Thursday, April 4, 2013

It’s Off to Farmington…

Seal of the City
of Farmington
In Chapter 8 of THE BISTI BUSINESS, BJ and Aggie Alfano approach Farmington by air in Alfano’s dual engine Mitsubishi Marquise. Aggie is the older brother of the young man BJ has been hired to locate. A couple of tenuous leads in Taos have sent them to the Four Corners area of New Mexico on their quest. The following is a passage (told from BJ’s viewpoint) from Pages 49 and 50 of the book:


A massive fluffy plume boiled up out of a gigantic smokestack and rode the prevailing air currents beneath our wings like one of the malevolent spirits of native folklore, spreading mischief far to the southwest. Plans for a new electric power-generating plant, to be fed by area coal mines, were slowly making their way through the bureaucracy to one day add dollars to the economy and carcinogens to the environment.

“Those emissions look nasty.” Aggie reflected my own thoughts. “You know much about Farmington?”

I chuckled. “I’m a history buff, so I know a little about a lot of places, and not a lot about any of them.”

Farmington, a small city of just under 50,000, which the early aboriginals called Tótah, or the Meeting Place of Waters, perched on the Colorado Plateau at the conjunction of the San Juan, Animas, and La Plata Rivers. Combined, these three rivers accounted for twenty-five percent of all the water in the state. The local economy was carbon-based: natural gas, coal, and oil.

“There’s something that worries me more than that smokestack at the moment,” I said. “Farmington’s been the target of several civil rights investigations, mostly for hate crimes motivated by racial discrimination. The place is virtually surrounded by Native Americans—the Navajo Nation west of Farmington, the Ute Mountain Reservation to the northwest, and the Southern Ute to the northeast—and that’s sparked trouble at times. It’s not much of a leap to conclude that a couple of gays might run into the same type of prejudice.”


Looking over Farmington
west toward Shiprock
BJ’s stated concern about hate crimes in the area were based on actual fact. Farmington has earned headlines in the past for hate crimes against Native Americans, particularly Navajos. The city spent years attempting to shake it’s designation as “the Selma, Alabama of the Southwest.” The 1970s were the heyday of “Injun rollin’,” when youths from border towns in the area beat up Navajos (usually sleeping alcoholics) with rocks, pellet guns, bottles, and baseball bats as a rite of passage.

Rodney Barker’s book, The Broken Circle – a True Story of Crime and Magic in Indian Country, recounts the April 1974 “Chokecherry Massacre,” the murder and mutilation of three Navajo men near Farmington. Their bodies were thrown into a nearby canyon. Three Farmington high school boys admitted to the killings but were never tried for the crime of murder. They were sent to reform school as juveniles, instead. Attempts by tribal members to march in protest of this lenient treatment turned into riots when permits for peaceful demonstrations were denied.

Thirty-two years later, fears were raised again by violent, racially charged incidents between whites and Navajos which started with the beating of a forty-seven-year-old Navajo man who was offered a ride by three white teenagers in Farmington, driven to the outskirts of town, and beaten. Six days later, a twenty-one-year-old Navajo was killed by police responding to a domestic dispute in a Wal-Mart parking lot. When the Farmington police declared it a justified shooting, the FBI declined to investigate. They later reconsidered their decision.

Aztec Ruins Near
Aztec, New Mexico
Although BJ’s concerned had some basis in history, the City of Farmington is not totally defined by its racially charged past. The area was settled by the Anasazi in the Seventh Century (visit the nearby Salmon and Aztec Ruins as BJ and Aggie do while following the trail of Lando Alfano and his companion, Dana Norville). In 1868, the Navajo Nation was ceded the western half of San Juan County, New Mexico. A number of settlers moved into the remaining territory from Southern Colorado and established Junction City. In 1901 the town was incorporated and renamed Farmington. At the time it boasted a population of 548. By September 19, 1905, the railroad connected Farmington to Durango, Colorado. The 1920s saw investments in natural gas and oil in the area, although significant production did not occur until the 1950s.

Something I didn’t know: In 1967, an underground nuclear explosion took place 50 miles east of Farmington and about 25 miles south of Dulce, New Mexico in the present day Carson National Forest. This detonation was the pilot project of Operation Plowshare (Project Gasbuggy), an attempt to fracture underground bedrock for greater extraction of natural gas from wells in the area.

Something else I hadn’t known: On March 18, 1950, over half the town’s population reported seeing large saucers in the sky flying at rapid speeds—a mass UFO sighting!

Today, Farmington is an active, vibrant town that has hosted the Connie Mack World Series baseball tournament for players between 16 and 18 years of age for 43 years. The games are played every August at Ricketts Park.

The three local rivers are celebrated by the Farmington Riverfest each year. The festival boasts music, fine arts displays, food, entertainment, river rafting, and a 5K and 10K run and walk.

The city sponsors an annual strongman competition on the last Saturday of July on San Juan Plaza. There is a Four Corners Storytelling Festival and a Renaissance Faire in October, and youngsters from the Four Corners Home for Children dress in traditional clothing and pose for the Live Navajo Nativity Scene on the 23rd of December.

This piece wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the excellent fishing, both in the rivers and on the lake.

It’s a great place to visit.

Next week: Probably something else from THE BISTI BUSINESS.

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

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