Wednesday Roam — Ghost Towns

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI guess ghost towns ain’t what they used to be. Nothing is, actually, but you would think that a ghost town would, you know, be a spooky old abandoned town. I’ve been to a few. South Pass City came close way back in 1975 when I was there but it is not the same now. Before you know it somebody shows up with a bucket of paint and soon they are selling ice cream to the tourists. Next comes the gallery or else somebody runs around and collects abandoned stuff and opens a museum. I visited one old mining town way up in the Colorado Rockies that went too far the other way. There was nothing left but rusted tin roof scraps, a few crude foundations and some broken glass.

New Mexico has a bunch of old mining towns that qualify as ghost towns or at least the modern version with a museum or gift shop. I stopped off at three of them this past weekend. Gold and silver brought miners up into the dry hills and some of these places grew to 3,000 people before the eventual bust and abandonment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWinston has a small General store and a few occupied homes. There is one gas pump at the store, which also had a self service food bar and a couple tables. There are a few abandoned buildings and a park with a small playground for local families. A saloon resides in a ramshackle building at the other end of town.

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St. Jude watches from his chicken wire cage.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWinston was the new town folks moved too when they decided the mining town of  Chloride was too remote. Chloride is really only a couple miles up the road but it must have seemed a lot farther back in the 1880s. Chloride has a museum and a gift shop and a couple refurbished cabins that are rented out to visitors. The place has a resident caretaker who seems to own the town and is full of stories. He refurbished a falling down bank building into a cafe and installed a good commercial kitchen but can’t keep a cook because the place is too far from civilization and there’s too few customers.

 

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All the modern conveniences

monticello schoolMonticello is an old settlement built around a central plaza. The rectangular arrangement of buildings served as a defensive feature since there were occasional Indian attacks. This was apache country and Geronimo roamed the area. Monticello is mostly an adobe town and there are a number of occupied homes. One is being renovated and looks like it will be very nice when finished. Monticello had a relatively large schoolhouse built by the WPA back in the 1930s but it is now in ruins.

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The mines are closed and mostly sealed up to keep people out. This is now mostly an area of farms or ranches and these old ghost towns serve as social or commercial crossroads and have a few full time residents. The area is very pretty — mostly desert and dry mountains and canyons. There has been more rain than usual this year so it seems greener than I expected.

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Truth or Consequences

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m thinking that today, in 2014, most people have little, if any, recollection of the old radio and TV game show Truth or Consequences. This was a comedic sort of game show that revolved around contestants usually failing to answer a trick question or meet some sort of challenge and then being required to pay the consequences. These were often elaborate practical jokes or even some type of slapstick activity as a  “consequence”.  The show started on radio around 1940 and transitioned to television in 1950. You can find a few shows recorded on YouTube to get a feel for how they went.

In 1950 the show sent out a challenge to small town America by daring any town to change its name to “Truth or Consequences”. This was a publicity effort to celebrate its tenth anniversary and its move to television. Many small cities offered to take the dare but the town of Hot Springs, New Mexico, was selected and officially became Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

I recently made a weekend trip to Truth or Consequences. Let me begin by saying that I’m a recent transplant to New Mexico. I’ve lived here for just over one year and I’m still exploring places and seeing things for the first time. My first impression of Truth or Consequences was very favorable. It seems to be an authentic and genuine place all its own…not a copy of someplace else. I would say that this is one of the most laid back little towns in America. There is not a whole lot to do here…which is one of its charms.

The town, known most often as “T or C” to most New Mexico residents, was formerly known as Hot Springs because of the thermal springs that rise up next to the Rio Grande. The springs were well known to native Indians and earlier settlers and way back in the 1800s a few cowboys and some settlers began making crude bath houses where they could enjoy the warm mineral water. The combination of the sun, dry desert climate, and the hot mineral springs made the town a popular destination and a few small lodging establishments cropped up for folks spending a few days or weeks taking the waters. Unlike some thermal springs, these have no sulfuric odor.  In those days, people generally waded into the warm water or partially buried themselves in the warm river mud.  The spring water was eventually channeled away from the marshy ground down by the river and into more accessible locations where numerous small commercial residential spa operations sprang up. The construction of Elephant Butte Dam on the Rio Grande in 1917 and the huge lake behind it brought more popularity to the town.

