The drive East; it begins. From cities, to suburbs, from backwater, to nowhere, over and over again. The fully-loaded suburban hurtles down the highway at 80mph, power lines racing off towards the horizon. Plans are made and futures are speculated upon. Miles tick away and beverages tip empty. And so, it begins.
A denim-ed viking sits atop his throaty, snarling beast, surveying the great desert lands. A toothy grimace falls out from his sun-worn face as he stares at me through the tempered, tinted glass. He guns the throttle, backfiring loudly, but sputters on ahead of our vehicle. Have any exceptional encounters from your car?
The vehicle pulls over for a much needed pit stop. Turning down offers for venison-jerky from the cloistered townies, I continue to wander away from the main road, looking for the abandoned shack which had caught my eye from the car. It smelled strongly of “Do Not Enter”. Ever see something from the car window that you just must explore further?
Bending down to the moistened earth, I gazed over the leathery remains. The flesh has been daintily picked away from the bone, no doubt with help from the beetles which scurried into the fur the moment my shadow crossed them. This wonderful specimen was waiting for us in the driveway at the cabin in Eagle's Nest; welcome back to the woods, kids. Ever see any cool carrion?
The rocks here, are alive. Several types of pale blue and bright orange lichen engulf the surface of the weathered stone. They share remarkable similarities to sea coral. The blood starts to pool in my ears from invertedly staring at the ground for such a time. I start to imagine the sea floor thriving with life. Fish swimming around in dense clusters, the tide swaying to and fro, the crushing pressure of the water. I stand up and the blood starts to drain from my skull; seems I still haven't acclimated yet.
The smell of fresh rain and body odor waft through the sunny streets of Taos. Quaint shops sell their tchotchkes to the thriving tourists. The town is an odd mixture of rustic Southwest and vintage urban grunge, even the barred windows have a little design flare. Sunglasses on and iced Americano in-hand, I try to disguise myself from the busking hippies and gentrified window shoppers.
The stores' diverse wares range from leather crafts and books to eco-friendly kitchen tools and precious gemstones. We wander through the narrow streets and back alleys digesting the afternoon's fare of green chile burgers and beer. There is an inaudible apprehension in the air; the crowds are days away from pouring into the quiet ski resort town. Summer has arrived.
On the way back home from Taos, we take a detour and stop by the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Center to take a moment and sit on the benches. Thankfully, there have been a few days of intermittent precipitation, which is unusual this time of year. The dark and heavy clouds have been lingering throughout the day. Looking out upon the sweeping and vast valley, the grass appears greener. Finally, after four years of brown, a little green starts to return.
The Chase Ranch, founded in 1867 by Manly and Theresa Chase, was home for the pivotal ranching family of Cimarron, New Mexico. They raised sheep, cattle, and planted apple trees which are still growing and producing fruit to this day. Gretchen Sammis, the last living decedent of the Chase's, owned and operated the ranch for the last 58 years. In August of 2012, she passed away and the land was entrusted to Philmont. Today, during the second day of Camp Director training, we got to tour the majority of the house and grounds which had recently opened to the public. There was an eerie silence throughout the spacious but cluttered home; four generations of history under one roof left a distinct and curious smell lingering in the air. I meandered out to the courtyard and garage area, the day's teachings absorbing into me. Note to self: find cattle skulls for O'Keeffe devotionals and decorative purposes.
One of the last places at the Chase Ranch we visited for the day was the pen and barn area. The fences, which once held back hundreds upon hundreds of heads of cattle, now, are my last source of protection between one beastly bovine and my trampled demise. She incessantly mooed at the entire group until we departed. We come to learn her calf had been sold a few weeks ago – the will of the West. Someone important yells and we head back to the school bus, load up, and take off for home. The raucous bus vibrations send me into a nap-haze as our seemingly endless training schedule unfolds in my mind.