Sunday, April 26, 2009

Beatlick Travel Report: Las Cruces to Marathon TX

Beatlick Travel Report: Aguirre Springs

With a conflicted heart I am pointing my van east toward Tennessee. My little house back there is minus tenants still and my sister called me in tears over the condition it was in. So to honor the home I inherited from my mother I will go back and take care of some business. Hopefully it won’t take too long, but I’m not worried about it, whatever it takes.

So out of Albuquerque we headed south back to Las Cruces to get our 3,000 mile checkup.

The tune up worked out perfectly with Beatlick Joe’s long held fantasy of hiking Baylor Pass. We delivered the van to Michael and he drove us out to Baylor Canyon, not far from his house, and we just hiked back to our camp. It’s a sort of iconic, right-of-passage kind of hike for Las Crucens and the trail parallels Augustine Pass on Highway 70 as it heads east to White Sand Missile Range. Having heard so many people talk about it over the six years we’ve lived in Las Cruces somehow I gathered that it was a really long hike. So I planned in my mind for all day.

We set out fully bundled up in leather jackets, gloves, scarves, and warm caps. The wind was intense and clouds were already gathering when we set out at 11 a.m. The Organ Mountains are young with sharp, jagged promontories juxtapositioned erratically alongside each other. As one ascends the more barren western slope all of the plains in full view below spread, spread wide, to reveal the curve of the earth.

You can see the highway far below, ribboning its way south towards the El Paso. The endless horizon is edged in the aubergine purple haze of distant mountain ranges that must have looked insurmountable to early settlers.

Nearing the crest the beauty of the mountains becomes even more evident as more details emerge. Ancient lichen formations appear as French Impressionistic daubs of pastel. I saw green, chartreuse, orange, and brown lichen. Tiny little mountain wildflowers trembled at our feet bravely facing tiny little faces to the sun, so delicate.

Just like Heidi we began to shed clothes as we kept going higher. I brought an empty backpack just so we could stash the heavy jackets and sweaters if need be. On the path I didn’t see much life beyond the plant life save a few doodlebugs, some ants, and one little songbird. I didn’t see it but I heard it. By the time we actually arrived at Baylor Pass I was back into all of my gear, the wind was brutal and cold, sucking up the warmth out of the atmosphere. The gusts challenged us to stand much less linger at the top of the pass but we had to take the time to look first west then east, just to comprehend the enormity of the view.

The land gently lolled down eastwardly towards the White Sands Missile Range and on to another endless mountain range opposite the western one. It’s hard to imagine seeing any more land mass at one time except from an airplane. The winds slackened off on the opposite side and we nestled up against some warm rocks reflecting the warmth of the strengthening sun.

We were astonished to arrive back at our campground in three hours. The trek was no wheres near as formidable as we had imagined and we felt so happy and accomplished to have made it so comparatively effortlessly.

Our tent has proven to be so enjoyable. The winds are severe on this weekend. Michael found this tent for us as well. It’s sturdy canvas, bright yellow with a deep blue roof, and a happy little striped front flap. It was custom made for VW vans, but it can be all zipped up and stand alone as well. The 8’x10’ interior seems spacious to us. I took the mattress off of our upstairs bunk to create the bedding. We have this portable feather bed given to us by friends in Las Cruces who worried we wouldn’t be warm enough on the road. It’s just one big enormous sack of down feathers. Not tufted at all. You shake it out and fluff it so that it billows down onto the mattress like a big marshmallow. When we lay on it at night it seems to expand like yeast, oozing away from us to seep towards my candle altar. I am constantly pulling it back like the tide, but it is soooo warm. In the morning we see all the tiny little feathers in our hair and one our clothes. They cheerfully float around all inside the tent. With two more down comforters on top of us, it’s cozy!

We have our sleeping arrangements and backpacks on one side of the tent; two chairs and a table, the camp stove, pots and pans, on the other. I keep a red plastic tray in front of the zip up door at night laden with candles, lanterns, and an oil lamp, all lit up until they glow and emulate the warmth of a little home hearth. I love it. The wind howls, the tent quivers with the strain but holds firmly, and we sleep like babies in the womb.

Happy Trails, Beatlick Pamela 4.20.09

Beatlick TR: A Ukrainian Easter

My mechanic Michael Elliott is my greatest enabler. Without him we would never be realizing our dream. He’s not just a mechanic; he has an aura, an awareness of spirit that makes us trust him completely. When we arrived at his house we found him as usual with a lot full of vans. I “have lust in my heart” as Jimmy Carter phrased it, for the teal blue 79 Westphalia. But that one’s out of my price range and besides I do love my van with all its flaws because I know Michael built the engine and did all the hard work on that particular van with us in mind. So there is a connection there.

