It has been so good to be back at Lori’s in her mountain forest hideaway, I had slept so deeply last night catching up on the past week or so I think. Comfortable legs outstretched and lots of pillows, I left my leather jacket in the car it had been my pillow for the last two months.
I’d come down to the Cuckoos nest at the long table at Starbucks at de Vargas mall. The philosophers were still there and felt so good to just dip in to their revelations now and again, such a bunch of gentle lovely guys. A Blond lady next to me engaged me for a while with talk of Bi-Neural beats and UFO’s. Was all rather interesting, I was right at home again.
Lori Arrived at around 1pm and we decided that we’d go and try to look for that road over in Cochiti pueblo, the back door into Bandalier that I had seen all those years ago and that that would put us in easier access to the painted cave out there in the wilderness.
First stop though was a burrito. Lori had commented that that is all I seemed to eat so, who was I to change tradition. I remembered a place called Filipe’s Tacos over on St Michaels and Lanos street. To my great delight it was still there its still one of the best new Mexicans in town. Cheep and the cheerful hispanic manager selling his new T-shirts with the Aztec calendar and the Mexican eagle with the Snake.
“I’m trying to get back into all that Aztec Maya stuff” he said cheerfully.
We ate the burritos out in the car in the sunshine. Still as good after all these years. We’d checked google maps, spotted the road off on Cochiti Highway just after the Dam and just before the golf course. I say this here for a reason, it is all very well looking down at maps, but it’s a little different down there on the road, I often thought it must be the same for the angels and it’s perhaps why they afford us so much compassion. We are down here on the road.
Lori used to live in Cochiti and I had been there several times for the Indian dances on Christmas day and also to hike in the nearby Jemez mountains. We were cheerful and happy, joking and being silly and just chewing over what we’d both been up to these last few weeks. Lori is light and easy company with a good sense of humour and a great laugh.
We shot along highway 16 across a lovely drive across the Cochiti plain, the great wall of volcanic lava to the right a mile or two way across the golden yellow grass lands glittering in the warm sunshine of the early afternoon
I was chattering away when Lori said I think you just passed the turning. A dirt road with a gate a few feet back off the highway. We both noticed a truck parked on the opposite side of the road watching us intently as we passed. It seemed to be waiting, I wondered if there was already somebody out there. I did a U turn at the green golf course, weird looking in all that desert dust and sand. I drove back along scanning the gate as we passed and noted again that the people in the truck were really clocking us. It was a little odd. We drove on a little and I U turned again
Lori said why not ask them if they knew anything about the road. I’d said good idea. So we rolled back, pulled up in front of the gate and I walked across the road and introduced myself.
There was an attractive Hispanic lady sat in the passenger seat and a handsome Hispanic man in the drivers seat, he a little older than her, with long black hair pulled back into a pony tail, all in denim, tanned a little craggy and cool looking.
I asked them about the road across there, did he know where it led. He said that it wasn’t a road and that it led nowhere. I knew that it led down to the Rio Grande. I explained what id seen and we got into quite a discussion. While this was going on the lady got out of the truck and turned to face me, not in a suspicious way, just showing manners. The guy had a wonderful Local Hispanic accent and said that he’d driven up and down this road all his life and he had never heard of a road over there, even though we were all stood looking at a gate with a road leading away to somewhere behind it.
He said “The road you want is down there” pointing to toward the Jemez Mountains “Just after the golf course, you take a right and that dirt road will take you right where you want to go”
To be honest, I knew he was wrong. I know what I’d seen and the road he was telling us would lead up into the Jemez and eventually up onto Highway 4 and that’s not where I wanted to go. He also said
“Because of the fire that had burnt the Dixons apple orchards down and what had happened up there with the flood and all that, that road is impassible now”
He then went on to tell me about how he’d broken his axel on this 4×4 and not to go further than that water,
“In that car you wont make it” Hm
“Ok” I said “Thanks” I fully intended to ignore everything he said as I knew there was a road behind that gate that would lead us right to the Rio Grand. I’d quipped as I walked away “Well if were not back by nightfall you send out a patrol to look for us”
“Oh I will” He said. I didn’t realize right then that he took me dead seriously. I walked back across the road and went to check the gate, they were obviously watching what I did. The gate was wired up and wound tight but not locked. I fully intended to unwind the wire drive in and do it back up once we were through.
Just then as I was getting back in the car the guy appeared at the back of Hummingbird and said
“Hey could you give me a lift over to my house it’s 4 miles away in Pena Blanca, then you can follow me back and I’ll take you right to that road and show you where it is”
I thought about it for a split second and instinct said yes.
