This Letter 99g, 19th November; Last Letter 99f;
Wednesday, November 10, 1999, Meeting New Friends at Pecos
TeXas is without a doubt a very strange place. The only state to become part of the Union by treaty, she still reserves the right to leave. When I was in Austin I had the distinct impression I was in West TeXas but I've been driving west for two days and I'm not yet to El Paso. Even Amtrack takes more than a day to cross this huge place. Between the hills of Austin to the plains of Pecos there lie a host of fascinating places to visit.
At Fredericksburg there is the Nimitz Museum and the Bush Gallery. The
displays start in an old hotel and wend their way across a city block to
end in a new gallery that includes a submarine and a B-25. Along a path,
along the way, there is a Peace Garden and a collection of rectangular
monuments commemorating all the men who served during World War Two and
subsequently became President. I think the most interesting part of all
the displays is the animated dioramas. I hope they are all working when
you visit, the effect is eerie.
Southwest of the city of Sonora are the National Natural Landmark Caverns of Sonora. This is a living cave, or a live cave, over most of its length. The original, natural, entrance is into a section that is dry and the long tour goes in that way. I went on the short tour which goes in and out through a dug entrance into the living part of the cave. In order to preserve the growing conditions this entrance is equiped with air-lock doors which help maintain the 71 degree year round temperature and 98 percent relative humidity. Besides the water that is constantly percolating down through the limestone strata it is this nearly saturated air that produces some of the most spectacular crystal and limestone growths.
I have been receiving a trickle of responses to my Christmas Project mentioned last month. Lynn writes: "By the way, what a thing, oh crueller than a serpent's tooth--to have gotten a CHRISTMAS package so near HALLOWE'EN marked clearly NOT TO OPEN THE DARN THING TILL CHRISTMAS!! OH SADISM! OH LASHES of the MIND! At least it did not say "don't squeeze" or "don't rattle" or "mush around" or whatever, all of which I plan on doing, carefully! So there!"
Nothing like playing along with the commercialism of the times, eh?
I just felt I was not sure where I would be later on and so had to get
them out before I am indisposed or incapacitated or out of the country.
Some years they do not get delivered until Twelfth Night and most people
don't know what to do with them by then. I couldn't find any Do Not Open
til Twelfth Night stickers.
I am really impressed that the stickers stayed on.
One little kid who came for dinner with his parents at the end of my stay at Palo Duro saw that there was such a sack with his name on it on the pile of out-going mail. Truth to tell I put that one on top the pile, right side up and facing out where he could not help but see it if he was at all observent. He saw and then proceeded to tell me that his birthday was the day after next. Sort of a hint I could tell by the expectancy in his voice.
I asked him if he would sooner have a christmas present in the mail or a birthday present in hand. He opted for the latter so I waved my hand above the sack and muttered an incantation whilst he watched with puzzled frown. Ok little one, I have transmogrified your present. Now what is in here is a birthday present and you may open the sack at your birthday. But, I added before he got carried away, what is in there is in itself the wrapping for your christmas present and that you may not open til christmas.
The boy groaned. Why me? he pleaded.
Cos I love you and I do these things for all my friends.
Thursday, November 11, 1999, Pecos TeXas, Are You A Hugger Or A Shaker?
Pecos is west of west TeXas, so far from everywhere that any call beyond
the city limits is Long Distance. I am dry camping at the TraPark Escapees
RV Park. Dry camping is sort of like boondocking, as opposed to wet camping,
I suppose, which means with hookups. One thing that sets Escapees apart
from other such clubs is their penchant for hugs. Part of the introductory
process is to determine if the new arrival is a bear hugger or a hand shaker.
Hugs are good things.
Saturday, November 13, 1999, Caving at Carlsbad--The Bats are on Holiday
This is another of those must see places--unless you have a problem with dark wet tunnels--but there is only a narrow window of best viewing and that is from mid September to mid October; when the summer heat is waning and the most of the kids are back in school, and before the bats leave for Mexico. I missed the bats this time so I'll have to return, maybe next year.
