On top of Sandia Peak is a rock house built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corp. Coming out of a government prolonged Depression, the CCC was created to provide relief to unemployed men by the U.S. Congress and F.D.R.
During a short decade, over 300,000 young men got a place to stay, food to eat, and a small salary for working on public projects. They upgraded services in rural areas, built and upgraded National Parks, helped build Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge, gained dignity in hard times. This program was one of the more popular out of Roosevelt’s New Deal but it was shut down, unfunded, when World War 2 provided more grim employment possibilities.
The rock house, which would make Fred and Wilma Flintstone a nice vacation home, is perched on the edge of Sandia cliff with a million dollar view of Albuquerque. To the west is the Rio Grande river. To the north is the Sandia Indian Casino and golf course. In the middle of town is an eight story bank building at San Mateo and Central, the original Albuquerque skyscraper. To the south is Sandia Labs that engineers weapons and conducts weapons research, and Kirtland Air Force Base, storage home for nukes.
This afternoon there are scattered hikers and curious on the promontory. The rock house is a mile and a half hike from the visitor center and tram and there are small pockets of snow left in shaded areas by fallen logs or clusters of granite boulders.
Unemployment is still with us, a stubborn reality.
Finding men and women to join the CCC would be difficult these days.
Picking up your check at the mailbox is much easier than stacking stones.
In all four corners of our state, as well as the middle, we have sovereign Indian nations who have land,an ancient culture, and casino gambling. Many tribes operate designer golf courses, hotels, and entertainment venues.
The Pueblo of Cochiti is a thirty minute drive from Albuquerque along I- 25 to Santa Fe. Before you get to La Bajada Hill you turn off, skirt Cochiti Lake, and come to a Robert Trent Jones Architects designed golf course nestled in canyons in the heart of their reservation.
On Wednesday, the course isn’t crowded and Richard and I get on without a tee time.
This course requires straight drives, good putting, and a torrid short game. If you stray from fairways you lose your ball in snake country. When you are on the course you are lost in nature. Cell phones don’t work. The internet is inaccessible. Clouds pop up like snowflakes – no two alike.
This course seems made for heaven.
It doesn’t seem frivolous to believe angels play here regular, their bags in the back of carts and their wings tucked close to their bodies so they can maintain the proper swing plane. They play at night under the moon, watched by coyotes, and never use the Lord’s name in vain.
This Memorial Day weekend boatloads of city folk are out and about.
On a usual hike up the Embudo Canyon trail in the Sandia Mountains Alex the architect and I encounter only a few bipeds.
Today, two parking lots are full of cars and dogs scamper across the canyon with noses to the ground. From the second parking lot it is a mile hike up Heartbreak Hill past a city water reservoir to a rock dam built in the thirties by a rancher with thirsty livestock. At the dam there are cottonwoods and rock formations that peer down at you as if you were on trial at a Survivor Series tribal council. There is no council this morning but there are rock climbers testing themselves.
Two rope lines stretch from the trail, up the rock face, over the top of the spires. A man in yellow reveals in conversation that the lines are tied to pitons on top and are for safety. The climbers, young and old, climb the rock face freestyle, but remain tethered to the lines in case of slips or miscalculations. There are two adults and three kids on this outing. It is the first time I have seen climbers here and the cliffs, though appearing formidable, are nothing more than child’s play.
On the hike back down to the parking lot, it is cool, an untypical spring day.
I don’t take up their offer to climb.
When you get a few years under your belt you start to decline stuff you have no business declining.
The last gato celebrated in this blog was sleeping on a window sill in Montevideo on a warm afternoon.
Pickles is the newest feline to be celebrated.
He has come, from Flagstaff, to stay at the Albuquerque homestead on Martingale Street for a month and a half.
This move was unexpected but Pickles has decided, like most cats, that there is no use for worry. As long as food and water bowls are full, attention is available, and there are no dogs – all is good . He has become used to humankind and their peculiarities.
This evening, several days into our acquaintance, the two of us watch the evening news. There is nothing on the news that either of us cares about. Both of us know there is nothing we can do to change the narrative, or the events.
Pickles is a fine boy. It will be difficult for me to say good bye. Till then, he will brush against my legs, sleep curled up on a living room chair, and purr as I tell him fine things about himself that he already knows.
When something questionable is said on the news, his right ear dips.
He can spot phonies a mile away.
In July, my niece Calley takes Pickles back to his new home in Phoenix and cat sitting is done.
If only humans were as simple to understand as cats.
The N.A.U. auditorium is filled with parents, friends, graduates, speakers, security, and interested observers.
The event is graduation for the 2015 class of NAU Lumberjacks who have spent their last several years sharpening axes, learning to identify trees, and borrowing money to pay for the experience of reading, writing, attending lectures, doing group projects, and getting indoctrinated in a variety of subjects that might or might not lead to paying the rent. There are student loans to be paid, job interviews, moving, trips to Europe.
This is Calley’s Day and she receives, on a snowy day in spring, a Bachelor’s Degree in Business with a specialty in Accounting.
The speeches are dull but there is pomp and circumstance as participants march into the auditorium wearing gowns and caps with tassels and ballooning sleeves and dignitaries give themselves Honorary Degrees and remark on the importance of the occasion and how graduates should be committed to contribution, caring, and consensus. Once it is all over, all file outside to take photos and celebrate.