That’s the history of the town in a nutshell up until the years of the Great Depression. The little town benefited by many New Deal work projects carried out by the WPA and CCC programs in the town as well as at Elephant Butte reservoir. Many of those projects have lasted through the 75+ years since they were completed and the inscription “WPA” followed by a date is very common on sidewalks and public works in the town.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was visiting as part of an organized architectural tour so about forty of us took a guided walking tour through the historic bath house district. If you have been to Hot Springs, Arkansas, I have to tell you that this T or C experience is somewhat different. The bath houses here are small, intimate places and not at all like the large institutional structures in Arkansas.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe largest bath house that we saw was the Sierra Grande — a classic T or C spa that was recently purchased and restored by Ted Turner. The place is very nice and rooms are upscale with private mineral bath facilities in the rooms. Turner is in cahoots, sort of, with Richard Branson who is the owner operator of the commercial space business located a short distance outside of town at Space Port America. As the closest town to the space port, Branson’s clients will be able to stay in some luxury at the Sierra Grande here in T or C. A few folks on our tour stayed at the Sierra Grande and enjoyed it very much.

The other bath houses are smaller, more eclectic, zen-like and, in some cases, a little bit 1960s funky. We strolled through several places and we were welcome as long as we kept quiet and did not disturb the guests who were, by all appearances, relaxed and enjoying the experience.

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I’m not much of a mineral bath person (yet) but these places look very relaxing and maybe I’ll try one on my next visit.

One thing you notice about T or C is the use of color. One of the local developers mentioned that he was rehabbing one of the old buildings and discovered that the place  was originally very brightly colored. He restored it back to the original color and then went on to the next building and discovered the same thing. Back in the early days the buildings were not the bland beige or even whitewashed but were very colorful.  That started an effort to bring color back to the downtown area. There are brightly colored buildings as well as murals, decorative tiles and fanciful abstract painting on many buildings.

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This was a very enjoyable trip and the place greatly exceeded my expectations. I have a hunch that anyone wanting to experience the ”old” T or C better get there pretty soon. I’m a little worried about the place. I’m guessing that when Richard Branson’s high rollers arrive for their space flight they will see that there is money to be made in this little town. I’m hoping that future development is managed and the place retains its character. The fact that the bath houses are in a special historic district will help. There are less than 7,000 residents in the town and only about 11,000 in the entire county and the average age of town residents is over fifty years of age…much higher than most places.  Young people have been leaving so hopefully future development will provide jobs and opportunities that keep the younger generation in town.

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An Ode to Halloween Season

The Halloween season is here…not to be confused with the Harvest season or the Christmas season or the Thanksgiving season which seem to all run simultaneously these days.  Halloween used to be a kid’s holiday with a little bit of ritualistic charm but now it is a business.

I must be one of the few people who just don’t “get” the modern take on Halloween. I enjoy the change in seasons from summer to fall and the things that we do to prepare for colder weather. Every living thing seems to go through this transition. Cows and horses and even house cats get a winter coat of heavier fur. Birds migrate and butterflies are long gone. I always put on thick layers of supple fat and, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to come off when it gets warmer. We harvest apples and other produce. The trees change color and drop their leaves…which I refuse to rake. At my old house I had a Hickory tree in my front yard and by this time of year it had been dropping its nuts for weeks and the squirrels were having a great time. Its leaves would turn bright yellow and then fall on the next windy or rainy day. We had a bright yellow carpet stretched across the yard.