Seventy-five storeys at nine miles per hour is not how fast the guides talk but how the elevator rises from the Big Room, under the Visitor Center, to the surface. I went for a short walk down through the natural entrance, past the Bat Cave, to the Big Room, and wandered a few of the side trails in the morning, before driving out toward Washington Ranch to Slaughter Canyon. It is called that cos the hike up to the Slaughter Cave entrance will slaughter anyone not prepared for the arduous undertaking. And if the hike up the side of the canyon doesn't get you then the hike down through the mouth of the cave will. Slaughter Cave is what the National Park Service terms unimproved. Unimproved, that is, beyond whatever the early bat guano miners did--or whatever the still earlier indiginos did--to open trails and build steps. The National Park Service has installed a locked gate, added a Stokes litter, and removed a lot of debris. But there are no lights! You have to bring your own. It is the coolest cave I have ever been in. Dark and beautiful. Full of strange shapes and sounds.
Bat guano accumulates about one-quarter inch a year and the miners took
out 50,000 tons of it, tens of thousands of years worth, to be processed
into fertilizer. Compared to the Caverns of Sonora these caves at Carlsbad
are not live but there is still some growth happening and it is all too
easy to damage the features if you touch them. Kind of too bad in a way
cos they are just begging to be touched. The walkways and steps are slippery
but firm; some sound hollow when you clomp along--the guides caution: Don't
clomp too hard, you might fall through.
"The movie King Solomon's Mines was filmed in Slaughter Canyon Cave",
related Sarah Wedge, my guide for the afternoon. My group was huddled in
the dark at the top of a fixed rope up a particularly slippery slope; behind
us was a formation that looked like some ogre out of "Aliens". "The best
way to get into the cave was to ride the guano bucket up the hill. So the
filming equipment, the crew, and most of the actors, including Stewart
Granger the male lead, went up in the bucket. The female lead (Debra something
that I can never remember) refused to ride in a stinky bucket and insisted
on walking up the steep hillside. When she got up, she was so tired and
frustrated with the hike, that she insisted that all of her filming be
done in one day. It was. Rumor has it that at the end of the day she was
so relieved to be through that she kissed the wall across from this formation
with her pink lipstick. The remant is still there and you can see a bit
of her name and the date. "The Klansman" is the formation used in the film
and he appears for about 8 seconds. The formation comes to life, the female
lead screams and runs into a nearby tunnel and comes out in Africa." Thanks
Sarah for typing that up.
Tuesday, November 16, 1999, Close Brush With Disaster
The tow hitch broke today. And not only that but the safety chains failed at the snap-links. I was headed for the Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument, driving a not too smooth two lane state highway (NM61) fraught with cattle guards and hills and curves when just after crossing one such cattle guard there was a loud clank, as of something falling. The tea kettle has made that sound when it dances off the stove if I have forgot to secure it. The sound was more ringing and metalic than when Ms.Spider Plant leapt out of her hanger back in September. I probly went another quarter mile to pull off at a wide spot and look about inside.
Everything was in order so I proceeded to pull out onto the pavement
and when looking in the mirror one last time I noted a vehicle parked behind
me. Wait! That's my little truck! Not following close behind?! I stopped
and backed down into the wide spot again. This is getting serious.
The hollow rectangular stock that supports the ball and slides into the receiver had fractured just were the ball bolts into it. That dropped the tongue of the tow bar, with the ball still in its socket, onto the ground and must have been the clunk I heard. Presumably at that point the safety chains were still holding. There was a gouge in the gravel leading back to the pavement but no scratch could I see on the road surface.
