The Cube from Outer Space

The New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo

Not too many people think of outer space when you mention that State of New Mexico. Yet, in many ways, New Mexico is where much of the future came together. First there was the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, followed by the first atomic blast in the Jornada del Muerto, code-named Trinity. Then there was the nearby White Sands Missile Range. And don’t forget the Karl G. Janski Very Large Array (VLA) of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) just west of Socorro.

When Martine and I last visited New Mexico, we stopped in at the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo to view their four floors of exhibits ranging from the early days of rocketry to NASA, the moon, and beyond. The mirrored glass cube seemed to us like a visitor from outer space and put us in the right frame of mind for the two or three hours we spent there.

If we keep to our tentative itinerary, the museum will be our last stop before returning to Albuquerque and flying back to Los Angeles.

A Look Back at Ecuador

Native Otavaleños Entering Church

There are few places I have visited to which I would not like to return. I am speaking particularly of my travels in Europe, Canada, Mexico, and South America. There are a fairly large number of cities in the United States that, I hope, will never see my shadow again. On the other hand, there are parts of the U.S., particularly in the Southwest, that I love. New Mexico, for instance. My mouth is watering for those red and green chile peppers, the best in the world.

Last year at this time, I was planning for the trip that my brother and I took to Ecuador. I loved the places that we chose to visit, particularly Quito, Otavalo, Mindo, and Cuenca. The only problem was that traveling by automobile through the larger Ecuadoran cities required the tracking skills of a scout: Street signs around the periphery of every city were practically nonexistent. We finally got into the habit of following what looked to us like intercity buses, which were pretty easy to distinguish from the local rat-traps.

Otavalo was perhaps my favorite place. That was mostly because the inhabitants were mostly Otavaleños. Gringos stood out like sore thumbs. That’s okay, because sometimes it’s fun to be lost in a crowd of indigenous people, even if they didn’t speak a word of Spanish. (Their language was mostly Quechua.) Just taking a walk through their marketplace was like being in another world.

My problem is a simple one. If I were to go back to all the places I loved, I would be alive for several more decades—and no man knows how much time is left to him.

You Can Start Celebrating Now!

Mark April 25 on Your Calendar!

I love penguins. So much so that I traveled over 6,000 miles to see them in Argentina. Oh, not the big Emperor Penguins of Antarctica—though they were only about 600 miles farther south. No, Martine and I visited with the Magellanic Penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) in two places the Isla Martillo in Tierra del Fuego, and Punta Tombo in the State of Chubut.

Why do I like penguins so much? They lead such strange lives. Months at a time in the icy waters of the South Atlantic, then return to the same old rookery to find a mate and try to raise a family of little penguins. As it happens, we were at Punta Tombo in November 2011, right when their eggs were hatching. We saw the penguins look on helplessly while ravenous gulls pushed them aside and devoured their progeny. Their wings were great for swimming, but helpless to defend their eggs against more aggressive shore birds.

Penguins on Isla Martillo in Tierro del Fuego’s Beagle Channel

In the above picture by Berkeley Breathed for World Penguin Day, the middle penguin is my hero, Opus. You can see his adventures by going to Breathed’s Facebook page at Bloom County.

Here are some facts about my friends, the Magellanic Penguins:

  • Magellanic Penguins can reach 24 to 28 inches in height and 9 to 11 pounds of weight.
  • They have black plumage on the back and white plumage with broad, black, horseshoe-like marking on the breast. They have a white band on the head that stretches from the eyes to the throat. Skin around the the eyes and bill become featherless and intensely pink during the breeding season.
  • The diet of Magellanic Penguins concentrates on small fish, crustaceans, and squid.
  • They are excellent swimmers. They can travel 620 miles from shore and dive to a depth of over 150 feet to find food. They usually hunt in groups.
  • Natural enemies of the Magellanic Penguin are sea lions, leopard seals, killer whales, and patagonian foxes.
  • Magellanic Penguins are monogamous birds. The male circles around the female and pats her with his flippers during the courtship. Formed couples last for a lifetime.

If you’re interested and want to read more, click here.

What Ever Became of Them?

The Anasazi Ruins of Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon

You’re familiar with the patter: These ancient people had an advanced civilization, and they suddenly disappeared. What ever happened to them? Actually, they didn’t go very far: You can find their descendants among the Hopi and the twenty-three tribes of Pueblo Indians in New Mexico, ranging from Taos to Acoma to Zuñi. What made them move from Chaco Canyon and the other Anasazi communities of the Four Corners, such as the ones at Mesa Verde, Betatakin, Chimney Rock, and Keet Seel? Some time around the 13th century, many of the local rivers dried up; and the Anasazi were forced to move.

