Saliva and a Swiss Army Knife

On a brief trip from Albuquerque south to the Mexican border in southern Arizona, in an instance without a trailer in tow, we opted for a mountain shortcut. Eschewing I-25 south to the normal cut-off at Hatch, NM, to Deming, NM, (SR 26), on the spur of the moment opted for a mountain pass from Caballo to Silver City (SR 152).   From the valley floor of the Rio Grande River, the elevation rises 1.5 miles over the Emory Pass in the Mimbres Mountains.

Emory Pass, 8828 feet

Elderly posers, ‘happy’ and ‘chilly’, enjoying the thin mountain air.

Temperature dropping from 72 F. to 46 F. in the first half hour, we realized that this detour, although equal in distance to our usual path, would add several hours. Isn’t it often true that a trip of a thousand miles on interstate cannot equal a two lane highway into the next zip code ? We were not to be disappointed. Barely thirty miles in, we encountered Kingston, pop.25, home to the Kingston Spit and Whittle Club, a local organization that also serves as the sentry for disposed highway litter. A slave to the unusual sign, dating back to the Burma Shave campaign, how could I resist this photo op ?

You what ? And what ?

Images come to mind of a major league baseball dugout, 25 strong, expectorating in unison, as the players carve trinkets out of broken bats.   Two hours later we reach the eclectic, historic, Silver City, NM, the launch pad for the hot springs of the Gila national forest. The area and the cliff dwellings deserve a separate essay, another day.

We point ourselves southwesterly on SR 90, downhill all the way to Lordsburg, NM, arguably one of the most destitute and depressing towns in the rural west. Bypassed by I-10, the ‘main drag’ is five miles of closed businesses and boarded buildings. A metal cutout of a bellhop welcoming guests to an abandoned motel, faded in the desert sun, flashes a sardonic smile at the antics of our dog, Jack.

A ghost town in waiting

Mayor of a ghost town-in-waiting.

New Mexico has a charming and affable governor, Bill Richardson. But if Bill really believes this is the Land of Enchantment, I’ll buy him dinner in Lordsburg.

Conservative drive from Liberal, Kansas

7 F., 7 ” of snow and 7 minutes south of 7 A.M., I’m feeling lucky. In the predawn darkness, the sign indicates Dalhart, Tx., Ten Miles. At this hour the sign is hardly necessary. The distant horizon is bisected by the corona of Dalhart.Across the expanse, lights create an eerily straight line separating heaven and earth. Some flicker red or amber or yellow or the halogen warning strobe from the cell towers and the grain elevators. Lights bounce from a monster Ford diesel truck, a Southern Pacific engine entourage followed by a hundred Chinese shipping containers on flatbeds, and on the left, an airstrip welcomes a wealthy cattleman in his flickering Cessna 182.  The west Texas panhandle….where have all the cowboys gone ?On long drives down lonely highways do you ever wonder how you became the person you are ? Why do you prefer freedom to money ?  Why are you happiest in old flannel clothes ?  Why do you wonder the names of birds, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, and weeds ?  Why would you choose to live in a place where you can see a million stars on clear nights, but can’t buy a frozen pizza without driving 40 miles ?      From the window, an Oklahoma byway  An endless panorama of prairie, bordered by stoic stick-figured telephone lines, sentinels in the wind, the search for zest, authenticity and simplicity comes naturally.  Being alone is not lonely.  Even the red tailed hawks took the day off.  Boise City, Oklahoma  The Artic (sic) RV Park, Boise City, Ok.  Closed, but cool.    

Dress for Distress

Frosting on the flea market dumpster

On a cross country trip, against the westerly teeth of winter on the great plains, Jack wears a new argyle sweater. Like boy scouts, we are prepared to slide off any two lane highway…and you should be also.

Staring through the windshield, that soft edge trapezoid that resembles wide screen HDTV, the majority of billboards on I-70 are advertising casinos and strip clubs and mega-churches. Not for us, as it is a sure bet we won’t remove our sweaters in Sunday School, so we opt for Missouri 36, the high road. Now the outdoor ads are soliciting our interest in the sterile, homogenous housing tracts starting at $ 219,000, or as my daughter described them, the scrubdivisions.

Glamorous names like Hunter’s Run or Prairie Walk at Riverstone threaten credulity. Really now, can you imagine gun-toting, camo-dressed, pheasant bashers trotting around your cul-de-sac ? With flourescent orange Stormy Kromer hunting hats ? Yes, yes, we are in Missouri, where, unlike Tennessee, the trailers have tires and anything is possible.

Traveling east to west, I’ve often wondered where the fulcrum is located that divides our grand country into a teeter-totter, the west coast from the left coast. Perhaps Greensburg, Ks. (pop.1500), until it was destroyed by a tornado in May 2007, eight lives lost and a community leveled. Maybe it is now Hutchinson, Ks., covered in rime (hoarfrost), a result of thick fog and 24F this morning, the landscape is surreal.

For years I observe an early morning tradition: to always notate the first out-of-state license plate I see. This A.M. it was a New Hampshire, Disabled Veteran plate. What are the odds ?