Friday, May 19, 2017

#61 - Friday, 19 May 2017 - Rodeo, New Mexico

Apologies for yesterday’s heaviness. I am a dark, introspective and philosophical man. I don’t often share my feelings (read: almost never), but yesterday was intensely reflective and meditative. I spent much of it driving and thinking, and listening to the powerful and haunting voice of Chris Cornell.

Before I move onto sunnier topics, I must admit that I am still shaken by Chris Cornell’s death. To learn that it has been ruled suicide is bewildering. From what I’ve read he performed, greeted fans afterword and spoke of the next night’s performance in Columbus and was from all reports behaving “normal”. How could anyone be in the state of mind to take their own life then? I did read that his wife (or other family) had called another friend to check on him so there must be something missing from the story.

My day of driving began when I headed back to Arizona for the day. I don’t know if I commented on it before, but when I arrived in Arizona initially, after spending some time in New Mexico, I was really confused by the time. It took me days to realize that Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings time and that is why my automatically time updated devices didn’t jive with those requiring manual change. Both New Mexico and Arizona are in Mountain Time, but two different mountain times! Arizona is one hour behind New Mexico, sharing the clock at this time of the year with Pacific Time. That has become even more confusing now that I am right on the border. I’ll add a map below for those of you who might not know where I am. I have been in and out of both states so many times over the past four days and my iPhone keeps changing time. 

The red star represents Rusty's RV Ranch, just north of Rodeo, New Mexico. The orange stars represent areas I frequent. The black lines roughly show the roads I travel in the area.

Yesterday’s route took me back to Portal Cafe for breakfast and then deeper into the Chiricahuas. I drove up the mountain roads to the highest elevations of Barfoot Park (8300’) and Rustler Park (9000’). I am not a fan of heights and this very rough and narrow winding road had plenty of drop-offs that made me a bit queasy. I was so glad to have my amazing 4x4, and even more glad to encounter almost no other vehicles. I can’t imagine driving up these roads when there is any traffic at all. There is often no place to pass or pull over and certainly no guardrails to prevent you from falling a few thousand feet. I laughed when I would see a “one lane bridge” sign. The whole bloody thing is one lane … It was white knuckle at times, but the views were breathtaking. Presumably, I was headed up there to “bird”, but I have a real love-hate thing with “birding”. First of all, I am a reptile and arachnid guy. Birders are geriatrics in funny clothes (haha). The day before when I went to a few birding hotspots (among the best spots in the country), I encountered so many birders and it’s not a club I want to join. Secondly, birders carry binoculars not cameras. I don’t own binocs (yet!). Bird photographers have $20,000 lenses. I’ll never own one of those. I did enjoy the birds though and at Barfoot Park I once again encountered wild turkey. I saw them in Kissimmee Prairie Preserve S.P. in southern Florida, I saw them in Madera Canyon, Arizona and now have in the Chiricahuas. The two I encountered yesterday weren’t that bothered by my presence. I was truly alone in the woods and saw no people at these high elevation points.

After driving all the way to the top of the Chiricahuas I did question my sanity. I even began flipping rocks hoping for a cool scorpion or lizard. I had driven to these heights, and at times the drive was anything but relaxing, to photograph birds and found myself just watching. Then I wished I could find a mountain king snake or something much cooler than a winged annoyance. Just like butterflies and dragonflies, photographing birds requires patience that I can rarely summon. I decided I definitely didn’t want to descend the same way I had come so I took the road that leads you down the other side and toward Highway 118 and Chiricahua National Monument. It would have been easier to visit this park when I headed back east from Tucson toward Rodeo, but now I had a second chance. The park really is a “must see” with incredible rock formations (e.g. “hoodoos”). I even took a couple of bird photographs there. Afterward, I might have reversed my path back into the Chiricahuas and toward Portal, but I instead took the direct route on Hwy. 118 toward Willcox that led to me basically doing a large clockwise circle yesterday. I took a bit of a shortcut through the Ft. Bowie National Historic Site (Apache Pass), but I don’t do history or culture so I didn’t stop. This eventually led me north to Interstate 10 and then I headed east back to New Mexico and Rusty’s RV Ranch the same way I had earlier in the week.

