Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Columbus, New Mexico, Part 7: Pat, Who Rescues

Dog rescue, Columbus, New Mexico

One of the people I met over in Puerto Palomas on a sunny afternoon, on the patio of the Pink Store, while I drank a beer, was Pat. Originally from the UK, then a long-time NYC resident, she is one of the transplants who was inexplicably drawn to make her life in Columbus, New Mexico. 

She rescues dogs and cats; she invited me to come by her house later, which I did.

Dog rescue, Columbus, New Mexico

I met Pat's dogs, both those she has claimed as her own and those for whom she seeks homes.

Dog rescue, Columbus, New Mexico

Pat has a good relationship with the Deming Animal Guardians. DAG's primary mission is to spay and neuter. It also provides emergency pet food. DAG's portable spay/neuter operation visited Columbus six times in 2012 and will go at least four times in 2013.

Dog rescue, Columbus, New Mexico

Although her financial resources are limited, Pat doesn't seek monetary donations. She does, however, welcome pet food and pet paraphernalia, such as collars and leashes. If you'd like to help her out, the best bet is to contact DAG and mention Pat in Columbus - DAG will make sure she receives whatever help you're offering.

Dog rescue, Columbus, New Mexico

Monday, April 29, 2013

Sounds to Go

Birds, Jefferson City, Missouri

I need to learn how to upload just sounds to the blog. Sometimes it's the sounds and not the visual of a place that make the story.

Like the frogs at Ureki.

Recently, I've come across some good sites to listen to animal sounds.

Xeno-Canto is:
A website dedicated to sharing bird sounds from all over the world. Whether you are a research scientist, a birder, or simply curious about a sound that you heard out your kitchen window, we invite you to listen, download, and explore the bird sound recordings in the collection. But xeno-canto is more than just a collection of recordings. It is also a collaborative project. We invite you to share your own bird recordings, help identify mystery recordings, or share your expertise in the forums. Welcome! 

Soundboard has sounds from the animal kingdom and beyond. When I listen to the mountain lion sounds, it gives me chills.

The Macauley Library
...is the world's largest and oldest scientific archive of biodiversity audio and video recordings. Our mission is to collect and preserve recordings of each species' behavior and natural history, to facilitate the ability of others to collect and preserve such recordings, and to actively promote the use of these recordings for diverse purposes spanning scientific research, education, conservation, and the arts.

As a lagniappe, I also share with you National Geographic's easy-to-use Backyard Bird Identifier.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Columbus, New Mexico, Part 6: Going Over to Puerto Palomas

Fictional meeting between Generals Pershing and Villa, Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico

I crossed over to Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico, twice while I was in Columbus, New Mexico.

There's a parking lot right by the border and you can park your car and walk over, which is what I did. By the parking lot is a "duty-free" shop that sells liquor and, I think, perfumes, and I guess tobacco products. A white-haired gentleman chauffeurs parking-lot visitors in a golf cart to and from the duty-free shop. This service is likely due to the average age of most U.S. visitors over the border here, which is to say, 60s and older.

The duty-free shop displays the ubiquitous skull and horns of the Southwest.

The duty-free store by the Columbus, NM and Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua border crossing

You might say that Puerto Palomas is a medical tourism destination, what with Americans going over for cheap prescription drugs, dental work, and eye treatment.

Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico
Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico

There's also the much-ballyhooed Pink Store, which houses a restaurant and also a capacious warehouse of Mexican-made products including pottery, glassware, textiles, decorative items, etc. If you're lucky (and I was), a staffer will give you a free drink to enjoy while you browse through the store. I had a margarita.

Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico

Since I no longer acquire things for a home, I had only mild interest in the store's inventory, but I looked nonetheless, sipping my margarita and savoring the salted rim as I went. I admired the light and the color of this display room:

Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico

Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico


On my first afternoon in Puerto Palomas, I sat in the shade of the restaurant's patio while I drank a beer and talked with some of the PP regulars, who pop down every Tuesday for lunch and, as needed, drug replenishment.

