Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kathy, Billy the Kid and E.T. - New Mexico Pt 1

"What a Tourist"

I'm laying on a soothing pillow top bed, enjoying my first morning of good internet and peaceful quiet since the beginning of this adventure 4 days ago. I have a whole new perspective on Econo Lodge hotels. This one, nestled in the town of Silver City New Mexico, is actually very nice and so far a great place to stay. Of course, I could just feel this way after spending three nights in hotels where at each something wasn't up to par enough to be annoying. Although, I will say, if it wasn't for the cold shower in Riodoso, the Best Western would have ranked higher. I haven't turned the shower on here yet, so I reserve the right to change this paragraph later.

El Paso to Carlsbad

Kathy and I's February adventure to the warmer climates of Southern New Mexico began last Wednesday with a flight into El Paso. Kathy had our trip all mapped out and we would begin by exploring regions East of El Paso, then shoot up toward New Mexico, landing in Carlsbad that night. I get driving duty during most of the trip, since Kathy's on the look out for photo opportunities along the way. I try to help the best I can, but don't have her "eye" for the stuff that makes Legends Of America interesting. Instead, I usually pop of with the unusual.

Like driving up this lonesome Texas highway between I-10 and Carlsbad. The landscape was rugged but beautiful, and we hadn't seen life out on the plains for quite a while. "Hey, there's some cows" I spout off in an effort to show it's not completely desolate. "Well Dave, those are horses, not cows" Kathy retorts with a smug smirk hiding the giggle and the urge to call me a DORK. "Oh, they are horses aren't they" I agree as we get closer and realize it's time for another optometrist visit.

As we approached I watched with great interest how the majestic animals, about 15 of them, just stood there on the hill top without any movement at all. Then by the time we were beside them, I was sure they weren't animals. In fact, they appeared to be statues of horses stationed on the hill top by some rancher with a weird since of humor. "Those aren't even real horses" I called out, amazed that someone would take such care in planting them there. Kathy, looking at them the entire time I was, agreed that something was odd. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, so I quickly put on the brakes and made the u-turn back to the side of the road where we could get some good pics for 'Quirky Texas'. We must of stood there by the side of the road for a good 2 minutes, convinced they were statues of horses, when all the sudden one of them began to walk away. I thought we were going to fall into the ravine laughing so hard. Turns out we are both DORKS.

By the way, the speed limit in Texas State and National Parks is 55 mph, not 76. Found that out the hard way shortly after our horse adventure while going through Guadalupe National Park. Very nice Texas Highway Patrolman did his best to make sure I remember next time I'm in Texas. I think that was about the time we decided to have late lunches with no big dinners the rest of the trip. Gotta make up that couple hundred dollars somewhere along the way. By the time we reached Carlbad I wasn't hungry anyway, just ready for a nice relaxing night at the hotel. Once we got past the diesel engine running right outside our door, and the waves of pot smoke coming from the room next to us, we finally dozed ready for our next adventure into the world of Aliens.

Carlsbad to Ruidoso via Roswell and Fort Sumner
It was an early start for us Thursday morning, our body clocks still on central time, and we had went to bed by 8 the night before. Skipped Carlsbad Caverns, since both of us had seen them before as kids, and caves weren't really on the agenda this trip. Instead we headed up the road to Roswell, anxious to see Alien memorabilia and all the quirkiness that entails. It really didn't get quirky until we reached the downtown area. Shops on both sides of the street decrying Alien ware, and there on a corner, the UFO Museum and Research Center. For the UFO buff, this museum was great. History abound on the legend of the crash landing near Roswell, from news paper articles to a recording of an actual radio news broadcast talking about the event. There were movie props and maps, all dealing with E.T. and our fascination of the unknown Alien world. For me it was nice side note to the Old West history Kathy and I were really after.

We scooted up the highway from Roswell to Fort Sumner, resting place of Billy the Kid. A lot of history here and Billy was only a small part of it. Fort Sumner was the destination of thousands of Navajo on "The Long Walk", and the State Monument was a wonderful tribute to these displaced peoples, drug from their homes by Kit Carson. Very knowledgable staff and well kept, I would definitely recommend the Fort Sumner State Monument to anyone wanting to get closer to the rich history of our Native past. It's also the place where Billy was shot and killed. In town, a privately owned Billy the Kid Museum houses all kinds of Old West memorabilia, including what is claimed to be Billy the Kids gun. It also houses some really cool early 1900's cars, late 1800's Buggies and every thing you can think of that was involved with living in New Mexico way back when. Since it's privately owned, ran by the son of the original proprietor, you may want to check this out in the next 5 years or so. Don't know what happens when the owners decide enough is enough and hang their hats.

From Fort Sumner to Ruidoso by way of Vaughn and Carrizozo was an interesting drive. Flat lands out of Fort Sumner dotted with a couple of ghost towns for good measure. Then between Vaughn and Carrizozo some small mountains to break the monotony. Actually thought we were going to try to find a place in Carrizozo to stay the night, but since it's more of a spot in the road that pushed us on down to Ruidoso, and into the beautiful South Eastern New Mexico mountains. Found our way to a Best Western, which turned out to be a pretty good stop if it weren't for the cold shower the next morning.

Ruidoso to Socorro and the Billy the Kid Trail

Down State 70, turning at Hondo, the Billy the Kid Trail takes visitors up through Lincoln, where the legend of Billy began. Very nice stop, with knowledgable folk at the museum eager for you to take in the town, see the Court House where Billy escaped, and learn all about the Lincoln County War, of which Billy was a prominent figure. It doesn't take long in Lincoln before you figure out that the Legend of Billy is really just that...Legend. And Legends don't always ring true. In fact, I left Lincoln with the keen sense that Billy was really just an ornery young gun slinger who got caught up in the day and was a hero to some who sided the same. Never the less, Lincoln offered up some good times and is a good place to stop.