I was tired and sick of driving when I got back to camp. I also was hungry as I had brought no lunch with and the omelette I had for breakfast had exhausted its fuel. I made some pasta and had a Jameson’s and ginger. But one of the reasons I was in the “boot heel” of New Mexico was to road cruise for snakes. It may be a little early in the year still and the nights are still cool, but I headed east on Highway 9 through Animas and on to Hachita where I headed south on Hwy. 81 toward Mexico. As with many times in on this road trip, it was just me, Border Patrol and black-tailed jackrabbits. I watched the sun set over the Animas Mountains and the roadsides became increasingly populated with both jackrabbits (a hare, not a rabbit) and desert cottontails (a real rabbit). It is quite the trick to avoid running them over and it gets worse as darkness falls. There is a small port of entry at Antelope Wells and I headed that direction. I found four glossy snakes crossing the road in a short stretch about twenty miles north of the border. Two were adults and two were young. I photographed each and recorded GPS data and released them off the road. Not many others would be driving down here at night, but I doubt the Border Patrol officers care about hitting the jackrabbits and cottontails, much less snakes. In their defense it becomes almost impossible to not hit hares and bunnies.

I was exhausted and now more than a couple hours from camp so I turned around sixteen miles north of Mexico. When I passed one Border Patrol agent he turned on his truck lights and turned into the road behind me. He didn’t speed up to catch me, but just continued a distance behind me, which forced me to increase my speed past the 25-35 mph I road cruise at. In retrospect, I should have just pulled over and let any encounter happen sooner rather than later, but I drove for miles and miles and miles with him about a half mile behind me and me going about 15 mph below the speed limit. I passed another parked Border Patrol vehicle and hoped that my follower would stop to chat with his colleague, but my follow vehicle just continued behind me. I focused on the road looking for snakes and weaving or slamming on the breaks to avoid killing jackrabbit. It’s not easy and I know a few must have got beneath my wheels. When I got back to Hwy. 9 and turned west the BP truck was still in pursuit. I saw a snake in the road and pulled over as soon as I could. There was no shoulder so I had to pass it a bit. Sure enough the BP vehicle pulled behind me. And sat. I waited for him to turn on his flashing lights or do something and finally I just waived my arms in a disgusted “do something” gesture. Then he turned on his “cherries” and eventually got out. He was not what I expected. I wouldn’t give this guy a crossing guard job. He was this lazy-eyed, fat young very-Caucasian kid who could barely speak English much less Spanish. The way he approached me would get him killed if I was a violent felon. No flashlight. No guarded or defensive posture. No extreme awareness. I could have drawn my .45 and shot him a thousand times. He just waddled up and I finally just shouted “How ya doin’ man?!” He stammered and I launched into what I was doing without him asking. I told him he had forced me to go too fast and asked if he wanted to stop me why he didn’t FIFTY miles earlier. He apologized and was so “aw shucks” I felt sorry for him and wondered how long he’d last in his job. He told me that my behavior is exactly what the illegal immigrant runners do. They drive into the deserted area at night fall to the port of entry after it closes and then drive back out sooner than most drivers to the area would. They pick up people who have snuck across the border and take them into towns. There really aren’t any towns to speak of for many miles. I told him about the four glossy snakes I had photographed and asked if he even noticed the one not far behind us. He said, “well, it’s dead out here so why not turn around and look for it?” I did. It was dead-on-road (DOR). A Sonoran Gophersnake about four feet long. It was fairly fresh and I was forced to wonder if it was alive when I avoided it and passed, but was killed by Officer Clueless. I still had over an hour to drive back to camp and found one more DOR gopher snake. It remained very difficult to avoid killing jack-rabbits and it seemed like there were a million. I crashed hard after a long day of extra-attentive driving as soon as I made it to camp. 

– All the best, M

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