The nut and bolt of the ball were worn half way through. I don't know how much dragging on a paved surface that would have taken but it is possible that the hitch broke much further back and then the clunk I heard was the tongue hitting a cattle guard or the snap links of the safety chains breaking. There is evidence that the truck had nuzzled up close with the tow bar under the bumper of the bus. As an after thought, I can see how the flat stock where the ball was attached must have been flexing with every jolt and bump. Sooner or later it had to break from metal fatigue. The new part is not built that way and looks to be much more reliable.
This whole thing is really scary. To think that I could very well have lost the little truck on one of the hills or curves... I called the folks back at Dream Catcher Park where I'd spent the previous two nights and they recommended Bill White's shop on West Spruce.
I left the truck in the wide spot and returned to Deming, which was
where I'd started, about thirty-five miles back, to look for parts. Bill
White's Auto Safety Center--wheels, brakes, exhaust, and hitches--had a
new widget--that part that holds the ball and goes into the receiver--and
ball. He had to do a little fine grinding on the edges to get it to fit
but otherwise it went together well. And the local Ace Hardware had new
repair links for the chains. This time I am using half-inch shackles in
place of the snap links, which I did not recover. Don't know how they failed
nor where they went. Bill White gets my so-far hero of the tour award.
Wednesday, November 17, 1999, Gila Cliffs & Hot Springs
The new hitch held up the steep and twisty state route 15 to Gila
Hot Springs. At every sharp turn in the road I was able to see the little
truck's rear end wriggle from one side mirror to the other. Most of the
drive time was in Low Range and so fuel consuption was excessive and well
as oil use. Besides all the little ups and downs the road rises from a
barely noticible contential divide at 5600 feet to a crest of 7,000 feet
and descent of a couple of thousand feet to the Gila River valley where
the cliff dwellings and hot springs are found.
Gila Cliff Dwelling National Park and the Gila Wilderness Area - Primitive Area are where the Mogollon People once lived. Seven hundred years ago, forty to sixty people made their home in caves in the cliffs overlooking the narrow canyon. The caves are shallow erosions worn by the river a long time before. I had an interesting discussion with the interpretive guide-ranger on duty at the entrance of the dwellings. She sits there all summer, answering questions--reading books when she's not--and providing a kind of Big Brother Is Watching presence to be sure you do not stray from the trail nor touch the walls. Preservation of these ruins (and of the caves I visited over the past few days) is such a high order of business thay you may not eat nor smoke on the trail. Kennels are provided at the trail head for pets. Water and guide dogs are permitted. We chatted for over an hour about the effort we as a society make to preserve the past whilst destroying our own present to make way for the future.
The hot springs just up the trail from the cliffs were of a different
sort than others I have visited this summer. Hot water flows slowly from
the banks of the Middle Fork of Gila River into small stone and gravel
pools where cold water from the slow moving river is admitted by moving
stones in the rim of the pool. But the water is moving so slowly that it
does not mix well. When you step into the pool the surface water is hot,
very hot in some places close to where it seeps from the vents in the rocky
bank, but just a few inches beneath the hot layer you find the frigid cold
water from the river. When you stand with the sun at the right angle you
can see the diffraction patterns of the cold and hot waters. A great deal
of splashing around stirs up a lot of sediment and mixes the water to a
comfortable degree but as soon as you sit still for a moment the stratification
asserts and that part of you sitting on the bottom will be quickly chilled
whilst the surface becomes too hot to tolerate.
There are many other hot springs along the miles of trails in the wilderness and one could easily spend a long time exploring all of them between climbing the mountains and walking or riding the trails.
Following that morning of walking and soaking was a long day into night
of driving. I'm close now to where I want to be and the first sign of "home"
was Rip Griffin's Truck stop at Willcox AriZona. I think I even parked
for the night in the very same slot I was in last year about this time.
Beyond Rip Griffin's headed west is the TeXas Canyon rest area, always
a good place for a cup of tea and a walkabout before the road slides down
to the flat desert of Tuscon and on towards Casa Grande, Maricopa, and
A.J.Oxton, OA, OO, OAE, k1oIq
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