Thursday, November 12, 2009

Las Cruces

On August 17, 1987 I moved to New Mexico. I was 26 years old and fresh out of being a kid. I knew nothing except that I loved New Mexico. It was love at first sight, and 22 years later I am still in love. I guess you can say I found my spiritual home in the US. Since that magical day, I have traveled (literally) all over the world, and more importantly all over the US and lived in over fifteen US cities, but I always come back to NM as my home, and each time I return I love her more or just the same.

Las Cruces was where I came on that sunny summer day in 1987. I moved to NM to start a doctoral program in computer science at New Mexico State University. I never finished my doctorate, but I did learn why I came to NM, and that was to find the most beautiful spot on planet Earth. They call it the land of enchantment and for good reason. Once it got you, it never lets go.

I have a sense that people who are born and raised in California feel the same way about their home state, and so I can relate to that feeling of native angelinos, or native folks from the great state of Ca. Others do what I did, move to Ca. and just after a while call it home. And for good reason. It also is a beautiful place, with perfect weather.

Its a two hour drive from Silver City to Las Cruces. The drive is awesome, especially if you like the high desert and the high desert vistas. The whole time you are driving from Silver City to Las Cruces as you look to the south you see the great country of Mexico in all her glory and the distant mountain peaks that define her border. Beyond them dar hills is a country steeped in culture, love, beauty, and unfortunately at this time in modern history some problems. It saddens me to know that Mexico is going through some tough times, but I am confident that she will find her way, and hopefully soon because I look forward to going back to the lovely towns of Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi, and Aguascalientes.

Back in Las Cruces, I stayed at my friends parents home in the Mesilla Valley. They have a lovely home close to the ditch and close to the most famous person I ever met in my life. Unfortunately, in the past couple of years he died, but his memory lives on in many ways. His name is scattered about southern NM in many small and pertinent different places.

One day, many years ago, I went to his 60th wedding anniversary. I was fortunate enough to attend his party because one of my best friends had known him for many years and was his next door neighbor. Being the next door neighbor to this man in my eyes was too cool, but yes it was the case.

The day that I attended his party I was probably at that time in my late 20's. I was still young and naive and very innocent. He told me something I will never forget. Everyone who knows me well has heard me tell this story, they probably don't remember me telling it to them, but I have told them, they just forget.

This person was a punster, he talked and told puns, left and right. Every paragraph he spoke was embedded in it a pun of some sort. As we sat there sitting around the kitchen table he directed his attention towards me and told me something that to this day I will never forget. It was a simple sentence, and so innocent and irrelevant, but to me I carry it with me every day of my life and it literally guides me in major decisions I make in my life and how I see the world. He said, "Human beings have small brains", and don't ever forget it.

There are only four people in the history of humanity who share a seat with this man in the course of human history. Barring the ancient planets and the modern day planets that are being discovered left and right, this man was the man who on a cold winter night in February of 1930 at a high mountain observatory in the tiny town of Flagstaff, Arizona used the observatory's 13-inch astrograph to take photographs of the same section of sky several nights apart. He then used a blink comparator to compare the different images.

Several days ago I walked by his house, of course Clyde Tombaugh is long gone, but his memory lives on in my mind as someone who as wise as he was knew his place and was humbled by it.

I am happy to report that in the 22 years that have passed Las Cruces has grown tremendously from that small high desert town I visited many years ago but the valley between Las Cruces and El Paso is pretty much the same. I wandered that valley recently in search of the memories and I am elated that those memories of cotton fields, pecan orchards, and red chile still live on. Unfortuntely, we can not say the same for the orchards between San Francisco and San Jose or the orange groves in southern California, but in my home state of New Mexico at least at this moment in history the valley of Mesilla is still preserved in a pristine sense.

I guess one of the reasons for this is the huge plantations of pecan trees that are still being held by single families who have been wise enough NOT to sell out to the developers, and fortunately the price of farm land in the valley has become so expensive that the cheap scrub desert hills north of the city is a cheaper way for housing developers to rape and pillage the land with new aspalt and track houses that satisfy their desires and the peoples desires for a piece of paradise. I don't usually go off on a tangent like this, so I will stop.

