Cerrillos Journey With Jerry

He was driving this time. We see more when he drives because he drives very s l o w l y. As a general advocate of this I’m surprised at how nervous it makes me. I fear someone will run into us or get angry. But no one does and no one is. Perhaps the slow pace is just unusual. People smile and wave.  

We walked to some old mines in the Cerrillos Hills State Park and then hung out at the turquoise and mining museum. Jerry remembered stories about the big old Palace Hotel that burned down in 1968.  President Ulysses Grant stayed there when he came to the area during territorial days to look at mining prospects.

Thomas Benton Catron and his business buddy Stephen Benton Elkins of Santa Fe Ring fame had interests in Cerrillos coal mines and land and owned the town site itself in 1871. Cerrillos boomed into a lively place when the mines were open passenger rail connected it to the rest of everywhere. Amtrak still goes through town today but it's so fast you might miss it.

There used to be a wild little dinner theater and bar right there in the center of town. Places like that were popular with my parents and their friends. This was called Tiffany Saloon and Melodrama. A lot of people remember it but I mostly remember the long drives and sleeping in the back seat and pretending not to wake when we got home so my father would have to carry me inside. I also remember a lot of those places burning down within a few years of each other in the late seventies, some of them suspiciously.


Old Road Trips

We stood on a low stone pile as traffic sped by.

Jerry has an encyclopedic knowledge of New Mexico’s old roads and routes, mines and settlements. The stuff of the west. In the spirit of, “I haven’t been out that way in a while,” he can be coaxed to go anywhere. Even where we probably shouldn’t.

He recalled being at Paa-ko as a boy before the war. It was a State Historic Monument then, on the old road maps. There was a full-time caretaker who lived right about where we stand, he says. It was a two-room stone house. One room was museum - a cracked-glass cabinet of arrowheads and broken pots, and a guest book. The other room was the caretaker's living quarters where he heated and cooked on a wood stove and slept on a single cot.

Ruins were of keen interest to tourists in the days when road trips were new. Now they're consciously hidden to draw attention away from them for fear they’ll be destroyed. It’s a reasonable concern. Attention can be destructive. But so can forgetting.

It was June and windy and cars zoomed by headed to big subdivisions of big houses.


Journeys with Jerry

He tells me of places he’s been. Many are lost, long ago places. Some are no longer accessible for this reason or that. We try to go to some that are. Sometimes we picnic at ancient Pueblos.


First stop on our big day trip, The Range in Bernalillo at the crack of 11:30 a.m. because Jerry’s not a morning person. Food is important to fussy old people. In this case it’s me. He’s happy eating anything or nothing, but especially unhealthy anythings that old people with bad hearts shouldn’t eat.

“Ham and eggs!” He pronounces his choice defiantly. Even the waitress looked a little surprised. I said, “Are you sure?” He said, “I can handle it.” Like dietary fat is a steep climb.

I had salad.

Fretting over the condition of Jerry’s car is another apparent ritual of mine. It has a lot of wear and is full of items in the back that would surely kill us if it ever rolled. One time he had a flat tire and it took about thirty minutes to get to the spare.


There was once a place - New Mexico’s largest swimming pool - with a Pueblo Revival-style adobe bath house built by a guy who worked on La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe. It was on the State Historic Register, I think. But now it’s gone but for the cracked slabs of aqua and weeds. A kidney shape visible west of Tucumcari in a park no one goes to anymore. Sad, really. The old bath house was torn down by a restless city employee with a bulldozer and too much testosterone and under the guise of safety because the city wouldn’t pay to fix up its crumbling walls. Maybe the big lake they made to the north reduced demand for the swimming pool. Maybe it was just too costly to pump the bazillion gallons of water it took to fill it. Maybe realignment of Route 66 made it too far off the road for convenience.


Big bead
There is an ancient defensive structure built by the Navajo on top of a tiny remote mesa that Jerry hiked to many years ago. It is on public land but is nearly impossible to get to without crossing closed-off private land. People do, somehow. There’s a  YouTube video (isn’t there always?) by a guy who probably trespassed to get there. He demonstrates many “don’ts” of videography as well as his apparent fear of heights with dizzy panning, most of it aimed downwards. But you get a few tantalizing jittery glimpses of distant volcanic necks and cones. The mesa narrows and steep cliffs edge both sides of trail. Our Youtube hero (we are cheering him on) is evidently impressed and as he progresses toward the rock structure fortification and single doorway he gets shakier and shakier. At one point he loses focus completely and spends minutes on fossil close-ups like a stoned geologist. He never makes it to the doorway, stopping a full shaky thirty feet away, saying nothing. There’s only the sound of constant wind and his labored, frightened, breathing.


