A Drive to Remember

I left just after dawn. Headed for Kino! But it took me almost all day to get there.
It was an easy crossing. The US customs agent asked where I was headed and when I told him he said to have a good time and be careful. I got a green light, a pase, at the Mexican aduana, or customs, so I sailed on into Naco.
Then, more good luck! The army checkpoint at the highway was gone. I’d expected to be held up there awhile, but no. I cut west toward Cananea.
My plan was to turn south just east of Cananea and drive the Rio Sonora route. The road over the mountains to Imuris is steep, twisty, and can be miserably slow if there is a line of trucks. On top of that, with the recent rains in the lowlands, I was pretty sure the passes would be covered in snow.
But as I got to the turnoff, I looked south to the Rio Sonora. Angry dark clouds hung over the entire valley. I recalled the four rivers I’d have to drive through, and I began to wonder if I’d make it. If it were raining in the valley and the mountains, surely the rivers would be swollen and uncrossable. I looked ahead and there were white clouds over the mountains, but I could see no snow.
I scrapped the valley and headed across the mountains.
Cars ahead of me zipped up the road as if the drivers knew the roads were clear. There were few trucks. As I left town, I noticed a beautiful new Oldsmobile, a pale blush color. I admired it as I passed by and a bit later noticed in my rear view mirror that it, too, had pulled onto the highway.
We all made good time. No trucks to pass, so I zipped over the first set of mountains and down into the valley. When I saw the “hassle free zone” sign followed by the “aduana” sign, I knew I’d made it halfway. Up ahead, trucks were stopped in the road, awaiting inspection. I pulled off the highway onto a dirt side road, just as I always do, and followed the car ahead of me. I expected to move quickly to the lane for automobiles.
Crap. As soon as I dropped off the highway, I saw the traffic nightmare. At least thirty cars were in the dirt road, except with all the rain, it was a mud road. There were also two busses. I glanced in the rear view mirror, thinking about turning around and getting back on the highway, but saw another thirty to forty vehicles had already clambered into the line. And many were trucks, and trucks took forever to get through the inspection. So I plodded on.
As I moved closer, I noticed that the busses were at the front of the mess of a line, both awaiting a space to get back onto the highway. Some cars were in line behind them, but most drivers were attempting to cut up the slope and get back onto the highway. Conditions didn’t permit an easy return.
Folks stuck on the highway were understandably unwilling to let vehicles cut back in front of them. After all, who knows how long they’d already been in that line?
Some who tried to reenter the highway drove up the slope and slowly slide back down through the mud. At least one vehicle was stuck. It was an almighty mess.
I sat in a line to climb the slope to the highway and this big car cut in front of me. I was furious! It was the Olds.
I realized I could be stuck there for an hour or more. And I wasn’t happy. And I had to pee.
Why this huge number of people early on a Sunday morning? It’s never like this. And then I remembered the storm in the Rio Sonora valley. Of course! Surely the rivers were full, so everyone north of Arizpe had to drive way north and across the mountain to get to Hermosillo rather than take the beautiful Rio drive.
I texted my friend Tere in Hermosillo to let her know of the mess. I was beginning to doubt I’d make it there in time to have lunch with her. She’d promised fish tacos, and as I told her, I’d kill for a fish taco. Not really, but if you’ve ever had a good fish taco, you understand what I mean.
Suddenly – suddenly about half an hour later – the first bus moved out of the mud and onto the pavement. I shot out of my place in line to climb the muddy slope and zipped into the line behind the second bus.
I moved so fast that I got a good position, and I was actually moving forward. It was a gentle slope, not like the one I’d have had to deal with if I’d stayed in my previous line. I was instantly grateful to the Olds for cutting me off. He was stuck on the slope and I wasn’t.
Finally I was up to the pavement. No one would let me in. I am not an aggressive driver, but I kept trying to edge my way into the line with no success. And then, there he was. The guy driving the Olds. I lowered my window, hung out, and gestured a request to get in front of him. And he nodded and waved me in.
I made it through the aduana in record time. And then I even got a green light, a pase and didn’t have to have an inspection.
The anti-aduana gods were clearly with me. If I’d faced a thorough inspection, they would certainly wonder why one person needed as much stuff as I had with me. And the baby clothes? Just how was I going to wear them?
You need to know that when I go to Kino, I often stop in Hermosillo and drop off things for Tere. I pick up her mail and her packages in the US and deliver things when I head south. I also take baby gifts and all kinds of requests from full-time Kino residents, US and Mexicans citizens alike.
So my car was full, and avoiding the aduana was a major plus.
Across the valley and into the second mountain range. In my mirror, a car was rapidly approaching. It shot into the other lane and passed a whole line of cars. It was the Olds. The guy waved as he soared on past.
Off on a big pullout to deal with my bladder. Past the Virgin of Guadalupe painted on the mountainside. That’s when I knew I was under twenty minutes from Imuris!
Ah-h-h. Imuris. Four lane highway. Seventy miles per hour. Beautiful. But no. There was roadwork, and the twenty or so miles to Magdalena went slower than usual.
I paid the first cuota, or toll, and pulled over to buy some burritos. Four small burritos for only twenty pesos, or about $1.60. Tossed them into my cooler for tomorrow’s breakfast. And by the way, travelers, this rest stop just south of the Magdalena cuota has some of the best roadside bathrooms in all of Mexico.
On down the highway. Past Rancho del Peňasco. Past Santa Ana. Zipping along until I hit a federal checkpoint. These guys don’t mess around. Lot of men carrying big rifles and wearing bullet-proof vests. But they weren’t looking for a 60+ year-old gringa and waved me right through.
Soon I was in Hermosillo, glad to see Tere, her husband, and her kids. We all went out for fish tacos and another friend and her son joined us. Tere explained that I’d said I’d kill for a fish taco, so she wanted to hurry me to the restaurant to avoid being an accessory to a violent crime.
And by evening, I’d made it to Kino. Ah-h-h.


