Friday, February 22, 2008

Mogollon to El Paso via Shakespeare - New Mexico Pt 2

Southwest Airlines has changed their "cattle herd" ways a bit and actually started assigning 'positions' in line. It's a better process than before, since everyone in groups A, B and C aren't all standing in their respective lines at the same time, instead just a specific group and positions. Poles mounted along the line tell you where to stand, and you don't line up until they call your group and position. Of course, this is a bit confusing the first time you use it and, while Kathy and I were on our way home from New Mexico, I heard a woman frantically trying to find seat A-56 on the plane. I felt for the poor woman, but I was just too tired to do much else. We made it back to the El Paso airport about 3pm this past Tuesday, both of us thankful for the great adventure in New Mexico, but even more thankful we were going home.

Sunday's Mogollon Voyage

We made a wise choice on Sunday and decided that we had pushed ourselves hard enough. Staying at the Econolodge in Silver City two nights instead of one gave us an opportunity to relax that morning, then pick just one 'must see' ghost town not too far away. Kathy agreed to drive, since I was still recovering from Saturdays long trek through the Black Range mountains. However, If I had known what was in store, I probably would have passed on her offer. The drive up state highway 180 from Silver City started simple enough. It wasn't really mountainous, more large hills than anything, with the continental divide just outside of town. We could see the Mogollon Mountains from the road though and knew we would be heading into them in no time.

Taking the turn just north of Glenwood toward the town of Mogollon, I got the real since this wasn't such a good idea. Signs proclaiming that the road should not be traveled at night, warnings about limited snow plowing, and the fact that the town it self doesn't open to tourists until Summer (and then only on the weekends), made my stomach twirl with anticipation. I know, I know...I'm a control freak when it comes to whose driving, but if you drove with Kathy while doing 50 in a 25mph zone, in the mountains, your asshole would pucker too. She wouldn't be that brave this time though, as it only took the first curve to put her in caution.

We didn't see a lot of it at first, the sun doing a good job of melting most of the ice and snow in our path, however as we inched our way up in the shade of the mountain the danger became more evident. Longer and longer patches of snow and ice with only a couple of tire tracks to show not many had passed through here since the storm. That was when we noticed the road getting narrower, and wouldn't you know it, there was SUV coming down at us as well. They stopped above us at a curve, the road between a steep grade covered in snow. Kathy didn't blink as she kept her pace going up. "What are the rules of the road in situations like this" I pondered nervously. "Oh, my brother told me once, but I can't remember, bottom line is I have no place else to go", Kathy's voice full of determination that it was the SUV's burden to find a spot and let us pass.

I know she was only going 5mph, but it seemed like we could slip off the edge any moment as she inched past the SUV. The passenger looking at me quite curiously at the panicked look on my face as our side mirrors came within a hair of each other. I'm sure they could read my lips as I proclaimed over and over "Need to move over more, more, moRE, mORE, MORE!" Speaking of pucker factor, I think I sucked in half the seat before we made it past. Kathy never flinched, leaving me with the knowledge I have a ways to go to catch up in testosterone levels. Luckily we met only one more vehicle on the way back down into the valley where Mogollon hid, and Kathy did the right thing, found a spot to pull off, returning balance to our karma.

Pulling into the edge of town we immediately knew this was worth the effort. Mogollon had seen it's share of disasters, from floods to fires, but somehow this quaint little ghost town had been preserved well for adventure seekers like us. We spent quality time taking pictures and enjoying views. There were a few residents who obviously run the shops during tourist season, but for the most part it was just us. Kathy, being a lover of old cemeteries, decided we would trek up the side of the mountain again to find Mogollon's. Fortunately for me the road was more like a dried up creek bed, and Jeep or not, it was beating us so badly she finally turned around.
I strongly recommend Mogollon to any Old West Ghost Town lover...just do it in the Summer.

Saving Shakespeare

Monday morning we headed out early again. The plan was to head south from Silver City on state highway 90 to Lordsburg, where just outside of the city is probably our best adventure of the entire trip, Shakespeare. Promoted as "The West's Most Authentic Ghost Town", it's only open for regular tours a weekend or two per month. You can make an appointment, but Kathy and I weren't organized enough to do that this trip. And since it's privately owned by a local rancher, we were resigned to taking pictures from the fence looking in. As we pulled up we encountered a very nice lady getting papers out of her car. I'm so horrible with names, so please pardon the fact I can't remember hers, but she just happened to be acting as secretary to the rancher while doing research for a book she was about to write. The book is going to be on Janaloo Hill, the ranchers wife who had passed away only a couple of years ago. The Hill family has owned the land Shakespeare sits on for years and years, and has preserved it best they can for everyone to enjoy, including some weekends with re-enactments.

