Saturday, March 21, 2015

over the mountain

set off on thursday to go "over the mountain," which is a six-and-a-half hour trip west, up about six thousand feet, way down into the tularosa valley, and over to my parents' place, where they are getting steadily older but enjoying the warm, sunny new mexico spring. i took my son with me, so i followed his schedule, and ate where he wanted, indulging him and letting him watch ninja-turtle movies most of the way. i watched license plates on the way, and saw thirty-three altogether, including every state west of the mississippi except arkansas and hawaii, and chihuahua and a couple of government ones along with them.

setting out from our town, which is wide and flat, but had a beautiful, gentle fog at the sunrise, we went over texas farm fields, and many of them still had a fog on them as we shot by. I especially remember some old cotton hanging on some vines, but the cotton in the foreground, and the fog in the background, that was a sight. through most of texas the speed limit is like seventy or seventy five, easy for me to stay under, but i have to watch it in the towns, because those guys have nothing to do but pull over someone they don't recognize, and give them a stiff reminder to follow the signs. i'm trying hard to be a good boy, even when people are flying by me in both directions.

we go through the town of brownfield, and then plains, which is virtually on the new mexico border, and then lovington new mexico, a classic ranching town, though it's kind of turning into an oil town. after lovington is a vast stretch of oilfields, down off the caprock, and then we come to artesia, a small town on the other side of the pecos river which it took me several trips to find. to put bluntly, the pecos is a little stream that, at this point anyway, isn't much. at the moment it actually has water and i'm glad to see that; any time a river has water around here, that's a good sign. when we cross the river and get to the town, there's an i-hop there, and we stop for waffles.

now i judge a small town by how they treat total strangers, especially when they're different races, but around this town it's not so bad, except the one time we stopped at the pizza hut and they never actually served us, twenty or thirty minutes later we'd left, and they still hadn't come around giving us a menu. but that was actually more a product of the fact that it was the town's biggest football game, the whole place was total chaos, nobody was being served, and the bathroom was a complete hurricane. so i always get the feeling these things are racial, but often they aren't, and in the case of the i-hop, everyone was nice and they served us right away. we liked it.

we continue on over the high dry country, where you can see hundreds of miles, and very little grows on account of the hot dry wind coming down off the mountain all spring. way up high, in the nine-thousand feet mountains, it's wet again, with lots of clouds, and there's still snow on the ground. at this point i look for excuses to get out of the car and breathe in the mountain air. beyond those wet snowy peaks, the highway shoots down among the dry hills through the ancient caves and the one highway tunnel, and down in the tularosa, on the other side, you have the white sands and the wide hot valley. our friends have already left the white sands though, and there's no point in sledding down the white sands if there isn't other kids to join in the fun.

white sands is really where all the license plates are, and we got a lot of them, picking up lemonade and finding out a little about roadrunners. my son is suddenly interested in desert animals and plants; he even brought home a cactus. when my sister asked him how it was with grandma and grandpa, he said "they're awesome," but later when i related the story to them, they didn't quite get it. one has to get used to the use of "awesome" to describe people. they had to take my word for it that it was good.

on the way home, we stopped at white sands again, and then, high on the mountain, we went for a walk out to the old s-trestle ruins. there was no snow on them this time; it seemed like massive railroad ties all thrown in a huge pile out in the woods. we were high in the mountains; air was thin, snow was still on the ground, pines were everywhere. he was a trooper and walked a little farther than usual. the hike, for me, was a total breather, beautiful, the rest i needed.

he wasn't hungry for anything except i-hop, so we stopped there again on the way back. artesia was its usual self, a total all-around small town. the food was good, but it was the middle of the afternoon and the place was virtually empty. i watched the traffic at the main corner there, the road going south-north along the pecos, the oil-fields road cutting straight across eastern new mexico. know anything about artesia? my sister had asked. it's where the detention center is, that's where they're putting kids from central america who have found their way up here. total breakdown down that way; these kids have seen their families torn apart, and have nowhere to go, and it's not pretty. they keep them in a detention center but don't really know what to do with them. send them home? that wouldn't work, that's like murder. and besides, they're kids.

my own child was full, and fell asleep upon getting back in the car. he'd seen enough ninja turtle movies, there was little else to do, and the oil fields turned back into flat empty rangeland; he was worn out from the walking too. my hope is that, next time we go over the mountain, he'll still want to go.

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