El Bosque Del Apache

I left Taos at nine, piňon pine woodsmoke scenting the air. I didn’t know the temperature. That’s good, because an hour later I’d dropped 1400 feet in elevation and it was only seventeen degrees in full sun.

Taos just after sunrise.
Taos just after sunrise.
Piňon smoke rising
Piňon smoke rising










I got to the Bosque del Apache by two and spent three hours roaming.  I pad the five dollar entry fee even though my senior pass would have granted me free entrance. Five dollars is a bargain, and I like to support this place.

Ducks, cranes, snow geese, hawks.





I don’t know if this year’s numbers are typical, but in the last week of December 2012, there were over 57,000 ducks and more than 32,000 snow geese. There were also about 3100 cranes and over 400 Canadian geese. Only four eagles had been spotted on the count day, which is probably why I didn’t see any. The hawk count either wasn’t taken or wasn’t posted.




I didn’t witness the evening mass ascension or landing I’d hoped for, but I knew I’d catch an ascension in the morning. I returned to Socorro for the night, catching the very end of happy hour at Socorro Springs, a brewery/pizza place. Good beer, good pizza, worth the stop.

Pre-dawn. I dragged myself out of my warm bed, my warm room. I pulled on thick tights, socks, two layers of long sleeves. Fuzzy lined used boots I’d picked up used in Taos. Thick gloves and a warm hat. Then, into the iciness of the almost day. Twenty minutes later I joined about thirty others, all lined up at water’s edge awaiting the snow goose liftoff.

the Bosque at dawn
the Bosque at dawn
Awaiting ascension.
Awaiting ascension.









We had to wait almost half an hour. I danced about to keep my feet warm and tucked my almost numb hands into my pants to thaw against my belly.

The geese spoke to one another in low voices, but when eight hundred or so are speaking at the same time, it’s anything but quiet. A few geese and cranes lifted off.

The geese begin to wake up.
The geese begin to wake up.
Cranes from an eastern pond take off.
Cranes from an eastern pond take off.








Then, suddenly, they silenced. A few minutes later it began. Wave after wave after wave of geese rose into gray sky, screaming and honking with wings a-whooshing.

The ascension.
The ascension.

Magical. Simply magical. There is just nothing like it.

I was back in my car by 7:15, but rather than leave like almost everyone else did, I again drove one of the two loops through the preserve. Slowly, slowly down dirt roads, catching both cranes and geese swooping into fields chock full of hearty bird breakfast.