“Ok mate” I said “Get in, what’s your name”
The back door clunked shut and there he was. He turned out to be called Albert and had been waiting he said for 2 hours for his brother who they had arranged to meet here to get his truck or a truck to pull a trailer of something. we wondered why he hadn’t just called him or driven up to his own house in the truck and got the lady to drive back to the highway. But Albert turned out to be charming and though he’d seen us as an opportunity to help him do what ever it was they were doing, it would also mean they would be away from that gate; so nobody would be watching us. Win win.
We drove the few miles to his house, he even showed us his mothers as we passed by. Told us about the area I think he said they were all supposed to be going out Turkey hunting
“There are a lot of hunters up in those hills” he said
He invited us back anytime we were passing through for a coffee, which I may just do. We drove past the Cochiti’s huge earth damn. It is absolutely massive and looms over the road and the village. Built in 1960 is the 11th largest dam of its kind in the world and one of the 4 damns built along the Rio Grand. I’d thought the Roosevelt dam was big, but this one is massive and had always made me a little nervous driving under it.
It was just a few minutes later when we pulled up into his dusty yard full of chickens, he jumped out and straight into his 4×4 started it up straight away. He was in a hurry. I reversed out and we followed him back up the road
We’d passed Cochiti gas station and on the way back he pulled in, we both said
“What’s he doing?”
He motioned us to pull up in-between him and the gas pump. He said “Put some gas in your tank” Both of us were surprised,
“ No No” called across “It’s ok”
“You sure, Ok, you follow me, ok”
He shot of down the road at 60mph which made me smile, I’m not the only one who finds these open roads irresistible.
We shot past his girlfriend who had moved their car up onto a hill, past the gate to the hidden road, down past the alien golf course, turned right onto the road he insisted was the road we were looking for.
We all got out
“When you get down there you’ll see the road is washed out. Don’t try to drive that road’ He said again “You’ll not make it in that car”
He went on. “I tried that road in this truck and on the way back, I cracked the axel and had to have her towed out, cracked the axel right there, you won’t make it in that car, ok”
He was really insistent, I said ok and we both thanked him,
I was taking it all in but still intended to U turn as soon as he’d gone
Just as we were all about to go a car full of I think Japanese tourists pulled up and said Hilariously “Do you know where ‘Tent woks are” We all did but we left it to Albert to explain, a little frustrated now he was wanting to get back to what ever it was he was up too, we all pointed up the road, where they’d see the signs for “Tent Rocks National Monument”
“Might see you for coffee later” I called to Albert
“You do that” He said getting back in his truck
“This isn’t the road Lori” I said as we rolled off down the road, “But lets see where it leads”So on we went for maybe 2 miles across dirt and rocks till we came to the place where the flood had washed out the road. I went and tested it. It was mushy sand, so we both walked on little it was ok to a point and then it came to a place where the stream deeper and fast flowing with bigger rocks, I pulled a fallen log over the stream and we both nipped over.
The road then rose around a bend and we could see a little higher across the land from there. We could see the road I’d been talking about to the east leading across towards the Rio Grande and Bandalier but we wondered whether it was actually on Indian land. But as we scanned the land there were some Mesas to the north and some Tent rocks up there that were off the map. It looked so beautiful maybe 3 miles across hills through woods and across the river. I later found out it was called “Cloudcroft”
“We’re here now” I said “Look across there to the tent rocks and the Mesa, do you fancy it” It seemed to be calling, just instinct and whispers in my ears.
Lori said “Ok”
So back down the road, took some water with us and we cut into the woods along the river.
It was a beautiful day, the sun glittered and twinkled through the fresh leaves of the cotton woods. But as we walked out into the woods the whole scene was one of dramatic desolation.
The area we were heading into were lands that were once owned by Dixons Apples a famous Orchard in New Mexico for many years. They’d had orchards all the way along the riverbanks where we were now heading. In 2011 there had been a massive and devastating forest fire that had swept down here from the Jemez and wiped out a large portion of the orchards along the valley, this was followed shortly afterwards by devastating flash floods. It had rained heavily and there were no trees to hold the soil and earth in place. It tore through the valley in a great wave carrying with it tons of rubble destroying what little was left covering the area in mud and debris. It seems a terrible shame as Dixons apples had been there for over 70 years. I always liked the idea that there was beautiful orchards out there in the desert planted by a forward thinking old timer entrepreneur.
