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.

North America’s Own Lourdes

The Church at Chimayo, New Mexico

The Church at Chimayó, New Mexico

France has Lourdes; Portugal has Fatima; Argentina has Luján; Mexico has Guadalupe; and the United States has the Santuario de Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas, commonly known as El Santuario de Chimayó near Santa Fe, New Mexico. The little church is only 60 feet (18 meters) long and 24 feet (7.3 meters) wide. Yet, especially during Holy Week, some 30,000 pilgrims are in attendance.

The dirt floor has been known to have miraculous properties. Visiting pilgrims take some of the dirt for themselves or friends and relatives who are unable to visit. The church replaces the dirt, to the tune of 20 or 30 tons a year, from neighboring hillsides. The Catholic Church makes no claim as to the miraculous properties of the so-called sacred dirt.

Martine and I plan to visit Chimayo during our upcoming trip to Mexico. Maybe the sacred dirt will cure my diabetes. Or not.

Ganging Aft Agley

I Seem to Have Miscalculated...

I Seem to Have Miscalculated…

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled “From Chile Peppers to High Mountain Passes” in which I proposed  flying into El Paso, renting a car, driving in a more or less straight line without having to double back, and delivering the rental car in another city, say Denver or Salt Lake City.

But funny things happen when one doesn’t think things through. Can you imagine all the rental cars from an agency in Peoria disappearing down south and suddenly showing up in Miami or Houston or Chattanooga? How would the agency get the cars back? Would they ship them by rail or UPS or even truck? The cost would be prohibitive.

And the cost was prohibitive. Both Hertz and Enterprise would have charged an additional fee of over $1,500 for delivering the car to another city.

I immediately scrapped the idea and resolved instead to fly in and out of Albuquerque. To avoid doubling back, I would take a series of loops: For instance, I would drive to Chama to take the Cumbres & Tolec Railroad, Durango, Colorado, to take the Durango & Silverton, and return via Gallup and New Mexico Route 53 to see the El Morro National Monument, and on I-40, Acoma Pueblo, or “Sky City” on the way back to home base.

A second loop would take us south of Albuquerque to see Roswell, Capitan, and Alamagordo, with its great space museum.

The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley, or something like that.

Trinity

The First Atomic Bomb Blast at the Trinity Site

The First Atomic Bomb Blast at the Trinity Site

I was born a few months before it all happened: On July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb was exploded at the north end of the Jornada del Muerto, that desolate extension of the Chihuahan Desert that forms the south central portion of New Mexico. This summer, I will be driving on U.S. 380 just north of the Trinity Site, which is open only two days a year. I’m surprised that it is open even that much given that there is still a lot of radioactivity lingering in the area.

According to Alan Boye in Tales from the Journey of the Dead: Ten Thousand Years on an American Desert (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), some 15,000 people in the vicinity died of cancer from the radioactivity, and some 20,000 people suffered non-fatal forms of cancer.

Trinitite Sample

Trinitite

Much of the area around the blast is covered with a green glass-like mineral called Trinitite, which in many cases still makes Geiger Counters tick, though samples for sale can be found in rock shops around the area.

When J. Robert Oppenheimer was interviewed about the blast, he quoted from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Now that power is in the hands of Donald J. Trump. Doesn’t that make you feel safe?

The OTHER El Camino Real

This Camino Real Was Nowhere Near the Ocean

This Camino Real Was Nowhere Near the Ocean

If you drive north on U.S. 101, you will see scads of quaint mission bell markers identifying it as El Camino Real—and so it was! But it was not the only one. There is another one, every bit as picturesque but far deadlier, through the heart of New Mexico. It is called El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, “The Royal Road to the Interior Lands.” These interior lands consisted primarily of the city of Santa Fe together with its constellation of pueblos.

Picture New Mexico as being divided into six roughly equal size vertical rectangles, three in the north and three in the south. The south central one is the northern reach of the Chihuahuan Desert, usually referred to as the Jornada del Muerto, the Journey of the Dead. The Chihuahuan Desert proper extends for 1,200 miles south to the Mexican State of Zacatecas. The rightmost two-thirds of the rectangle is occupied by the White Sands Missile Range.

The leftmost one-third of that rectangle includes the Rio Grande River, the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, and a lot of desolate, searing nothingness.

The Jornada del Muerto

The Jornada del Muerto

Martine and I will probably intersect the Jornada del Muerto from East to West as we travel along U.S. 380, right past where the first atomic bomb explosion occurred at the now (mostly) closed Trinity Site. We will be leaving Capitan, New Mexico, and heading northwest to Albuquerque, where we will stay for a few days.

I am now reading Alan Boye’s Tales from the Journey of the Dead: Ten Thousand Years of an American Desert (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), which examines the route along the Rio Grande to Mexico throughout history from Clovis and Folsom Man through to the Manhattan Project. In addition, the author describes his own jaunts through the Jornada today in an effort to give a feeling for the fierceness and beauty of the land.