Three weeks ago, I had to make a trip out to Escabosa, a small community to the south of where I live, to photograph another historic church for a magazine article I was writing. As usually happens, I ended up learning more about my subject after I started. Mostly because, well, like most writers, you can give me a lead time stretching into infinity and beyond and I'll still wait until the last minute to start an assignment.
Sure enough, with a week to go before deadline, as I was finishing up research I discovered I had neglected to include a couple churches that formed part of the Holy Child Parish, the main parish that covers over 300 square miles out here in the East Mountains. I sent the photographer out to grab one of them and I took the other, since it was closer to my house than hers.
Cool Church Factoid: San Isidro de Labrador in Escabosa, New Mexico was built around 1932 by local families who each brought in five wagon loads of rock for the construction. Dances were held to raise money for the lumber to build the roof.
Well, if you count 20 minutes over back country roads close. Out here, things aren’t measured in miles. They’re measured in how much of a 64-ounce Big Gulp you can finish before reaching your destination. Californians got nothing on rural New Mexican drivers. Our state is so sparsely populated, with only three communities that officially qualify as cities (and two of those just barely), that we’re all pretty much used to the long stretches of space in between things. We think nothing of driving twenty minutes to get a pizza. Forty-five for a haircut. Two hours for a visit with family.
Unlike Californians, however, our vehicles, regardless of age, make, model, or class, all look like vehicles belonging to some bizarre 21st century subspecies of itinerant. They’re always dinged. Dented. Covered with a thin film of dust or drying mud splatters. The windshields bear evidence to the fact that our highways spit up more rocks per capita than any other state in the union.
And because you never know what a road trip will conjure – a semi-trailer pile up, a freak snowstorm, cattle crossing, never ending orange barrels – our vehicles are always loaded with provisions: blankets and books on tape, sun-faded Starbucks travel mugs and fray-edged maps, crumpled breakfast burrito wrappings and flashlights the size of suitcases. Our glove compartments not only hold registration and insurance cards, but also Leathermen tools and hand guns and discarded stubs of entry to national parks and CDs whose covers have long disappeared to the effluence spreading out from under the passenger seat. Our trunks contain tow ropes and bungee cords and charger cables, full sets of tools and cans of oil and flats of drinking water.
In fact, if you see a bright, shiny, sparkly vehicle on a New Mexico back road? Either it was purchased that day, washed five minutes ago, or it belongs to a real estate agent new to town. Either way, it won't last long.
Luckily, though, the weather is likely to be just terrific about 90 percent of the time. The other 10 percent? Are usually days like the one I took to head out to Escabosa. Typical late winter days, with bathwater colored skies, wind-whipped eddies of dirt dancing along the side of the road, the air heavy with allergy-inducing micro-particles of juniper, mulberry, and cottonwood dust that work their way into one’s nasal passages and don’t leave until sometime around, oh, October.
Chicago, it ain’t got nothing on New Mexico’s winds.
Once useful soil turns to talcum powder in the face of our winds:
Anyway. The drive out to Escabosa from my house is really pretty. Land stretching far and wide, juniper and piñon dotted hillsides in front of me, Thunder Mountain behind. The Sandias to the right of me, the American short grass plains to the left.
And these guys:
I got out and took their picture because I was struck by the color of their feed trough. New Mexico's traditional architecture is mostly mud-colored because we originally built most of it with bricks made from mud. Still do in many cases, but today adobe’s pretty expensive, so we keep costs down with wood framing and stucco.
where-the-heck-fire-are-we are compelled to inject a little color into their lives.
Then there were these guys. I loved painted ponies. If I had the money and the time, I’d own one and ride it every day into the sunrise and back, pretending I'm an Apache Warrior or Indian Scout or Pony Express Rider, but I don’t. Which is why I’ll always stop to talk to a horse, of course.
Anyone who’s ever been around horses knows that there is no diss quite like an equine diss. No flirt quite like an equine flirt. Horses are nothing if not particular about everything in their lives, but most especially about which humans they decide to take a shine to. When they do like you, it’s pretty major.
This guy really liked me:
He followed me up and down the fence line, flinging his mane and whinnying softly. He pawed the ground, he shoved his nose against my neck. So I accommodated His Highness and took a lot of pictures of him. His buddies? Not so much. They were mostly talk to the hoof when it came to my camera.
But I did manage to get a smile from their gate post guardian: