He noticed the crows. Their loud calls distracted him from the white noise of pain. They were circling close enough to look him in the eye. They watched as he picked his way across lava boulders in his stupid dress shoes. He was suddenly self-conscious and worried he’d fall. He was sure they’d peck his eyes out.

Velvet edges of saltbush and mesquite sharpened as dawn light hardened into day. He could tell he wasn’t thinking clearly. The wreck beat him up badly. He had tumbled around in the trunk of his wife’s sedan. The horizon had waves and there was ringing in his head. One side of his body wasn’t working right. It was hard to walk straight. He imagined taking a DUI test in this condition and laughed. Certain failure. He wiped sweat and blood off his face with the sleeve of his dress shirt and yelped as he snagged his cut lip with his cufflink. This became the most painful thing on his body for a few moments before fading into the dull roar of agony.  

Sadie had seemed so sweet and easy-going. Hard to believe she had that much violence inside her. Telling her to calm down  didn't help. Neither did his suggestion that her anger was because of menopause. Still, he was shocked when she hit him. She found out about the waitress and didn’t like being tricked. He couldn’t blame her. When they found that grave, which never should have happened, she figured it out. 

He wanted to avoid the security cameras along the highway. He’d installed the system for a billboard company and had done such a shitty job he figured they probably weren't working. But he didn’t want to take the chance.  Cross-country was rough going. Stickers clung to his socks and he was getting blisters. He needed to rest and sat down to watch the crows on what happened to be an ant pile. 

In the few moments before the biting began, he reflected on Sadie’s perverted sense of duty to her brother. He was her downfall. She treated him better than he ever treated her.  He recalled the time she'd slapped his face for calling Sebastian a dumbass. Sebastian called her a dumbass all the time. 

Ace stood up squealing. The ants were inside his trousers and biting. He tried to take them off but didn’t take off his boots first and hopped around on one leg briefly before falling back onto the ant pile in his underwear.

Sadie’s witchy friend had warned him that the consequences of his actions would pile up until the "scale of fate” tipped.  He didn’t know what she meant then but was pretty sure now. 

Ice House

There was a hidden entrance to the Cozy Y ranch house. The Colonel built a Spanish Colonial home in 1910. It sat on the mesa above the older structures on the valley floor beneath it. In one of these was an ice house or root cellar. The roof was reinforced with beams and the walls were lined with shelves. In the back wall was a closet that housed a dumbwaiter up to the pantry. 

There was room for a day bed and floor lamp. Connie would hide from her father-in-law down there. It stayed cool on the hottest days and cozy in the winter. She read books, ate peaches and preserves from glass jars with a spoon, and napped on piles of  Persian carpets and Navajo rugs stored there. They were safe from their enemies too - the moths and sunlight.

When the first ranch house burned the icehouse and other structures were all that remained. These were ignored in rebuilding. Rosa had the dumbwaiter closet rebuilt after the fire, replacing the dumbwaiter with a series of ladders and stairs. She showed it to Chocky but Alva never knew about it and neither did Sebastian. Sadie was almost certain that Ace didn't either. 

Sadie tried to jog the last hundred yards but was too exhausted. She'd been without water for the last couple of miles and she was wearing heels. She walked up her driveway and glanced at her reflection in a patio window. She looked exactly as she would expect to look if she'd hiked across the desert after killing her husband, shoving him in the trunk and wrecking the car.

She knew she couldn't get in without passing the office window.  If he wasn't there someone else might be and there would be questions. She paused to consider her options. The swimming pool was burbling and glistening. It was right there. She was so thirsty and hot.  

He glanced up when he heard the splash. She still had her clothes on but she'd done far weirder things. She waved at him and smiled a genuine smile because the water felt so delicious. When he was no longer watching she got out and strolled to the cabana for a towel. She headed the direction of the main house but appeared to reconsider and headed to the bar for a drink instead. No one was at the window when she turned around. She went back into the cabana and down a ladder in one of the changing room closets, emerging silently from the ice house below.

