Day trips around New Mexico, part 2 and it’s a wrap.

Sierra Blanca with its first snow when we visited in mid-November.

For years, we have heard about the high country and remote beauty of the land around Sierra Blanca, one of the four sacred mountains to the Mescalero Apaches standing at 11,981′.  An artist-friend of ours had talked of the nearby little town of Lincoln calling it especially lovely and filled with a very colorful history. We decided to take a day and check out the land and learn more about Lincoln.

Heading north from Alamogordo on US 70, we climbed up 2,000’ to just under 7,000’, passing through the Mescalero Apache reservation land and down the southeastern slopes of Sierra Blanca, around Ruidoso and toward the town of Lincoln.

The Lincoln County Courthouse, constructed as headquarters for Murphy & Co., was converted to a courthouse and jail. It’s most famous prisoner, Billy the Kid, did manage to escape.

In the late 19th century, Lincoln County, in what was then the territory of New Mexico, was a microcosm of the tensions between the changing economy and growing population of the southwest. Both of these factors created a perfect storm which manifested as the violence that erupted in Lincoln County in 1878 and dragged on until 1881 between the established economic powers and the newcomers who wanted a piece of the financially lucrative pie. The battle was fueled by the profitable government contracts for beef with Fort Stanton, the nearby military post that served as the headquarters of the newly relocated Mescalero Apache.

The lovely afternoon sun illuminates the historic Tunstall Store, constructed in 1877.

The economic empire created by Murphy & Company, who were backed by the cattle barons of the Santa Fe Ring, had control of the banking and credit services and the beef contracts, all based out of their store in Lincoln. The effect was a nearly feudal system with the four men serving more like overlords to the local population with the local constabulary acting to support the establishment.

Three newcomers, headed by John Tunstall, sensing an economic opportunity, came into town and set up a rival commercial store and contracts with local cattlemen to compete for a piece of the business. No less ruthless than the existing merchants, the newcomers found their own system of “enforcers” and set up a parallel banking and commerce system.

Murphy & Co. didn’t suffer the newcomers for long and began retaliating in an attempt to drive them out of business, then out of town. The tensions increased to a boiling point and  the net result was an outbreak of violence that began in 1878 and eventually left dozens of citizens dead, embellished the careers of Billy the Kid as a murderer, identified his nemesis, sheriff Pat Garrett, and ensured the outlaw reputation of the territory, delaying statehood until 1912.

The first church in the town, the San Juan Mission Church was built between 1886 and 1887.

You may recall the post just before this one where we went to Mesilla, the original settlement for Las Cruces. The nearest courthouse to Lincoln was located there and when Billy the Kid was arrested in Lincoln, he was taken to trial in Mesilla which is 156 miles away. It was quite a haul for a trial and must have taken five or six days to get there. The Kid was found guilty of murder, ordered to death by hanging in Lincoln but he escaped when he got back to Lincoln. Garrett tracked him down at his girlfriend’s house and executed the death sentence on his own in 1881. The Kid was 21 years old.  The lawlessness finally ran out of steam and the little town slipped into a kind of normalcy, if not oblivion, by the early 1900s.

Today, a thriving tourism business centered around the superb Anderson-Freeman Visitor’s Center & Museum both entertains and educates visitors.  The original Main Street in Lincoln functions as a kind of living history museum funded through a gift from the Hubbard Family Trust, the historic site now includes 17 structures and outbuildings, 7 of which are open year round and 2 more seasonally as museums. Most of the buildings in the community are representative of the Territorial Style of adobe architecture in the American Southwest. Each August, the town hosts a folk pageant, the Last Escape of Billy the Kid and draws thousands.

The Dunn telescope at Sunspot is constructed 2/3 below ground and 1/3 above.

