Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Trip to Cloudcroft

Trip to Cloudcroft

In mid May I packed a few things into my Jeep Wrangler. Things like a small ice chest full of water and sodas, small mechanical tools for working on the Jeep in case it broke down (thankfully I didn’t have to use them), a bag with a few snacks in case I got hungry, a jacket for the cool weather still in the higher elevations, and a small suitcase with enough clothes for a week. Oh, and did I mention the two, fifty pound bags of horse cookies requested by my son. He can’t buy the kind he wants where he is living near Cloudcroft, NM. So he had asked me to bring him some. And did I mention that two bags of horse cookies doesn’t leave much room for anything else in a Jeep Wrangler. It was a good thing I didn’t plan on being there very long.

I left Albuquerque, New Mexico about 9:00 am. It took me about an hour to go through what is called the Westside part of the city, then out South Coors past Isleta Pueblo to catch highway I-25 south to Los Lunas, Tome, Belen, Bernardo, and Lemitar. Then came Socorro, population 18,000 and where last year at this time I was attending the graduation of my nephew, James, from New Mexico Tech. From Socorro I went a few more miles south to the exit for San Antonio, New Mexico home of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge where thousands of sandhill cranes can be viewed each winter along with lots of ducks, geese, turkey, deer, coyotes, hawks, eagles, quail and once in a while a rare whooping crane. I have visited the refuge often and really enjoy going there, but it is not my goal today. At San Antonio I turned east on New Mexico State Road 380.

I love all the names of the town in New Mexico. I have heard these names all my life but hate to admit that I don’t know the meaning behind most of them. I decide I will look them up on the Internet when I get a chance. Some of them are cute, or quaint, or catchy. Most come from words that are of an Indian (Native American) or Spanish background. Many have been corrupted from the original pronunciation, and are really different from the orgional meaning. But what I really like about a lot of them is how they simply roll of your tongue when you say them.

Heading east I was on a simple two-lane road instead of the four-lane interstate. I couldn’t go as fast but it was a much more pleasant drive. It was desert country and the desert was in bloom on this fine spring morning. Coming around one turn I caught my breath at the sight of a golden yellow field of wild flowers with a rocky ridge pushing up behind it. Right along the edge of the road was several clumps of light pink penstimmons that were about three feet tall in full bloom surrounded by bees and other flying insects. When I stopped to take a photo a blue-tail lizard darted away.

South of this area of New Mexico is a place called Jornada Del Muerto on the map. It means Journey of Death. If you have ever read any New Mexico history you will remember that this was a section of the country that all travelers learned to avoid if it was at all possible. It covers several hundred square miles, and there is nothing out there. And I mean nothing (or at least that is what I have read, as I have never ventured out into it). Oh, there is cactus, sagebrush and a few other desert plants but nothing else and this includes water. Especially water. Even in this day and age it would be suicidal for anyone to try to cross the Jornada Del Muerto with out plenty of water and food, plus extra gasoline for their vehicle, if you can even find a road through it. I have to add that a lot of it is government land and only the military are allowed on it. Since this is the 'place of death' it kind of seems like that might be one reason that the government decided that was where they should set off the first atomic bomb on July 16, 1945. I saw the gate to go to the Trinity Site near a wide spot in the road called Bingham. I decided that maybe, just maybe, I should take one of the tours that are offered at the Site twice a year, the next time one is available.

Just before the next town I saw an area called The Malpais, meaning The Badlands. This is a common name for very old, long-cooled rivers of lava flows. There were large collections of the state flower of New Mexico, the yucca, over much of the lava. I was disappointed that the yucca weren’t in bloom yet. The tall flowers of the yucca were referred to by the conquistadors as the candles of the lord and were thought to light the way at night. The white, waxy flowers do stand out even in the dark. I pulled into the tiny little community of Carrizozo, population near 1000, about noon No I didn’t misspell that name. It refers to a type of native grass in the region. I stopped at a gas station to use the restroom and grab a snack. There was Mexican music playing inside, and the people were friendly, and the smell of burritos got to me. I bought one and went on my way savoring the rich, spicy chili, cheese, and meat inside the flour tortilla.

