In the heart of southern New Mexico a relatively easy day sees me touring in the vicinity of Las Cruces absorbing its historical markers, before heading north.
These excerpts are from a handwritten journal entry, so they should be a bit more coherent than the entries from the audio tapes.
The sun, the wind and the sand have my lips very hard, dry and sore. I keep imagining somebody kissing them. Nobody in particular, it’s the actual act I’m thinking of. I know I’d like it but I wonder what it’d be like for the other person. I can always lick them myself but it’s not the same, and anyway that just makes them stick together.
Me nose isn’t a whole lot better. Permanently dried and cracked in the sun, I keep losing skin. Maybe if I didn’t play with it so much it wouldn’t be stinging me now.
I’m in the home of a retired naval man, ex-Chief of Police, elected representative, and car salesman. His boss owns the car lot and the motel, and the boss’s son is responsible for running the motel. There was nobody at the office, the note on the door saying he’d be back at 5.
After a visit to the Dairy Queen the lights in the motel were still out. My host called someone to find an alternative key but none was available. Proclaiming himself a bachelor he offered me his home for the night. In the cold darkness it was easy to accept.
Made it out of my room this morning 4 minutes before 11 and then took more time to avail of the free breakfast. A muffin, English as ever, with grape jelly and tea and water and an amount of orange juice that risked hives.
Across the road from the motel was a wonderful shot of the Organ Mountains. The plan for the day was simple. 40 minutes for the 8 miles south west to Old Mesilla, an hour there which would take me to 1 o’clock, and then 4 hours into the north wind for the 40 miles to Hatch. My plans for the day rarely work out. This was no exception.
[The rest of this long post is continued below the fold]
Downhill with the breeze it was a comfortable ride in the shoulder to the centre of Las Cruces. There were sections of no shoulder and a couple of tricky intersections which would’ve been very dangerous in the dusk of the night before.
I was also able to enjoy and see Las Cruces in the bright sunlight. It’s a nice town. I liked it. There was space but not the same strip feel to it as in other towns, even on Main Street. Lots of Adobe buildings. The bigger ones were banks or insurance companies.
I passed the Bicentennial Cabin and a couple of large murals. Left the bigger streets to comb through a residential area and they were lovely. Not very big but great to look at. Finally I reached Old Mesilla.
It is the best known and most visited historic community in Southern New Mexico. After 1800 the vicinity of Mesilla was a camping and ferrying spot for both the Spaniards and Mexicans, but it wasn’t until after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 that the first permanent settlers came to Mesilla to make it their home.
By 1850 it was a firmly established colony. Apaches periodically swept through the area stealing livestock and foodstuffs, killing colonists and seizing captives. Just as frequently the villagers retaliated by sending out the Mesilla Guard - a militia comprised of a man from each household. In 1851 Apache attacks in the valley caused the US Government to establish Fort Fillmore to protect the newly conquered territory and its people.
As a result of the Mexican War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mesilla was within the strip of land claimed by both the US and Mexico, a “No Man’s Land”. It was a major stop on the cross-roads of the Chihuahua Trail. In 1854 the Gadsden Purchase determined Mesilla as officially part of the US.
The US government now had a reliable route to the west coast and encouraged stage and freight services connecting California and the Eastern states. The San Antonio - San Diego Mail began in 1857. The Butterfield Overland Mail and Stage Line established in 1858 set up its regional HQ in Mesilla. Within 10 years of settlement, Mesilla had gone from tiny colony struggling for survival to the largest and most important town in the area.
In July 1861 Confederate Colonel Boyler and 220 Texas Mounted Troops entered Mesilla. After a skirmish on the outskirts the 500 Union troops at Fort Fillmore surrendered. A few days later, near San Augustine Springs in the Organ Mountains, the Confederates set up their regional HQ and proclaimed Mesilla the territorial capital of Arizona, which then encompassed what is now southern Arizona and southern New Mexico. They were in control for a year.
After the war the town resumed its role as the commercial and transportation centre for the region. It outfitted the profitable mining activities and ranching operations that had become important industries in the Territory.
In the 1880’s people came from the city of Chihuahua and Tucson to attend bailes (dances), bullfights, cockfights and theatre. This is pretty much what attracted the outlaws, like Billy the Kid to town. He was tried and sentenced to hang in the building on the corner of the square in 1881.
Sam Peckinpah’s film I enjoyed on the big screen and it had an authentic feel to it but his Mesilla looked like Dodge City not like this adobe heaven.