The other day trip we took into the mountains was to Sunspot Astronomy and Visitor’s Center, the National Solar Observatory in the Sacramento Mountains at 9,200’ behind Alamogordo. Sunspot uses its Dunn telescope to look at the Sun as both an astronomical object and as the dominant external influence on Earth.  It promotes research that looks at things like solar flare (correctly called coronal emissions) activity to see if they can be predicted. This is important because solar flares interfere with communications systems here on planet Earth. The day we went there was “noise” in the atmosphere which interfered with the solar observations. This time, the technicians told us it was the heat rising from the Tularosa Basin creating what looked remarkably similar to what one might see when looking through the lens of an underwater camera.  The Visitor’s Center has a wealth of information on the solar system, the history of astronomy, and a gift shop filled with grandchildren-worthy things.

The premium pistachios from Heart of the Desert.

Around the town of Alamogordo, we did explore the really interesting Heart of the Desert, a pistachio farm.  George and Marianne Schweers planted their first trees in 1972 at Eagle Ranch after doing research and determining that the desert climate in Alamogordo was well suited to growing pistachios.  Today there are over 13,000 trees and they have added a vineyard to their ranch.  The Visitor’s Center is stunning, the samples of premium pistachios grown there are free and fun, the wines cool and refreshing, and their new outdoor patio is inviting.  Wednesday evenings feature live music, food trucks and general New Mexico hospitality that keeps folks like us coming back.

We have enjoyed our ten weeks at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park.  Our time as camphosts has been very enjoyable and has really flown by.  Peter wrapped up his last day of work giving one more tour of the Ranch House, a fitting way to end our time here.  Notably, we’ve welcomed a young couple from Nashua, New Hampshire who are on a year-long trip across the country and another couple from Peter’s childhood hometown of Leominster, Massachusetts.  The most notable observations: the remarkable number of women traveling alone in their own campers/tents/SUVs;  the number of campers who came for one night and extended for a week; the reliably impressive sunsets; the general congeniality of guests who seem to be mesmerized into great attitudes by the beauty of the park.  Now heading east for our next gig in Florida having enjoyed one more spectacular New Mexico sunset.  We’ll be writing next from Koreshan State Park.

Day trips around New Mexico, part 1.

During our time here at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park we have had time to explore more of New Mexico. I wanted to share some of our discoveries, hoping that some may make it to your bucket list of things to do here in the Land of Enchantment.

Visitor Center at White Sands National Monument.

Last post I mentioned that we visited White Sands National Monument.  I wanted to comment on their Visitor’s Center because it is really worth a stop.  It is architecturally  interesting having been built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.  The traditional Pueblo-Revival style building includes a center courtyard, native plant garden, museum, a lovely gift shop and a theater that shows a wonderful orientation film called A Land in Motion, which tells about the formation of White Sands.  The film is shown on the hour and half-hour and its very well done. Continue reading

Camphosting in New Mexico

Early morning light on the alluvial fan of the Sacramento Mountains creates dramatic shadows highlighting the desert greenery.

Our time here at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park in Alamogordo, New Mexico is flying by.  As I write this, we are just over the halfway mark of the ten weeks we are here serving as camphosts. There is one other couple here sharing the daily assignments with us in this 44-site campground.  And for those inquiring minds out there who remember reading about our summer camphosting on the Cape, thankfully, cleaning bathrooms is NOT one of our responsibilities here! Continue reading

A place that forever changed the world.

Lining up at 6:45 in the morning at the Tularosa High School for the 60 mile caravan, under military escort, to the Trinity Site.

There are only two days a year that Trinity Site in New Mexico  is open to the public and we were able to be there for one of them, October 5.  We had just arrived in the Alamogordo area for our volunteer gig at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park and were told about the bi-annual open house.  After investigating the details, we asked for the day off, and decided to go.  It was a powerful experience and we were both deeply moved by it.  This blog chronicles our experience. Continue reading

First time camphosts in Sandwich, Massachusetts.

Our pet flamingos love our beautiful campsite here at Shawme Crowell State Forest in Sandwich, MA.

As many of you know, our life on the road has been largely unscripted. We tend to get an idea, do some research, talk to other full-timers, try something new, evaluate it, determine what we have learned and what we might want to do with the information, and then move on.

