Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day 121: High Plains Drifter

US 82 and NM 238 to Maljamar. 19.6 miles/2294.4 total

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day 121. Thursday, October 28, 2010.

9:57 a.m. I starting this morning from near the intersection of US 82 and NM 238, headed west on 82 for 19.6 miles to a rest stop just beyond Maljamar. Maljamar will be the only community I’ll be going through today, and it barely qualifies as such. No gas station, and just one restaurant that I can see. So I’m leaving nothing to chance, carrying everything I’ll need for today in my vest, including extra water. I’ve bumped the distance up another two miles today, and in another day or two I’ll be at warp speed again.

It’s only in the 50s right now, and I’m not sure how warm it will get. It’s cloudless, as usual, so I imagine the sun will warm things up a bit. On the first two days of the walk I wore only a t-shirt under the vest, but today I have on a lightweight long-sleeved shirt over a t-shirt, and that feels just about right.

There’s nothing between here and Maljamar except flat grassland covered with cholla cactus, oil wells and other petroleum-related apparatuses, and cows. In regard to the oil, I feel a little like Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, with his “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” While all around me there are oil and natural gas pipelines, storage facilities, and pumps, there’s not a retail gasoline outlet for the 60 miles or so between Lovington and Artesia.

Last night I stayed at a quiet little picnic area a few miles west of Lovington, and tonight I’ll probably stay at one of several large truck pull-offs I saw along the way. Then tomorrow night it’ll be Walmart again, and a day off on Saturday.

I’ve seen a couple of references indicating that where I’m walking right now is part of the "high plains." The high plains is a large area east of the Rocky Mountains, extending from here up to Wyoming. So maybe instead of being the Ancient Mariner today I’ll be the High Plains Drifter.

I have with me a field guide common cactuses, and after examination I determine that one of the chollas on the roadside is a cane cholla and another one is a teddy bear cholla. Chollas are bushy-looking cactuses, mostly about four feet high, with lots of thin branches ranging in diameter up to about an inch and a half. They all sort of look the same from a distance, like bare spare bushes, with smaller branches growing off of longer ones, except that when you get up close you see that some have one or two yellow fruits growing off the ends of the branches and some have green fruit, and in some (the infamous jumping cholla) the fruit grows in hanging clusters.

The autumn sun rises and sets far to the south so its arc is abbreviated considerably this time of year. When I’m walking due west the sun is always on my left side; in the morning it shines on the left side of the back of my neck and in the afternoon it shines on the left side of my face. And I have my shadow at my right side all day long.

This morning before I did anything else I had to crawl under the motor home and reattach a hanger on the exhaust system. I noticed yesterday that something was hanging down and saw that it was the muffler hanger. The weight of the rather large pipes was causing the muffler to buckle a little, like it was folding up. I couldn’t do anything last night because it was getting dark and the pipes were still hot, but first thing today I got under there and with the help of a large hose clamp I found, made the improvised repair. On summer days at home that would have been a whole day’s work and I probably would have put it off for a week. But now there’s no rest for the wicked, and I had to do that then get ready to do everything else.

Incidentally, in case you’re wondering, things are going fine with the portable generator. I have a plywood ramp about six and a half feet long, but I haven’t had occasion to use it yet. It seems to be more trouble than it’s worth to get it out. Instead I’ve been walking the beast up and down the three steps from the ground to the floor of the motor home, so I only have to lift half of it at a time. Of course it’s a lot easier to walk it down the steps in the evening than to walk it up in the morning, but at least in the morning I’m rested. It stays outside all night, after I’ve turned it off for the evening, and so far that hasn’t been a problem. If it ever rains I have a tarp to cover it with and some bungee cords to secure it. And it runs pretty quietly out there. The electric starter is a nice feature, and I’m glad I didn’t decide to skimp on that.

