Friday, October 24, 2008

Destination - Angel Fire, New Mexico

Up early, it's hard to believe that it takes us nearly 8 hours to cover the remaining 90 miles, but in this "crew," is both a ghost town enthusiast as well as a nature/scenery aficionado, and to make matters worse, I get us lost at least twice. Not that I don't know the way to our destination, I just couldn't remember the way to the old coal mining camp of Dawson. And more, the drive from Raton to Eagle Nest, New Mexico is beautiful and darn it, just requires a bunch of stops. After getting "unlost," we check out the old ghost town town of Colfax and drive towards the historic Dawson Cemetery that holds the remains of more than 300 men who lost their lives in two coal mine disasters early in the 20th century.

Finally, we're on our way to Cimarron, one of the wildest Old West towns in New Mexico history. Built as the headquarters of the largest land grant in American History, the old settlement along the Cimarron branch of the Santa Fe Trail, was once visited or called home to such historic characters as Clay Allison, Black Jack Ketchum, Jesse James, and Buffalo Bill Cody. This historic old town continues to boast a number of historic buildings, including the extremely haunted St. James Hotel, which continues to display some two dozen bullet holes in its antique tin ceiling. Also here, is the Aztec Mill, built in 1864 by Lucien B. Maxwell and today serves as a museum, the Immaculate Conception Church, which also dates back to 1864, and a number of other buildings that we visit on the "walking tour."

Then we're off again through Cimarron Canyon, where as children, we spent a lot of time hiking, wading in the extremely cold Cimarron River, and stopping at the long gone Clear Creek Store. Some of the most wonderful memories in my life, we again visit an ancient spring, are awe-inspired by the Pallisades, take photos of huge carved out log that part of the creek runs through, and are excited by the fact, that though it's a little early, there is already Fall color in the canyon.

Only after my concerned brother, John, calls do we finally make our way through Eagle Nest and continue on to his home in the Moreno Valley. Garnering the keys to my mother's Angel Fire condo, we finally land for the evening. Alas, it will probably be the last time, as it is up for sale and she recently got an offer. This; however, will not stop me from returning to this wonderful valley year after year.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Onwards to New Mexico

Shoot, we aren't out of Ulysses, Kansas ten miles before I've got to stop again. Yes, I've been to Wagon Bed Spring lots of times, especially as a teenager when it was the "party place" and I had no interest in its history. Times have changed; however, and now I want to know about this place that was such a popular watering hole along the Santa Fe Trail. Much to my surprise, it is actually a National Historic Landmark and has been since I was two years old. Obviously, they didn't do anything with it for years, as in the late 1970's, there were no markers or "reconstructed springs" as there are today - just a big ole' dry riverbed. In any case, it was a cool stop, except for that portion of the landmark was behind an electrified fence. Huh??

We're off again headed to Oklahoma and taking a detour that truly takes us off the beaten path through Kenton, Oklahoma, more into the northwest part of the Oklahoma panhandle than the way I've always traveled it in the past. It comes as no surprise that this isolated piece of the Oklahoma Panhandle is mostly a ghost town. Though there are still folks that live there, only one business is in operation and it was closed on our visit. Just north of Kenton is a place called Robber's Roost, which was the hideout of such outlaws as Captain Coe and a whole bunch of more derelict characters. Just east of Kenton is also the Black Mesa State Park & Nature Preserve. I could only say to my travel partner, "Reletta, I don't think we're in Oklahoma anymore," as we were surrounded by black lava rock and high sandstone mesas such as I've never seen in this state before -- it was beautiful.

We continue on to the Dry Cimarron Scenic Byway, most of which is along the Cimarron branch of the old Santa Fe Trail. After winding through more beautiful red and sand colored buttes and mesas, we come to yet another almost ghost town -- Folsom, New Mexico. This old place has a couple of claims to fame, one being that it was a popular place for outlaw, Black Jack Ketchum, to hang out and he had a habit of robbing the local trains. The second, and more importantly, near here is an archeological site where the "Folsom Man," was discovered, which confirmed that the area was occupied as long as 10,000 years ago.

Though I've visited Folsom one time previously, I looked forward to visiting the museum, which was closed on my previous visit. Unfortunately, my anticipated expectations were severely dashed when the slovenly woman "manning" the entrance was unfriendly and unhelpful. Not to worry, I paid the small admittance fee and began to look around, that was until I was at the back of the museum and I hear a loud bellow, "you can't take pictures." I ask, was that posted somewhere? She says yes, but I couldn't find it, and questioned her rudeness. I had walked in with a huge camera around my neck. Seems as if she was more interested in the admission price than in upkeeping the museum or providing information. Unfortunately, the museum was dusty, run-down, and didn't have a lot to offer. I suggest you pass on this.

I'm more than a little bummed about yet another poor customer service experience, but my spirits rebound as we head westward on Highway 72 towards Raton. Up ahead, we see several trucks parked in the middle of the road and off to the side a bunch of cowboys and a herd of cattle. We MUST stop and visit and find they are driving the cattle Des Moines, New Mexico, rather than loading them at Raton, due to the extremely high fuel prices. By driving them almost 40 miles, they save almost $5,000! With the exception of a couple of trucks, the herds move just like they used to a century ago -- with "real" cowboys, complete with chaps and hats and several great tales. What a bonus! This was one of the highlights of the trip.

Then we're headed westard once again, climbing the grade to the Johnson Mesa, an almost eerie, but beautiful place sitting atop a high mesa. Back in the 1880's, this high plateau boasted five schools, a church and many recreational facilities for family life. However, winters were more than most of them could handle, and they moved on to "greener pastures." Today, there are no permanent residents on this high wind-swept plain, but a number of historic buildings remain.
We've covered a lot and meandered and down several rugged roads. It's getting late, though our goal was to make Eagle Nest tonight, we aren't even close. One more stop at Sugarite Canyon State Park, which is not only the site of an old coal mining camp, but also has lots of recreational opportunites and beautiful scenery.
Though we're only about 90 miles from our destination, the next stretch provides yet lots of scenery and a whole bunch more stuff that I must revisit. So, we "camp" in Raton, stretch out and plan for another great day tomorrow.