Don't bother with Fort Stanton, it's a state run drug rehab facility now and not a lot to see (wouldn't want to get out of the car unless visiting someone you know still living). On down the trail, then back through Carrizozo, back toward Vaughn just a short ways, we cut off to see some 'real' ghost towns. These are the ones abandoned years ago sitting out in the middle of no where on a county dirt road. Our first stop was White Oak, though not a ghost town (probably a hundred or so people still there) it still had some of the structures first built back in the 1800's. Nothing you can tour though and didn't hold our attention very long.


Did I mention I bought a Tom Tom for Kathy this Christmas? Neat little map gadget that so far had made our trip smooth and concise. It was nice knowing how many miles to the next destination, turns up ahead, and all that great stuff. Get ol' Tom off the beaten path though and expect the unexpected. Coming out of White Oaks I did my thing and pointed the wizard toward Jicarilla, a true ghost town up into the hills on roads only ventured by ranchers and history buffs like us. My first clue that Tom Tom wasn't going to help much was when it told me to turn right. Kathy's voice raising "You don't want to go this way". I keep turning responding "I need to go where Tom's telling me too". Kathy now getting a little frustrated saying "Ok, ignore the Dead End sign then". Oh, Ok, guess I'll go left instead of right. It wasn't long before Tom re-routed though and pointed down the path we were on. Then just a few miles up the road, Tom starts sqawkin about a left turn ahead. Slowing down to see the rugged ruts jotting off to the north I decide to listen to Kathy this time and stay on the road. Tom must of done this about another 5 times before we finally reach Jicarilla. Then another two or three times as we made our way down to Ancho. Tom's great though, and at least I could see where we were.

Ancho was pretty ghostly, even though it appeared to have at least one active resident. Ruins of yesterday still sat on the south side of the railroad tracks and there were plenty of photo opportunities to keep us happy. After Ancho it was back down through Carrizozo and then west on state 380 toward Sorocco. Went through the Malpais Lava Beds, and by the Trinity site, or at least the closest you could get to the Trinity site. The area is still off limits to the public despite it's historical value as the site of the first atomic bomb explosion, and it's deep enough into the White Sands Missile Range that you really only get the marker to look at from the highway. There may be something off 380 that you can get more information, however Kathy and I were focused on getting to Socorro, so a pic of the marker was all I got.

Socorro to Silver City (and ghost towns on the side)

Socorro wasn't a destination but just an overnight stay for our next adventure, and man was it a long adventure. We started out down I-25 and cut off to see the old mining towns of Monticello, Winston and Chloride. What made our start special Saturday morning was the snow overnight. The further south on I-25, the whiter the landscape. Not enough to cause us travel problems, but it was enough to transform the desert and surrounding mountains into the perfect "postcard" view. I don't think the camera could capture the beauty we experienced as the sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the snow dusted landscape. We were a little concerned it could change some of our plans, as Winston and Chloride were in higher elevations, but our worries didn't last long as the Sun had everything back to normal within just a couple of hours.

I think the best experience we had on this piece was Chloride. A family with history that goes back years in the ghost town has revived it's past with a museum and a couple other shops. Great treasures from it's boom days, and even greater stories told by someone who has a true love for the area made it a wonderful stop. On the way out, Tom Tom told us to get to our next destination, Hillsboro, we would have to back track to I-25 and head down through Truth Or Consequences. Kathy's all about avoiding the major highways, afraid she's going to miss a bit of history still locked away from the general publics eye. So she decides to explore Tom's feature of "Alternate Routes". Low and behold, the first route that comes up is one that takes us due south, completely avoiding I-25 off to the east.

I knew something was wrong as soon as we were told to turn right. Two ruts that reminded me of the day before near Jicarilla shot off the main dirt county road. Being adventuresome we followed Tom's lead, but only a half mile in we were faced with a steep snow covered grade. Four wheel drive rental Jeep or not, it was a long way to Hillsboro and we both came to our senses and headed back to the interstate. I think we wasted about an hour with that little jaunt (I'm leaving out a lot here, including getting turned around and going by the same house at least 4 times).

Hillsboro was alright. Kathy got her quota pic of me behind bars at an old west jail, and the town had some life to it with artists and other residents keeping up it's quaint mountain town appeal. Kingston, down the road a bit, was a bust. Back in it's boom days it was home to 7000, all there for the mining of course. Now just a few residents remain, and no one that really appears to care about preserving any of its history. By this time it was getting well into the afternoon, and Kathy had us plotted to come through the Black Range Mountains to our next overnight stay in Silver City. There would be a few more short stops along the way, but what I wasn't prepared for was the mountains we had to cross to get there. Emery Pass at 8200 feet was only a few miles from Kingston, but I swear it must of taken an hour to get there. The kind of winding up hill climb that wears the body down. Tensing with each turn and moving 20mph max on a good stretch, by the time we reached the pass I was beat. Problem was we weren't even half way from Kingston to Silver City yet, and there was plenty of mountain driving to go.

It goes without saying that this soothing pillow top bed at the Econo Lodge was the perfect place to rest my mind, still moving from side to side as if perpetually coming through the mountains inch by inch. In fact, after the busy travel schedule of the past few days, Kathy and I have decided to stay here another night. We did get out and adventure today to probably the best ghost town yet, Mogollon. Kathy drove the hour trek up north on state 180, and it was a heart pounding experience getting there. I'll write about that in part two of our New Mexico adventure. For now, I'm getting into the History Channels' "Life After People". A fitting show that truly corresponds with our ghost town adventures. It's amazing what happens to our man made past without us being there.

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