Okay…but what is it that causes us to celebrate Halloween the way we do. Some folks have gone a little crazy over the holiday. Where one carved pumpkin would be fine, they have a dozen. Houses are decked out in orange Halloween lights. We have several large costume stores that pop up in September like toadstools. People wire their front yards for sound and then broadcast creepy music or ghoulish sounds at night.

I try…really, I do try to get into it but I always see it as something that other people do so it is half-hearted. One year I actually bought a Happy Halloween pennant that hung from my mailbox….just mocking me. I always buy a couple pumpkins and stick them out on the front porch with some other fall decorations but I very rarely will carve a Jack-o-lantern and when I do it always looks happy, with a smiley face. I can’t seem to make them look scary…as evidenced by the picture above.

I actually understand the Day of the Dead thing in Mexico (or New Mexico) or some other Hispanic-culture places. But Halloween seems pointless. We really don’t know where it comes from. We aren’t commemorating dead ancestors or anything like that. Even the old Celtic festival of the same season had nothing to do with the dead or a satanic figure. I know that some churches or church leaders have a dim view of Halloween but I don’t even see the point of that.

Where I live now we don’t have Trick or Treaters because everyone has grown kids  or the houses are too far apart to make it productive — kids figure out the economics of Trick or Treating pretty fast — and we have coyotes and things roaming around in the dark. Where I used to live the only good part of Halloween was the actual Trick or Treat parade that came to the front door. Even my wife would put on her skeleton dangly earrings to greet the kids but that’s as far as she would go.  Years ago the old pagan holiday morphed into a kid’s celebration with costumes and candy. As a kid, I truly enjoyed every year’s trek up and down the street in whatever costume I managed to cobble together lugging my grocery bag full of candy. As an adult I enjoyed greeting the neighborhood kids at the door and handing out fists-full of high fructose corn syrup nuggets of one kind or another. I even enjoyed the older kids whose voices are changing and barely put up the effort at a costume because they needed one more last childhood fling.  God knows where they will be in five years.

The adult side of the holiday seems embarrassing to me and is simply morphing into a weird commercial enterprise. Somebody always has to make a buck. I think that’s what takes away from the enjoyment and robs the holiday of it’s old-fashioned charm.

Wednesday Roam — A Guest Blogger

I really don’t have much to say this week so I was thinking about a guest blogger. Unfortunately, I don’t think it would be too cool to call up someone at 10:30 on Tuesday night and try to sell the idea that it would be such a great honor to be my guest blogger for Wednesday.

That got me thinking. Who would I like to have as a guest blogger out of the pages (or dustbin) of history? If I was going to pick someone I couldn’t probably pick someone more interesting than Marco Polo.  I’m sure he would have a lot to say about his world and maybe about our own world. I wonder what he thinks of that silly little game kids play in the swimming pool…Marco!  Polo!.    So I used my various contacts and magic potions and (Surprise!) here he is!

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Ciao! Quanto tenpo che no se vedemo!

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Marco Polo, a merchant of some renown from the Republic of Venice. You may have heard of me, especially if you are acquainted with the many fine wares that I have brought to market from Constantinople and beyond. I do a lively business with those eastern lands. My father and my uncle once established a trading house and lived in that city for some time before venturing across the Black Sea and to many places far to the east. As you may know, I accompanied them on a later trip, one that lasted for twenty four years. That was a grand experience…un epico viaggio…which took me to many lands and, I can now say, proved to be the lasting achievement of my life.

I was born a few years after the fifth crusade, I think…I lose count of such things…and I was raised in Venice, a beautiful city at the head of the Adriatic Sea. If you have never ventured to Venice I strongly urge you to go there at once. There is no city quite like it. You will be amazed and it will dwell in your heart for the rest of your days.

