Let me reassure those who have expressed concern: we have not been marooned in Terlingua awaiting the delivery of tyres since the last log. Admittedly we were there for a week and of course the tyre saga had some additional twists but the truth is we spent the time working and very little happened of note. Except that is for the appearance of a tree on our campsite in the time it took us to go out for breakfast one morning. It would probably be nearer the truth to say it was a sapling but it doesn’t quite have the same ring. Also on a plant related theme the Bluebonnets flowered and we took the hint and finally changed to our new Texas licence plate which sports a picture of the state flower. The transfer to our new domicile is now almost complete; we’re just awaiting delivery of our driver licences.
A week or so later, the smell of banana bread baking permeates the camper while outside the wind whistles and howls, rocking us back and forth in a slightly perturbing manner. We're in the Pancho Villa State Park in New Mexico, just three miles from the Mexican border. The park is in the village of Columbus, the former named for the leader of the last invasion by a foreign force onto American soil and the later misnamed for the explorer Cristobel Colon who for reasons which have never been clear to me underwent a name change in both Britain and the States and emerged as Christopher Columbus.
At the border, the port of entry is surprisingly low key given the drug fuelled violence that has spread to the small village of Palomas on the Mexican side of the border. No form of identification is required to cross to the south and presumably the guns passing from the north are too large and too numerous to be concealed in daypacks. Palomas is very familiar somehow. In the towns and villages on the US side of the fence, Mexican people, language, food and shops are pervasive and this seems little different at first glance.
A military vehicle with a number of heavily armed soldiers standing back to back in the bed of the truck stops to let us cross the road and puts an end to the illusion. In 2008 the entire police force of Palomas resigned in fear of their lives and the chief sought asylum in the U.S. It’s unclear what the current status of traditional law enforcement is in the town but we do spot one recognizable local police car cruising the side streets. Drug related activity is not confined south of the border. In 2011 the mayor and police chief of Columbus were amongst ten people arrested in connection with trafficking guns into Mexico. It’s a vicious cycle that feeds itself regardless of the hugely expensive border fence and increased Border Patrol.
The fence and security measures have had a significant effect in some regards, reducing the number of people arrested for illegal entry over the southwest border from over a million in 2006 to well under four hundred thousand in 2012. While these statistics may be one side of the story, a recent article in the New York Times suggested that the numbers apprehended were still only a small proportion of those successfully making it across.
To me, one of the most interesting aspects of this border area are the children who cross from Palomas each day to attend school in the U.S. They number about four hundred, were born in the US and hence have automatic citizenship and the right to access the education system. They live effectively with one foot on either side of the border. Feelings run high to the north of the border about this situation but surely a bi-lingual, educated group steeped in an understanding of both cultures must benefit people on either side of the divide.
Sterling and I have form when it comes to being approached in car parks by shady looking characters offering what they assure us are bargains that cannot be missed. Whilst shopping for a new laptop in El Paso we parked in front of two large electronics shops and were promptly propositioned by the driver of a pickup carrying a number of enormous home entertainment systems in original unopened boxes. There followed a truly amazing story, the ins and outs of which I fear I cannot do justice, about how he came to have them and how he just had to get rid of them at a rock bottom price. We were sorely tempted but remembered just in time that we live in a shoebox and don’t want a television.
City of Rocks in New Mexico is one of those state parks that are simply a delight. While there’s a small RV section, most of the camping is out amongst the area of huge interestingly shaped rocks, the eroded remains of a layer of tuff laid down by ancient volcanic activity. It’s a playground, a place to act your shoe size not your age. A place to scramble about following narrow passages, squeezing through small openings and hiding in slots sculpted out of the rock. The shapes themselves are playful, rounded by the elements into unlikely forms, hollows scooped out creating seats for humans and nesting niches for ravens.
We reluctantly leave City of Rocks for a quick visit to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. After weeks in the desert the sight of Ponderosa Pines covering the mountainsides is quite a change. The green seems amazing and there’s snow still lying from the last fall. The cliff dwellings are what remains of a settlement that it is assumed was built during a time of drought, having flowing water nearby. The complex system of adobe structures were built into the string of caves mid way up the side of the small canyon by the ancestral people of the Mogollon region. It’s a fascinating glimpse seven hundred years back in time and well worth the two hour drive up the narrow twisting road from Silver City.
Time is pushing us along as we need to be in Wisconsin by mid-March for family commitments. Our journey north is halted for a few days as I need to get a raging toothache dealt with. Medical and dental visits are always just a little more challenging when you live on the road, nearly every visit being a one off with an unknown person in what are by their very nature difficult circumstances. Some experiences are better than others, my visits in Silver City are better than many.
With sufficient antibiotics and painkillers to keep a whale happy, we’re back on the road heading north eastwards. We’re travelling along I40, the Interstate that has superseded Route 66 on this part of its journey. At regular intervals billboards tempt us with the promise of “Tucumcari Tonite”. The advertising hype is a left over from the Route 66 days and Tucumcari Boulevard still boasts numerous motels, eateries and other buildings dating from the heyday of the famous road. There’s a real flavour of the old road here and the Kix on 66 diner we go to in the morning not only lives up to that expectation but serves delicious breakfasts as well.
The only sour note is the “American Owned” advertising slogan that some motels choose to use to differentiate themselves from those run by people from India or elsewhere in Asia. First generation immigrants, and particularly nowadays those with a skin tone darker than white and an accent revealing a first language other than English, are never truly viewed as Americans even when they become citizens. For a country that in the last two hundred and fifty years has developed from the foundations of immigration these blatant displays of racism always seem incongruous - I somehow expect a more accepting attitude from people who are themselves descended from immigrants.
I originally wrote this log at the beginning of March but due to many factors am only just getting it out now. It’s turned into another “Whistle Stop Tour” log and many places that we stopped have not been mentioned - Faywood Hot Springs, NM where we spent a delightful late afternoon soaking in the waters watching the fading light; another stop at Balmorhea State Park, TX where we both went swimming in the warm waters of the San Solomon Springs; and Cadillac Ranch just outside Amarillo, TX where the aerosol paint manufacturers give thanks.