Saturday again, this time going through the mountains of New Mexico from god-knows-where to god knows where else. I expect god is pretty proud of this particular canyon, with its multi-colored bluffs and its spare bushy flats. The cedars are back to join the pines, shorter again as we range this high pass where few live and all dwellings look embattled. But who wouldn’t live here if they could stay warm and out of the wind. As a matter of fact, we just passed two women out walking three large dogs, and they stopped to wave at us as we sauntered by. Well, I know we’re not actually sauntering, but the train is. Just discovered the where-else, but waiting for the sign so I’ll know how to spell it. Ah a small sprawl of a town that thought to lay a brick sidewalk next to the tracks. As we pause to take on a traveler, my first tumbleweed sighting occurs. It’s headed east, down the center of the tracks. The town is Lamy. Never heard of it.
I have to take a moment here to extend apologies to the dining car staff. Service at lunch was only bested by the fare served. Generous salad with blue cheese, walnuts, apples and chicken strips, followed by an excellent tiramisu and coffee. Applause.
Underway again through the rock walls of another range, slim, willow-looking scrubs make an elegant counter to the ubiquitous pale gold of what must be sagebrush. The layered rock of southern Colorado has given way to roughly carved and fractured basalt. The southern detour to cross the Rockies at Raton is past. We continue relentlessly west into the long afternoon.
In the high desert now, and everything struggles, the land, the vegetation, the people. More houses now made of adobe, more little sections of incredibly scrubby land fenced off. And more of strange beehive structures, about head high, that I think must be bread ovens, in the back yards. Or else something I can’t imagine. If you can, then help me out.
Then suddenly, another sparse settlement, this one with a soccer field, the bright green of artificial turf. Too bright the green, too sharp the edges, to be anything else. Somewhere outside Albuquerque we pause for another red signal as the wind hoists a dust plume all on its own from the red dirt of the nearby roadside. And another. Another tumbleweed passes on the next track, chased shortly by a fast commuter train going somewhere east. It’s an engine and five cars.
Now I’m noticing another odd thing. Peculiarly large square chimneys on all the houses. And then one appears with a side missing and I see the blocks of wood excelsior inside. It’s not a chimney, but a swamp cooler, drip-fed by a hose and with a fan inside sucking cooled and humidified air down into the room. Great inventions, these, in dry place. In the Ozarks we have plenty of humidity already.
We get an hour’s rest at Albuquerque while the train is serviced and they trade our quiet conductor for one who says “Ladies and Gentlemen” too much, often several times within a sentence. He reminds me of Goldie Henley, bless her soul, who would get so caught up in the fervency of prayer that Jesus outnumbered all the other words put together.
I wondered if the wind at Albuquerque, rumored to be clocking at 30 mph, might blow up some weather, and it has. We’re headed northwest, toward Gallup, and the gathering clouds look serious, although they promise a splendid sunset. The terrain here is dry again and looks terribly overgrazed. Nothing growing much even beside the tracks.
Nothing much happening here, either. But it’s accompanied by a wonderful steak, mashed potatoes and green beans for supper. More tomorrow.
thanks, Merideth. I love travelling with you. Used to play Kim and Jim on my radio shows over the years from late 80’s to 2009.
I feel like I am right there with you, Marideth. And the food sounds so very good!!! Thanks so much . Your way with words is lovely.
I spent 15 years in northern New Mexico before moving back to the Northwest to get rehydrated. You were right, that brown dome you see in the many New Mexico yards is called an horno (with a silent ‘h’ – Spanish for oven). You probably saw them passing by Indian pueblos, where they use them to make yummy bread. You still see a few in use in the Spanish villages as well. And you are also right that much of that land has been grazed nearly to death. You probably also saw lots of dead piñon pines mixed in with the juniper – casualties of the drought-induced bark beetle infestation. Lamy is a little town about 15 miles outside of Santa Fe, home to artists and desert rats. For many years it was where you got off the train and then got a ride into Santa Fe; a few years ago they reactivated the spur that goes into town, so you can finally take the train all the way there. And they have a fancy new high-speed rail that goes between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, which was probably the small, fast train you saw passing you. I love riding on trains, and hope you have a great trip! I’ll be putting up a new sound installation the day of the Oscars, but I’ll be thinking about all of you and sending good juju.