Going out to eat is fun, and we all enjoy the luxury of going to a place and having someone else cook and do the dishes for us. In my forty years of existence there are many restaurants I have attended but there are very few restaurants that I would call my favorites. One of my top ten restaurants of all time is in the Mesilla Valley. It is in the small village of La Mesa, NM and it serves red and green chile rellenos, tamales, posole, fresh chips, and fresh flour tortillas. The other day I had the pleasure of attending this restaurant and had once again a super fantastic meal. It was one of the best meals I have had this year, and I was very happy walking out the door into the light of a warm November afternoon in southern NM. The name of the restaurant is called Chopis.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Down on the Farm

The valley has two or three major arroyo systems that drain the water from the high mountains down in to the city. Each arroyo is a winding twisting road of sand and trees that guide the nourishment in to the place where people thrive and prosper. It is here that the farm sits. On a flat plain just a mile outside town is a lovely spot of fields and trees.

This land has sat fallow for decades until one day someone came along and decided to plant some food for the local inhabitants to eat. This is a special field that is tucked into the community and each week people come to the farm to tend the fields and harvest the crops.

As I make my way out on the land in the late autumn light, I am struck by the sheer beauty of my surroundings. The desolation in a sea of nothing, yet all around me is life, sustenance, and a knowing that the quiet soothes me each day.

Our food is our sustenance, yet where does it come from. Are we aware of who grew our food ? Or do we just walk into the local store and pick it up. The foragers knew that the root or plant that they picked that day is their meal for the evening. Thousands of years ago, before agriculture came into existence, the only things we put in our mouths was the stuff we caught, picked, or were given to us by a neighbor who was generous enough to share a meal with us.

Maybe thats why sharing of a meal is such a special place in our heart. From a long time ago we remember what it was like to come across our neighbor hungry. For that day had not yielded any forage, and so as the night fell, we were used to that sense of hunger and yearning for what we need to go on to the next day or week.

The farm provides us with that place where we can grow our own food and then harvest when the time is right. But as we look around the sweeping vistas that surround the majestic valley of sun, rain, and wind we remember that time not that long ago when we did not have the luxury that over thousands of years seed storage, planting, and sustenance guide us forward.

I walk back in to the field and harvest my beets, turnips, and carrots for the evening broth and make sure to leave some for another day. For it may be not to far in the distant future when that beet is no longer there. Not a thought or contemplation of the many, but yet something that provides for the thankfulness of yet another meal to share with ourselves and the world of hunger that needs us.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Country way of life in Grant County

There are around 30 thousand people in this southwestern New Mexico county and Silver City is the county seat with about 10 thousand people.

The population density of the county is 8 people per square mile. In contrast, the population density of LA county is 2,427 people per square mile.

Its predominantly a ranching and mining community with a new group of people that have moved here in the past 20 years that have a more alternative lifestyle and view of the world.

In Silver City there is a nice coop, and lots of the produce sold by them is locally grown. In fact, when you buy the produce they tell you who in town grew the food. Its a nice way to know when you are eating lunch or dinner exactly what field in town your lettuce, carrots or tomatoes came from. And further more, you even know the person who grew your food.

Many people have goats, chickens, and turkeys. I met a lady the other day who would sell me a turkey for Thanksgiving for $10, but one minor point I would have to butcher the turkey myself. Not a big deal if you have the time and experience, and then you get to pick out your turkey as well. Goat milk is common, and another friend of mine has goats and in the past I have actually had the opportunity to milk the goat, and then make goat cheese shortly there after. Fresh goat cheese 24 hours later is yummy and highly recommended for those who have some extra dill weed lying around to spice up the cheese. Fresh eggs, no problem, my friend started out with 51 chickens and is down to 24 chickens. But eggs are not a problem, and clearly they are real fresh.

As you walk around town, most people are pretty darn friendly. In fact, its pretty hard to walk down a country road one mile outside of town and not have people wave to you as they go by. If you want to reciprocate you better wave back as well. But its not too bad, as cars rarely pass you and every five or ten minutes a wave takes you a way from the yellows and tinges of red that line the final streets and final leaves that have not fallen yet.