In 1881 the railroad passed by Mesilla in favour of Las Cruces. Then the county seat was moved there also, and Mesilla has experienced little growth until recently and therefore has retained much of its nineteenth century character. The 1950’s and ’60’s saw new building growth in modern styles. The citizens then enacted a historic zoning ordinance to promote the preservation of the town.
They’ve done a good job from what I could tell. Galleries, book shops, gift shops, restaurants, but the signs are all relatively low key. I circled the Plaza several times reading every plaque and marker. But the town is much bigger than just the central plaza.
I combed lots of the other residential streets. Brown, yellow, white, pink, blue, adobe houses. Some more modern than the others but all quite attractive. Rounded, angular with or without adjoining walls, arches, surrounded by cacti - I could look at them for ages. Drop them in Dublin and I could live in a community that looks like this.
I ate lunch at the Kokopelli cafe. South-western wall hangings and table mats, branches formed the ceiling, only two other tables being used. They gave me hot tea with milk - and the water was boiling. Free refills.
A Mariachi came in and I enjoyed him - he was not obtrusive. It was a customer’s birthday so they were given a cake. We were all given a slice. A delicious moist freshly home-made chocolate and nutty cake. I felt guilty. I don’t like chocolate cake but I know so many people who would really have liked this. I tipped the Mariachi and went across the road to a gallery.
Two women. One cycled tandem with her husband in the area and told me of the road ahead. The other had just moved from the east a week ago. We spoke of Indian jewellery, how they had started before the turn of the century when they had learned how to smith from the Spanish. The Zuni and Navajo both work with Turquoise but the Zuni have theirs inlaid. The Hopi tend to use just metal.
The people were so nice, I was so happy - I felt compelled to buy. A Zuni inlaid turquoise Kokopelli. He’s an Indian figure of fertility. A hunch-backed flute player who would attract maidens who needed children and could also fertilise the land. There was no stopping this guy.
I’m watching TV and they’re at it again. Hard Copy news. In a minute. They actually boast that they’re bringing you all the important news in 60 seconds. And they have a countdown clock running during it. I’ve seen other stations do similar things on sport and on world news. See, it is a small world.
After photos in Mesilla I was 20 minutes behind schedule but knew I could cycle faster than the budget. Until my right leg gave up. Excruciating pain from behind the knee to the bottom of my bum, like a tight elastic.
Took Tylenol and gritted my teeth for 3 miles hoping every traffic light would be red. If I thought it was only a question of pain I could struggle on slowly but I was afraid of doing more damage and every time I bent my leg I wanted to stop. 10 slow miles later the pain eased but didn’t go away.
Highway 185. Houses with trees including those trees I likened to very long corn dogs only they were cut off making them look like corn dogs with a bite off the end. Then it was orchards. Miles of Pecan orchards, broken by fields of cotton and chilli. Cypress trees, ranches, rocky hills, and the Organ Mountains always visible back to the east.
In the speckled shade of the orchards I read a sign urging me not to pick the nuts or I’ll be prosecuted. From the bike I could reach up and touch them but now I knew it was wrong to pick even one so I left them alone.
I was making good time in this gorgeously fertile and colourful valley. I would be at Hatch an hour before sunset. And then I got a puncture. And another. And another. All in the front wheel. I also took 25 thorns out of the back tyre. So now I wouldn’t make it before dark. The last flat I fixed at the bridge over the Rio Grande just down from Fort Selden, an adobe ruins.
Head down and pedal hard. Tried to hold it at 16mph and pretty much did. Through Broad Canyon, twisting and rolling on a good cycling road. As the light faded the colours varied. Yellow gravel, green bushes, red hills, and blue mountains.
I passed a mountain like Table Mountain in South Africa, only a lot smaller. There was a cafe called the Blue Moon. It threw me back to that lovely evening in Omaha, Nebraska as we listened to doo-wop buskers sing acapella songs finally doing Blue Moon for my hosts as requested. In the Dairy Queen I heard Duke of Earl and was still back in the riverside area of Omaha. Still in the Dairy Queen Leroy Brown came on and I began looking forward to drinking Guinness in Coman’s of Rathgar with friends back in Dublin.
Somewhere today I learned that the White Sands Missile Range has one of only five v-2 missiles remaining in the world on display. The German who designed it then worked here developing missiles and the space race. Yes I prefer landscapes to technology.
With no punctures tomorrow the 50 miles should be fine. My host went out tonight leaving me with Cable TV in my bedroom, and a fridge full of beer not to mention a whole bar. And of course the 2 dogs are good company. Americans are pretty good souls, he didn’t need to save me tonight.
I forgot to get cash in Las Cruces. Where will I get more patches and more cement? Running out would be embarrassing.
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