The Dusty Road
The Dusty Road
And then there are the back roads……………….
We can drive the paved roads of New Mexico and view a plethora of history but there is a far more intimate perspective awaiting those of who are a bit more adventurous. These experiences require they be viewed with some reverence and the peaceful journey then allows us to experience the pure essence of what they have to offer. It is here where we truly leave off from the utter distraction of our daily lives and return to our true spirits and travel to a place as ancient as the rocks and the stones which litter our path. Our cell phones and computers become useless objects as the signal fades and we enter the remoteness which our ancestors inhabited, it is a favored view for some of us but is by no means for the faint of heart.
This a day trip, once you have been here you may choose to return for a longer time, you could spend weeks here and never see it all.
Before we venture forth it is best to be mindful of our provisions and preparations. Let a friend know that you are heading south on Highway 52, just east of the Very Large Array. Be sure to tell them you will have no means of communication for the endurance of your travels there. Check your truck’s vital signs; oil, water, fuel (you might want to take extra gas if you plan to go very far, it is 80 miles to Winston on the main road and further if you go astray). Make sure your spare tire and jack are all in good order and that you are prepared to use them, you may not find any help. Pack food, water, a tent or at least some blankets and some warm clothes, in other words be prepared for everything. And, don’t forget your camera and a note pad if you are subject to inspiration, you will find plenty here and nobody else to share it with. You will also want to bring a detailed map of the roads, either a New Mexico Road Atlas or a Forest Map, along with your GPS, really. I have traveled these roads numerous times and still have gotten lost!
If one takes Highway 60 from Socorro they will pass through Magdalena and some miles beyond there arrive at the turn off for Highway 52 south, just before the Very Large Array. Take a moment to study these huge satellite dishes before you turn off as they are a wonder in themselves and the contrast to everything you will view afterwards is stunning. From there you will soon cross the railroad tracks and Old Highway 60 before you enter the portal to the wilderness. You may wish to take pause as soon as you leave the view of the highway so as to feel the difference; it comes as quickly as that. The ever present breeze will lift your hair and caress your face, acknowledge it and embrace it. Breath in the sweetness of the air and the peacefulness which so quickly surrounds you and allow time to slip away, this is the essence of the journey. As you travel onward leave your windows down if you can avoid the dust, if you are fortunate the wind will be in your favor. If there is a vehicle ahead of you pull off until the distance between you clears the air and remember not to hurry.
As you head south the road cuts through the San Agustin Plains. At first glimpse the untrained eye may see little but rolling grasslands so look closely. Watch for the interruptions on the skyline and drive slowly. You will create less dust and begin to see the finer details. Imagine yourself in a covered wagon or on horseback and look for the ‘Stock Driveway’ as you will soon cross it. At first you may glimpse a herd of antelope, wild as the Plains themselves and you can place your location anywhere on the globe, this could be Africa as easily as it is New Mexico. Cattle dot the landscape; they are the sustenance of the ranchers who still live here. You may even spot a coyote if you watch closely and sometimes the deeper meadows are grazed by elk as well. There are hawks and even eagles if you are so lucky as to see them and the ravens are ever present as they ride the thermals for the sheer joy of flight. Look for the windmills and wells and take a moment to study the means of drawing water as they are all different. If you stop and look you will notice old pump jacks, hand hewn towers and Aerometer fans, you will also see solar panels which offer a stark contrast to the ruined mills that so often lay beside them. Consider the challenges and then ask yourself what this place was like without water, when the first people lived here. Take a moment to imagine you are one of them, alone here on the horizon.
Don’t miss the ‘Stock Driveway” as it is only two miles from the tracks. You will see it, running east and west from the gravel road following the fence line. Watch for the dirt two tracks cut deep into the grasslands, multiple tracks washed by erosion and too treacherous to drive. There will be other ruts alongside of them as the travelers took different routes over the passage of the years. Someone still drives beside them to check water and to get home, respect their privacy and do not trespass, though these days most of the gates are locked. This road cuts across the Plains from Magdalena to Arizona and was the “Driveway” by which cattle were driven to the railhead to be shipped east. If you stand beside it long enough and the wind is just right you will hear the cattle and horses and the rumble of their hooves. Voices will echo on the wind, shouts and hollers from those long dead cowboys. Their memory lives on in the richness of their history, barely disturbed by the years, the country and the life too rugged for anything else.
You will drive for miles and see little else than what I have described to you but watch for the trees. Scattered along the roadway, some close and some far, are the remains of the original homesteads and the ever present windmills; each has its own story. The trees remain long after the structures have crumbled back to the earth though many of the old homes still stand, the climate is so dry they are all but petrified, outliving their inhabitants and bearing testimony to their craftsmanship. Further yet you will pass the headquarters of the ranchers who remain here and are still making a living running cattle and guiding hunts. These are for the most part children of the children of those who first settled here, few others could survive here and fewer yet are willing to release their heritage, it is the only life they choose. Look close as you drive past, the old cabins still stand alongside the more modern dwellings, their progression a story in themselves.
In time you will come to some lower lands and some clusters of trees and a couple of house to the west. You will be tempted to explore but restrain your self. There is a sign at the entrance to the driveway which warns of the consequences; they aren’t kidding, just stay on the main road, they don’t want any visitors. A little further along you will drive through Dusty so watch close because if you turn to try for a radio station (a futile effort mind you) you will miss it, there is but a house and a barn and some corrals and you will have past it. Here again you will glimpse the history of the place as all the old buildings still stand, testimony to solid construction and a good life. Just a few miles further and there is more to see, the entrance to the Wahoo Ranch and the corrals and bunkhouse all lie to the west of the gate. Look at the old cottonwoods along the arroyo and consider their age as you imagine the seedlings they were when they were planted. The bunkhouse in the distance was once a one room adobe and many a family was raised there. I myself have slept there as do others when it is time to work cattle and brand the calves; it still serves its purpose. Just a little further down the road you will want to stop. There are two cabins and an old windmill, look closely at them all. The mills fan still turns, almost always as it takes but a breath of wind to spin it and the sucker road broke off many years ago so there is no resistance against the gears, they are still well oiled. The logs which support it are hand hewn, as are the oaken ones which the two cabins are made of. You cannot walk to the cabins but you can study your pictures, it is almost enough. I have stood in their doorways and thought to feel what their inhabitants must have felt, the romance faded quickly! The walls lean slightly these days as the earth has shifted beneath them over but they still remain solid. They will outlive all of us I am sure, they were built to last.
There is more to be shared but I am loath to give away too many secrets. There are deeper canyons to be explored and hidden treasures all along the road, the further one drives the more magical it becomes. Stay on the main road this time, you will get to Winston eventually and be sure to stop at the store. If your truck has burned a lot of gas you can fill up here and get a snack as well. The store is decorated with history and it will allow you yet another glimpse of the past. If you still have a taste for adventure you can explore Chloride also as it is just up the road, another glimpse of the past as very little has changed there either. Leaving Winston you will follow the highway back around and up over the higher curves overlooking the valleys below. Be sure to stop and look, it is the finest view of the Plains you have yet to cross. Watch the narrow road when you return to the pavement and it will take you back to civilization, you will exit through Cuchillo. The road will climb out of the canyon and lead back to Interstate 25 just north of Truth or Consequences. As you leave the wilderness and crest the mesa take a moment to stop once more and let the wind touch your hair. Breathe in the soft breeze and the freedom and embrace the peacefulness. You can then turn your phone back on; it will soon find the signal you lost, eighty miles ago.