Its peaceful, quiet, and if you like laid back with out lots of action, then the rural parts of New Mexico are probably for you. There is a certain soothing feeling to not having to rush around, or here back ground noise that never ends, the hum is not there. In fact, on a hike yesterday in the wilderness, it was so quiet that the nothingness was noisy. On a windless afternoon, with no around for miles and no cars what do you hear in the woods. I heard some things, and it was the silence. My friend told me that the silence can sometimes be noisy. I am not sure I have yet found the metaphor to describe that to my own mind.

Characters are every where, a unique individuality that is hard to describe. A ruggedness and sense of being that pervades the down town. There is a mix of nice homes, run down homes, and as one probably knows in New Mexico there are more trailers per capita than probably anywhere in the USA.

The trailer is just part of the landscape, there is almost some bizarre aesthetic to seeing trailers at every turn in the road. I personally would not choose to live in a trailer, but I respect the trailer for what it is. A beautiful acre of land with mountain vistas, a dry arroyo, some nice cotton wood trees and a trailer.

I could probably write a nice poem about trailers, but I will save that for another time. But the trailer is part of the landscape, along with the clear blue skies, the snowy mountain tops, the Aspen trees, and the keen awareness of being.

Music to the ears

Silver City has its many facets, one of them being some very talented artists. In fact, you find artists all over NM, especially in the "City Different". But tonight I had the pleasure to listen to a very talented group of people play what I would call New World music.

It started out with a solo by a guitarist who used Latin influence and his fluency in Spanish to create a magical voice that filled the room with love, soul, and a sense of peace about the world.

Event though the topic was realistic, it was a classic blend of acoustic guitar and stories about his journeys through out the world. The cold clear New Mexico night with stars shining bright was the back drop for a wonderful evening full of lovely sonar vibrations.

The Wherehouse was filled with a down to earth group of folks who enjoyed being together, hanging out, and listening to some nice vibes. I hadn't been to such nice music since I went to some fiddle players, a lovely flute player accompanying some poets and some south Indian music that chanted all the way to heaven.

A combination of Arabic songs, Brazilian balads, and Buena Vista Social Club genre led to a very nice evening of dancing. Arriving at the venue there were probably less than 100 people in a fairly large room. Donations were accepted and $5.00 was the acceptable price to hear some great musicians play and for an extra dollar you could have a home made cookie too. I got two cookies and was real happy.

A Hike in the Gila

The Gila Wilderness was the first wilderness area in the United States founded in 1924 by Aldo Leopold. The Gila National Forest gets its namesake from the Gila River which flows west towards Arizona and is a major source of water for thirsty mouths in the Arizona town of Safford and others. Comprising 3.3 million acres it is one of the larger National Forests in the southwest.

New Mexico has around 11 million acres of National Forest and Arizona has around 20 million acres of National Forest. The difference being that the Ponderosa Pines cover almost the whole state of Arizona and in New Mexico mostly just extends to the Rio Grande. So the eastern half of NM is really Texas and prior to the Spanish American War Tejas extended to the Rio Grande in NM.

We decided to go for a walk in the woods. This time of year is absolutely gorgeous in the desert southwest with warm days and cold nights. Temperature differentials average around 30 to 40 degree temperature swings due to the altitude. Pinos Altos sits at an elevation of 7040 feet and is a town 15 minutes to the north of Silver City. Its right on the Continental divide which meanders its way around the desert southwest heading up from Lordsburg towards Emory Pass and passing just to the west of Silver City and through Pinos Altos.

Silver City lies at around 5800 feet so one climbs a gradual 1000 feet out of the town of Silver City towards Pinos Altos. The Gila National Forest begins here and we headed down towards Little Cherry Creek and then out to McMillan Campground.

The drive out to the McMillan campground affords some awesome views to the west. Being high up on the bluff, the view to the west practically stretches all the way to the state of Arizona, less than 100 miles away.

We parked the car and headed out. The trail from the campground is as nice as it gets in NM and I have been on lots of trails in the great state of NM. The day was already in full gear when we headed out, and so we didn't have as much time as we would have liked but that didn't prevent us from having a very nice hike.

