spence here… billy just said to me, “can you believe last week we were having sushi and scotch in candy kitchen?” no! i can’t believe it… mostly because i never eat sushi. but i did! one of our new friends who is staying in new mexico for a spell, named jericho, made fabulous seaweed sushi rolls and tempura veggies for one of our last nights there. needless to say, our trip down to deliver max back to new mexico was a success. we stayed for a 5 days and killed two bottles of scotch and several bottles of homebrew. every afternoon we watched the thunderstorms roll in from miles away (as it is the “rainy” season in the desert right now), and hoped the sky would deliver rain to our part of the desert. sometimes the clouds circled us all day with a cold breeze, however the rain would never reach us–evaporating before it came to earth. sometimes it just blew the other direction from the hill we were on. sometimes it caught us by surprise in the middle of the night, with lightning shows brightening our pitch black tent. like most areas of the southern united states, the high desert where max lives has been under a drought the last couple of years, even under desert standards. his house is in a little community called candy kitchen, near ramah, new mexico, halfway between gallup and grants. situated at 7500 feet, it is cooler than most deserts, and i was surprised at how many types of plants and trees there were. the cliffs, outcroppings and rocks seem to emerge from my imagination. the towering el morro national monument gives one a good idea of the scenery and formations of the area. http://www.nps.gov/elmo/index.htm i appreciated those eking out a living in such a harsh, dry climate, but especially with the drought becoming worse everywhere, and not much rain even during the rainy season, there was a lot of talk about how sustainable it really is to live there. it was also difficult to see a bit of the native american reservations there, and feel their struggle as well–not only with the climate conditions, but also dealing with local racism and separatism. what an interesting place, where queers, native people, mormons, and off-the-grid desert freaks all co-exist.
the house where max lives sits on a nice ridge, in the middle of 30 acres. it has solar panels and water cachement (with an 1100 gallon capacity tank). there is a composting toilet and compost for most of the trash. the old spartan aircraft trailer we’ll be staying in for the winter, sits on the other side of the ridge from the house. it overlooks much of the rolling rocky cliffs, sage brush, pines and juniper. the sky is expansive, the clouds complex and the storms dramatic, as compared to the mellow and mild treed claustrophobia i sometimes feel in oregon. the next door neighbors, among a few others, have managed to keep a real nice farm going out there, despite the conditions. they have a large garden, sheep, chickens, dogs and a pig! the dogs! the dogs! seeing so many was unexpected. i mean, i knew people had dogs in the country, but there are an abundance of people out there who have kennels and random pets that come and go all over the place. luckily, they all were friendly. in the summer, the only time they can really be active is at night. so between the howling of the coyotes, the wolf sanctuary down the way and the packs of loose pets, it got to be a bit too much to sleep. billy assured me though, that once inside the spartan, and during fall and winter, there would be less noise, less barking and activity. we visited the local cafe, ancient way, and finally had pie! thank goodness. thanks max!
the way back up from new mexico was like the breeze of a blast furnace, as my mom would say. hot! we departed candy kitchen and drove up through the 4 corners area. our first stop was an eery collection of ruins from an ancient southwestern civilization. it was called hovenweep, near cortez, colorado.
giving up their nomadic ways, the people of the hovenweep community settled in little ruin canyon. there once was a decent water resource there, from springs and seeps, and a stream that fed the canyon. they raised crops like amaranth, corn, beans and squash. they built towers out of the rock, for homes, to store their grains and for ceremonial purposes. as many as 200 may have lived in the area, with other communities a days walk away (apparently there were many other ruins found surrounding this community). speculation about where and why they were there and why they left abounds, but it probably had something significantly due to the drought in the area around 1290.
after our sunny afternoon at hovenweep, we continued onto the extremely-not-as-cool-as-i-thought-it-would-be moab, utah. again however, the scenery was fantastical. red rocks, arches, canyons, crazy skies and the winding colorado river. i loved the drive there and we stopped to take it all in and get a few pictures. the town of moab, my dad informed me, used to be a quieter, cuter, smaller, cooler place. now it just seems like another touristy strip where people can rent and buy and pay for extreme adventures. 4×4 hummer tours, mountain bike trails designed for you to “rip it up” and wild ride-of-your-life rafting…once again, it just seemed as everything was geared for our consumption. i’m sure not everyone there is like that, and it would be cool to mountain bike or float the river, but it was the attitude i didn’t appreciate. i guess i was just dispappointed, since i had heard a lot of good things about the place. in the evening, we camped along the colorado river in an enormous canyon. the ground was like a hot plate, even throughout the night and we struggled to sleep, as it never cooled off like in the high country. i did get to dip my head in the colorado river though, and we saw an amazingly large otter (besides me). bats, lazuli buntings, a crescent moon and ants everywhere.
awakening like zombies in the morning, after what felt like being in a george foreman grill all night, we pushed on to one of billy’s secret hot springs places, diamond fork, fifth water hot springs, in utah. the area was lush again, with a rushing stream and cottonwoods and box elders everywhere! (included with that were the box elder beetles, which got into everything and hitch-hiked with us all the way through idaho). we camped at a wonderful little walk-in spot called dry canyon. luckily, it wasn’t dry and i dunked my head again in the red ribbon of water! we cooked some beans and played cribbage all afternoon, with a nap or two in there for good measure. honestly, though, it was too hot to think about hiking for a couple of hours to sit in hot water, so in the morning we decided to blast on again through salt lake city. i was surprised at the polygamy at the ihop, amongst strange bill boards for bioidentical normalcy, the clean museum and breaking free from one’s porn-afflicted lifestyle.