I did a little exploring of Puerto Palomas beyond the Pink Store. Attended a funeral (noting the license plates of the bereaved not only from Chihuahua, but from Texas and New Mexico). Walked through a plaza. Walked by the border wall a tiny bit. I saw men gathered together and talking, playing a game, perhaps drinking; not much sign of women; vendors selling CDs, hats, sunglasses, street food, offering shoeshines. I saw some rehab work being done to a sidewalk, to a new business. Saw some businesses that had gone defunct.

I felt particularly attracted to an abandoned .. what? Mansion? Hotel? Restaurant? It was intended to be grand, and I was later told that it was to have been a casino, but construction ceased as soon as the drug cartels moved their violent stage to Puerto Palomas for a time. 

Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico

Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico

If it had opened, how many people would it have employed directly? How many people would have been employed by suppliers? How many others would have derived indirect economic benefits?

Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico

For now, doves are the only evident residents of the empty, beautiful building.   

A slide show of Puerto Palomas:

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Columbus, New Mexico, Part 5: Raids

Statue of Pancho Villa in Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico. Across border from Columbus, New Mexico.

Columbus is famous (the term being relative) for two historic (the term being relative) raids. 

1916: Pancho Villa

Jack Thomas, deputy sheriff, and other officials sensed “something in the air,” said Bill Rakocy, Villa Raids Columbus, N. Mex. Mar. 9, 1916.  “They had noticed strange Mexicans in town—many ‘friendly Mexicans’ became silent and some left town.”  Juan Favela, a local ranch foreman, complained that “the air was bad.”
Thus begins an an engrossing story by Jay W. Sharp, in DesertUSA, about the March 9, 1916, raid of Columbus, New Mexico, by Pancho Villa.

I particularly like this next excerpt:
In spite of the omens, however, the 400 citizens of Columbus, New Mexico, three miles north of the border town of Palomas, Chihuahua, believed themselves generally secure in those pre-dawn hours of March 1916.  They had followed, of course, the violent conflict in their neighboring country, where revolt against dictatorship and the federales (government troops) and land monopolies and the subsequent struggle for national power would claim nearly a million lives, some six percent of Mexico’s total population at the time.  They knew, too, that Pancho Villa’s marauders had pillaged along Mexico’s northern border, raising the specter of attack at Columbus.  Still, the citizens felt secure because they thought the U. S. 13th Cavalry Regiment, dispatched by Commanding Officer General John “Black Jack” Pershing from Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas, to the nearby Camp Furlong, would protect them.  They felt safe because they could scarcely believe that Pancho Villa would take the risk of crossing the border to challenge a U. S. community and military encampment.

I invite you to read the above a second time.   

It reminds me of something a survivor of the Rwanda genocide told me, when I asked her what she and her family and friends had thought, when so much violence was occurring in the rural areas of her country - weren't they afraid that it was going to reach them? Her reply has always stuck with me, that it seemed far away to them, it didn't feel as if it could reach them in the city. (And, of course, it did.) And, too, she and her family felt some protection from the French - not only were she and a sibling employed via the French Embassy, there was a belief that such a strong ally would not let such horrors visit the country at large. And she lived in a neighborhood where Hutus and Tutsi folks had resided together for years, all friendly.

It reminds me of El Paso, USA, and Juarez, Mexico, in the recent past, two cities immediately adjacent, but in one there were thousands of people being murdered each year in the late 2000s, and in the other, fewer than 20.

It brings to mind a book that had a big impact on me, The Graves Are Not Yet Full, in which the author confronts readers about discounting mass killings in some countries as being "just tribal; it's been going on for centuries and there's nothing we can do about it" (and I will add - "just druglords killing each other and it's only criminals getting killed.") The author, Bill Berkeley, argues that greed or the desire for power/control is always behind mass violence, and there are always those who benefit, and we need to look at who benefits.

And it's a reminder, generally, of how some of us have the luxury of taking for granted our safety and security. Indeed, we feel entitled to such security, without even knowing we feel entitled.

Anyway ... read the story about Pancho Villa's raid on Columbus - it's superbly written.

And here's some surreal stuff about the whole Pancho Villa thing:

In Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, just over the border from Columbus is this sculpture:

Generals Pershing and Villa in Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico

It depicts a fictional meeting between  Pancho Villa and General Pershing - shaking hands! Pershing hunted Villa for about a year in Mexico, to no avail.