 

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Estero, Florida in the rear-view mirror.

This is Bonita Beach and our piece of heaven in Florida.

One of the most mysterious effects of being in one place for a long time is how time folds in on itself and neatly puts itself away.  We’ve been in Estero, Florida for nearly five months and in that time, Christmas and New Year’s have come and gone, we witnessed what south-Florida calls the seasons – winter (temperatures in the high 40s);  spring (temperatures in the mid-70s); and currently, summer (temperatures in the mid-80s).  We pulled together a wedding reception for two of our fellow volunteers here at the park, complete with a cake and champagne toasts.  We made a quick trip to the deep and frigid north for a wonderful family weekend, we celebrated a reunion dinner with Triangle X friends who winter here in Florida, met up with people we met on the road in Ann Arbor, and enjoyed a reunion with our first Airstream friends who met in the panhandle of Florida in 2015.  We continue to delight in the company of our Koreshan State Park fellow volunteers following our official fourth anniversary living full time on the road.

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Two snowbirds roost in south Florida.

This is our campsite, decorated with Christmas lights and pots of chrysanthemums.  We are facing east and the morning light is lovely.

Returning to Koreshan State Park in Estero, Florida on November 2 felt like a homecoming.  There was much that has changed since we left the park in April (more on that later) but somehow time compresses itself in the familiar and it seems like merely weeks since we were last here.

First, news about where we are living.  Our new site this year in the Volunteer Village is our favorite of all three years here.  We are up against the fence which means we are closest to the very busy Tamiami Trail but the huge advantage is we have a really lovely “front yard”, a place to securely store our bicycles and no neighbors on our front door side.  Plus, we are removed from the center of the very busy Village, the bathhouse, and the Rec Hall.  The morning sun streams in the kitchen windows and the afternoon sun hits the back of T2, keeping things much cooler than last year when we faced straight into the afternoon sun.  We are next door to some friends from last year who are easy to be around.  It’s all good.

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Amana, Nauvoo and then Paris (Tennessee)

Our lucky charm, handmade with love by a dear friend, continues to grace T2.

Life on the road is full of unexpected occurrences.  There are the happy ones, like discovering the creamiest and richest peanut butter ice cream we’ve ever had (more on that later), or the warm hospitality of strangers (we’ll cover this below), to the stamina-building mechanical breakdowns like the one we experienced upon pulling into Paris, Tennessee.  Yes, gentle readers, we had an “event” and we continue to see how blessed we are.

 

 

 

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Long gazing through Wyoming.

Cheyenne Mountain State Park was a welcoming and restful stop in Colorado Springs.

The morning of September 6 broke hard, clear, and cold as we headed north from Colorado Springs on the final leg of our trip to Wyoming.  Pikes Peak was dusted in snow from a brief encounter with winter, a prelude of things  to come.  At Fort Collins, we were at 5,000′ elevation but our ascent would continue as we headed north.  As I learned from John McPhee’s Rising from the Plains, southeast Wyoming is a tipping point of geological wonder, higher in elevation than the plains of Colorado to the immediate south and higher than the northern part of Wyoming. Continue reading

Enchanting New Mexico

We have had a love affair with New Mexico since we first came here thirty years ago, and crossing the border this time felt just as remarkable.  There were specific things we had on our itinerary and first was a trip to the town of Las Vegas, in the northeastern corner of the state where we were in search of a very special building.

The original “Big Cowgirl”oil painting  lived in our home in Keene for many years.

The story is that years ago, in our life back in New Hampshire, we had purchased a large oil painting by a Massachusetts realist painter named Randall Deihl.  For a decade, “Big Cowgirl” hung on the wall of our high-ceilinged condominium in Keene, reminding us of all things about the west that we loved.  There were lots of stories about the painting that had developed over time, but what we did know is that it was painted when the artist lived in Santa Fe in the 1990s, because he was inspired by a mural on a building in Las Vegas, New Mexico and we were on a quest to see if we could locate it. Continue reading