There was no sign of anyone at the barn.  Either Cat or Angel would be with a horse or in the office. She waved at the security camera. Her barn was never left unattended or unguarded. She began counting seconds and got to three when her dogs turned the corner of the barn at a full run. They immediately veered toward the ice house and she allowed them to jump into her arms. 


Pacific Coast Road Trip

I hadn't seen the Pacific in decades and it had been three years since I’d flown anywhere. A good friend invited me to drive from Seattle to San Diego along the coast. Trip planning was sketchy and flexible. But a week sounded like enough. It really wasn't.

They'll pry my cold dead fingers off the Honda’s steering wheel but I have to admit her Tesla was more comfortable and fun. My back didn't hurt and it was great to drive.  It did occur to me that the fun might be limited if everyone zoomed Teslas all the time. I found the huge screen in the center of the dashboard distracting and I never did get the door and window buttons right. But the short stretch I drove was exhilarating - for me at least. Zoomies are always less fun for passengers. I drove a hairy little stretch of former logging road and really enjoyed the fun curves. But for some reason, that was my only opportunity.

The trip began the day after a King Tide and a week of big storms. There was evidence of flooding everywhere - huge trees down and closed portions of the coastal highways. The booming Pacific was unsettling, especially the first night when I thought I was hearing heavy furniture moving around the room. And it was especially impressive for a desert dwelling unfamiliar with its power. 

We blazed down the coast, stopping periodically to wonder at sights but never really long enough to fully relax. We made it to California our first night after zooming into the dark forest. There’s a giant peanut sitting beside the highway in Orick that's carved from a huge Redwood. It was sent to President Carter as an appeal to stop designation of the Redwood National Forest. It  was returned and the forest was established. We visited the awe inspiring “Big Tree” there, and many like it. In Leggett we stopped at the even larger “Grandfather Tree.” 

In the predawn hours in Monterey I woke to the unfamiliar sound of  barking harbor seals. It was Friday already. That night was Santa Barbara. Then San Diego. I would go the other direction if I had another chance. Hopefully the highway both sides of Big Sur, which we missed, would be open. And I would go north instead of south so that the population grew thinner and the trees thicker as the trip progressed. 


The Place Names of New Mexico - An Autobiography

Robert Julyan’s 1996 edition by UNM Press is the one I have. It’s pretty tattered. He dedicated the first edition to his daughter and signed this copy for my sister at a bookstore  somewhere in Albuquerque. It’s dated 2/25/96. “For Lisa, Best wishes exploring the names and places of New Mexico. Bob Julyan.”

She caught this wish and this book was an invaluable tool that traveled with us all over the state, along with the good maps. We drove our father’s 1992 white Ford Explorer, packed to the gills, and called it “Cadillac car camping,” but we may have gotten that term from somewhere else. We re-used fire rings, brought our own wood and left campsites better than we found them. We ate like queens: grilled steaks and morning bacon and eggs. Mostly we camped on BLM land before motorized off-road activity exploded. It wasn’t hard to find quiet places then. 

We decided where to go on the basis of the weather forecast, (from TV news,) and where we could be at sundown, depending on what time I could get off work or when her flight got in. Then, in route, we would consult topographic maps and this book, learning on the go.

My sister died in 1999 and I haven’t camped since. but I still use Julyan’s Place Names book for my armchair travels. 

“(P)lace names result from the fundamental and universal human need to label with words, and the concepts of naming and place identity are inextricably linked.”

Naming places reflects who we are. In this way, the book is an autobiography.

“(A)s centuries have passed, as people, languages, and cultures have intermingled, New Mexico’s place-name autobiography has expanded and undergone continuous change.”

It is good to hear from TACA board member and friend, Jerry Widdison, that a new edition is in the works. He is credited in the first edition as being a “meticulous editor, tireless researcher, observant traveler, and generous friend.” I very much look forward to a fresh crisp edition, signed by both of them.

The autobiography is still being written.



Raswan in New Mexico

Carl Raswan renamed himself for a stallion he didn’t even own. That animal's character so entranced him that when the horse died unexpectedly he made the name change official. Or maybe he didn’t like his given name, Schmidt. Anyway, it says a lot about a horse to do this. It says a lot about a person too.