Or how about the deal Villa struck with a film company that paid Villa $25,000 in exchange for access during his forays.

Pancho Villa as shot by Mutual Film Company. Credit: Smithsonian Magazine

2011: The Arms Raid

Credit: ColumbusNewMexico.com

I think the hat pretty much tells the story.

But if you want more details, go here. It involves helicopters, several federal agencies, and lots of lights and law enforcement vehicles at night. The indictment here. Some guilty pleas here.  The owner of the gun store in Chaparral, New Mexico, was also arrested and convicted:

From July 2010 until February 2011, Garland sold 193 Kalashnikov-type assault weapons and 9 mm pistols to six co-defendants, including Eddie Espinoza, former mayor of Columbus, New Mexico, and former village trustee Blas "Woody" Gutierrez.

Garland allowed those "straw purchasers" to falsely state on federal forms that they were purchasing the firearms for themselves, even though he had reason to know the weapons were headed to people in Mexico.
 Prosecutors last year said Garland, in facilitating the purchases, "was furthering murder and violence at epic levels in Mexico, all for a quick buck."
They said that between January 2010 and March 2011, the conspirators used their positions to facilitate and safeguard the trafficking of around 200 guns worth about $70,000, to Mexico.
Some of those weapons were later recovered at drug busts and implicated in murders in Mexico, where some 55,000 people have been killed in cartel-related mayhem since 2006.
Source: Chicago Tribune, Gun Dealer Gets 5 Years in Prison in U.S.-Mexico Gun Case

...and here I am on Part 5 on Columbus, New Mexico, and there's still more to tell, despite the fact there's virtually nothing there. It's crazy, I tell you.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Columbus, New Mexico, Part 4: There's Something About ....

Downtown, Columbus, New Mexico

I talked to maybe seven or eight Columbus residents, none of whom were born in the area. All transplants. I either asked or they volunteered how they ended up in this place. Here's what I heard, with everyone holding at least four reasons in common: 
  • It grew on me.
  • The scenery. I love the high desert.
  • Being so close to the border. 
  • Appreciation for the Mexican culture; the biculturalism here. 
  • It's safe here.
  • We're in a forgotten corner of the country - we enjoy our peace and quiet. 
It's important to qualify that with the exception of one person, I only talked to Anglo transplants - I don't know if or how Latino residents feel the same or differently about living in Columbus. (And considering that Latinos comprise the super-majority of the population in Columbus, I'm not sure how my focus group was so skewed demographically, but it warrants some contemplation.)

I could see all of the reasons for the transplants to settle in Columbus, except for one - the scenery. I'm telling you, I just didn't get that one.

Take the sun, for example. There's no relief from it unless you build a shade structure, and with the exception of my hotel, I saw precious little of that. When I was in Columbus, noticing the intense sunshine, I tried on some stock phrases, such as "sun-baked" or "relentless," but they don't quite fit. Maybe it's more like a town that sits beneath a strong heat lamp all day, every day.

Tire art, a new art medium I've been encountering in New Mexico. Here it is in downtown Columbus.

And the view? Flat. Scrubby. Yes, there is the suggestion of mountains in the distance, but they don't have much presence when one looks out over the terrain. I didn't see my good friends, the soaptree yucca, of whom I've grown fond.

Columbus, New Mexico.

My hotel host, a Californian transplant, told me it took him between six months to a year to love Columbus, but it happened eventually.

Just outside Columbus is a flying community; the residents live in the Hacienda Sur Luna, and their homes look out onto the airfield. 

Also just outside Columbus is the remnant of a community of people who settled here in anticipation of an extraterrestial landing, allegedly. My only source for this intel is this excerpt of a CNN article

Columbus is home to the City of the Sun, one of New Mexico's oldest communes. It was established in the early 1970s because its founder believed flying saucers were going to land here, according to David Pennington, 75, a retired social worker who lives in an adobe house in the commune.

This official City of the Sun description makes no mention of such an illustrious origin story. I didn't get a very good look at the City of the Sun, being put off by the entrance sign warning off any but residents and their guests. But these folks enjoyed a friendly tour and here are some beautiful pictures. This City of the Sun resident bolsters my impression that somehow Columbus entraps its folk:

Having resided at, (been marooned at), the City of Dysfunction, (City of the Sun), for this past interminable decade, I have recently had to admit to acquiring some elements of sloth and indolence.

And I must admit I felt something ... a somnolence .... that slowed me down while I was in Columbus, making me want to just sit on the front patio and watch the traffic, rare though it was, pass by on Highway 9.  On one morning, two cowboys pulled up in their horse trailer and sauntered up to the hotel for some coffee. And I saw a yacht being transported west. Must have been goin' a fur piece to find a body of water deep enough for that boat.   

Columbus, New Mexico.

If I stayed longer, I, too, may have been caught under the town's spell.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Columbus, New Mexico, Part 3: The Wall

Wall between U.S.-Mexico, Columbus and Puerto Palomas
Wall between U.S.-Mexico, Columbus and Puerto Palomas
Wall between U.S.-Mexico, Columbus and Puerto Palomas
Wall between U.S.-Mexico, Columbus and Puerto Palomas
Wall between U.S.-Mexico, Columbus and Puerto Palomas

Notwithstanding one's political, economic, and social arguments for the wall, we must never forget that the cement blocks, the bars, and the barbed wire are designed to control human behavior, to separate people.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Columbus, New Mexico, Part 2: Drug Running

Columbus, New Mexico

One of the reasons I chose to live in New Mexico for a year was to learn more about our border issues with Mexico. I placed on my New Mexican to-do list a visit to all three of the state's international border crossings, and a few weeks back I did my first one at Antelope Wells.

Before I came to New Mexico, I came across this CNN article, On the Border: Guns, Drugs -- and a Betrayal of Trust. Here's the lead: 
Mayor Nicole Lawson is only 37, but her hair is already turning white as she tries to keep this border town corrupted more than a year ago by Mexican cartels from falling deeper into financial ruin.

The article evoked all sorts of visceral responses on my end related to man's inhumanity to man, injustice, corruption, political expediencies, and just the banality of acts that result in evil, such as Americans who smoke pot and say it harms no one - but they don't take care to investigate where their supply comes from and who dies or who is enslaved in the drug industry through threats to their family's lives. (I don't give a shit if you use pot - I do care if you are supporting the drug cartels - and murder - by consuming product from other countries.)

Aiee, I could rant on, but... enough for now.

Based on this article, I had certain expectations of what I'd find in Columbus, New Mexico. I sort of expected to find a town under siege, a border crossing that carried the possibility of risk, and I even made a point of letting key individuals know where I'd be on this particular weekend visit.  

Sure enough, I found drug running. It was rampant and completely in the open.

Yes, there is a steady stream of senior citizens flowing over the border from the U.S. to the drug stores in Puerto Palomas, taking advantage of lower prices for their prescription meds. While in town for their weekly or monthly or quarterly visit, they often enjoy a margararita or a beer, and lunch, at the Pink Store.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Columbus, New Mexico, Part 1: You Mean There's More Than One Part? Are You Kidding?

Columbus, New Mexico

I know, I know! How could it be possible to require more than one post to talk about a town with fewer than 2000 residents, a lackluster landscape, and where the "good" restaurant closes at 3:00 p.m.?

Where the in-town state park has a sad sort of parking lot vibe? 

Where, counter to "normal" New Mexican water towers with painted murals that display community pride, the Columbus water tower is strictly No-Bullshit Black?

Where downtown Columbus boasts perhaps 6 or 7 storefronts? OK, maybe 8.

Downtown Columbus, New Mexico

Stay tuned. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

San Patricio, New Mexico: Art and God

Hurd-La Rinconada Gallery, San Patricio, New Mexico

I took Highway 70 (which merged with Highway 380 for a piece between Hondo and Roswell) en route to my day's destination, Bottomless Lakes State Park

Skyline Fruit store, Highway 70 east of Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico

San Patricio Chapel, San Patricio, New Mexico

I took a detour through San Patricio, a village between Ruidoso Downs and Hondo.