I mentioned the fifth crusade but there were many different crusades beginning around the year 1095. These military campaigns, supposedly intended to gain and keep Christian control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, were exceedingly foolhardy, expensive, disruptive and, in the end, unsuccessful. I’m happy to say that I have lived long enough to see this foolishness ended. I hope we learned not to meddle in that part of the world.  Many merchants, yes, many Venetians, grew rich because of the Crusades. Many more people suffered and died. The only lasting benefit came from the exposure to new ideas and new products from as far away as Persia and even India. Was that worth many generations of religious war? Time will tell but I wonder if the same outcome could have come through peaceful trade and commerce. How foolish we can be.

My journey to Cathay, you might now know it as China but to us it was always Cathay back then, and to the imperial court of the Great Kahn brought me into contact with many new things. Paper was used as currency in the Kahn’s lands. Yes…paper instead of gold. They also make use of a black stone which they bring up from the depths of the earth and use for heating or cooking. The stone burns just like wood. They are able to send letters or messages great distances in a single day by special emissaries who race from horse to horse along the designated route.

I lived and worked in Cathay for seventeen years and was a friend and advisor to Kublai Kahn, the great Emperor. Although he was the undisputed ruler, he was as much a stranger to Beijing as I was. He longed for the open grasslands of his Mongol homeland as much as I longed for Venice and the Adriatic. On my journey home I learned with sadness of the Kahn’s death when I reached Persia. This was almost two years after we set sail from the coast of Cathay. I knew then that he never again gained sight of his homeland and I feared that I, too, would be finally deprived of my homecoming. But God, and a passport from the Kahn, protected me on that journey until I was almost home. I reached Venice but my lasting homecoming was delayed. Venice was at war with Genoa and I, foolishly, went to war.  I was captured and imprisoned for two years but I used that time to dictate the story of my travels. Eventually I returned home to a Venice that I left almost a generation earlier. People I once knew were dead or gone. There were not many who personally knew me and still fewer who believed the story of my travels. Even today there are those who say I made it all up or that I did not go as far or see as much as I said.

In my last years I have been content to stay in Venice and let others do the traveling. I am a successful merchant…you may know me by my wares. I live a comfortable life. Little by little the travelers and traders come home to Venice to say that “Yes, it’s true – Marco was right all along”

Adìo e Bona Fortuna! .

On the Road to San Gregorio

Based on the title one might think that this blog post is about a Clint Eastwood, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movie. I don’t think they did any ‘road’ movies together but it might have been interesting. Throw in Dorothy Lamour, maybe? Might have been a hit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been hanging around the house for a few days not feeling my best so I decided to get out and spend my Saturday on a day trip. My route went northwest to Cuba, NM, and then over the Jemez Mountains to San Gregorio Lake at the San Pedro Parks wilderness trail head and then on  to Fenton Lake, Jemez Springs, Jemez Pueblo, and San Ysidro on my way home. This was a new route for me…a big 150 mile loop. I knew it would be scenic but the Autumn colors mixed with the rugged geology of the area made it outstanding. There are parts of the world where you can stand in one place and take great photographs in any direction — New Mexico is such a place.

Cuba, NM, is a village about 60 miles northwest of I-25 at Bernalillo NM. I’ve been wanting to go there for a while but never had the chance. This big loop of a drive had Cuba as its first stop. On the way you pass the Zia Pueblo. The Zias created the familiar sun sign that is the symbol for New Mexico and is featured on the state flag. The Zias have a pretty large reservation but from what I can see from the road it doesn’t look too promising as far as agriculture goes. They more than made up for it in scenery.

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As you head west on US 550 toward Cuba you will see the imposing rock of Cabezon Peak off to the south. Cabezon — which means “head” is an old volcanic plug. The area is full of volcanic relics and is known as the Puerco River volcanic field. Indian legend (Navajo?) relates that a mythical giant was killed and the peak is where his head rolled after he died. Jill and I climbed up the shoulder of Cabezon last Fall but we don’t have the skill to make the vertical climb to the top.

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A short stretch of the route passes through the western portion of the Jemez Pueblo lands. Most of the Jemez Pueblo is located over on the Jemez River…stay tuned, we will get there.

