Saturday, April 04, 2020

Trip South - Part 2

Our February month-end three-days (plus travel) in southern New Mexico with CT friends D & P, and Las Cruces NM amigos of theirs (S & Pt) continues.

The Farmers and Crafts Market of Las Cruces began forty-nine years ago and was named “Number One Large Farmers Market in the Nation” in America’s Farmland Trust’s 2011 nationwide poll. We went on Saturday morning to take in the scene, but mostly for Marsha and S to check out the booth of LaDonna – an “indie dyer of yarns [which she names] after towns, waterways and locations in New Mexico.”

There were around 100 craft and food vendors on seven city blocks along Main St. Too soon in the season for farmers. S noticed LaDonna standing next to a truck, in the bed of which coffee was being roasted. Because of high winds, she was keeping the yarn safe inside the vehicle. Marsha purchased one skein of “Roswell.” It has not yet hovered, glowed in the dark or done anything to alien-ate itself.

Also, since it was in the neighborhood, we visited “the largest book resale shop in New Mexico...home to half a million books.” 

Afternoon was a picnic lunch built around the leftovers from the night before’s heavy apps at S & Pt’s, and short hike at Dripping Springs in Organ Peaks National Monument. The 9,000 foot high Organs were so named because of the steep, needle-like spires that resemble the pipes of the musical instrument. 


The area of craggy peaks, narrow canyons and open woodlands is noted for its "Weeping Wall" where water seeps from the rocks, pooling in a man-made pond at the base of the cliff.
In the mid-1800’s, Dripping Springs was a resort owned by Confederate Army Colonel Eugene Van Patten. Bankrupt in 1910, Patten sold the property to Dr. Nathan Boyd, who converted it to a hospital for his tubercular wife – then added other buildings for more patients and established Boyd’s Sanatorium.

According to UNM historian Richard Melzer, “many physicians of the era advised their patients to chase the cure for tuberculosis in the Southwest, where the region's clean, dry, fresh air, high altitude, and sunshine offered relief for most – and recovery for some. New Mexico...was particularly eager to promote itself as a mecca for “lungers” with the coming of the railroad to the territory in 1880 and the creation of many new hospitals, known as sanitariums or sanatoriums ("sans"), which specialized in the treatment of TB.”

In his historical fiction work “Backlands” Michael McGarrity describes some of the treatment, “take an hour a day of natural sunshine, practice breathing exercises to strengthen her weak lungs, take special vapors to refresh her sinuses, and read for no more than thirty minutes at a time so as not to exhaust herself...and most important, she would be required to take the salubrious desert air twice a day on the veranda.”

Between 1902 and 1937, when TB was claiming the lives of one in seven people, NM had fifty-two such facilities. Out-of-staters kept coming while the locals got sicker. Finally, during the Great Depression when not enough beds were available, transient patients were told to stay away.

That night we gathered for dinner at La Nueve Casita, a Las Cruces restaurant frequented by the locals.

Next day it was on to Fort Selden State Monument in nearby Radium Springs. The town’s name comes from its free-flowing mineral hot springs that were often frequented by the soldiers. An analysis of the water showed enough "millimicrocuries" per liter of the rare metal to justify the word "radium" in the town’s name.

To get there S took us on a drive through some of the area’s pecan farms. New Mexico now produces approximately 20% of the U.S. pecan crop each year and, in 2006 was the largest pecan producing state in the nation. (Who'd a thought it?) Seventy percent of the acreage is in the Mesilla Valley around Las Cruces. It seems pecan trees just love the intense New Mexico sun – as long as they get enough water. (Like the rest of us.) So the farmers along what some call the “Rio Sand” have installed elaborate and expensive irrigation systems to keep their chief cash crop happy and healthy.

The history of the area around Fort Selden mirrors that of New Mexico – Indigenous, then Spanish, then Anglo. 

As early as 400 C.E. Native American farmers, the Mogollon, occupied the land. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was the site of a paraje (rest stop) on the Camino Real known as Cruz de Robledo. (Pedro Robledo, a member of Oñate’s 1598 colonizing expedition into New Mexico, died there.) 

