Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Great Divide in New Mexico

In Chapter 3 of THE BISTI BUSINES, BJ Vinson heads west out of Albuquerque on his way to the Continental Divide in search of the younger son of his new client, a Napa Valley, California wine mogul. Lando Alfano and his traveling companion, Dana Norville, have dropped off the radar while on a sightseeing trip through New Mexico. 

Guided by a cryptic note BJ finds in the boys’ Albuquerque hotel room, he’s going to The Continental Divide Bar at Chesty Westy’s Truck Stop just off Interstate 40. The Continental Divide is a fact of life, but both Chesty’s Truck Stop and the Continental Divide Bar, an Eagle type gay establishment, are figments of the writer’s imagination.  

The Continental Divide of the Americas, or the Great Divide, is the principal hydrological demarcation that separates the watershed draining into the Pacific and Arctic Oceans from those draining into the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. It begins at Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska (which is the westernmost point on the mainland of the Americas, in case you didn’t already know that) and zigzags south into Canada, crosses into the United States in northwestern Montana to ride the Rockies through New Mexico into Old Mexico, and continues into South America where it follows the Andes and ultimately ends in southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. 

Our intrepid PI climbs steadily up Nine Mile Hill and thence eastward to cross the Rio (River) Puerco (Pig), which is usually dry. He passes through Laguna Pueblo, (KAWAIK in native Keresan) which has been occupied continuously for at least 800 years. Laguna tradition has it they have lived there for the last 2,000 years. The pueblo is actually made up of three villages: Sky City or Old Acoma, a former stronghold atop an almost unreachable mesa, Acomita, and McCarty’s. Laguna is Spanish for lake, so called because of a lake on the pueblo. 

I-40 then skirts Cubero, an old trading post and passes south of 11,305-foot Mt. Taylor, the highest point in the San Mateo (St. Matthew) Mountains. This is one of four peaks sacred to the Navajo, who call it Tsoodzil, or Turquoise Mountain. Born in volcanic violence eons and eons ago, scientists speculate the peak once stood 16,000 to 18,000 feet tall before a series of Mt. St. Helens-type explosions reduced it to its present picayune size. 

BJ then drives through Grants, the County Seat of Cibola County, a town of about 9,000 souls. It was born as a railroad camp in 1880 when three Canadian brothers named Grant landed a contract to build a section of railroad. It was originally called Grant’s Camp, then Grants Station, and finally just Grants. In the 1980s it was dubbed the Uranium Capital of the World. 

Seven miles beyond Grants, BJ’s Chevy Impala skirts the long-abandoned hamlet of Bluewater, now marked by empty hulk of the Bluewater Motel. At Prewitt, he might have detoured to nearby Bluewater Lake State Park had he been interested in doing so. Shortly before reaching Thoreau (pronounced “Thru-ru” by locals) and its Navajo Co-op Store, he arrives at his destination…Chesty Westy’s. 

BJ lunches on excellent home-made Southern-fried chicken in Tia Maria’s Diner at the truck stop before crossing the arroyo to the huge gay bar known as the Continental Divide Bar. There he meets the manager, a mountainous black man named Sweetie, who looks like a bearded Old Testament patriarch in over-sized bib overalls. Sweetie tells BJ he doesn’t belong in the bar because he has a waistline; the Continental is a bear place. But BJ learns the two California men had been there. People remembered them because they had danced in their skivvies to the enjoyment of the crowd. The two young men had left the next day badly hung-over and nursing paper cuts in private places from all the money the bears stuffed down their briefs in appreciation of their inexpert yet enthusiastic performance. 

Then the case turns slightly ominous when BJ learns someone else has been asking about the two men. Or was it merely a case of curiosity about the bright orange Porsche Boxter that Lando Alfano drives?

Next week: More from THE BISTI BUSINESS.

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.


  1. Interesting info--especially about how Grants got its name, which I'd kind of wondered about. The "s" on the end also distinguishes it from Grant County. Too bad the town of Bernalillo (in Sandoval County) doesn't have an add-on to distinguish it from Bernalillo County (where the city of Albuquerque is located). Did people run out of names or something?

  2. The people probably ran out of heroes beorfe all their name places were established. Aprops of nothing, years ago when I was a banker, on a trip to Mexico, I learned most bankers were accorded the honorific "Don." Guess who instantly became Don Don.


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