The Puerco River valley is mostly dry but there are numerous Indian pueblo ruins scattered through the area and most are unexplored and unexcavated. The locations are kept confidential to deter pot hunters. The river carries water during the monsoon season and probably some runoff in the spring but it has been dry most of the times I’ve seen it. There is a little vegetation along the river but not much of a wooded bosque  as you would find on larger streams. With the size of the valley, it must have carried more water sometime in the past.

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Cuba is a small place but it is big enough for a small McDonalds and a Subway and a few restaurants and bars. I seems to be doing pretty good as a ranching and tourist location. One of the entry points to Chaco Canyon National Park is nearby and the Jemez Mountains are to the east and north so there will be fisherman and hunters using the town as a base.  In Cuba I turned on to Rt. 126 which leads up into and over the Jemez Mountains and eventually links up to Rt. 4. Cuba is at about 6800 feet and the climb was maybe another 1500 feet up into the mountains.

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This is ranch country and the ranchers move their cattle herds up and down the mountain slopes with the seasons. Cattle grazing is allowed in parts of  the national forest and even in the wilderness areas. As I was heading up into the mountains I rounded a curve and encountered a herd of cattle being driven down out of the mountains. There were about a half-dozen “cowboys” trying to keep them organized. I just pulled over to let the pass by.

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I turned off on Forest Road 70 heading toward San Gregorio Reservoir and the San Pedro Parks Wilderness. The Aspen trees were past their prime color in most spots but were still going strong in some of the more protected spots. I don’t see many Aspens since I live at a lower elevation, only about 5400 feet, and there doesn’t seem to be too many on the Sandia Mountains unless they are tucked away back in the canyons.

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In another week or ten days the Aspens will lose their leaves and snow will begin to pile up starting  in November. The snow stays about waist deep until early May. There has already been snow visible up on the Sangre de Cristo range by Santa Fe.

San Gregorio Lake is a man-made reservoir well up in the mountains at about 9400 feet. It is on the edge of the San Pedro Parks Wilderness area and is frequented by fisherman and hikers. I’m not fit enough to hike the trail to the lake (right now) but I’m planning on a return trip next year. The San Pedro Parks area is about 40,000 acres of wilderness and mostly at 10,000 feet of elevation. The area is relatively flat with rounded mountain tops. It is known for its many grassy meadow areas or “parks” and the many small streams that provide fishing for the Rio Grande Cut-throat trout. This part of the Jemez Mountains is very seductive. The forest areas are open and park-like so you are tempted to wander a little and can get disoriented or turned around.  The mountains are volcanic in origin and there are a number of peculiar rocky outcrops and anomalies that need to be explored. There are also bear and elk in the mountains as well as mountain lions. All I saw on this trip were squirrels.

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I’ve written before about the Jemez Mountains. They are one of my favorite places and offer a lot to see and do and they are really only about a half-hour drive from home. I can see them in the distance. I kept running into road work on today’s trip. This is mid-October so I really doubt that they will get all of it finished before the snows start to shut down some of the roads. Highway 126 is impassable after heavy snows but I don’t think close the road in winter since there are a few ranches and some homes up in the high country. I guess they just hunker down until a snow plow can get through. Highway 126 is paved…part of the way…and then it goes from a well maintained gravel road to a seldom maintained gravel road to a rutted dirt/gravel road. Some of the construction was on the higher stretches of gravel road…it looks like they are trying to relocate the right of way in a few areas.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Highway 126 goes past a state fish hatchery and then past Fenton Lake State Park on the way to the village of La Cueva and the junction with highway 4.  Fenton Lake offers camping and picnicking and fishing. It was pretty busy when I was there since it was a Saturday. The lake is located just at the edge of the 2010 Rio Fire burn area and the nearby hills are covered with dead trees from that forest fire (just one of many). Surprisingly, scattered through the ghost of the old pine forest are clumps of Aspen trees. I would have thought that they would have been destroyed but they seem to be survivors up on the mountain slopes.

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After Fenton Lake it is almost all downhill to Hwy 4 and the Jemez River canyon…almost. There are a few turnouts where you can see the mountains stretching off in the distance. The route down Hwy 4 closely follows the Jemez River and passes Battleship Rock and some other sites. The Jemez Mission is worth the visit. The village of Jemez Springs offers a spa experience if you can get to a bath-house but there are a few wild hot springs up in the hills that are well used. Jemez Springs is a pretty place and there are galleries and restaurants for visitors.  There was a lot of road construction in the middle of the town which made the usual congestion much worse.

Once  I was past Jemez Springs, the route continues along the river through the Jemez Pueblo and then on to San Ysidro. This is “red rock” country and the Jemez valley is beautiful with the changing colors of the cottonwood trees along the river. The area around the Jemez Pueblo was especially pretty.  My camera was running out of batteries so I only got a few pictures but there were cars pulled off the road with people taking pictures. My usual interest in this part of the road is related to trout fishing but it was exceptionally pretty today. The river was running muddy because of the road construction upstream.

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At San Ysidro I closed the loop on my trip through the mountains and it was only about a twenty minute drive back home.

The Meaning of Life — A Ghost Story

I assume that almost everyone has one or two memorable cemetery experiences. When we are little we get taken to cemeteries at times of sadness or solemnity and, while it looks like a park it obviously isn’t a fun place. It’s a morbid thought but there is a headstone with my name on it awaiting my arrival in the family cemetery.  I recall going to a cemetery as a young child for the burial of one of my dad’s uncles – somebody I never knew existed until we got that late night phone call from Sainte Genevieve. We very rarely got a happy phone call from Sainte Genevieve. She was usually the bearer of bad news. It took me a while to learn that Sainte Genevieve was a place.

lorimer cemCemeteries are places where people create monuments or markers representing how they want to be remembered after they are gone or, more often, how others want them to be remembered. This is an intentional relic of a person’s existence. The ruins at Pompeii or Tikal or Mesa Verde are unintentional relics of someone’s existence. I find them both to be interesting. But what about those folks in unmarked graves? My Irish immigrant ancestors are buried two to a hole in unmarked graves in the same cemetery that holds Tennessee Williams, William Tecumseh Sherman, Dred Scott, Kate Chopin and Father De Smet.  My ancestors left behind lots of grieving relatives but none of them had the resources to mark the graves.

I went to college in a very old town with a very old cemetery on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River. There were French folks buried there – the ones that settled the place. There were rows of unmarked graves identifiable only as a faint dimple in the grass. I recall one section of about forty unmarked graves that were known to be the victims of a horrific steamboat wreck. Only their date of death was known.

As college students with time on our hands and looking for something to do we would make our way to the cemetery and just ponder the meaning of life. We usually did this at night and with a few six-packs. One can come close to discovering the meaning of life at night in a spooky cemetery with a few six-packs surrounded by dead people. We were not disrespectful or up to mischief, we were just under age. We had to be careful where we stepped. The cemetery was riddled with large holes where the earth had subsided or local ground hogs had burrowed into some of the graves. The tree roots would reach out and grab your feet if you weren’t careful.

One of our group was a direct descendant of the old French trader who founded the town. His wife’s grave was the oldest…not counting the Indians. We avoided that part of the cemetery.

lorimer cem2On one of these excursions we came across a woman’s headstone that made us stop in our tracks. The stone was by itself – not in a family group. It gave her name followed by the word “Spinster” and her date of birth: October 31, 1815 (yes, Halloween), and her date of death: December 31, 1899. The poor woman lived 85 years and almost made it to 1900 but instead, somebody decided to label her as “Spinster” and leave her there by herself. That’s how they wanted her to be remembered.  She was certainly on our minds when we pondered the meaning of life that night. The next day, probably a Saturday or Sunday, we went back and made a charcoal rubbing of her headstone and another headstone we found of a Revolutionary War soldier. We taped the headstone rubbings up on the dorm room wall…for some reason. Not as a trophy but sort of a cautionary remembrance.