Billy here. We made it back to the Northwest from a whirlwind week through the Southwest. In our next post we will talk about the queer wedding outside Seattle which we attended this weekend. In a few days we will be taking off again to hike the John Muir Trail in California.
Going back to the desert was surreal, especially in such a short amount of time. The land was welcoming and the people wonderful to see after being away for a couple of years. But there was something sad in the air and land too. The small white community in between the Ramah Navajo and Zuni Reservation is very different from the rest of the United States, where the First People have been either forcibly moved away, killed or made invisible and the only remnants are little memorials recounting massacres, smallpox, relocation or religious indoctrination. Going to the little Pioneer Days festival in the Mormon town of Ramah was strange. There were many Navajo and Zuni there, but I still felt so much separation in the community. There is a hard unspoken remembrance of the history, not only of war, theft and forced conversion, but of something much more sinister as well.
The Trinity Site, the first atomic blast in the world at the largest military installation in the United States, the White Sands Missile Range is here in New Mexico. The city of Grants, New Mexico is about an hour from Candy Kitchen and was once the Uranium Capital of the World. Through the 1950’s to the 1980’s the Grants area was the largest producer of uranium in the world. The miners were, of course, mostly Navajo, Zuni, Mexican and African American. The first one to discover the uranium in 1950, a young Navajo named Paddy Martinez, worked as an impoverished miner scout under the railroad industry until he died, while earning corporations a killing. The operations boomed, busted, saw another boom after the 1973 Oil Embargo, and started winding down in the 1980’s with falling uranium prices. The mines have mostly been closed since but in the last couple of years uranium mining corporations have been trying to move back in to New Mexico. Strathmore Minerals announced to its shareholders in 2009 that Roca Honda, a project in the Grants Uranium District, may be one of the best sites of undeveloped uranium in the United States. And in 2009, Uranium Resources, Inc. announced intentions to file a petition for a review on whether or not a proposed site in Churchrock, New Mexico is Indian Country and therefore under the jurisdiction of a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency. Also in 2009, Strathmore, after having signed a joint venture agreement with Sumitomo in 2007, submitted a mine permit application and expect to have it approved in 2013. They are meeting a huge opposition from the Tribes, whose sacred sites are in some of the proposed mining areas. Grants, New Mexico is now mostly a prison town, running most of the state’s prison systems, but they seem eager to get back into the lucrative business of uranium.
Robert Gallegos, once a miner in Grants, published this poem in the 1982 collection, Ambrosia Lake:
we live and die to mine
to eat as we are eaten
in the mine there is the music
of the train
and the whistle of the miner
as he walks down the track
deep in the stope there is a song
whose verses are buried in the muck
and the slusher keeps humming
while the skips knock on the guiderails
as they go up and down the shaft
it’s just a shallow mine
this open grave
wherein will rest a miner
until nothing is left but bone
white as the day moon.
Having said this, I must also say that it was good to taste fresh sheep milk again, to smell the juniper, see the ants take over the hillside and reconnect with my friends here. But wells are going dry. Farmer’s market hosted meager produce from all the gardens failing. The monsoon season hasn’t started yet. There is an old legend of a curse on Candy Kitchen from each of the tribes that were supposed to live there after white people displaced them. It is simple: may your homes never be finished. To my knowledge, this has been the case for every person living there. Needless to say, this time being back, I felt a distinct and painful realization that as a settler I do not belong there, as beautiful and as instructive as my time spent there has been and will continue to be each time I visit. It is a magical and harsh place and part of my heart will always be there. I could talk more about New Mexico but I wrote a whole blog about my time there already called Western Rambler and my friends have already heard me talk about it for years!
On our way back to the Northwest we stopped at Hovenweep, an old site of Anasazi ruins. I thought it was very interesting that at both Mesa Verde and Hovenweep droughts forced abandonment of the farming civilization within a just few years of building completion. It was also ironic that the garden exhibit grown by the National Park to show crops grown during habitation failed this year due to the extreme drought going on in the States as we speak.
Through all this what I keep coming back to is re-connection to life and our place on earth. We returned to the Portland area and landed on Moonridge Farm, where my sister works hard every day. The cherries were heavy on the limbs outside the house, every bloom in blossom, the air heavy with water and fruit, grass and birdsong. We ate fresh eggs, tomatoes and basil. We laughed and my sister’s face glowed with strength. Little Diego is growing up a healthy goat. The blueberries taste sweet. Resilience gives me hope.