Typical of fall everywhere in the country, the grasshoppers are very active just now. The predominating variety around here are dark brown to black, and when they jump up they take flight with orange and black wings—Halloween colors. When I walk in the ditch I scare them up by the hundreds. They take off, rarely more than three or four feet in the air, and fly only as far as they need to in order to reach the other side of the road, where they tuck in their wings and settle down, perfectly still, as if nothing had happened.

When I say there’s nothing out here, I mean nothing except fences, lonely ranch houses set back far from the road, utility poles, the occasional can or bottle on the side of the road. There isn’t even any road kill. Here and there a small petroleum facility fills the air with its pungent sulfurous smell.

Because I wasn’t able to stop anywhere for my afternoon coffee today, I mixed up some cold coffee in a Coke bottle, adding several spoons of instant to the water. In addition to my abrupt increase in physical activity this week, I’ve also decreased my coffee consumption from five or six cups a day to only about two. I try not to drink it much after about three o’clock.

It feels as if I’m going slightly uphill, although the difference in elevation between Lovington and Maljamar is only fifty feet or so. I walk a few miles to a slight rise in the road, and on the other side of that is more flat ground and another slight rise.

I see what I identify as a staghorn cholla. These cholla predominate here, with very few prickly pear cactuses, and apart from brown grass and very occasional mesquite bushes and trees, they’re about all the vegetation. I don’t know if the cattle like to eat cholla, but they don’t seem to mind being around them. No large herds of cattle here, only the occasional bunch of twenty or thirty, mostly black angus and Hereford.

Since I arrived in Hobbs last week I’ve been listening to the Mexican music stations pretty regularly. I don’t know what the style is called. It’s not mariachi, but it’s similar. Some kind of folk music of northern Mexico, I suppose. The presence of the accordion and the 4/4 time make it sound very similar to Polka music. In fact it was the Germans who introduced the accordion to Mexican music, as they did to Cajun music. I’ve always been fond of Polka music, it’s so damned happy and somehow ineffably silly, just like this Mexican stuff.

Another similarity between Polkas and Mexican music is that often while the musicians are good the singers are somewhere between amateurish and awful. Sometimes they just sing flat, and sometimes they sing even worse than that. In fact, very few vocalists are really good, though they try their best. I understand very little Spanish, so I just sort of get into the mood of the music, which always seems to be about love or going to Nuevo Mexico or drinking cerveza. Once in awhile a word or phrase will jump out and I’ll say, “I know what that means!” Like paloma, which means dove. When I was in 4th grade our teacher, Mrs. Baumgartner (known to some of my readers), brought in a woman named Senora Lopez to teach us Spanish. I don’t remember shit from that except a song about la paloma. There’s a very famous song by that name, written in 1863 by a Spanish guy named Sebastian Yradier, but the song we sang was different. Occasionally I’ll hear a singer saying mi corazon, which I know means “my heart,” but also means “my love.” So these days when I get back in the motor home after walking, the first thing I do is put the radio on scan, and skip past the country music and the right-wing Christian hatemongers until I can find some Mexican music.

At 16.5 miles I reach the intersection of US 82 and New Mexico 249, and I’m one mile from Maljamar. Wikipedia has very little to say about Maljamar, because there’s very little to report. It has a post office, a restaurant, and a few dozen houses. You might think the name is Spanish—it does have a sort of Spanish feel to it—but according to legend the founder of the village, William Mitchell, named it after his three children, Malcolm, Janet, and Margaret.

About a half mile past this intersection I come to the crest of another hill, but this time I’m abruptly treated to an entire change of scenery. Below me a few hundred feet lies Maljamar, and beyond that, in the hazy distance, are mountains. Off to the north is a ridge of several mesas. It appears that I’m leaving the high plains.

At 17.5 miles I reach the center of Maljamar. On the way down the hill it smells like rotten eggs, and at the bottom it smells like sewage, right where Linda’s Grill sits in a shabby one-story building. Linda’s is closed now at four in the afternoon, but it was open when I drove by earlier. Maybe they ran out of food, although my nose tells me otherwise.

I’m now only a mile from the rest area where the motor home waits patiently. My feet are aching and I’m ready to get off them.

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