Monday, November 22, 2010

Day 138: Onward to Paradise

Lisbon to Gary. 19.4 miles/2641.6 total

Monday, November 22, 2010

9:24 a.m. I lock up my car at the parking lot of the haunted gas station at exit 34 on I-10 and head toward Lordsburg and past it to exit 15, near a place called Gary. Distance, 19.4 miles.

On the map it says I’m going past Lisbon right now, just a bit west of the exit. The internet says nothing except that it is a “populated place.” I’m a bit skeptical even of that. But then, there might be a house or two within a one mile radius of here.

In any event, I have entered Hidalgo County. This county was created from part of Grant County, which I just left, in 1919, so it is relatively new. Some say it was named for a Miguel Hidalgo, who was a priest and leader of an uprising of indigenous and mestizo people against the Spanish government in Mexico in 1810. Although this effort was unsuccessful and Hidalgo was captured and executed, it is considered the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence, and he is considered the father of the nation of Mexico, even though independence wasn’t achieved for another decade. Let me give you this guy’s full name, because it is so preposterously long: Miguel Gregorio Antonio Ignacio Hidalgo y Costilla y Gallaga Mondarte VillaseƱor. I'll bet they just called him Mikey.

Others believe Hidalgo County was named for the Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War on terms quite favorable to the United States, and under which we officially acquired, among other things, New Mexico. However, most of Hidalgo County wasn’t acquired until the Gadsden Purchase in 1853-4.

It’s another clear day in paradise, but with a few clouds hanging in the west. The temperature is in the low 50s, and will probably get into the low 60s, rather chilly. The wind is blowing at me again from the west. Nothing new there.

My friend Greg Farnum has provided me with a great North Korean slogan, which I believe epitomizes this entire journey: “Let’s Continue the Arduous March Onward to Paradise.” I don’t know about those North Koreans, but that about covers it for me. Paradise being, in my case, the end of the journey at the Pacific Ocean.

Five or more miles to the south, and perhaps as many miles to the north, low mountains rise from the flat desert. In front of me, thirty miles ahead in Arizona, rise the Peloncillo Mountains.

There’s nothing at all wrong with walking along the side of the interstate, except for the fact that it’s technically not permitted. The shoulder is smooth and wide, and the traffic isn’t moving much faster in my direction than it is on many highways where pedestrians are allowed. And for the next several days of walking I will be on I-10 more often than not before striking north toward Phoenix on US 191.

I’m always on the lookout for an access or parallel side road that I might have missed while driving, and still prefer to walk on them when possible. They’re usually hidden by weeds that grow on both sides, and the giveaway is a second barbed wire fence. There’s always a barbed wire fence along the road, but when I can see two of them about fifty feet apart I know there’s a road in between. Right now there is no such road.

The railroad tracks run alongside the expressway--James Gadsden’s dream, which fortunately he did not live to see, and which didn’t come into being until fifteen years after his home state of South Carolina and the rest of the south was sacked by the victorious armies of Sherman and Grant.

I see dead and mangled on the roadside something that looks like a young pig, but very hairy. This is probably a javelina, or peccary, a small member of the pig family related tangentially to the feral pigs that also roam pretty much everywhere in the country.

As I come around a slight bend in the highway I can finally see the first signs of Lordsburg—the Pilot and Flying J truck stops, with their signs reaching for the heavens.

A state policeman stops me and I expect to be dressed down for walking on the interstate, but he only wants to know if I’m okay. I explain my walk, and he says, “So that’s your car with the Michigan plate back at exit 34?” I say yes, and that I hope it’s okay there, and he says it’s just fine. Observant guy, and also very nice. He shakes my hand and wishes me good luck, and that’s that. So I guess I walk the highway with at least the tacit approval of the New Mexico State Police.

Shortly thereafter I do spot a two-lane road running parallel on the north side. I have to climb not one but two barbed-wire fences to get to it, and then it leads me up to the truck stops. I have occasionally thought about carrying a small pair of wire cutters, but I guess I’d rather get caught climbing a fence than destroying one. After all I'm out here in plain sight most of the time.

So I visit the Pilot station, and after leaving it with my cappuccino in hand I begin walking the sidewalk along Business I-10, a four-lane road that skirts the small downtown of Lordsburg. This is also known as East Motel Drive, but they should call it Abandoned Motel Drive, because all the establishments along here have been closed for some time, and only their skeletons remain. All the snazzy new chain motels are off the main highway.

Lordsburg’s population in 2000 was 3,379, and I doubt if it’s grown much since then. It contains the majority of the citizens of Hidalgo County. During World War Two there was a Japanese American internment camp near here with 1,500 detainees. It operated until 1943. The camp also held German and Italian prisoners of war.

At Animas Street I take a left and go down a few blocks to see what the center of the town looks like. Eventually I come to the Hidalgo County Courthouse, built in 1926. It's nothing fancy, built of dark brown brick with a nice decorative cornice across the flashing along the edge of the flat roof. The building rather resembles an old elementary school in Waterford Township, where I grew up. With a county population of only about 5,900 to take care of it doesn’t need to be very large.

I meander through the rest of the downtown, which is practically empty. The action in Lordsburg, such as it is, is down along the interstate. I go back up to Business I-10 and follow it out to the west side, past another spate of empty motels. Finally I get to Love’s Truck Stop, next to which is a Day’s Inn. Rounding out this little commercial cluster are the Gold Hill Outpost and Mom and Pop’s Pyro Shop, offering “year round fireworks.”

A historic marker tells me that Lordsburg’s elevation is 4,245 feet. It was founded in 1880 on the route of the Southern Pacific Railroad and was named for Delbert Lord, an engineer on the railroad. In 1927 Charles Lindberg landed his Spirit of St. Louis at the Lordsburg airport.

Where the business route merges with I-10 I decide to stay on a side road, which becomes gravel within a few hundred yards. I now have about five miles to go. I stay on the road for a mile or so, then realize I’m getting rather far away from the interstate, so I decide to bushwhack across the desert between the two roads, cutting a long diagonal in the direction of the interstate.

This mile-wide field I’m walking across is flat and covered with gray gravel and mesquite bushes, as well as jagged pieces of red rock. It’s strewn with litter and evidence of campfires and nights of drinking and two-track roads that may have run through it at one time. It doesn't look quite wild, but more like it's on the way to becoming wild again. I wonder if this is where the internment camp was?

One of the persistent hazards of walking through this type of terrain is the mesquite thorns that stick up from dead branches and sometimes go all the way through the thick rubber soles of my shoes. Then sometimes they break off and the tip of the thorn remains deep inside, sticking through and stabbing the bottom of my foot. When that happens I have to take the shoe off and do surgery on it with my knife, cutting a slit and probing until I come up with the tiny needle-like piece that’s poking me. I could wear hard-soled hiking shoes, but I prefer the more cushiony kind, and this is the price I pay.

Eventually I come to the inevitable barbed wire fence and then I’m on the highway again with about three miles to go. Now it’s downhill, with the mountains closing in all around me. At about 19 miles I begin walking up the ramp to the road over the highway, where the motor home is inconspicuously parked.

There’s supposed to be a place called Gary about half a mile north of here by the railroad tracks. I imagine it was a railroad watering station at one time. Like so many places on the map of New Mexico, it exists more in theory than in reality. It’s as if the cartographers said, “Holy shit, there are only about twelve cities in this whole damn state. The rest is just dirt and mountains. We'd better make up some names and scatter them around. Hey, I know! Let's name one over by Lordsburg after Sponge Bob’s pet snail!”

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