I arrived in Las Cruces at about 7pm, and waited at the park for just a bit until my friend Cory got off of work. I was sitting on the park bench reading over some tourist materials until I heard a couple of honks. Turning around, I spotted an nifty, orange-colored motorcycle pull up to the curb. Sure enough, he removed his helmet and there was Cory, all grown up, with a big smile and hug to match. I've only seen Cory once since high school, and only for about an hour, while I was passing through Duluth, Minnesota, where he graduated from college. Gosh, it was so great to see him. He took me to his place, where he exchanged his motorcycle for a bright blue Jeep Wrangler (cool!). He removed the top, and we caught up while he zoomed through town, hoping to catch Verizon before they closed. He talked with the sales associates for a little bit, while I made a phone call to my favorite author and mentor, Ron, who also lives in town.
|Sparky's Diner in Hatch|
We went back to Cory's, and we got all caught up, and found we actually still had very much in common. We've both changed quite a bit over the past decade, and we both admitted to being a bit unsure how we'd get along during my visit, but to our delight it seems our views and attitudes are just as aligned as they were back in school, no matter how much they've changed. His friend Ramos from work came over, and drove us all over town in the suped-up truck he borrowed from work (they sell cars). Great night!
Saturday, July 30th
Today was fantastic. I spent the whole day with Ron, who after generously treating me to breakfast at Denny's to catch up, drove me all over Southwestern New Mexico's different landscapes - desert, grassland, forests and mountains. We took the back roads to Sparky's Diner in Hatch: "The Chile Capital of the World!" There I tried my first ever Red Chile & Mango Shake (not bad!), and a Green Chile Shake, too (spicy!), lol. Yum! Then he took me on the Back Country Scenic Byway to Lake Valley (stopping for photos of colorful wildflowers many times along the way), a former silver-mining town, that Ron and many others from neighboring towns (some from pretty far away) used to go to dances at. Now it looks like nothing more than a few abandoned buildings.
|One of Many Wildflowers Dotting the Side of the Road|
We continued up County Road 27 to the town of Hillsboro, a semi-ghost town (population 225) "founded in the 1870's after gold and silver were discovered in the surrounding Black Range. The town developed into an important mining and ranching center, and served as the Sierra County seat from 1884 to 1939. It was the site of several renowned trails, and is said to have had the last operating stage line in the United States. We took County Road 152 west to Kingston, a ghost town of about 25 residents, once the largest silver mining town in New Mexico in 1880’s, with many old adobe buildings still used to this day. The dusty landscape changed in an instant as we continued into the Gila National Forest, which we took up through Emory Pass, where we stopped for wonderful, panoramic views of the valleys and villages below. We entered Mimbres Valley and stopped in San Lorenzo to find that the little cafe Ron recommended was now just a near-empty building of memories. I snapped a couple of photos of the Catholic Church nearby, and we stopped at the quirky little General Store there, before continuing on our way.
We continued on Scenic 152 to the Santa Rita Copper Mine, a still-operational mine from the 19th century, where Ron grabbed his binoculars to let me have a good look at the "big toys," digging away at the beautiful, multi-colored sediment. We got back on the road and traveled maybe only a half-mile before the Kneeling Nun rock formation came into view behind us. We pulled over and got a good look through the binoculars. I thought it looked like E.T. and Ron saw Darth Vader, lol.
|Silver City Visitor Center|
Heading about 15 miles or so west, we entered charming Silver City. "Once serving as an Apache campsite, Silver City was founded in the summer of 187o, after the discovery of silver ore deposits at Chloride Flats. It's now dubbed one of America's best small towns and 100 best art towns in America." Ron and I walked around historic downtown, poking our heads inside one or two of the colorful Victorian buildings, grabbed some coffee, checked out "Ols Main Street" - now known as the "Big Ditch Riverwalk Park, and took a little drive around town, stopping for a look at the college campus and St. Vincent de Paul Church (1874).
We took Highway 180 down through Hurley, a place mentioned in the Common Sons books I love so much (thanks to Ron's brilliance) and known for its huge smokestacks that once towered above the land. Then he took me to City of Rocks State Park. "Formed of volcanic ash welded together 35 million years ago, then sculpted by wind and water into rows of monolithic blocks, these incredible rock formations give City of Rocks its name." We drove the park and explored on foot a little while, snapping photos of the unusual landscape and climbing around. Ron remarked on how much the place had changed since he was a kid, and there certainly weren't any fees to speak; of course that's what paid for all the camping sites throughout and the modern visitor center.
|City of Rocks State Park|
With wonderful views of the Florida Mountains (pronounced flor-EE-da) rising from the desert floor in the distance, we entered Deming, the small railroad town where Ron grew up. Ron drove me through town, pointing out all the memorable places from the Common Sons books, such as where Kenneth Stroud would have lived, Tom & Joel's house, where Tom walked all the way to Joel's in a dust storm, and the now-abandoned school Tom & Joel attended (Ron too!). For dinner Ron took me to Palma's, a wonderful Italian ristorante, where the owner sings Frank Sinatra and where I tried the best Eggplant Parmesan (HUGE portion, too!) I've ever had! Before leaving town, Ron took me to the old airport hangers, where Tom & Joel went to a dance and became intimate for the first time.
