Monday, November 15, 2010
Day 132: The Crosses
Organ to Las Cruces. 20.2 miles/2521.7 total
Monday, November 15, 2010
9:15 a.m. I’m leaving from a little west of Organ, at US 70 and Weisner Road, heading west on 70 through Las Cruces and out the other side to a spot near the airport, a distance of 20.2 miles.
It’s chilly today and mostly cloudy, although the sun does shine from time to time. And the clouds are lower and thicker than they’ve been. Right now the temperature is in the 50s, and I expect it to get into the low 60s. A light breeze is blowing in from the west.
During the time I wasn’t walking I let a spot on the sole of my left foot heal, where a large thorn had gone through the bottom of my shoe and punctured the skin. I removed the thorn, or thought I had done so, but a little piece of it remained in there, and began to get inflamed. So that’s cleared up now. Also I drove around Las Cruces and the campus of New Mexico State University, the land grant university located here. NMSU, home of the Aggies, is a school of over 18,000 students, founded in 1888. I also took a trip with the motor home back up the San Augustin Pass, where I camped one night and then visited the White Sands National Monument again and walked the dunes. Very peaceful and beautiful in an otherworldly way.
Yesterday I visited with two new friends, Glenda and Doug Baker, who were recommended to me by my old friend Billie Bob. They live in a very nice place up here on the east side of the city, and I had dinner and conversation with them. I’d like to thank them again for their hospitality, and I hope I have an opportunity to get to know them better in the future. It’s always a pleasure to meet people in the places I go through.
As easy as it is for me to get addicted to leisure, it’s time to get addicted to walking once again, so here I am, hitting the dusty trail.
Along this stretch of US 70 the housing developments are beginning to take shape and I can see subdivisions of tan and beige and pale red houses, some in frame style and many in the classic Southwestern adobe style, like Doug and Glenda’s house.
I pass the Hacienda Baptist Church, where the sign says “Bikers Welcome.” Right. I can see that happening. I pass the East Mesa Memorial Pool, a nice new recreation center, and a little farther down is the East Mesa Laundry. So that must be the name of this area, although it’s not on the map as such.
Here in mid-November the trees are beginning to turn yellow and brilliant orange—the aspens and cottonwoods and various ornamental fruit trees that landscapers have planted.
At about 3.5 miles into the walk I come to the first gas station I’ve passed since Alamogordo, some 65 miles back—Shorty’s Gas and Liquor. And there’s Shorty, looking like Yosemite Sam on a sign above the pumps. Right next to that is Big Daddy’s Marketplace, with a fifteen-foot-high statue of Big Daddy, wearing green pants and a white shirt and a droopy Mexican-style moustache. It’s a flea market, but it’s closed today. Next to that is a huge brown and white bull, perhaps ten feet high, bearing a sign that reads “El Toro says shop here.”
I stop in a convenience store where I buy a cappuccino (which I like to mix about two-thirds/one-third with regular coffee) and also to bask in the incredible array of stuff they have in these little stores, and to enjoy being back in a city after so many miles of nothing. I like the scenery and quiet of the countryside, but on the whole I prefer going through cities and settled areas where people are outside walking and not just zooming past in their cars. As I get to Roadrunner Parkway I look south a few miles and I can see the area where Doug and Glenda live.
As in Texas, here in New Mexico they take care to decorate their highway interchanges a bit. At 6.5 miles, at the intersection of US 70 and I-25, the highway overpasses have nice stone work and rich red coloring and even a little decorative frieze of a mountain motif that repeats itself along the bridges.
I forgot to mention at the end of my previous walk that I have reached the 2500 mile mark on this trip. That would have been enough miles to get to the west coast if I'd taken the most direct route from Michigan. As it is I’ll be walking for another 700 to 800 miles. But I wouldn't have wanted to miss any of this.
Past the expressway things get more congested. I pass the usual array of businesses—Lowe’s, K-mart, Walgreens, fast food places—and this feels like a major commercial center. Actually Telshor Boulevard, which runs north-south parallel to I-25 on the east side, is considered the major business district, along with Lohman Ave., but US 70, also called N. Main Street here, has a lot going on. These strips have pretty much replaced the downtown business district. Downtown is the Doña Ana County Courthouse, a handsome white adobe-style structure.