Snow geese eat small weeds as well as almost any field grain: wheat, sorghum, corn. Their field friends the cranes prefer corn (fresh is best) but will eat other grains, tubers, and even berries and small rodents and birds. The fields in the Bosque support both birds, and I wondered if the ground is specially planted for them or if it is serendipity.

I didn’t get out of the Bosque until close to nine, just as the light breeze picked up and made it miserable to be outside in the still-freezing morning. I made a quick stop at the visitor’s center and then headed back to San Antonio’s only restaurant, a small Mexican café – the San Antonio Crane Mexican Restaurant – where I gobbled up a bean and green chile burrito. The name of the restaurant, by the way, is almost larger than the place itself.

There are also two bars in San Antonio, the Buckhorn Tavern and the Owl Bar and Cafe. The Owl has simply the best green chile burgers on the planet, bar none. The bar/café claims to be world famous, and I believe it. There’s also a wonderful B&B – Casa Blanca – that’s well worth the money.

But my bean burrito smothered in green chiles at the San Antonio Crane Mexican Restaurant? Perfect ending to a spectacular morning!



Lucille waits patiently.
Lucille waits patiently.































Turtle Dance at the Taos Pueblo

Christina and I went to the Taos Pueblo today to watch the Turtle Dance. It is a sacred dance and no cameras or cell phones are allowed on site all day.

I’d learned that the dances begin either at dawn, at 8, or at 10. We decided to be there by 10, because even if they started at dawn, they’d still be going on, and the day would be a bit warmer. We parked, leaving purses and cameras in the car, and walked onto the plaza area. Off to the side a dance was under way, having started immediately after the pre-dawn church service.

The dance was done by a line of men, all of whom were bare-chested in the 18 degree morning. There were about twenty-five in the line, and at each end was a boy of maybe age nine or ten. The rest of the dancers were all ages, up to perhaps middle to late sixties. They were all dressed in a similar fashion.

The men wore dark shoes, maybe moccasins, and had fur around their ankles. They all wore white leggings, some with black dots all over them and some with other designs. I read on-line that they are crocheted.

Each man had fabric wrapped around his waist, held in place with a colorful sash. Most of the men wore white fabric decorated, usually, in red, green, and black, but four of them wore black fabric with red and white designs.

The fabric simply fell from the waist in front, but in back I could see one or more colorful sashes, and there was another  separate fabric hanging from the waist, about a foot wide and eighteen inches long. Each piece was different and colorful. In addition, many men had the pelt of a small animal tucked into the waistline, with the animals’ tails hanging nearly to the men’s ankles.

Each man carried a white rattle in his right hand and a sprig of pine in his left. Rattles, at the end of a wooden stick, were painted white and appeared to be the size and shape of a small turtle shell. Some men wore a white necklace or a piece of leather with bells as a bandolier.

Each man had a similarly painted face. The paint was a white stripe, beginning under the ear, running down the cheekbone and across the chin, then up the other side to the ear. Some stripes were pure white and others were subtly decorated, mostly by having spots of less paint.

The head and hair were decorated also. The hair was pulled back but not visible due to more fabric at the back of the head. On top of the head were small boughs of pine with a cluster of brown and white feathers. Standing up from the head was a feather, usually orange but sometimes turquoise, likely parrot feathers. There were two tall brown eagle feathers also, and an occasional man had two brightly colored tall feathers.

In addition to the dancers, there were four other men: one, perhaps an elder, was dressed in black head to toe, topped with a black tunic belted at the waist. Pine boughs were tucked into his belt. The elder danced back and forth in front of the line of men. Two others were also in black, and one was the drummer. They all sang except for the two young boys – likely their voices weren’t deep enough, but there are probably other reasons for their not singing.

The dance and chanting went on for fifteen or twenty minutes. Then they’d stop and walk in a line to a different spot and begin again. The crowd followed along behind.

In addition to the many visitors, women of the pueblo watched the dancing. Some joined the crowds, their long skirts swaying side to side as they walked. Rather than wearing jackets, they had blankets draped around their shoulders. A few women stood on the flat roof of their home to watch.

This was an intensely beautiful and spiritual time for me. I longed to have photos, but I surely understand and respect the tribe’s desire to not allow them. I felt honored to be allowed to watch.

The photo below is not mine – remember, cameras were not allowed. It’s from http://www.newmexico.travel/dev/native_american/pueblos/taos.php