After we talked to the secretary and got the Ok to at least get pictures from around the fence line, she went back into the ranch house. It wasn't long however that she came running back out waving us down. "Manny says he wants to meet you" she said, surprising us both as we never imagined being able to enter on an off day. Manny Hough, Janaloo's husband, is a one of a kind character, much like his wife was before she passed. Rough, rugged cattle rancher with a deep love of Shakespeare and the area, and could tell you anything you wanted to know about it's history. While some historians may discount his knowledge of the Butterfield Stage going through Shakespeare, Manny was able to explain it quite well, telling how the stage moved several times due to water quality, etc, and that looking at just one route during a three year period didn't mean it hadn't also come through his backyard.

There were stories of Billy the Kid along with other outlaws and lawmen who had made their way through. And when Manny spoke of his wife, his eyes sparkled with memories of great times keeping Shakespeare alive, and Janaloo's lasting impression on not only his family, but the entire area around Lordsburg. You could also tell he was doing everything he could to make sure the history stayed alive for years to come. Shakespeare's already a National Historic Site, but Manny had tried previously to make it a New Mexico State Park. The state was definitely interested, but the demands were too much for Manny to except. So he's spending time talking with historical societies and the like, laying the ground work to keep the ghost town from returning to the desert.

Manny, his secretary, and a volunteer ranch hand (Jim?, again beg my pardon), were all very kind to Kathy and I that day. The ranch hand opened up several of the building so we could take a peek, and we wound up spending a little over an hour at Shakespeare, walking away with a real since of history and gratitude for their incredible hospitality. We could never thank them enough, but Kathy's sure to beef up her story of Shakespeare and send more people their way. Check their schedule, or call for an appointment...this Ghost Town, even more so than Mogollon, is a MUST SEE!

Steins to El Paso via Highway 9

Steins is another ghost town just west of Lordsburg near the Arizona border. It was closed too, but it appeared to be more shut down than just closed. So Kathy just snapped a few photos and we were back on the road, this time heading for our final destination, El Paso. Of course, we couldn't do I-10 back through New Mexico. Kathy had to make it another one of those Mexican border adventures for us, so we headed south to Animas and hit Highway 9 east.

No more mountain driving, that was for sure. Just mile after mile of New Mexico desert. About half way between Animas and Hachita I began to notice a silver spot in the sky off in the distance. I watched it closely and realized it wasn't moving at all. Memories of my horse adventure the first day of our trip came back and I fought the urge to say anything. But after another few miles of watching it I finally spoke up. "Kathy, is that a plane or a UFO?".

Kathy didn't say much about it this time, but humored me after reaching Hachita and tried to get a shot of it. It was still too far away, but we were heading that direction. Highway 9 after Hachita jogs south to the border of Mexico. We could tell as we got closer due to the increased presence of border patrol and what appeared to be National Guard. They had these mobile lookout towers stationed every few miles, and the Home Land Security vehicles were perched in the brush beside the road in between. My spot in the sky started getting bigger, and Kathy and I soon realized it was an aerial surveillance device floating high in the sky. I bet the 'aliens' didn't think it was a UFO.

Columbus, south of Deming, is home to Pancho Villa State Park. This is the area where the only foreign army invasion of the US took place, and it's chalk full of interesting stories of the battles between the US and Mexico. It's also the first place where the US launched air strikes back in 1918, and the park it self is a good stop, worth the $5 per vehicle for those curious about our early dealings with our neighbors to the south. We stayed for a while and then decided it was time to wrap up the day and head into El Paso.

Tuesday morning we got another early start and did the walking tour of downtown El Paso. Great history there too, but many of the buildings they point out are hard to imagine back in the day due to the retail shops they house. We also took time to head south east along the Mission Trail, where missions that have been active since the 1600's provide even more history of the Spanish culture in west Texas. We were going to take in the Fort Biggs Museum near the airport, but the line to get passes into the active military base was long and our time was short.

It was a wonderful trip to New Mexico and the El Paso region, and Kathy and I both decided it was probably our best "Ghost Towning" trip yet. We are also glad to be back in Kansas City, despite the fact we left 70 degree (F) weather behind for 20 degrees when we landed. Kathy's busy writing up the history of all these places and posting her chosen pics, so be watching the What's New page over the next few weeks. In the meantime, it's back to the routine corporate world for me. First on the agenda is to plan our next 'vacation', expanding on Legends of America one piece of history at a time.

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