In 1861 it was the location of a Confederate Army camp, and four years later the U. S. Army established Fort Selden to help protect the settlers from Native American raids. Some 200 men lived and worked in an adobe garrison of fifteen to twenty buildings laid out in the traditional military rectangle around a central parade ground. Among those stationed there were African-American-only regiments known as “Buffalo Soldiers.” 

The post fell into disrepair after the Civil War, and was abandoned in 1891, due in part to the expansion of Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX.
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What we initially took to be a young girl appeared in several of the historic photos on display. It turned out to be a young Douglas MacArthur, future U.S. Army Five Star General, whose father commanded the frontier outpost. If only young Doug had his trademark Missouri Meerschaum corncob pipe back then, we might have recognized him sooner. In his memoirs, MacArthur said Fort Selden was where he and his brother, Arthur III, "learned to ride and shoot, even before we learned to read and write.”

After strolling around the remains of the outpost we easily convinced ourselves that we had worked up quite an appetite, which S suggested we assuage with a stop at nearby Indulgence Bakery & Cafe. There we quickly decided on a lunch made up of entirely of desserts divided evenly among us – along with pots of tea to keep us hydrated (like the pecans.) Being totally focused on diving into the decadent delicacies, we failed to photo-document the nourishing nosh. 

Feeling sufficiently sugared and caffeined up we headed off to the final sightseeing stop of our southern swing – the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum.
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So, remember from our prior posting that “rush of settlers looking to claim a portion of the un-deeded land” that poured into Las Cruces immediately after the Mexican War? Many were wannabe cattle ranchers from Texas. The exhibit “Home on the Range: From Ranches to Rockets” told more of their story.

These homesteaders arrived during an unusually wet period in the Tularosa Basin when grass was tall and plentiful – livestock Utopia. However, when normal weather returned, grazing food (“browse”) became much less bountiful. But the cattlemen made a go of it using a combination of private and public lands. 

Then, after the U.S. entered WW II, a federal executive order established a military training range in the region. Ranchers were told they needed to remove their livestock – but would be allowed back at the end of the war. Most performed their patriotic duty and complied. Most would never get back their land. Instead, the basin has been used since to test rockets, missiles and bombs – including the atomic bomb in 1945 – and to help launch the country’s space program.

Another exhibit, “Local Color, Landscapes and Architecture” featured twenty-seven fiber works of art by members of the Mesilla Valley Weavers including scarves, shawls,  vests,  tapestry  and  pattern weaves. The pieceshowcased various weaving traditions, as well as felting, crocheting, piecing, quilting, needlepoint, embroidery, knotting, coiling, and free-form constructions – all created on the title theme.

We also took a guided cart tour of the "South 20" portion of the Museum campus and visited the livestock corrals to learn more about the history of New Mexican cattle – such as the Criollo, a Native American breed whose ancestors grazed the lands of New Mexico as early as 1598. 

That night we said adios to S and Pt at Andele Restaurant in neighboring Mesilla – after which we auto-toured that town’s historic Plaza, a National Historic Landmark and former stop on El Camino Royale. Our farewell (“despedida”) with D & P was next morning at the hotel in which we four were staying.

So thank you D & P, and S & Pt. It was a really great trip. We got to spend time with old CT friends, make new NM ones, and visit some really interesting places.

And, here in the land of missiles and rockets, we learned a lot about space. Earthly space. For example, in the same way that objects in a car’s sideview mirror may appear closer than they are, places that you can see with the naked eye just don’t seem that far away.

From our Santa Fe backyard the sky extends far beyond the forty-mile distant Jemez mountains behind which we can watch the setting of the sun most evenings. As a result we are starting to get used to the southwestern sense of scale. 

Wethersfield, Connecticut to Cape May, NJ took a whole one-sixth of a day. Out here, Las Cruces is only four hours away. It seems as if our northeastern sense of distance is starting to evolve and adapt. But we probably still have a long way to go.  (BTW actual mileage from our Santa Fe home to the Las Cruces hotel is 279 miles – at 75mph, little traffic.)



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