or “A Rangeland Encounter”.
Yesterday I was eating up the miles driving through central New Mexico, on my way back to Bisbee, Arizona. Such vast expanses of dry short-grass grazing land! The tufted bunchgrasses were interspersed with clumps of sage and yucca. I could imagine the thoughts of the pioneers moving slowly along the Santa Fe Trail, as they wondered how long these bleak treeless wastes would last before more inviting landscapes for settlement appeared.
My 23-year-old Ford truck had been running smoothly for the past thousand miles, but the engine seemed to be running a bit hotter than usual, a cause for concern out there where cell-phone coverage is spotty at best and towns were few and often abandoned.
A few miles west of Vaughn my temperature gauge became alarmed and I pulled over. I had jugs of water, but I thought that I should pull over and let the engine cool down for a while.
Here’s a shot of my truck by the side of the road:
On the opposite side of Rt. 60 a train track parallels the highway across much of the central portion of the state. I was intrigued by the long trains which periodically rumbled by. Often they had three locomotives pulling the chain of cars, and the train cars often seemed to be carrying cargo containers from China. I wondered what port they were coming from. A typical train:
Making the best of the forced delay, I decided to take a walk. I walked up the highway with my camera as occasional RVs and pickup trucks whooshed past. I could see some structures in the distance and my curiosity was aroused. After about one-quarter of a mile I came to a cattleguard, a welcome interruption in the tightly-strung fence. I had considered climbing over that fence, but it wasn’t an easily crossed fence and I would have risked tearing my clothing.
The name of the ranch:
It was a breezy and cool day, a pleasant time for a walk up a desolate road. One of the structures I had seen earlier turned out to be a round stone water tank, an old tank which had been replaced with a steel one nearby. Nearby was the weathered-silver trunk of a large tree, one which evidently had flourished in a wetter period. Trees were noticeably absent from the landscape.
A root-prong of that tree which has been rubbed to a glossy sheen by the scratching actions of generations of cattle:
The stone water tank can be seen in the background of the above photo.
I walked farther along the road. There was something a half-mile away, but I couldn’t tell what it was — a ruined building, or a stack of hay, perhaps? As I walked I noticed a large mammal in the distance. It looked like a prong-horn antelope. As I came closer I could tell that the animal was keeping an eye on me. I wasn’t walking directly towards it and I got fairly close before it spooked and bounded away. I snapped this photo in which the antelope seems to be peeing:
The structure I had seen from the highway turned out to be a ruined stone house. I wonder when it had last been occupied? Someone, at some point, had stuccoed two of the walls but the project had been left unfinished. Such a picturesque sight under the vast high country sky!
Just two walls remained standing. It seems that various creatures used the walls as shelter from the persistent winds, and one had died there:
Other animals had been using the remains as a favored defecation site, including one who seems to subsist upon some sort of berry. The ribcage cradles a substantial pile of scat.
The house had been built upon a slight rise, and two ancient mesquite trees are growing out front. A view of the trees from a gap in the wall, and an April shoot trying to eke out another year in this dry and dusty site:
A raptor of some sort, perhaps an eagle, had built a twig nest in the branches of one of the mesquites:
I walked back to the highway; my truck had cooled down, so I added water to the radiator and proceeded on my way. Sometimes a forced stop can yield a novel experience!