The trail starts out flat and then starts heading up more as you near some interesting rock formations further in. We sat for awhile and talked about life, listened to the silence of the forest and wandered across dry creek beds on logs big enough to drive a bicycle across them. The forest is serene and my soul was soothed once again.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Rock Climbing in North Hurley

Silver City sits on the edge of three very different temperate zones and thus the environment surrounding this small southwestern mining town is dramatic.

We decided to venture off to one of the most interesting rock formations surrounding Silver City in an area that lies slightly south and east of the town. From its name, Silver City is clearly known for its mining. But its not Silver that was the kingpin of mining in this southwest region, but copper.

Located within viewing distance from the high peaks of Silver City is the second largest open pit copper mine in the world and its not pretty. The largest open pit copper mine is the world is located in Chile in the Atacama desert where its been known that in some spots its never rained, or should I say there is no record of rain in modern human history.

As we approached the rock formation in North Hurley its a mesa that sits off in the distance, to the wandering eye, its not much different than other simply drop dead gorgeous mesas that are scattered around this area of the southwest.

In fact, if you ever get a chance, fly from Phoenix to Albuquerque at around sunset and you will get the most dramatic view of red rock mesas lying between Gallup and Albuquerque. Also, flying from Albuquerque to Las Vegas remember to sit on the right side of the plane so you can take in all of the grand canyon from the air. Its these type of formations, noted in an earlier post that lights up your imagination to one of the many truly beautiful landscapes of the desert southwest.

As you leave Silver City and drive south out of the Pinion and Juniper forest of the Gila National Forest, you are heading toward the Mexican border about one hour to the south and the US towns of Deming and Las Cruces.
The flora and fauna dramatically change. You enter into the desert landscape of many varieties of cactus. The cacti are beautiful, especially from a short distance, but when you are romping around the rocks and sliding under scrub oak with your pack, that prickly pear, or other sundry sharp spine is not always so far away.

I had my share of "run ins" with the cacti as I hopped from rock to rock looking for the stronghold. As I recently learned, a stronghold is just like what it sounds, a place that is easy to protect from invading parties, especially in back in the Rocky Mountain west around 100 years ago. I was in search of the stronghold just past the rocks and around the corner.

My friends went rock climbing on the face, and I went rock climbing on the boulders surrounding the face and down the hill a bit. From the distance the rock face is merely a large mesa with shear cliffs off in the distance. After parking the car at a distance, as you slowly approach the rocks they grow and grow with each 20 steps. They turn from this nice pretty mesa to larger rock faces to very large slabs of rialite right in front of you.

The scale and beauty of these rocks is indescribable but as you approach the mesa everything magnifies by orders of magnitude. What looks like a nice simple slope to walk up to the face, turns into huge boulders that must be mounted, climbed over, and slide through to get to the next step.

As you all know, when you are out in the wilderness with a group or a friend, the softening of the magnitude of mother earth is slightly tempered. But when you are out there all alone or with your trusted dog friend, the sheer drama gets turned up about three notches.

My friends put on their rock climbing gear to head up the side of a massive rock face and I headed off with my friends dog in search of the strong hold.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Autumn 2009 Ride Back To New Mexico

I arrived in California on October 28, 2008. Its always a day I will remember for many reasons primarily being that I know five people whose birthday is on this day. I like knowing people's birthdays and usually tend to remember them as well. So, as the October 28 birthdays started piling up it became pretty obvious to me that this was a day I should remember. Then arriving in California on this day in the autumn of 2008 solidified the date in my mind.

Was is not appropriate then that I leave California on this same day exactly one year later. I was not supposed to leave on this day, in fact I was supposed to leave on the 29th of October, but fate had it that this was the day that I was to leave for my long ride back home.

It was a clear cool morning in sunny southern California. A storm had just rolled through the day before, a wind storm that is, and there were palm fronds everywhere. The street was littered with fronds that had been sitting up there for months, through the long hot summer, just waiting for an event like this to send them on their way to their final resting spot.

I guess their real final resting spot will be the next step after someone picks them up and puts them in a dumpster somewhere, but for now as I slowly meandered my way down Del Mar towards Caltech, I was avoiding them on the side walk. The air was cool and crisp, it was one of the colder autumn mornings we had experienced so far this season and it seemed rather appropriate that I leave on this day.

