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Driveabout American: Part Three

July 11, 2018
BY CHUCK CLEGG - Columnist , Wetzel Chronicle

So far on our journey around America, I have taken you to Kentucky and then on to Texas. Next on our trip we returned to Mary's and my hometown in the southwest forty-five years ago. Following a few days there, we set off north to visit Santa Fe, New Mexico.

If you remember, I explained that we decided to go off the interstates and travel backroads whenever we could. We knew there would be new country to be seen if we slowed down and traveled secondary roads. That was in our minds as we headed north towards Santa Fe. For my part, I wanted to travel straight north towards Albuquerque. But my GPS and the tiny woman who lives inside it, wanted me to take a right turn and travel 117 miles to Roswell, New Mexico. I knew that was not the most direct route to travel north, but the GPS voice reminded me that she was taking the scenic route. I have some suspicion the voice inside the GPS just wanted to go and see if there were any aliens in the famous southwest town associated with UFO sightings.

The trip to Roswell took us through beautiful wide open prairies. Every now and then a herd of Prong Horn antelope could be seen grazing on the open grasslands. As we neared the town of Roswell, we saw vast fields of pecan and pistachio trees. Row after row of full grown trees stood in well-kept groves just off the highways. Not wanting to be abducted while looking at the trees, I told Mary to keep an eye on the sky just in case the stories of UFOs were true. She paid me no never mind of my abduction nonsense. We were lucky, no flying objects and no alien hitchhikers hampered our travels through Roswell.

Article Photos

Photo by Chuck Clegg

From Roswell, we headed north on a stretch of road that went straight towards the horizon with only a couple gradual turns in the road. From Roswell to Santa Fe is a distance of 191 miles. After the first ten miles of open grassland, the next hundred and eighty miles is pretty much the same.

About half way to Santa Fe, we stopped at a rest area. The first thing you notice as you step from your vehicle is an ominous sign, "WARNING RATTLESNAKES MAY BE PRESENT." This notice of snakes is not a positive thing when it comes to making Mary feel comfortable a hundred miles from civilization. She has this thing about snakes. She doesn't want to see them, or even think about them. Especially if they are within a mile of her location. Opening her door to a sign warning to beware meant they were already too close for her comfort. The remote rest area's location is one of the places we felt truly alone and in the middle of nowhere. I could understand why the snakes were drawn to this location, it had the only shade trees for miles. Oh, one more thing, did I mention no cell phone service? Flat empty land, covered by a blue sky that stretched to the horizon at every point on the compass, and somewhere around us were rattlesnakes. We spent very little time in this empty place filled with warnings and snakes.

One of the neat things we did see traveling out in this open land were freight trains. Now I know that doesn't sound very exciting, but the one train we saw crossing the vast open plains had to be well over a mile long and traveling at high speed. The train had locomotive engines on both ends. Upfront, two engines were pulling the load. Attached to the rear of the train were two more engines. One of those was pushing the string of cars from the rear. You have to remember, when the only thing you can see on the open prairies for nearly two hundred miles is a freight train, it takes on a little more interest.

After several hours, we arrived on the outskirts of Santa Fe. The first thing we visited was a uniquely southwest flea market. As you would suspect, the flea market had silver and turquoise jewelry and handmade rugs. There also were vendors selling elk, bear, wolf and buffalo skulls. Bleached white and ready to hang on your wall. Mary wanted to visit mainly because its jewelry prices were far less expensive than in downtown Santa Fe. A silver and turquoise squash blossom necklace in a Santa Fe shop could cost thousands. In this road side flea market it may only cost a few hundred. For myself, my goal was to find a unique fossil for my collection. In a row of venders, I saw a man selling rocks, gem stones and fossils. Among his collection was a small fish preserved in stone for millions of years. A fossilized dead fish may not have the appeal of a squash blossom necklace, but it was still neat to find and add to my collection.

After spending time looking at the unique items in the flea market, we continued north. Our next destination was Taos, New Mexico. This community is usually known for its great winter skiing. But after I arrived I spoke with a couple people who explained the previous winter had only brought two heavy snows. Not nearly enough to have a successful ski season. If that was not bad enough, the spring rains had not yet come to the area. For nearly seven months no significant rains or snow had fallen in the town. They desperately needed both. Strangely enough, while Mary was shopping and I were sitting on a bench outside the store, it began to rain. I could almost count the rain drops, no more than twenty-eight per square foot came down in thirty seconds... and then abruptly stopped. A couple of the shop keepers were so happy that it could potentially rain, they almost did a rain dance in the street. Unfortunately, while we were there, no more rains came to the area. Much of the state still remains in an extreme fire danger. Recently on the evening news I saw where there was a forest fire in the area we had visited.

Our travels so far in New Mexico have taken us from the southern desert basin to the northern mountains. The state calls itself the Land of Enchantment for its rugged western beauty and mysterious lands. It seemed to Mary and me, a little rain could help the enchantment, if it was a little greener as we looked Through the Lens.



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