From Carrizozo I went south on New Mexico State Road 54. There wasn’t much to see on this stretch of road, except very flat desert, a few cars and pickups and numerous big rigs. I did get a faint glimpse of the white sands in the White Sands National Monument. Or it may have been part of the White Sands Missile Range, which is not open to the public. I made Tularosa about 1:00 pm. Tularosa means reeds or cattails, and the population is about 2,800. I didn’t stop, as I wanted to get on to Alamogordo. I was unable to find out the meaning of the name, Alamogordo, but the population is about 35,000. Near by is Holloman Air Force Base, which is the home of the Stealth Fighter planes. Again I didn’t stop but took the east turn on New Mexico State Road 82. I did stop for a moment when I reached the tunnel that is about midway between Alamogordo and Cloudcroft. I took pictures of the tunnel, a bit longer than a football field and the canyon beside it that has a sign saying it is part of the Lincoln National Forest. It had another sign saying that the canyon was home to the Fresnel Shelter Site which is two caves that archaeologists first found fifty some years ago. The caves had many things in them like arrowheads, hemp sandals, baskets, brooms, bedding, and a 3000-year-old corncob thought to be from a native culture of gatherers before the time of the Anasazi. Lincoln National Forest is, also, famous for being the home of Smokey the Bear. Smokey was found as a tiny cub after a bad forest fire. He went on to become the symbol of the Forest Service for fighting fires. He was fond of saying, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” which is still very true.

It was about 2:00 pm when I reached the town of Cloudcroft, meaning a croft or meadow in the clouds, population about 800, with an elevation at 8663 feet. Another words its way up there in the clouds. It is a beautiful little town with several motels, restaurants, and lots of gift shops. I stopped long enough to call Dustin, my son, so he would be out at the corner of the road I was to turn on to get to the small horse ranch where he works, which was my final destination.

Six more miles down the road east of Cloudcroft I saw Dustin standing beside his truck and waving at me. He jumped in it and led the way to Chacaro Oh-So-Black Arabian and Pinto Ranch. The ranch is a small one as ranches go so don’t go thinking in terms of cowboys, as there isn’t a cow on the place. It is a horse-breeding ranch. The raise Arabians and Saddlebred horses.

The first thing we did was put my suitcase and stuff in Dustin’s small apartment in one end of the main barn. The next thing we did was go to see Darkan’s Mystic Art or as he is better known as Arte. It is pronounced Art-ee. Arte is the yearling colt that Dustin’s mare Emme had last spring. I had seen him once before at about five months. Now he was a bit over a year old and just gorgeous. He is a handsome, fine-looking colt. But then I might be a bit opinionated. Arte is half Arabian and half Saddlebred or National Show Horse as the half Saddlebred horses are called. He is black with his mama’s long white stocking, and two lightning bolt stripes down over his left side and flank. He really has a pretty Arabian head like his sire Black Lord Darkan.

Next it was off to see the two mares that had recently foaled. Both off them were black Arabians that had been bred to the two Saddlebred stallions owned by the ranch. Both babies were adorable little fillies. Both were black with white stockings. One had a white splotch on her withers, and the other had a large white band around her middle. I couldn’t help but want to hold and love them but they wouldn’t stand for that. They were curious and wanted to nibble on everything they could put their mouths on, but have to be taught not to bit on humans.

After meeting all the horses, Dustin and I went to feed his two mares that he was keeping at another place a few miles away. There I got reacquainted with Emme, and CW. Emme is Arte’s mom and is a beautiful black and white pinto. CW (Charging Walk) is a big, bay Thoroughbred mare that is very, very pregnant. I have hopes that she will have it while I am here but she is not due for about another month.
To be Continued---------

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