I was clearly feeling nostalgic. After all I had been in southern Ca. for one full year, I was feeling good and even a bit sad to be leaving my new home. But I had been planning this journey for quite some time, and very much looking forward to it none the less.

So, my daily ritual of walking to my office at school was being fulfilled for the 365th time. One side note about this daily journey is that it is two miles from my house to school, and then home again makes four miles per day. If you do the math, I have walked about half way across the United States in this past year. So, I had walked back to New Mexico, just spread out over one year.

The ride to Blythe was uneventful. Driving into and out of the LA Basin is always very surrealistic to me. Since I hardly ever drive my car, I am always blown away by the size and magnitude of this vast urban wilderness. I call it my urban wilderness because back home in New Mexico I actually walked through the wilderness on a daily basis, and so I took LA on as my urban wilderness. Walking the streets of LA, riding the bus to "new" trail heads that were actually neighborhoods or streets around the south land.

I arrived in Blythe in the early afternoon, it was around 2pm and I had never been to Blythe before. In fact I had never been on I10 east of Palm Springs. When I drove to southern Ca last year I came across Interstate 8 and then up the road passing the Salton sea and into Palm Springs. So, I was getting another road, in storm parlance this is called "road bagging".

Blythe is surprisingly a lovely town, I am not sure how many people would refer to Blythe as lovely, but for me it is. Having spent quite a bit of time living in Las Cruces, Blythe and all of these small desert towns in the southwest have the same feeling. Blythe has the Colorado and Las Cruces has the Rio Grande. Both towns have something I truly love, and that is the agriculture, water, and ditches. The key is the ditch, which allows for beautiful walks, the harsh desert in which I find immense beauty, and the water flowing in the ditch which takes you back to the soft natural womb of life.

And so the ditch is my friend. I love the ditch, I love the paths along the ditch, the wide open vistas, the smell of the water, and the site of the crops growing out in the field. Blythe sits smack on the Colorado River which is the dividing line between California and Arizona. If you cross over the Colorado you are in Arizona, and thats where the cheap gas is. The gas price differential was remarkable, and so I drove over to Arizona to buy some gas and then came back over to California to spend the night.

I stayed at the Willow Inn, right smack on I10, not the ideal location but the place I stayed came recommended by the older gentleman I met in another hotel in Blythe who recommended I stay at the Willow Inn. And so that was where I hung my hat for the evening.

The following day at the ripe hour of about 4am I awoke and continued on my journey. Driving in the early morning hours is very peaceful, and its the time when I tend to do my best driving. By that I mean the most productive driving in many ways. And so the dark eastern skys slowly woke up into a magenta of low light and over time the orchestra became louder and more pronounced. The first light of day is very seductive. Its the time in life when all new beginnings happen and it holds a special place in my heart as I was born around this time.

I cruised into Wickenburg after passing through many smaller towns along the way. The turn off to Wickenburg is about 30 miles or so east of the Colorado, and then 60 heads slightly north east into the foothills of Arizona. I had never been to Wickenburg before and so I had breakfast at the Country Inn. It was a fine breakfast except for the fact that three much older men were sitting two tables behind me making racial slurs about an earlier time in their life, and it took me quite a bit to hold my self back from saying any thing to them about their very inappropriate use of the English language in public.

After breakfast it was on to Prescott. This is one of the most amazing drives I have ever done in my life and if you know me that says something. I have done a lot of driving in my life, especially around the south west. I know almost every road in New Mexico and have been on every road west of the Rio Grande in the Land of Enchantment. You may wonder why this drive to Prescott was so spectacular.

First of all, as I said earlier this was my first time doing this drive, so firsts in life are always memorable, but when you get aroused in the moment of utter beauty and awe that is something to write home about.