Graduating from college is still an achievement, even in 2015.
It is a good to congratulate a niece done with class and on her way to a backpack trip to Europe with a girlfriend. She has a job waiting when she returns.
Uncle Scott will watch her cat Pickles. When someone graduates, it is like a stone dropped into a pond. The ripples touch a lot of shores.
Pickles will have a better life, no matter what, and he never had to go to school to get it.
The real surprise is snow in Flagstaff in May.
As everyone we talk to says, with laughter, ” This is so Flagstaff.”
This is what this road trip looks like from behind the wheel.
Ahead, there is a long rolling strip of Interstate split into two lanes with shoulders and entrances and exits. There are road signs, overpasses, and vehicles. Always there is sky and empty land stretching away from the road as you eat up miles and look for a good rational talk radio station coming to you from an underground bunker somewhere in Kansas where cows, corn, and missile silos peacefully co-exist.
Clouds hover like cartoons waiting for words.
I-40 is a main path connecting east and west and I am somewhere between Gallup and Flagstaff. This is Indian country, one of the highest concentrations of Native Americans in the country. Along the freeway you whiz past billboards promoting blackjack, cheap meals, entertainment, and hotel rooms. The casino parking lots have big rigs silent as drivers catch sleep and divert themselves from tedium.
Travel is what happens between your starting point and arrival point. It is often boring enough that I count cars, fence posts, telephone poles.
There is nothing happening here that anyone with an imagination would want to write about.
Los Angeles has Forest Lawn and Beverly Hills. Memphis has Graceland. Florida has Cape Canaveral. Texas has the Alamo. Albuquerque has the hit television series ” Breaking Bad. ”
This television show is a crime drama and crime and Albuquerque have more than a casual acquaintance. One can’t truthfully claim that Albuquerque is as bad as the show portrays it, but low life drama is not as uncommon on our streets as we residents would wish.
” Breaking Bad ” reigns as the Guinness Records most watched television series of all time. Its actors have won awards galore and the series has a cult following even after its dramatic final episode. A spin off series ” Better Get Saul ” has already been created and follows the vagaries of Saul, an ethically conflicted lawyer, who gets paid to keep guilty out of jail and lives off the change jingling in criminal pockets.
Those of us who live here tend to accept our city as ” already broken. ” We accept the way Albuquerque is – a laid back, sprawling country town pretending to be a big city. We are not surprised to see a Mexican flag flying in front of City Hall and Indians/non- Indians selling turquoise jewelry(some made in China) under the porches of the La Placita restaurant in Old Town.
Neal, Joan and myself finish our Old town stroll and drive to lunch at our favorite red/green chili haunt – El Patio, by the University of New Mexico. On our drive we pass locations from the Breaking Bad series and find them to be as sleazy as the TV show shows them.
In a terminally ill world, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman of Breaking Bad are all too familiar.
Reality and fiction, these days, look like twin brothers.
Albuquerque, for all it’s bad reputation, is still where I live and call home, by my own choosing.
I don’t expect our city, even with Hollywood’s meddling, too ever change what it is, a northern territory of Mexico.
When I travel to foreign ” Third World ” destinations, I am never far from my comfort zone.
The Albuquerque Museum is in Albuquerque’s Old Town.
Old Town is not far from the Rio Grande river and train tracks that spurred growth in western communities in the nineteen hundreds. Old Town is a part of Albuquerque that is older than the city itself, originally a stopping point for Spanish explorers looking for their ” seven cities of gold. ”
Founded in the 1700’s and named after a Duke in Spain, Albuquerque is still a footnote to big brother Santa Fe that came of age in the 1500’s. We have a mix of Indians, Spanish, Europeans. We have cowboys, farmers, mad scientists. We are a melange of old, new, secular and spiritual, all explained by the state nickname ” Land of Enchantment. ”
The Museum is free today and filled with school kids. One room we enjoy features New Mexico artists. Another features the historical development of the ” Duke” city. Another is closed for construction with a sign apologizing for the inconvenience.
Neal and Joan, visiting from Colorado on their way to watch their daughter Calley graduate from college in Flagstaff, Arizona, make this time special.
We walk around sculptures of coyotes, a small resilient mammal that lives on its wits, adaptability, and curiosity. There are groups of kids sitting on a floor in the entry to an exhibit looking for their homes on an Albuquerque map recreated on that floor. There is a portrait of artist Raymond Jonson who dined in our home and mentored our artist mother. There are oil paintings of religious scenes,native Indians summoning Spirits from other worlds, and portraits of stern city founders with their wives.
One black and white framed photograph on an exhibit wall is of a solitary man wearing a hat and standing in the middle of an empty mesa by a sign saying” Nob Hill.”
Nob Hill was then the edge of town, fit only for jackrabbits, coyotes, rattlesnakes and buzzards. Now, it is trendy. There are shops and restaurants and the area is a playground for University of New Mexico students with live music, brew pubs, used book stores and boutiques.
New Mexico has turquoise and silver jewelry, beautiful hand thrown pots, the Kiva, cliff dwellings, the atomic bomb, Indian rugs, roadrunners, top secret research facilities, military bases and Indian reservations. We have Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands, Los Alamos National Labs, Chaco Canyon, and the Catwalk.
New Mexico holds to its past firmly as we barrel into the future.
It is like holding a horse blanket as you ride a rocket into space.