Apparently there has been a long running and messy fight going on between the family and the state land commissioner for compensation and ownership of the land. Eventually after around 4 years of struggle it seems to have been amicably agreed, the family has received a substantial pay off and the site of the historic family orchard, as well as 9,000 acres of state trust land surrounding it turned over to Cochiti Pueblo in exchange for motel property in downtown Santa Fe that the now wealthy pueblo had planned to purchase with proceeds from their gambling and casino. The Pueblo had been trying it seemed for years to get the lease back for the land the orchard was on, claiming it was their ancestral homes as we would find out
It was interesting to me reading all this and seemed biblical in its consequences. 100 year old leases, land left in trust, sold, political manoeuvring, careers and reputations ruined, indian gambling money and property deals in down town Santa Fe, that most certainly weren’t cheep. I wonder what will happen to the sacred pueblo lands. It has been mentioned that it is prime real estate out there, it sure is a beautiful place. Would be nice to think they would all just leave it be, but I doubt it
But back to a time when we were just wandering innocently though the place, looking at the destruction you have to feel for the family and wonder how you’d cope. It was carnage huge trees and shattered wood piled high, massive boulders all stacked on and in between, everything at this lower end of the valley was just ground up shattered piles of debris. It must have been terrible, the power of nature unleashed. Awesome to behold
At that moment we had no idea of where we were or what we were seeing it was just apparent that something really big had torn through the place a couple of years ago we presumed. We climbed over the fallen logs and debris and headed for a rise that I’d seen and I thought would lead us right up to the tent rocks and to a place called Cloudcroft, we’d called it Apple Knob before we’d realized just what had happened there. I think I still like Apple Knob.
This whole landscape was the result of volcanic action from the Valles Caldera the same volcano that had formed what became the Bandalier wilderness just a few miles away. 1.14 million years ago it had spewed unimaginable amounts of cream ash called Bandalier Tuff over land hundreds of feet thick and over hundreds of square miles, it formed the soft rocks the waters and the winds had cut through creating the beautiful cliffs and sculpting the amazing shapes that made up this whole area.
We scrambled up over rounded river rocks and onto the top of the first rise which was soft loose ash under foot with what seemed like hundreds of gofer holes, so that as we walked across our feet sank into it ankle deep in places.
As we looked across the land it seemed as if all the taller trees had burned but the juniper had been left untouched, I’m sure there is a reason for it, they seemed healthy and strong in comparison to the valley now below us and the mesa sides and up in the mountains above.
We walked on both of us marveling at the black obsidian shards and the volcanic glass that littered the ground all around us. Lori has always been into rocks and the earth and the further we walked out into nature the more interesting it got. We were both opening up, the wilderness is like that, the further in you go the wider you get, a persons senses open up.
Then as we emerged out of the Juniper trees we came upon a few deserted Adobe houses. It looked like an old atmospheric ranch house, the roof caving in and the adobe brick walls dissolving, it suggested so many things to the senses I suppose like all old houses do, but where it was, right up there on the mesa surrounded by the beautiful juniper forest, salmon coloured cliffs across the valley and the Jemez Mountains to the north above cloud croft. We figured an old ranch house. It most certainly had a history.
We nosed around for a while looking at all the old things littered around the place and then out of the old ranch gates onto a dusty road that led north into the Jemez . A sign said ‘bridge 1 mile ahead washed out’ We were just underneath Cloud croft
I said ‘Come on under the fence lets go up”
Lori was great I thought of a few people who wouldn’t have come but we were doing no harm and it really was as if we’d been called as if were being drawn. I’d sensed the family around and was following the trail.
As we’d gone along we looked back and checked on the energies. The great Wilheim Reich had called for us in the west ‘orgone energy’ but is called in different cultures Chi, Prana etc, Life Force. It was strong out there and when a person knows how to look it is evident everywhere, stronger or more active in certain places and areas. It’s obvious and easy to see once you get it. I’d also begun to wonder who Albert was
We’d climbed gently up following a little dry arroyo that led down from the tuff tent rocks just above. I came over a rise and there in front of me was an ancient Indian cave. I was really taken back as the whole reason I’d wanted to go on the road earlier was to get to the painted cane over in Bandalier in the Capulin Canyon. I was thrilled and called for Lori to come and have a look. Now I was seriously wondering who Albert was.
We went to sit in the cave. It was very old, the ceiling was blackened with ancient smoke from ancient fires and the original adobe was still visible along the lower walls. There was a mortar stone near by too. Now I have to say my sympathies go to the Indians again as somebody had once more carved in hundreds of crucifixes in the blacked ceiling and walls in my view disfiguring this place. We talked about it. Lori pointed out it may very well have been Indians themselves, you couldn’t presume, as I had seen myself there were many churches across all the reservations and many devout Christian Indians. Fair enough, but it still seemed unnecessary no matter who had done it.
I asked Lori if she minded if I sat quietly and opened up. She was happy to sit too. It was a beautiful spot but again because I think of my excitement at finding this place it took me a little while to quieten my mind.