If you haven't heard of the Colorado plateau, that is OK, most people probably haven't. Its a vast land formation centered around of all things the Grand Canyon. Millions of years ago, the Grand Canyon cut a swath out of mother earth and through mainly wind and water erosion left a new imprint in the planet. From space the Grand Canyon and the Colorado plateau are very well distinguished and so this vast high table top extends across Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona and the average elevation of the plateau in New Mexico and Arizona is around 5000 feet. But we are hanging out in Blythe somewhere around 1000 feet or less. Phoenix is at around 1000 feet as well. But we have to get up to 5000 feet to get on to the plateau. How the heck do we get up there. That is a lot of elevation gain in a very short period of time. Imagine looking up 3000 feet wondering how the heck am I going to climb up the side of that cliff. In the old days, less than 100 years ago it was clearly no easy feat but today with bulldozers and modern machines called cars one can NOT appreciate what it must have been like for the first settlers going to Prescott from the west coast climbing up that vast forest of ponderosa pines onto the mesa.

If you have ever been to Monument Valley in Utah you know what this view from the top of the plateau is all about. I have been there and it is just at this moment of writing that I recall once again the beauty of the planet in that time of my life when I was there. So, you are up on the plateau now looking back towards California and the Colorado river in complete and utter fascination with the power of millions of year of erosion. As far as the eye can see is the desert and the rocky mountain crags way off in the distance and there you are looking at a Ponderosa Pine right next to you.

Its the largest stand of Ponderosa pines in the world. It extends from Prescott area all the way to the Rio Grande with the Grand canyon area of Flagstaff being the center of the trees. Unfortunately, the trees are having
a bit of a hard time right now with the drought and bark beetle and other environmental impacts, but lots of the trees look pretty healthy as well.

Prescott is a very nice town on the western edge of the Plateau. At the time of this writing Yavapai county has slightly over 200 thousand people and includes the towns of Prescott, Sedona, Cottonwood, Jerome and other various and sundry places. But these are the places in the county I am most familiar.

Prescott is the home of Prescott College, a world famous academic institution in certain bastions of liberal undergraduate education. I would compare Prescott College to Hampshire College on the east coast. I enjoyed my time in Prescott and especially my time in the cafe at the college. I had been to Prescott once before many years earlier, but I got to Prescott via the north coming from Sedona.

The highlight of my stay in Prescott, I was there for four nights and five days was my ride over the mountain to Jerome. It was here that I met a very special person who told me the purpose of life. After a very intense hour conversation, we were closing on our vast array of topics covered from stem cell research to more esoteric realms of reality that I posed the question to him. I have asked this question to many people in the past and most folks don't have an answer, so I usually ask the question not expecting something I can either relate to or undestand but this answer was it.

The purpose of life is "the experience and all of the possibilities." Later with the help of a good friend of mine we modified it slightly to the purpose of life is "to learn from the experience". Now these definitions are always a slippery slope and for most people the purpose of life is a very personal quest or journey, but for me, this is what spoke to me. It works for me, and so I thought I would share it with others as yet another angle on life.

Back to my time in Jerome. If you have never been here, I would highly recommend you add this place to the list of places to go before you die. Its just a small mountain "ghost" town that has been resurrected from the dead over the past forty years. The man I met there told me he moved to Jerome in the early 70's and at that time it was just starting to be resurrected. The mines closed in the early 50's.

Prior to that time, these south western mining towns were company towns. Examples of them include Hurley, New Mexico and Clarkdale, Arizona just down the road from Jerome. The company would buy the land and literally create a town and all of the amenities needed for the miners or employees. Jerome was adjacent to Clarkdale and in the early 1900's had that mentality. When the mines closed in the 50's the town closed as well. And without the shear laser focus of a group of new settlers in the early 70's the town would have gone the way of many other old mining western towns. Today Jerome is thriving beyond belief buts its not an Aspen or Telluride, but rather a humble abode without the glitz and glamour of the previously mentioned places.

Finally, after many days in Prescott I pushed on to Silver City, New Mexico. Its only appropriate that I come back to Silver City, my home away from home. I have spent many weeks in Silver City and it was the early morning of October 28, 2008 that I left Silver City for a twelve hour drive to Palm Springs California. I left Silver City at 2:30am on October 28, 2008 and blew through Tucson on that cold morning before sunset.

Now I was back in Silver City. New Mexico is my home, I was not born here, but it is my spiritual home and a place I have lived for over twenty years of my adult life. In fact I moved to New Mexico in my mid twenties and now as I approach fifty I can only say that this place is truly the "Land of Enchantment". More on this topic at another time.