I ran into the same type of “mystery journalism” in Mexico. What ever happened to the Mayans? These brilliant peoples inherited all those wonderful ruins such as the ones at Chichén Itzá and Uxmal—and now they’re all gone, or are they? All I know is that there are millions of Maya still inhabiting Yucatán, Chiapas, and much of Central America—and many of them still speak Mayan.

One of the reasons I want to go to New Mexico is to see Anasazi ruins. The best site is Chaco Canyon, of course, but I’ll be traveling this time with Martine, who doesn’t like long washboarded dirt roads and sleeping in campgrounds. So I will try to see some of the more peripheral Anasazi cities such as Chimney Rock, Salmon, or Aztec. (No, they are not related to the Aztecs of Mexico.)

No doubt I will be seeing thousands of Anasazi, or at least their descendants.

 

 

The Flip Side of Gallup

The Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial

Gallup, New Mexico, in the 21st century would be nowhere without the Indians. Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of the Navajo Nation, is a short hop away across the state line. Yet, at the same time, Gallup is a dangerous place for Indians. The problem is that, with only 22,000 inhabitants, Gallup has 39 liquor licenses, or about 19 per 10,000 people—much larger than most big cities.

The Indians come to Gallup, get drunk, and frequently die. According to a 2015 article from the Indian Country Media Network:

In 2014, 36 unnatural deaths were recorded for Natives in or around the Gallup area. Almost all were alcohol related or caused from being homeless. Seventeen of those deaths were caused by motorists killing pedestrians attempting to cross major thoroughfares or I-40. Nearly all the victims were Native. This winter, too, has begun with record-setting deaths from exposure in McKinley County—12 so far; all the victims were Native.

Another lethal practice is for drunks in cold weather to lie down on the warmer asphalt highway, fall asleep, and get run over.

I have always seen Indians of the Southwest as a national treasure. Alas, it is a treasure that we have compromised by destroying their culture and leaving them to fend for themselves in the cold cruel world of contemporary America.

Devil’s Highway

They Were Bound to Change the Name

When Martine and I have finished taking the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad connecting Durango with Silverton, we will head down to Gallup, NM, perhaps stopping for a few hours at Window Rock, AZ, the capital of the Navajo Nation.The road connecting Farmington, NM with Gallup used to be called U.S. 666, aka “The Devil’s Highway.” A few years back, the highway changed its number to the less apocalyptic U.S. 491.

Even 491 has a curious Biblical resonance. When Peter asked Jesus how many times shall he forgive his brother who sins against him. According to Matthew 18:22, Jesus answered him, “ I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” Let’s see, that multiplies out to 490. In the 1960s, Vilgot Sjoman came out with a Swedish film entitled 491, presumably referring to the end of someone’s patience at being excessively sinned against.

Highway 491 with Ship Rock in the Distance

When we take Highway 491 née 666, we will pass Ship Rock, sacred to the Navajos (see above photo). I’ve always wanted to take this route from Farmington to Gallup, but I usually traveled in the past via the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, which is my favorite destination in New Mexico. However, like many of the best places in New Mexico, I would not venture to take a rental car down the washboarded access road. That also goes for the Bisti Badlands and the De-Na-Zin Wilderness, all in the same general area.

Had I but world enough and time, however, ….

On the Beagle Channel

Looking Across the Beagle Channel Toward Isla Navarino

Looking Across the Beagle Channel Toward Isla Navarino

This is a picture I took a little more than ten years ago on November 15, 2006, the day I broke my shoulder at one of the ends of the earth. That day, I took a cruise on the Beagle Channel to Estancia Harberton, a place of great importance in the history of Tierra del Fuego. The channel was named after the ship that bore Charles Darwin on his five-year cruise around the world, sailing under Captain FitzRoy. It was here—and not the more northerly Straits of Magellan—that the HMS Beagle cut between what is now the Argentinean Tierra del Fuego and the Chilean Isla Navarino, where the southernmost town in the world, Puerto Williams, is situated.

The weather was starting to get bad, so bad that our motorized catamaran, the Moreno Jr., dropped us off at Harberton; and a bus was called for from Ushuaia to take us back. By the time we approached town, not only was it slowing heavily, but the waters of the channel were getting increasingly choppy. It was that snowstorm that iced the streets of Ushuaia and made me fall shoulder first into a high curb at the intersection of Magallanes and Rivadavia.

Now here’s the real story. This was the real beginning of my love for Argentina. Motorists stopped for me and called an ambulance on their cell phones. I was well taken care of at the local hospital; and the owner of the bed & breakfast where I was staying helped me in every possible way, to the detriment of her own business. Even as I left the country from Buenos Aires’s Ezeiza Airport, the security people didn’t make a big deal of signing my name on the forms, as my writing arm was in a sling.

On this grim day, I fell in love with a country and returned there twice. And, with luck, I will return again. Regardless of the weather.