San Patricio Chapel, San Patricio, New Mexico

San Patricio is famous for its Billy the Kid connection, but also boasts an historic church that is now part of a retreat complex, plus a gallery for a family of artists.

Hurd-Rinconada Ranch, San Patricio, New Mexico

A slide show:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

San Antonio, New Mexico: The Rio Grande in Spring

Rio Grande in spring, Highway 380 outside San Antonio, New Mexico

One of the best things about my version of slow travel - staying in one place for an entire year - is that I can see how seasons change the environment.

So it is I've been able to see this part of the Rio Grande in the fall, winter, and now the spring.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Dripping Springs Natural Area, New Mexico

Dripping Springs Natural Area, outside Las Cruces, New Mexico

Dripping Springs Natural Area is near the intersection of two gravel roads east of Las Cruces: Baylor Canyon Road and Dripping Springs Road. It abuts the west side of the Organ Mountains.

Dripping Springs Natural Area, outside Las Cruces, New Mexico

There are several walks at Dripping Springs. I checked out Dripping Springs Trail for a short bit, then came back and walked the La Cueva Trail.

Saw some claret cup cactus in bloom. (Thanks to the park volunteer for IDing it for me)

Claret cup cactus. Dripping Springs Natural Area, outside Las Cruces, New Mexico

I liked how La Cueva Trail has benches at regular intervals, including a few in some rare shady spots. Indeed, much - though not all - of La Cueva Trail is wheel- and walker-accessible.    

Dripping Springs Natural Area, outside Las Cruces, New Mexico

Dripping Springs Natural Area, outside Las Cruces, New Mexico

There is a shady garden with a water feature at the visitor center entrance that invites you to sit and listen to the birds. There's a drinking fountain there, too, with cold water.

Dripping Springs Natural Area, outside Las Cruces, New Mexico

I think I saw a black-chinned hummingbird in this little oasis.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Navajo Lake State Park, NM: Memories of a Time Lost

Navajo Dam spillway, New Mexico

A few years ago, on a trip out west, I got lost and ended up in Colorado instead of New Mexico. I distinctly remember going past the Navajo Dam and the lake and thinking, "Ooh, pretty place, I should come back here some day, but for now I don't know where I am and it's getting dark, and I won't be able to see, and I'm lost. Oh my." (Back then, I couldn't see well at night, but now I can.) I'd started the day in Monument Valley and I was headed east; I don't remember now what my destination was, but I know it wasn't Durango, Ignacio, or Pagosa Springs, Colorado. I ended up spending the night in Ignacio, by the way.

San Juan River valley, low side of Navajo Dam, New Mexico

I couldn't have imagined then that I'd come to live in New Mexico for a year. It was satisfying to swing by here again.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Navajo Lake State Park, Part 2: Cottonwood Day Use Area

Navajo Lake State Park, Cottonwood Day Use Area, New Mexico.

The Cottonwood Day Use Area of Navajo Lake State Park is along the San Juan River.

If I weren't so lazy, I'd carry around with me various field guides that would tell me the names, habitats, and stories of the flora and fauna that I encounter. But I am generally lazy in such areas, so all I can say about the red-twigged bushes are .... "oooh, pretty."

But I will go the extra mile to try and identify odd-looking effluvia from animals: 

Navajo Lake State Park, Cottonwood Day Use Area, New Mexico.

My first guess was that it was an owl pellet, but unsure, as this was kind of long and the contents loose rather than compact. (Did you know you can buy owl pellets?) ... but a more knowledgeable person told me that it's likely coyote or fox scat, the excretory remains of an eaten rabbit.

Navajo Lake State Park, Cottonwood Day Use Area, New Mexico.

Navajo Lake State Park's Cottonwood Day Use Area attracts fisherfolk. The campground, though not filled to capacity, had plenty of overnighters.

Navajo Lake State Park, Cottonwood Day Use Area, New Mexico.

It's very close to the town called Navajo Dam, which seems to exist primarily to support fishermen.

Navajo Dam (town), New Mexico

Navajo Dam (town), New Mexico

Navajo Dam (town), New Mexico

Below is part of the ride on Highway 511 between the Cottonwood Day Use Area and Navajo Lake. At :20 on your left is the scene of the photos atop this post.