What an amazing day! Thanks Ron!!! :)
Sunday, July 31st
This morning I finally met Tiffany, Cory's girlfriend, who works the graveyard shift at the hospital in Deming. Tiffany was very kind and fun, and I instantly felt at ease around her. Cory went to work, and Tiffany caught up on some sleep, as I lounged at the complex's terrific pool. I went to Cory's work, to see if I could take a spin in a new escalade or something, lol, but he was in the middle of closing a sale, so I gave him a pad on the back and let him do his thing. He got back around 8pm, and Ramos came over, and the four of us went cruising around town in the jeep (with the doors off!), ending up at a cool hiking spot with spectacular views of the lights from town in the distance.
|Tom & Joel Country, and the Florida Mountains|
Monday, August 1st
This morning Cory and Tiffany and I took a drive to El Paso, Texas, where we shopped at the Saddleblanket, a huge complex of two buildings on two acres, chalk-full of every Southwestern souvenir you can think of, from rugs to cowboy boots, to jewelry to pottery, so on and so forth. Cory and I explored and goofed off like old times, lol, as Tiffany scoured the store for souvenirs for friends and family back in Minnesota.
When we got back, I went to Ron's house, and he took me for a little tour around the neighborhood, including where he and Cliff lived while their house was undergoing renovations, historic buildings Cliff owns, and the house Cliff grew up in. When we got back to the house I met his husband Cliff and their friend Jim, and I was treated to another amazing meal; this time at in the nearby historic village of "Old Mesilla." We dined at La Posta, whose adobe walls have withstood "for over a century and three quarters the attack of elements and men and have sheltered such personalities as Billy the Kid, Kit Carson and Pancho Villa." Well I let Cliff help me order; queso sauce and avocado with chips and salsa, two margaritas, a huge portion of shrimp fajitas, "Christmas-style" (red and green chile) enchiladas with egg, sopaillas, flan, apricot empanada and coffee - I WAS STUFFED! We had delightful conversation and Cliff gave me a tour of the mural-painted, historic structure, with "century-old adobe rooms that in years past were once occupied as a Winery, Stable, Blacksmith Shop and Hotel." That will be a dining experience I'll never forget :)
|An Unforgettable Evening with Friends at La Posta|
Before heading back, Ron took me for a little walking tour around the historic plaza, pointing out several points of interest such as the building that once housed the Capitol of Arizona and New Mexico, and later served as the courthouse where Billy the Kid was tried and sentenced to hang, and a section of street that was shown in the film, "Brokeback Mountain."
When I got back to Cory & Tiffany's, the three of us took a dip in the hot tub, and I watched movies (Jason X, lol) as they packed for their trip to Minnesota.
Tuesday, August 2nd
I slept in today, and said my heartfelt goodbyes to Cory and Tiffany, who I will miss dearly as I continue on my adventure. They're such good friends; I hope it isn't long 'til we see each other again.
Ron took me to International Delights Cafe for some coffee and conversation. I learned a lot more about Ron; his role models and principles, so on and so forth. The more I learned, the more I loved about this kind, generous man who's certainly grown to be a mentor to me.
San Albino Old Mesilla Church
Slept in, blogged, blogged, blogged, and met Ron who ran a couple of errands with me, including my purchase of a new computer (my other one's processor didn't even meet the minimum requirements to stream movies on Netflix), and Ron took me to a little Vietnamese place for some fantastic seafood soup.
Thursday, August 4th
Slept in, and blogged all day, literally from noon til way past midnight. Yuck!
Tomorrow I'll be saying goodbye yet again, to Ron Donaghe, who has been more wonderful and generous to me during my visit here than words can describe. I can't believe that a fan letter a few years back has led me to spend nearly a week with a person I admire so much. He is much more to me than a talented author, he is indeed a dear friend and mentor; someone I know I can look to for advice and feel comfortable confiding in, and I'll always treasure the time we spent together, here in Las Cruces.