walking.
Now I have to say here in all due respect that it was actually blistering heat, there is no shade out there and the reflection from the white sand is fierce and dazzling. As usual shot of like a bullet. I was took a few pictures here and there but I could barley see the camera screen because of the glare. It sure seemed to be a desolate place. It is really confusing too, because your looking at it and its all white, it really to the memory of your minds eye looks like great big snow drifts particularly the drive up to the trailhead, I kept double taking, but of course the heat was simply searing hot.
The trail too was well marked and I presumed at first that it would be easy to get lost. I looked back and took my bearing on the mountains to the east and then cut away from the markers, I was sensible enough to keep an eye on them from a mile or so away and it wasn’t hard because except for the very rare skunkbush, there was nothing at all out there.
But all that said, I did hear strange knocking sounds now and again and there were al sorts of footprints of the little creatures that obviously survived out there all across the dunes, so there was definitely life going on out there, though hard to believe.
I’d taken my trousers off a little way in too as at the moment I am bronzed to the waistline and below that I’m as dazzling as the dunes. It was also great just to feel the air on my legs, I was careful not to fry my arms though, Then a little further o
“And why am I wearing boots on these sands”
So off they came too, It was great. At around the half way mark the trail comes out onto a great wide Alkali flat, where the sands have over time been moving across.
The dunes and are made up of gypsum left behind from an ancient sea long ago, mountains had risen and the elements and melting glaciers had done their thing and returned it to the valley floor once more. Apparently, just inches below the surface of the desert was a shallow lake, which kept the dunes moist and stopped them from blowing away. Which was really hard to believe out there in that heat
I really was enjoying it and now just really dawdled back around up and down the dunes, really enjoying the heat I was just zig-zagging back now, tumbling down the sides, running up them too and waking along the tops they are a remarkable thing to be out in. I thought I’d sit a while and was dropping into a meditation when something nudged me back to there hear and now.
“That might not be a great idea sat there in the blistering sun” Mercury said.
“Ok ok” I said and started walking slowly and happily back towards the eastern mountains. It was around 5.30 when I got back. Hummingbird was an oven when I opened the doors. I dusted my feet of drank some water and that was that. A wonderful afternoon out in that surreal landscape, I could have done more but we’d arrived just a little late and I had a feeling that we’d have to put some distance between there and where ever we’d end up later. I’d planned on Socorro, I’d been told there was nothing there plug and coffee wise, but there had to be something, I’d thought, Socorro was on the freeway. A seriously busy road south to the Mexican border and north to the interior of the US
So across the remainder of Highway 70 to Alamogordo, Looked nice in the sunlight stopped in for a quick coffee, along the business district, lots of sticky signs getting in the way of seeing the town, but maybe that was the town. It really was a beautiful day an even though it was just up the road 20 miles or so it just didn’t seem as hot there. Then along to Tularosa. There was a lot of aggressive driving n that stretch old lady in a blue car weaving in and out sort of nudging me out of the way. I was really mellow after the sands and actually I just didn’t mind, just keeping to the speed limit 45 35 25 as you come into towns, I was being really good. The two who had cut me up and been nudging all of a sudden seemed to drop into line just ahead. It was most odd. Good I thought, behave yourselves. I was in the outside lane and just coming along at about 37 as I pulled level with a white car I realized it was a Police car going at exactly 35mph oops. I really didn’t want to draw any attention again
Just out on the other side of town we got onto Highway 54 to Carrizozo it was a beautiful drive again out on the open highway again my favorite thing. The mountains stretching full length along the horizon. The golden hour was approaching T shirt off, all the windows down and just coasting along warm air streaming through the windows ruffling my hair my skin felt wonderful. The little towns along there seemed to be prettier too. I stopped to take some pictures (I lost them all later when I was downloading much to my annoyance) it was such a beautiful drive as well. We reached a sleepy crossroads in Carrizozo. Where we joined the 380 west. I had seen a restaurant in the corner of my eye, but it didn’t register till much later down the road. I could have stopped there I’m sure and spent the night there on the way back into town later I lashed myself for being such a dumb ass. I was becoming fixated on things a needed to do and loosing the focus of being where I was. Such a pity.