Raswan, the man, devoted his life to Arabian horses. He searched for the “horse of perfection” among the Bedouin people, traveling on horseback with them before the first World War. He developed worldwide lifelong friendships with fellow devotees of the breed and wrote multiple books, including the authoritative “Raswan Index” of Arabian horse pedigree information.

He emigrated to the US in 1921 and imported Arabian horses for WK Kellogg, advising him on the purchase of purebreds from the Crabbet Stud in Sussex. Among these, was the horse, Raswan, who owner Lady Wentworth, gifted to (then) Carl Schmidt. When the horse died accidentally, Carl was said to have exclaimed, "No! He will live!” Then he changed his name.

Raswan moved to New Mexico with his third wife, Gertrude Pearl, in about 1939. They established a 93 acre horse ranch near the village of San Antonito in the East Mountain area, east of Albuquerque.  Around ten years later, he moved to Mexico with a fourth wife and the ranch was sold. Today, a road access in the now subdivided ranch site is still marked as “Pearl Lane.” 

Photo: "Raswan on Sartez," from the dust jacket on the 1961 edition of Raswan's Drinkers of the Wind, first published in 1942. This may or may not have been taken on the track at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds, but those sure look like the Sandia Mountains in the background. ) 


Christmas Movies

I watch the classics this time of year. My top two balance the light and dark of everything for me.

The first is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Anyone who has ever chuckled at Chevy Chase or the jokes in a John Hughes movie likes this one. 

The other one has no connection to traditional Christmas except for snow. Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller is purposefully dark and uncheery.  The town is a central character. It’s being built with the story, evolving and changing. The place is called "Presbyterian Church" with a brothel at its heart.

The film set location is lost somewhere today in the curvy single-family cul-de-sacs of West Vancouver. Somehow that fits the grim narrative about progress.

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Angel had worked at the diner since he was eight. That was what Uncle Johnny liked to say but Angel’s earliest memory was standing on a stool washing dishes and he was probably only three or four. By eight he was working the grill. When he was big enough to balance the heavy trays he served customers. Uncle Johnny told him that he’d make him a bartender when he was old enough and promised to pay him regular wages but he never did. Angel was nearly broken by drudgery and boredom before Rosa took over management of the place. 

Rosa sent Angel to school, cut his work hours, and increased his pay. When he finished high school he used his savings to travel everywhere. He came home when Rosa decided to retire. Sadie convinced her mother, Annie, to hire him to manage the new horse barn. 

Annie was bad at people - caring about them, recognizing them, and remembering them. Angel was her dead husband’s nephew but when he told her, as a joke and straight to her face, that he was a Russian circus horse trainer, she believed him. So he had to continue with his poor attempt at an Eastern European accent and began studying Russian because of it. A year later Annie got mad about a hay delivery mix-up and called Immigration on him. He had to show his passport and explain the joke but this just convinced Annie that he was a Russian spy.  She seemed a little afraid of him after that.


After the Colonel stole the land grant he fenced off the roads and trails, cutting off access to thousands of acres families had been using for a couple hundred years. Later most of it was bought by the feds for National Forest and everyone blamed the "government" for everything.

Sadie used air quotes and tossed the spiral bound notebook onto a nearby table. She chose another from an ungainly pile. Cat raised her eyebrows and glanced into the dark corner of the bar where Chocky was sitting in the booth he used as his office. Smoke curled into the light of a desk lamp. He had on sunglasses. It was hard to tell if he was listening.

Sadie was fast, turning pages noisily, looking for portions of her writing she'd previously highlighted, reading then tossing. Cat tried to put discarded notebooks in order but Sadie kept aiming at the tidy stack she'd made, knocking them all to the floor. Sadie seemed oblivious which made it funnier to Chocky who laughed aloud when she managed a direct hit.   

Villagers’ herds were starving when he offered to buy them at discounted prices. That’s when people got mad. Then he turned them against each other, telling nasty rumors about this or that. He started a little civil war that lasted right up until World War II. That gutted the population of angry men. He died soon after that. 

