We were in New Mexico in late October 2017 and we’d been to Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, a hundred miles south of Albuquerque on I-25, where we’d observed migrating Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese (which we’ve also seen frequently in autumn north of Seattle foraging in Skagit Valley farm fields).
We had stayed overnight at Elephant Butte Lake State Park, 50 miles south, near Truth or Consequences. I’d spent hours writing a detailed account of my sister Marcy’s recent memorial service in Colorado Springs to send out to our family. I was having a hard time accepting that she was really gone. Yvonne strongly suggested substantially shortening my story.
City of Rocks
The next morning we drove south on I-25 to Hatch, “Chile Capital of the World,” then southwest to Deming on 26 and then northwest on 180 to City of Rocks State Park. Big sky and empty grasslands.
Coming into the campground we chose campsite #1, close to the visitors center on Bootes Circle, and without power (only eight sites have power). The park uses astronomical constellation names, appropriate because New Mexico Parks schedules Stars-N-Parks evening astronomy programs at City of Rocks (and other New Mexico parks) and the park has an observatory with a 14” telescope (which we didn’t see).
The City of Rocks is “City of Rocks” because it looks like a city of rocks, rock buildings separated by narrow lanes. Thirty five million years ago a volcanic eruption from the Emory caldera (1000 times larger than the spectacular and destructive 1980 Mt. St Helens eruption in Washington) laid down a hot layer of pumice and ash called the Kneeling Nun Tuff. Cooling caused the formation of vertical cracks and weathering contributed further to separate the tuff into columns. At a distance the columns look artificial, human-created.
Hydra Trail circles the camping sites with Table Mountain trail exiting to the northeast at about 2 o’clock, gaining 700’ to the summit at the southwest. Though rocky most of the trail is easy but a few sections require some scrambling. We hadn’t planned to hike Table Mountain. We came upon the trail as we walked around the campground and decided to go for it. We didn’t have our hiking poles, weren’t wearing hiking boots, weren’t wearing shorts (it had gotten warm), and didn’t have water. Minor inconveniences.
As we ascended a party of six passed on the way down and a young couple arrived at the summit five minutes after we did. Not crowded. As sometimes happens on our walks, our conversation drifted into the reflective, on this day how the passage of time, decades, somehow turns feelings of estrangement and disappointment we’ve had toward some people into feelings of warmth and friendship. It’s a real thing and it feels very good. Is it the wisdom that’s supposed to come with age or is it the result of declining brain function? Or are they the same?
As we stood on the summit in the mild autumn sunshine, the horizon to the southwest 50 miles away, the blue vault of heaven above, the world was wide, wonderful and welcoming.
It would be cold overnight and our camping spot had no power so I lit our Little Buddy propane heater and it kept us warm enough until 7:00 a.m. when it exhausted its small propane canister. Temperature inside: 59 degrees and falling. I changed canisters, relit Little Buddy and then turned on the propane stove to accelerate raising the temperature to something acceptable to Yvonne. At breakfast I turned on the generator so we could run the toaster, microwave, hair dryer, hair curler, and other accoutrements of civilized life.
By 9:00 we were on our way north toward Silver City.
It didn’t take long. We parked on the street until 11:00 when we decided it would be acceptable to approach Silver City RV Park for a camping spot.
If City of Rocks is on the way to someplace that can only be Silver City and Silver City isn’t much on the way to anywhere either. We’d cruised past Deming many times on I-10, eastbound or westbound, and we’d seen signs telling us Silver City was 50 miles to the north. We have friends with kin in Silver City and always wanted to see it but couldn’t bring ourselves to slow down and turn off. Someplace else was always more important. Now we were there.
Silver City RV Park is an easy walk to downtown/oldtown so it was an obvious candidate for a stay. Friendly people, a coffee shop, DVDs to borrow/trade, a large shaded space for Further, our Itasca Navion, a supermarket nearby – just the ticket.
After lunch we sauntered to the old part of town and found we had arrived on the day the city was celebrating Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead ). Low key excitement everywhere we looked.
We walked up and down every downtown street, visiting the most promising antique and reuse stores. We visited the Silver City Museum and learned the area had been home to the Mimbres Mogollon Indians five centuries ago and later served as an Apache camp.
Spaniards had mined copper and the town was founded in 1870 when silver ore was discovered. Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy frequented the area. In 1895 a flood, partly the result of deforestation and over grazing, slammed the downtown. The town has a population of about 10,000 and Western New Mexico University calls it home. Real estate is affordable.
Then we began to engage with the day’s festivities. Volunteers painted faces with skeleton masks and other artists used chalk to cover the streets with skulls and elaborate figures.
Performers in traditional Mexican costumes sang and danced. We were tired of walking and stopped at the Internet Cafe for an Italian soda and listened to some serious Spanish singing we intuited was about lost love.
Our next event was the city parade scheduled for 3:30. But for now no rush. Just music, sun, refreshments, and people acknowledging the proximity of death to life.
We ambled over to the parade route and watched the participants assemble. Costumes, flags, a huge skeleton seated on a rickshaw, a black bicycle wheel hearse with photos, paper mache masks.
The Gila National Forest lies north of Silver City with cliff dwellings, lakes, and hiking trails. In another lifetime we would want to spend time there. But tomorrow we would head for Tuscon to visit friends, hike in Catalina State Park and Tuscon Mountain Park, and walk in Tuscon’s All Souls Procession, a huge shared remembering of family and friends now gone.
We were happy that we visited Rock City and Silver City.
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