Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Indian Ruins

I woke up early and went for a run. I sure have come to love these early morning runs in the country! I ran along the creek, up the road one way to the dead end, back the other way to the cemetery road, up to the cemetery, back down, further up the road to the post office and church, then back to the creek road, past the house, around the other side to what we kids always called "the drops"-- a water control waterfall thing of some kind, and then walk back home. This route was about four miles.

After my shower and after we all visited over a leisurely breakfast, we piled into the car and headed north to see the Indian ruins at Abo, part of the Salinas Pueblo system near the town of Mountainair. We drove through an area called Bernard, which has no town center, and is basically a stretch of county road dotted with people living in dusty eyesore trailers with yards full of wrecked and rusty cars and campers. It's stunningly ugly and we all wondered aloud just why people would accumulate so much useless, ugly crap.

But we made our way through that stretch of road and on up the mountain, admiring the long trains, some with four and five engines at the front, as they waited their turns to navigate the mountain passes.

Finally we found the turnoff for Abo, and were pleasantly surprised to find that there was no park fee. Nor was there a ranger on duty. The sign said "Out to Lunch." We laughed. Only in such a small little corner could they get away with that in America. Luckily they had a pleasant custom of leaving guides to the grounds stamped with a bright yellow "Loaner Copy - Please Return" sticker, stacked neatly in a wooden box outside the ranger station. So armed with our guide, we headed into the ruins.

What we found was a lot of ruined pueblos, some covered over in grass, and the melting adobe remains of a missionary church. It was rather like Pecos, but smaller. The area had once housed over 2,000 people, but climate change and attacks by nomadic tribes had driven the Pueblos and missionaries away. One of the oddest things I read in the guidebook was that these Indians had been big salt traders. I hadn't seen any obvious sources of salt, so when we finished the tour and found the park ranger back from lunch, I asked. The ranger showed me a map in a book and pointed out the little dots of the nearby Salinas lakes. Of course-- Salinas. My father and I shook our heads, feeling rather stupid.

Dan bought a book about Hispanic villages in New Mexico, but although I was tempted by some of the books, I didn't buy anything. Since there were other ruins in the area and we had time, we moved on.

Next we went to Quarai, since it was closer than Gran Quivira. We zipped through the little town of Mountainair, through some nice horse country, and found the little park. Although it was 2:30 in the afternoon, the ranger at this ruin was out to lunch as well, but just like the other park, admission was free and loaner guidebooks were in a box outside, so we got a guide and went for the little tour. Everything at this site was smaller and the population had topped out at about 800. The church ruins were quite a bit higher though, and we came across some rangers and student volunteers doing maintenance on some of the walls, so they were able to tell us a lot about what we were seeing. We then followed a little trail to a creek and pool surrounded by wild roses which smelled heavenly. There was another little nature trail through the fields, but we were hungry and decided it was about time for lunch.

We headed back into Mountainair and stopped in at the Firehouse Restaurant, which seemed the least scary of our options in that dilapidated little town. It turned out to be an excellent choice. The restaurant was small, but very clean, nicely decorated and with a good menu that included a surprisingly well-stocked salad bar. No wilted lettuce here! We settled on green chile enchiladas, which were delicious, as were the beans and tortillas. We finished our luch with pie and felt very satisfied with life.

After lunch, we wandered onto the town's main street just to look around. We wandered into a crazy, wonderful shop that was sort of a catch-all emporium that carried everything from snacks to baby goods to silk flowers, sweaters and drill bits. It was all such a marvelous jumble that we had to walk every single aisle, gawking like country bumpkins and exclaiming over the surprise of finding laundry detergent in the same shop with art supplies and china figurines. I found a whole shelf full of Beatles jigsaw puzzles in tins, and bought one for my brother. I found the laundry soap I use at home at an abusurdly low price, but couldn't buy it because shipping it home would'nt have made any sense. Had I had the space in my luggage, I would've filled a basket (had the store provided them) with strange and usefull stuff, but instead I made just a few small purchases while Dan asked the owner a few questions about inventory. "Inventory?" the man asked. "There's no way I could inventory all this! I've owned this place seventeen years and never done an inventory." He seemed to think the notion was hilarious.

We also checked out a shop advertising itself as a soad fountain, but it wasn't nearly as weird and wonderful as the first store we'd encountered. And we went into a hardware store that seemed to be as much a taxidermist's as a supplier of hammers and fertilizer.

By now it was late in the day, so we headed back home, skipping the road through Bernard and going a different route instead. It was a little longer, but more scenic.

When we got home, Dan and I took a nap, then we all sat up late snacking and visiting. We went for a little walk and were surprised to find a black dog loose on the path and seemingly eager to attack until my father found a nice sturdy stick. No fool, the dog kept his distance after that.

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