After a while, things started happening…weird things (of course). Unseen visitors were rearranging things…moving things from place to place. One of the guys was awakened during the night when he felt someone sit on his bed…there was no one there. Other things that were hanging on the wall fell to the floor but not the headstone rubbings. Finally somebody saw the figure of a young woman come out of the dorm room closet and walk across the room and disappear. This was at night but she was visible with an eerie glow. That was enough. She came down off the wall and the old soldier did too, just to be on the safe side. Was it just the power of suggestion? Once one odd thing happened, did we imagine the other occurrences? When the old woman’s headstone rubbing came down the strange occurrences stopped. This was followed by a self-imposed silence on the entire topic. I don’t recall it being discussed or mutually agreed to…just that none of us felt comfortable talking about it. We stopped going to the cemetery after that. We found other ways to explore the meaning of life. When we all went our separate ways after college we left behind a well hidden time capsule that included an account of the cemetery adventure and the subsequent occurrences.

Some years later I happened to meet an alumnus of my Alma Mater who happened to live on the same floor of the same dorm building about three or four years after I graduated.  Our time capsule had been found — we were not as clever as we thought.  I’ve never followed it up but my acquaintance said that there were still a few unexplained events taking place. The power of suggestion is alive and well….or perhaps it’s the “Spinster”.

(Revised from the original posted on The Red Room)

Wednesday Roam — A Lot of Hot Air

Way back in the early 1970s a bunch of hot air balloonists came together to create the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. There is a tradition of ballooning in Albuquerque and atmospheric conditions and valley wind patterns make it a good spot for the sport. The idea caught on and hundreds of balloons took flight each year as the fiesta grew to be the world’s largest balloon festival. Kodak played a part in the early years by promoting the event and the many opportunities to burn up lots of film taking pictures of the balloons. Unfortunately for Kodak, digital photography was rapidly replacing film photography and Kodak eventually retreated as if in denial. The Balloon Fiesta was well on its way by then and has continued to grow for four decades. This year was the 43rd International Balloon Fiesta and there are still some great opportunities for photographers.

My first visit was in 1980 or 1981. My wife, Joanne, and I came to Albuquerque by train and spent a week or more visiting and camping in the Sangre de Cristos. The Balloon Fiesta was a highlight of the trip. We got up around 4 AM and trudged to the launching site…a dew covered grassy field. There were hundreds of balloons going up in a mass ascension just as the sun came up.  There were thousands of people there too…all with wet socks and squishy shoes. Joanne had to go visit the long line of porta-potties and we made plans to meet up by a large red and white balloon. The ladies’ porta-potties had long lines and it was almost twenty minutes before she came wandering back through the crowd. Of course, our landmark ‘balloon was about 500 feet in the air and drifting away on the breeze.

Fast forward to 2014. I’m now living in Albuquerque. We liked the place so much that we decided to retire here but, sadly, Joanne didn’t make it. I live in a house up near the top of the western slope overlooking the Rio Grande Valley and with a good view of the Sandia Mountains. I also have a good view of the Balloon Fiesta balloons whenever the wind carries them north up the valley. This year the wind blew mostly from the north so the balloons were often carried south over the city. Some days the wind cooperated and brought them up the valley but not so close that they were landing in my yard or across the street as they did last year.

I’ve never been up in a balloon…I’m actually partial to blimps if I had my choice. It is on my list of things to do and I’ll be happy with either one. There is also a soaring airport a few miles east of Albuquerque and I’d like to do that as well.

Here are a few pictures I took from my front porch. It was a cloudy sunrise.

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Coming out of the clouds…

 

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