The City of Las Cruces was laid out by the U.S. military in 1849, right after the Mexican War. The community of Mesilla, immediately to the southwest of Las Cruces, was originally larger than Las Cruces. But in 1860, when the Atcheson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad came through, Mesilla refused to sell it a right of way. Las Cruces donated the right of way to the railroad, and eventually it became larger than Mesilla. Today, with over 93,000 people, it is the second-largest city in the state. Albuquerque is the largest, with over half a million, Rio Rancho is third, and the capital, Santa Fe, is fourth.
The name Las Cruces means “the crosses” in Spanish. Wikipedia claims the origin of the name is unknown. Some people suggest that it might have to do with crossroads, but this is implausible because the word for crossroad is masculine, and that would require the name of the city to be Los Cruces. I think the meaning is pretty straightforward, given the Spanish and Mexican tendency to name things after Christian saints and other religious iconography, and that it was named after the three crosses of Jesus and the two thieves. This symbol or three crosses shows up fairly often on signs. When I see it, it reminds me of a bit from "Desperados Under the Eaves" by Warren Zevon:
Don't the sun look angry through the trees,
Don't the trees look like crucified thieves....
I pass the Las Cruces Country Club, then the Academia Dolores Huerta, a middle school. Dolores Huerta is shown on a painting on the awning over the front door, standing in a vegetable field wearing an apron bearing the United Farm Workers symbol. She was the co-founder of the UFW, with Cesar Chavez. Born in Dawson, New Mexico, she grew up near Stockton, California. She’s been involved in politics and labor organizing for most of her adult life and is now 80 years old.
At 10.2 miles, down toward the center of the city, US 70 turns right and heads west again under the name Picacho Avenue. For the first time since I started back on the walk three weeks ago, I feel a drop or two of rain. I always carry my emergency poncho for such occasions. It starts to sprinkle off and on.
As I pass the Doña Ana County District Court a squall begins to blow through, carrying almost as much dust as moisture. As Picacho Avenue continues west the businesses become modest and local, including several antique stores. One is open, S.O.B. Antiques, and I go in and buy four pocket knives.
Down and across from S.O.B. is an Aamco Transmission place where out on the sidewalk stands a sculpture of a woman made from a transmission and some miscellaneous parts. Very clever and nicely done. She holds the mail box.
I’m going through the area called Picacho, with Picacho Peak off in the distance to the north. Suddenly the rain gets very heavy and I have to break out the emergency poncho. But by the time I finish wrestling with the thing, which is blowing all over the place, and get it on, the rain begins to subside. In the process the poncho rips down one side, but that’s okay, I keep a supply of them in the motor home.
I come to the Rio Grande, in front of which is an historic marker. It says the Rio Grande originates in the mountains of Colorado and is over 1800 miles long, forming the border between Texas and Mexico. Here it flows more or less straight south. It also formed the original western boundary of Texas when it claimed the eastern half of New Mexico. The Rio Grande is pretty dry right now, with only two shallow streams about ten feet wide. Crossing this river I feel that I have symbolically crossed out of the ambit of Texas and am now in the far west.
In front of a house I see a large bush with fruits that look like apples growing on it. On closer inspection, and after talking to the guy standing out front, I realize they’re pomegranates. He invites me to take as many as I would like. I thank him and pick one, which I open with my knife to scoop out the little kernel-like seeds and drink the purple juice. Refreshing. An old world fruit, the pomegranate was introduced to this continent by the Spanish in 1769 and is now cultivated for its juice, particularly in California and Arizona.
Out here on the edge of town, next to the Fairacres Baptist Church, is a cemetery--a memorial garden to be exact. I sit on a bench dedicated to the Dr. Willie P. Isaacs family and relax for a few minutes. In front of me reposes Dr. Willie P. himself, who died four years ago. Some of the other surnames I see are Radtke, Wagner, Guillen, Telles, Struffalino, Lucero, Perez, Hernandez, and Candelaria. It reads like a baseball lineup card.
From the cemetery I begin a long steady uphill climb toward the airport. It’s cooling down, with about an hour of daylight left, as I turn onto the road that branches off of US 70 toward the airport. I’m walking parallel to I-10 now.
At last the motor home comes into view right past Harry Burrill Road.