Thursday, October 13, 2005

More reasons why New Mexico is a great place to visit

Miscellaneous travel notes, obsolete, as usual--this was several years ago.

The ranger woman recommended the Willow Creek area as better than Pueblo Park. Said Pueblo Park was better in the winter. "Right now it's hot." It was also dry. I think we got a permit at the ranger station for our camp stove, which ran on propane. There was a fire ban. No open fires, and no gasoline stoves either. But propane, for some reason, was OK.

The drive from the highway to Mogollon was steep, with switchbacks. Mogollon was a little mining town, abandoned, now partially filled with retirees and with the beginnings of an art colony. Beyond Mogollon, the road was gravel and the switchbacks very steep the first half of the way, then a little better after that. The whole drive took about 2 hours. Willow Creek was right beyond a partially regrown clear-cut area.
The creek was a clear, cold stream with a mossy bottom. Our tent site had 4 tall trees, a spruce and Douglas fir on each side of the tent.

A weather-beaten man in an old, battered Toyota pick-up loaded heavily with camping gear, or more likely, his worldly goods, drove by slowly. The guy waved, went to the end, came back, stopped, with his motor still running. He got out, a little guy with a cowboy hat and no shirt, mumbled something about how it was too hot, and washed his face, after taking off his hat, by totally immersing his bald head in the stream by our tent. That taken care of, he introduced himself as Pancho, his dog as Lefty. He shook hands with me, Kay, and Eve, with formality and deliberation. "Where I come from, we always shake hands" he said.

Kay asked if his gray and black dog Lefty was a bluetick hound. This amused him. He was drunk. "No, ma'am. It cer-tain-ly is not." He said that it was some kind of Australian breed. "Herding dog. That dog's been working hard. Me and that dog." Pancho had rough, small hands, abraded with cuts and gouges. "What do you think of these hands? (long pause) I got these hands WORKIN."

He was a very slow talking drunk, and tended to lose the train of his thoughts. He told us the roundup was done and that he had come up to take a month off. He began to tell us that he could live in the woods if he chose to, because he he was very expert in matters of camping, hunting, and fishing.

"Best place to fish is the beaver ponds."

Kay asked where they were, and how many ponds there were. This stumped him for a while, because answering two questions at once taxed his powers. He counted internally, silently. 4, 5. "Five ponds, ma'am. Up there, up the creek." He offered to show us. He said we could see the beavers "of an evenin."

We talked about the fire ban. He first said he was going to eat cold camp food, but then confided ("I'll say you're lyin' if you tell a soul") that he intended to build an illegal fire. "If you know how, like me, you won't start no forest fire."

He rolled a cigarette. Very slow process. Painful. "Law says I can't smoke this cigarette." (lights it, with his lighter, which works properly--he seems surprised--"I love it when things work" he says) "But I know how to smoke so I don't start no fire. No sir. That ranger lady in the cabin up there is a very fine lady. What she don't know won't hurt her." He intended to build a very small fire very early in the morning. He offered to lend us a skillet, if we needed one.

He told us he had been a special forces captain in Vietnam, and had been captured by the Viet Cong, who had starved him, forcing him to eat coffee grounds and eggshells. "I don't much like to speak of that," his eyes moistening with emotion.

He said that on Memorial Day he was with some "old guys, that was in World War two, and I shook their hands and said how much I appreciated what they done for this country." Long pause. "You know, though, what hurt my feelings?" Long pause. "They didn't say they appreciated what WE done. Us Vietnam veterans.. That hurt my feelins. They think they're special, cuz it was a world war. Whereas ours was just a conflict. That hurt me." He went on to mention some misfortune of bureaucratic record keeping such that he couldn't even prove he had been in Viet Nam.
He composed himself, saying "...but that's OK"

I wanted to get a photo of the beavers so he took us to the beaver ponds, which were about a hundred yards away. He stopped his pick-up in the middle of the creek. But no beavers were visible. While we were sitting in the creek he said that he was really fond of "cowboy poetry." "I just dabble in it. But I keep a daily. You know what a daily is?" We didn't, exactly. It was where he wrote down things he liked. He illustrated by reciting the whole of the Marty Robbins version of the Strawberry Roan from memory. Kay asked him if he would sing it.

"No, ma'am--I'm not Marty Robbins."

Later on, about dark, I walked up to where his pick-up was parked to see if he wanted to come have some coffee we had made, but he was asleep in the cab of his truck with his boots still on, the door open, his dog on the floor beside him.

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