He also has a 1967 blue-and-white VW bus, another 1968 one, and a red 1969 Westphalia, “Westie” as they are called. When I was looking for my van we couldn’t even find one for sale. These buses offer a freedom most folks can appreciate these days. He can be contacted a

Michael also found the tent attachment that goes to our van. When we come to Organ for a tune up we just set up the tent and camp for a few days in Aguirre Springs campground while Michael works on our vehicle. He also invited us to a really special Easter celebration at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. We have gone there before with him, it’s a beautiful small chapel and I was eager to give some thanks. So we all planned for the unique service.

First - it was a week later than most services. It started on a Saturday night at 10 p.m., with three, count them three, hours of chanting and singing; all along with incense being swung all about, a candle ceremony, and contemplative walk outside and around the chapel.

At 1 a.m. there was a feast and celebration. Baskets of bread, wine, sausages, cakes, you name it, were all spread out. I started out with the celebratory shot of apple brandy someone was passing around from the “old country.” Just like white lightnin’. The people there were so interesting, from Russia, the Ukraine, England, and multiple places in between. There were two priests and a monk. These guys were so approachable, so ordinary, they created such an ambiance of humor and acceptance that it becomes quite evident why this tiny little church is growing. We three had a ball.

Then Michael went out to the parking lot and climbed into his van, we followed and got into ours, and there we slept in the church parking lot. Next morning we headed over to the WalMart parking lot.

The van drives like a dream, stronger than it has ever been before. I've got to take care of some details in Las Cruces like renewing my tags and paying up my car insurance before we can take off. That gives us a perfect opportunity to go to the El Palacio reading before heading east.

Our route back to Tennessee will be a southerly one, following Highway 90 through south Texas, way south. Then we are going to head to the New Orleans Jazz Festival. I'm going to revisit the old mansion turned into a hostel, that I used to live in and help run down in the Bywater District of the Ninth Ward.

Happy Trails, Beatlick Pamela 4.20.09

Beatlick TR: Gage Hotel, Marathon, TX

We pulled out of Las Cruces with aching hearts as we said goodbye to so many good friends, made the poetry reading at El Palacio on Tuesday night, and hit the road on Wednesday.

It was a great drive picking up Highway 90 out of Van Horn. I saw a red-headed buzzard, something I've never seen before, and a herd of some weird looking antelope/deer sort of creatures. There were so many in a herd, about 30, that I wonder if someone is raising them like cattle. Don't know.

We made it to Marathon, about 250 miles, in six hours or so. The Gage Hotel there is a great place, a former mansion of some cattle baron, now a swank yet still rustic hotel. What is so great is you can go into the lobby, hang a quick right past the receptionist, and enjoy the TV room with those great overstuffed leather couches and chairs, with a hugh wagon wheel type chandelier overhead. Cable TV. When you get lucky there is no one in there and it's a great place to watch TV. We caught some late night antics last night between Jon Stewart and Keith Oberman.

We took a walk past the old mansions in the area and came upon this really original place called Eve's Garden and B&B. I quote from there website:

Eve’s Garden is an organic Bed and Breakfast and Ecology Resource Center, located in the beautiful high mountain desert of West Texas, at the gateway to Big Bend National Park, in Marathon, Texas. Eve’s Garden is a research level organic gardening demonstration site and an urban hacienda, combining to provide a comfortable Bed and Breakfast environment and a conversational forum to address issues regarding the ecology we live in.

Every effort has been made to combine elements of “art”, “architecture”, and “ecology” in the layout and construction of this unusually progressive piece of work. A large amount of recycled content, strawbale buildings, paper adobe/fiber cement buildings, high Mexican contemporary color treatments, and a focus on locally produced food, conspire to create an aura of thoughtfulness.

“Thoughtfulness” — this is our goal — to motivate our guests to pursue the projects they have in their minds, and recognize that they can make a difference.

Well the site and lot are certainly different. It looks like a movie set with all these podlike structures like so many big mushrooms in various stages of completion, and painted garishly in bright colors to look like crayola mosques. In the back of the lot are enormous stacks of drying concrete blocks, building materials, cement mixers, and about a dozen projects going on simultaneously. It's quite a site in this tiny little town.

The van is running like a dream, the strongest it's ever been. I just can't believe my good fortune. I'll have to do 250 miles every day to get to the Jazz Fest in New Orleans. That might not happen, but the trip will be great regardless. I am going to report on my return to the old mansion I used to work in when it was renovated into a hostel. It was in the Ninth Ward, the Bywater diststrict, near the canal.

I'm told the Bywater area didn't get hit as bad as the Ninth Ward on the other side of the canal. We'll find out. There is a tease of rain in the air and clouds today. Can't remember the last time I got rained on. And I don't think I'm going to be cold anymore. We slept on top of the covers last night at our urban campsite across from the Gage Hotel.

Happy Trails, Beatlick Pamela 4.23.09

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