Saturday, November 20, 2010

Day 136: Quincy

Tunis to Wilna. 19.7 miles/2600 total

Saturday, November 20, 2010

9:40 a.m. Setting out from around mile 7 on New Mexico 418, I'm heading to Exit 55 on I-10, a distance of 19.7 miles. I say I’m walking from Tunis to Wilna, but that’s just to give those of you who look at maps a general idea of where I am. In reality there is no Tunis, and I doubt very much if there’s a Wilna. I daresay they existed once, but now, like New Mexico dust storms, the most one can say is that they “may exist.”

I’m getting a late start because I had to buy propane this morning at one of the RV parks along US 70 in Deming. It’s the first time I’ve bought propane since during the trip down here, in Oklahoma, I think. So a tank of propane, 15 gallons, lasts about a month.

Overhead there are some wispy high clouds, which are blowing to the east, but other than that it’s a typical clear blue sky overhead. Temperature is in the high 50s and going up to about 70 today.

Next to me is my companion for the first hour or two, Red Mountain. And after that will come other mountains. Always other mountains.

I find myself bedeviled by flies today. One after another they light on my neck and arms. As I mentioned once before, these wilderness flies are not adept at avoiding the direct hit—they’re used to being shooed away by a cow’s tail, only to land again. So the death toll at my hands is quite high. Not seven at one blow, like the little tailor, but one by one at least a dozen in the first few miles. If I don’t slap myself into a concussion, I’ll be fine. It’s best to try to get them to land on my arm, and when that happens my kill rate is well over seventy-five percent.

Today’s walk will be punctuated by two rest stops along the highway, so I’m carrying only one bottle of water. Cappuccino and soda and more water await.

Three miles into the walk I encounter two people walking the other way. This doesn’t happen very often. And man in his forties and a teenage boy, perhaps father and son, with backpacks. The boy carries a skateboard. They ask me how far it is into Deming and I tell them. They’re headed for the St. Vincent de Paul store there. They’ve been sleeping outdoors, and seem to have come from Phoenix. Like most serious wayfarers they also talk about getting run out of towns by cops. They seem to be doing what they’re doing out of necessity. I’m always thankful I’ve stayed under the radar as successfully as I have. When the police or the Border Patrol ask I'm just out for a day of hiking.

I come to a solitary house decorated in front with some cedar or juniper bushes sculpted into topiaries—a deer, some birds, and a few other shapes--a nice bit of decor for the passerby.

An hour and a half into the walk I can see in the far distance the Savoy CafĂ©, which is the first truck stop I'll come to along I-10. It’s all by itself at the exit. At 7.1 miles, after a quick stop at the Savoy, I proceed down the access road alongside the expressway, New Mexico 418 having ended here. The wind has suddenly picked up and is gusting into my face at about 20 miles an hour.

I come to a succession of billboards advertising the next truck stop, called Butterfield Station. This one’s owned by Bowlin’s, like the two I encountered on the other side of Deming. At 12.6 miles I reach Butterfield Station, which is at a place designated on the map as Gage. According to the internet, Gage is a “former town.” In 1930 it had 102 residents; then it survived as a ghost town for some time, and eventually even the ruins were razed. All that remains is this truck stop, which is pretty much just like the other ones, with the jewelry and moccasins and food and other souvenirs.

Down past the truck stop a grey gravel road takes me next to an RV park, spread out over a mile or so. This place looks pretty nice, and isolated, and I decide to stay here tonight if I don’t see anything better. It has full hookups, so I can have the luxury of not using the generator and of emptying the waste tanks and filling up the water tank in the morning.

As the afternoon wears on the flora changes a bit, and now yuccas predominate. To my left are the Victorio Mountains, and far beyond them to the south the Cedar Mountain Range. Luna County is pretty much empty land. Only Deming qualifies as a city. Columbus is a village of fewer than 2,000, and that's it.

Eventually the gravel road stops and I have to climb the fence and walk along I-10 for a bit. I come to a rest stop on the highway where I find a historical marker. It says this was once Cooke’s Wagon Road. In 1846, while leading the Mormon Battalion to California during the Mexican War, Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke blazed a wagon road from New Mexico to the west coast. The potential use of the route for railroad construction was one of the reasons for the Gadsden Purchase in 1853. Sure enough, the railroad tracks run right by here, although as we know that didn’t happen until almost thirty years after the Gadsden Purchase. Cooke, by the way, went on to become a general in the Union army cavalry during the Civil War, and also was the father-in-law of Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart. J.E.B. Stuart died after being shot off his horse by a Union private in 1864, while Philip Cooke lived until 1895, dying at the age of 83 in Detroit, Michigan, where he is buried in Elmwood Cemetery, together with such notables as Lewis Cass, Hiram Walker, and Coleman Young.

As the yuccas become more plentiful I become fascinated by the strange twists the flower stalks take as they become bent with the wind and then dry out. I walk along briskly, fascinated by these shapes, while listening to “Absolutely Sweet Marie” and the rest of Blonde on Blonde. Life is good.

At last I see the sign for Exit 55, one mile distant, and I cross to the north side of the highway and climb another barbed wire fence to get to the access road. I’m getting good at negotiating these fences without puncturing my shoes or hands. The motor home is parked just at the exit, which says Quincy. This place, if it ever existed, doesn’t even merit a mention on the map or on the internet. Sometimes I wonder who the hell makes these signs.


Anonymous said...

Lots of yuccas and prickly pears in Malta where they produce a prickly pear liqueur as well as a carob liqueur. Much more built up than NM.
Blonde on Blonde, Oh yes!

Peter Teeuwissen said...

They make prickly pear jam or jelly here, but I'm not sure about the liqueur. Apparently various parts of the yucca are edible, including the fruits, seeds, stems, and flowers.

Tommy said...

Thank you for mentioning my GG Grandfather Philip St.George Cooke on your website. In 1973, l donated several items to the museum in Santa Fe, NM which belong to StGeorge.

In addition, when my father passed in '84, and his brother, my Uncle Philip StGeorge Cooke III passed in '87... Their ashes were scattered over Cooke's Peak in New Mexico.

Thomas M Cooke
Richmond, Va.