I’d seen an old garage just a mile or so down the road, it had what looked like a load of vintage wrecks in the yard so I u turned, pulled up, got out and asked the guy if he had any old Chryslers as I was looking for an E. He said really slowly and politely
“No I’m sorry I don’t but if you’d been here half an hour ago, that old guy across the road there has a couple of Chryslers in his yard”
“Darn” I said “and he’s gone home for the night right?”
“That’s right” he said
There are some people we come across that just seem to imprint on us deeper than others for some reason. I remember him for some reason, he had a kind face and seemed to be just not to fussed or rushing for anybody, but no attitude, just a mellow guy. He even said ‘goodbye’ as I left, sorry that I didn’t get helped type of feeling. I just liked him. Funny old thing isn’t it.
Then about another 5 miles up the road we shot by what I thought was a great raven that had been hit laying n the side of the road, I spun around again and went back. It turned out to be a huge Buzzard. So I pulled up checked it out and took most of its huge wing feathers. It was a very big bird. Then when I’d taken what I needed I took it and placed it on a rock where a Coyote or some other creature would hopefully come and have a feast later.
We were in a place called now called the Valley of Fire on account of a huge lava flow that spread from north to south. Great black rocks for as far as you could see piled high on either side of the road
Interestingly enough the sun had begun to set in one of the most breath taking sunsets I have seen in all the time I have been here, the sky was completely aflame the earth on either side began to grow pale, everything seemed to accented in what ever colour it was. Yellows grasses pale golden, Sage Pale green, the black rocks paled grey, Everything paled under the magnificence of that sunset. There were a few clouds that were tinged grey behind them the blue sky becoming darker, underneath them though the clouds had caught on fire. It was an astonishing thing to see, The flames growing deeper and deeper and we seemed to be heading straight into the furnace ahead
The hills closest become deep black, range behind them had become dark grey and the far ones the frame across the horizon were now a deep purple, everything sinking deeper and deeper into its primal colour and the sky’s deepening deeper the clouds now smeared right across the whole sky we had definitely arrived into the valley of fire.
As the fire ran its course and the sky blackened, my mood began darken too. It was around then I realized I could have stopped back in Carrizozo woke up tomorrow got the E and carried on to Acoma as planned and as it turned out there were no late night plugs in Socorro and so it was 85 miles back to Albuquerque. I was livid. I also had also been carrying a few hurts still and they seemed to rise up to the surface out of the blackness. Perhaps I was just tired
I followed a set of taillights the last 30 miles into San Antonio and then to Socorro in the pitch black. From there on the freeway I put my foot down. I had all sorts of things I was going to do back in town. We flew along at 80mph, I remember the tickets and slowed down to 75mph. The genie whispered and my foot went down and we subtly speed up, there were a couple of near semis that where Hummingbird got momentarily caught in their wake. I held steady and we shot past. It was a jarring hour in the pitch black.
The Genie whispered suspicious poisonous thoughts which took all my efforts to push away.
Then the glittering city of Albuquerque laid across the desert floor but right then seemed to be floating suspended in the blackness, it was a universe I knew well and it was a relief to be back. I knew exactly where I was going, Denny’s San Mateo. We switched onto the I-40 skimming along the surface of the road merging and weaving through the flow There was the exit up the ramp, then a left turn, 300 yards and we were pulling into Denny’s. The Genie is a liar and under the bright lights of a familiar place he faded away to nothing and I breathed deeply again.
I was glad to be in port but somehow disappointed that I was back I felt early. I couldn’t focus though I did try, I think I was over tired that had been quite a drive and quite a day. Then two guys, industrial carpet cleaners arrived and began setting up. I couldn’t quite believe it at 12 midnight, the place smelled of cleaning detergent and I thought
“Ok ok, I give up, sleep”
I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself or where to park up for the night. I rolled down central and then I thought I know a safe neighborhood where I won’t be bothered, outside Zelda’s house. So slowly and easily I rolled out the Hummingbird into the slower flow and very easily along Indian School road onto Washington just as quiet as a mouse
It really amused me that I was sleeping so close to them under the bow of the Great Pinion Pine,
“Keep an eye on me Gerry” I said. “It’s just like the old days isn’t it.