Salinas National Monument

On another day journey with Jerry at year's end we loaded lunch into the old two-wheel civic sleigh and headed out from Albuquerque through Tijeras Canyon and then south toward the first, northernmost of three mission sites in Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.

Quarai Mission Church doorway
As usual we over-prepared. Both of us being veterans of remote New Mexico travel we know to bring water and food. There was hot cider in the thermos, tea in cups, water, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, avocado and vegan cheese on bread, apple slices in lemon juice and cinnamon, and some incredibly sweet little cookies that Jerry insisted on eating to the near exclusion of the rest of it.

JerryWiddison at Quarai
We set ourselves up on a sunny picnic table next to the visitor center at Quarai which was closed "for lunch" when we arrived.   I wondered where the Park person might go to eat before seeing several lively looking restaurants in Mountainair. No doubt they rely on visitors to this and the other Park properties for much of their business. 

Well-fortified, we set out to explore the Quarai ruins with the guidebook. It was a very fair day and there were quite a few others, including several German speakers marveling at the place.

We spent too much time in the visitor center, which was open when we finished the walk. We stared at the scale model of the pueblo, itself an antique, and flipped through books and maps. Jerry will often find himself or his work mentioned in an index or bibliography - such is his vitae.

It was a bit late too late in the day to travel to the most distant of the ruin sites, Gran Quivera. So we left that for another picnic and spent more time at Abo instead. There were quite a few visitors there too, it being the least remote of the three places.

Abo Mission Ruins

 The warmth of the day belied its short length. We wanted to return to Albuquerque before dark and just made it, stopping again only to wait for a long freight train to cross 47. We'll go again soon.  I'll also chronicle other Journeys with Jerry here in future.


Edward Abbey -The Brave Cowboy

"There is a valley in the West where phantoms come to brood and mourn, pale phantoms dying of nostalgia and bitterness."


Published in 1956, sixty years ago, favorite book was about Albuquerque and a few other things.

Favorite movie, Lonely Are the Brave, was filmed on location. Kirk Douglas crossed Second Street on spooky palomino mare, Whiskey, where Murphy's Mule Barn is today. In the yelp comments a visitor says it could be a truck stop from 1959. But it's probably a decade older from when the big Alameda Drain was dug and Second Street was paved around 1949. 

That Big Chief truck stop sign is now out on US 550 on Zia land, I'm pretty sure.

Brooding and mourning  in the valley? Not enough of it. But then I'm practically dying of nostalgia and bitterness. And pretty pale.

Coyote Rodeo

He jumped the fence at the regular place and worriedly looked behind him. If cows jump over the moon, why not this fence?

The bull stopped short and snorted. Call me Ferdinand again, I dare you.

Heifer who likes her head scratched and plays with the water hose had noticed him first. More greeter than aggressor, she trotted right up to him and was a little hurt when he shied away. That caught the attention of the other two.
Little bull has strengthened his self esteem by pushing fallen tree trunks and a big telephone pole around the pasture and corral. He enjoys intimidating geese and joggers along the fence line, charging at them with his head down, snorting. His head and neck are growing as thick as those old trees.

He dreams of having a nice set of horns. But everyone who knows him is very thankful he does not.

Coyote circled and dodged. He seemed a little upset. He avoided the corner where the three cows seemed to be herding him. Sure, this is all fun and games until someone gets stomped to death.

The heifers had to stop - winded from laughing so hard.  The bull's gratefully short attention span seldom extends beyond the heifers' butts so he stopped too. It was over before anyone got a camera out.

Coyote regained his composure but won't be back until that bull is gone. Now the chickens and guineas are getting a little too noisy and full of themselves.

Father Troy

Father Ferdinand Troy arrived in New Mexico Territory the same year as the railroad. During his tenure here as a Jesuit priest he traveled on the back of a burro and in an airplane. Had he lived a few more years he might have flown to Rome again in a jet. But he left Old Albuquerque's San Felipe de Neri the last time in his life one morning by motorbus and was killed that night by a car in front of the Alameda church - the church he and parishioners had built over twenty years before.


It was the eve of Christmas Eve and he had worked for hours with the women of the altar guild on decorations in the sacristy and parish hall. The sun had turned the Sandias bright pink and the white spires of the massive church glowed against this mountain backdrop. He scanned the scene with deep satisfaction and crossed the street to the bus stop.*

Fourth Street was busy Route 66 and the road curved there then just as it does today. A car suddenly appeared around that curve going very fast. Accounts differ about who killed Father Troy. One said it was a hit and run and another that it was a drunk driver. Accounts do agree that his long tenure spanned an era of great controversy and change in New Mexico and the church.

He is buried with the other Jesuits in Mount Calvary.   
Troy grave
 *Indeed, there was bus service to Alameda in 1936.