dontravis.com blog post #273
I’m still on a New Mexico kick. This time we visit the southwest, Bootheel country of New Mexico, the setting of the third book in my BJ Vinson Mystery Series.
I probably overdid it so far as length goes once again, but try to stick with me to the end.
|Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons|
From The City of Rocks:
I headed for Deming, hoping to locate some of the dead man’s family or familiars, who might be able to give me a lead before driving to the M Lazy M Ranch. The sixty-mile stretch between Las Cruces and Deming was relatively flat and dominated by creosote, honey mesquite, and yucca. An ungodly amount of cacti and spiked plants of every size and description lived among these anchors. Except, of course, the tall, stately saguaros the entire world associated with the American Southwest. To the best of my knowledge, those grew only in Arizona.
Roadkill revealed the makeup of the local fauna: jackrabbits, desert terrapins, kangaroo rats, and the occasional rattlesnake. I even saw the desiccated carcass of a coyote hanging over the fence bordering the Interstate. Of course, in the Cooke’s Range to the north, there would be cougar and black bear and mule deer. The nearby Florida Mountains boasted ibex and mountain sheep with occasional unconfirmed sightings of the Mexican jaguar. I know this because I’m a confirmed history buff, especially the history of my native state.
The day was hot beneath a blue-flame sky, probably around a hundred degrees. But like we’re fond of saying down here, it’s a dry heat, so it doesn’t hurt much, especially at an altitude of three-quarters of a mile above sea level. Dark, menacing thunderheads hovered south over Mexico, but the monsoon hadn’t yet taken hold.
Deming, with a population of around fifteen thousand, was the county seat and principal town of Luna County. It is also located in rockhound country. A good part of southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona is a paradise for rock and mineral collecting. Most of the old mines are closed now, but on public land, it’s legal to collect bits and pieces of once-treasured rock. Geodes. Fire agate. Jasper. Quartz. Azurite. Even turquoise chips can often be found in old dumps.
The Impala breezed south over a landscape reminiscent of the drive between Deming and Las Cruces: flat, high desert terrain broken by blue-shadowed mountains in the distance. Heat waves rising off the asphalt were pleasantly hypnotic.
Columbus is an official, twenty-four-hour POE—Point of Entry—between the two nations, although it sits about three miles north of the actual demarcation line. Border City is where the crossings actually occur. Its proximity to the Mexican State of Chihuahua is what gave the place its brush with history.
The actual story is long and convoluted, as well as highly controversial. Two revolutionaries, Venustiano Carranza and Francisco Villa, better known as Pancho, tossed out a dictator named Victoriano Huerta and then turned on one another. A Columbus merchant and arms dealer by the name of Ravel supposedly sold defective ammunition to Pancho Villa. When the guerilla demanded a refund, the merchant reputedly told him the Ravels no longer dealt with Mexican bandits.
On the morning of March 9, 1916, one of Villa’s generals attacked Columbus with more than 500 men. The twenty-four-hour invasion burned down a significant portion of the town and killed fourteen American soldiers together with ten residents. Another eighty or so revolutionaries were dead or mortally wounded. The raid led let to General John J. Pershing’s Punitive Expedition deep into Mexico.
My initial glimpse of Columbus was as a disruption astraddle the flat, monotonous highway. After entering the town of mostly one-storied adobe affairs—some painted in brash colors of green or pink—I found a bed and breakfast and registered for the night.
Ranchers, like farmers, generally rise with the sun, so I was on the road early Monday, breezing west along Highway 9 over a landscape dominated by creosote, locoweed, and wildflowers. The bright sky was spotted with scattered clouds. The blue silhouette of the Cedar Mountain Range shadowed the horizon.
The weathercast this morning had predicted a high of ninety-nine degrees, but the temperature had not yet climbed to that point as I drove into the country that had once sheltered the likes of Curly Bill, Old Man Clanton, and Dick Gray, desperados who hid out in the caves and canyons of the Boot Heel. Somewhere ahead of me was a black oak with large knotholes where the outlaws left messages for one another in what is still called Post Office Canyon.
I passed a sign noting I had crossed into Hidalgo County, a landmass of about thirty-five hundred square miles populated by fewer than six thousand residents and known for its large ranches. The Gray Ranch, which was now called by its original name of the Diamond A, was 321,000 acres—a staggering 500 square miles. Alongside that, the M Lazy M was a piker.
I turned south on Highway 81. The ranch was a fair drive from Hachita, the closest town, and as I had a considerable amount of work to do, I phoned Del to let him know I intended to take Bert Kurtz up on his offer to remain overnight. He wanted to clear it with the insurance company to make sure they wouldn’t consider it a conflict of interest should Mud Hen be involved in any sort of scam. He promised to call me back.
The M Lazy M lay hard against the Mexican state of Chihuahua just short of the Hatchet Mountains in the upper reaches of the Boot Heel. A cattle guard, flanked by a tall adobe arch bearing the ranch’s brand—two capital M’s, the second one lying on its side—marked the main gateway to the spread.
The horses set an easy pace. Paul kept a snug rein on Streak, who broke into a gallop at every opportunity. On the other hand, the farther Lucy got from the stable, the slower her gait became. After another hour, Paul pointed ahead of us.
“Is that it?”
“Yep. The Lazy M’s own City of Rocks.”
“Man that looks weird out there all by itself. Even weirder than the big one up at the state park.”
“New Mexico’s full of weird. You think you’re standing on the moon at the Bisti Badlands. And then there’s Carlsbad Caverns, Tent Rocks, White Sands, and those eerie lava beds in the Malpais.”
“I gotta get out of Bernalillo County more often,” he said.
We went silent, falling increasingly under the spell of ghostly monoliths as we approached the City. The horses plodded between the first two hunks of mute rock on the north-northwest side. The “street” that opened up before us was a broad avenue strangely devoid of plant growth. I saw no human footprints, but wind whistling through the alleyways raised weak, wispy dust devils. Footprints in the sand would not last long out here. Our mounts’ hooves no longer clopped. Now they made a huffing sound. It was as if we had passed through a portal separating two worlds.
“That big boulder in front of us looks like a hotel. An old western hotel.”
I stared at the hulking mass. “Why? It’s just a big rock.”
“Come on, where’s your imagination? It’s a couple of stories high. It’s kinda square. It looks like those pictures of a frontier hotel minus the balcony that runs around the second story. And that’s Muldren City’s saloon over there.” He pointed to the right.
I fell into the spirit of the thing. “Okay, then that’s the bank. And the telegraph office.”
He laughed, obviously delighted I was playing along.” “Let’s go see if we can find the freight office. Then the town’s complete.”
“Oh no. Not without the jail, it isn’t.”
“Right. I forgot the sheriff’s office and the jailhouse.” He twisted in the saddle and pointed. “There it is, right across the square from the hotel.” Paul dismounted and looked for a place to tether Streak. “They forgot the hitching rail. No western town’s complete without a hitching post.”
The last three posts were to convince you I meant what I said… I love New Mexico. I hope they’ve tickled your interest in the state, as well. Please visit. You’ll find the folks friendly and welcoming… for the most part.
And now my mantra: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting your work to publishers and agents. You have something to say… so say it.
If you feel like dropping me a line, my personal links follow:
Facebook: Don Travis
Here are some buy links to City of Rocks, my most recent book.
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-city-of-rocks-don-travis/1126419974
See you next week.
New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.