Sadie paused and looked up from the notebook. Cat braced to catch it. But Sadie set it down carefully and began speaking slowly and clearly, not looking at notes. 

Aunt Connie poisoned my father after he raped her the third time.

This hung in the air like a strong scent, hard to identify, pungent, intriguing. Chocky looked up. Cat's chin dropped. Sadie continued, quietly.

She told Rosa she started putting rat poison in his coffee and that it took longer than she thought it would. He died at the poker table in the back room of his bar after winning a big hand.

Chocky took off his sunglasses.

They said it was a stroke.

They never did an autopsy. 

Cat just stared. Sadie continued reading.

A professor at the University wrote a history of the land grant called, “The Thief Who Was a King.”  He was like the Dan Brown of Escadero with his nuggets of half-truths carved to fit his fairy tale. It centered on the ridiculous claim that the Colonel was a descendant of an original land grantee, making him a legitimate heir to the grant. He was the son of a woman who was thrown out of the village for being a witch, according to this fiction. That was more interesting than the truth - he was just a wanna-be Santa Fe Ring white-collar crook. 

She paused to take a swallow of water and glanced at them both, then went on.

The professor later said he’d taken cash from Annie to promote the myth. Then he made the fatal mistake of trying to blackmail her with the fact that the Colonel wasn’t a Colonel. She  hired a young body guard to beat him up and he died of a stroke a week later. Ace, the bodyguard, got promoted to assistant ranch manager.

Sadie threw this notebook, deftly hitting Cat's pile, scattering them like playing cards. Then she lit and took a long drag on a little hand-rolled cigarette.  

What was that about poison again? 

Journey with Jerry - The Piro and the Missions

Took another Journey with Jerry. (See previous Journal entries here and here.)  

San Miguel Mission 

San Miguel Mission  Socorro  NM

The church was locked up tight. We drove around the vast parking lot and I became acutely aware of what’s under the tires - probably a plaza and multi-story pueblo. 

We came to see the interior of Socorro’s San Miguel Mission. Our associate Chan Graham was involved in a renovation in the 1970s and considered it one of his favorite projects. His story is here

A man watering rose bushes in the churchyard told us that since “covida” they keep the church locked up except for services. Mass was at Five. Jerry asked him about the church and grounds and I admired the new expandable hose he was using. But our charm didn’t work. He didn’t have keys and we were a long way from mass. 

The church is celebrated for being on the site of one of the first Missions established by Franciscans in the 1620s on one of the first sites of contact with natives in what would be called the New World. Oñate led explorers and a couple of priests here, or near here, in 1598. In their relief at finding friendly native Piro villagers, the place was later named  ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Help’ or Nuestra Señora de Perpetuo Socorro. 

They weren’t the first Spanish explorers by a long shot. Coronado himself may have been in a small party on his expedition that traveled through here in route to visit the unfortunate Tiguex in 1540. Chamascuro and Espejo expeditions also documented the Piro in 1581 and 1583. Multiple Piro villages sat along both sides of the route to and from Mexico near the northern end of the notorious Journada del Muerto, a near waterless segment of the Camino Real. 

Authoritative sources on all this history include:  

  • Michael Bletzer, who’s written many things about the Piro, including: “The First Province of that Kingdom: Notes on the Colonial History of the Piro Area. New Mexico Historical Review, Volume 88 Number 4 Fall 2013.
  • Paul Harden, who has written extensively about area for the Socorro paper, many available online like this one, courtesy of the Socorro County Historical Society  . 


According to Spanish chroniclers the place name for the area south of Tiguex was Tutahaco. The individual village names in the Piro “kingdom” are probably Spanish versions of the original place names. They are intriguing; Seelocu, Pilabo, Teipana, Senecu or Tzenoque, and Qualcu.  The overwhelming majority of these sites have been partially or totally destroyed through neglect or flooding or both. 

The Pueblo Revolt in 1680 forced long term abandonment of Socorro. According to the church website, a priest buried church silver, including a solid silver communion rail. The silver was never found. Or no one ever admitted to finding it.