I was looking at a road going across a bridge, I sensed there was a great divide below. The road and bridge were very straight. Then as I reached the other side the road immediately began turning with a series of sharp hairpin bends it went on for a little while. But gradually it straightened back out again and I carried on. There were no obstacles it was open it just seemed that the first section of the road after the bridge was busy.
Lori had had a good moment too.
We sat there chatting a while easy and mellow looking out onto the valley below to out left and the juniper dotted lands that stretched south east to Cochiti and the mountains beyond.
I felt energized afterwards and took off like I rocket straight up into the tent rocks. Remarkably Lori found the old steps that the Indians had used to climb up into them smoothed and worn into the rocks with use.
I realized that it was getting a little late and I just wanted to climb all the way to the foot of the Cloud Croft. Lori was happy to stay on the lower slopes
I was rocket fueled and up in a flash the views from there were spectacular. I could see clearly from up there where the fire had raged and the decimated orchards below. There were burned out adobe houses too dotted here and there. A remarkably beautiful place and must have been hard to give up and move on.
I decided I would sit again as I was a little puzzled about what I’d seen below. I’d asked the family openly now,
“I haven’t got much time left today please come and be with me in a way that I’ll feel, know and understand”
I was again looking at a road with serpentine switchbacks left to right. It was a quick seeing a flash but I understood now that it was back in England. It was going to be a busy, another long journey, twists and turns, but her right road.
I heard somebody calling me. I came round. I whistled to Lori to let her know I was on my way down. I could see her below making her way down. As I reached her I said.
“Sorry about that, I was just sitting and I heard you call”
“I didn’t call” she said “I whistled” We both laughed and tumbled back down chatting and kicking up the dust and sand
I’m not sure who or how we noticed and we’d seen the odd piece of pottery around the cave but we seemed to come up on and into a very slight dip on the top of a hill. Both of us suddenly realized that the whole area was literally covered in thousands of shards of pottery.
I said, “We’ve walked into something Lori”
She agreed and we spent the next ¾ of an hour just gazing and puzzling at all the different multicolored shards laying there and all down the side of the hill. We came up with a few suggestions, perhaps an old burial place, though we had no idea of the ancient puebloan burial practice. We’d passed the old rusted tins of the rubbish dump at the back of the old ranch house, perhaps this was and old dump from the cliff dwellings above. Though it did seem odd that people who had made such beautiful pieces of pottery and to my eye quite sophisticated lived in caves. Lori layer told me someone had told here that at certain times the Indians had symbolically smashed their pottery and start again. We didn’t know and still don’t but it was great imagining and such a great thing to have stumbled upon it.
I said “Hey Lori who was that Albert guy”
He’d been so insistent that we didn’t go on that road and that we come this way. He’d been sat on that road opposite the gate waiting for something and maybe that was us. Then after we’d arrived he vanished. It was really interesting to me considering what had been happening along this journey.
I wondered if it was Mercury and Cynthia as they’re both quite mischievous. Lori and I had both noticed them looking really intently at us when we’d driven buy the first time and then each time we’d driven past they’d followed us intensely. Then when I’d tested the gates Albert was out and across the road in seconds, he was Hispanic and not pueblo so no concern to him if we’d gone through. And Albert seemed to me to be a strange name for a Hispanic guy.They had certainly put us on a different path and onto more than either of us could have hoped for in a 30 minute drive out of Santa Fe.
We left everything where we’d found it and began t make our way back down to the old Apple road, into the old ranch having another look around. The place looked even more mythical in that golden light of day, then down to the river and though the woods. Wed got the lay of the land by now and as we came along the river bed it was even more evident the power of forces that had ripped through snapping tree tops off. The debris was like a great barricade we had to climb across to get to the car.
We took off slowly back into Santa Fe in the fading light and ended up a cool bar called Second Street Brewery where we had a couple of IPA’s and talked about what had happened, it had been such a surprise. I noted that as we sat there the bar was playing many of the songs I’d heard on the journey across, The Beatles, Bowie, Queen and many of the others, how odd these things are, it really pricked up my ears, there is no such thing as coincidence they say, it really felt as if we’d been smiled upon, as this journey has gone on I realized I have been smiled on all along, it is how it is I believe, notice it and the smile deepens and widens.
We drove back up to Loris Mountain hideaway I know my way there intimately now, though it is still remarkable to me just where she lives up there and out there in the forest with it’s hidden community tucked away around the switchbacks and down seemingly dead end dirt roads. On the topographic map I’d bought it says just of the area beyond Loris house “No Access” London it is not.
We sipped wine and both of us now wondering, who was Albert?