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First Bivouac with My Love – Part 2

We began our journey southward on Interstate 25.  Never having seen the Chihuahuan Desert, I knew little about what to expect in the way of its flora, fauna, geology, and climate.  My Audubon Society guide to America’s deserts, which I purchased just prior to our trek, indicated that the Chihuahuan spread into New Mexico from northern Mexico in “four fingerlike projections,” with the northernmost projection reaching to “a point just north of” the town of Socorro, which was on our itinerary. 

Of course, there was no sign, official or unofficial, along I-25 announcing our entrance into this desert.  However, as we passed the town of Belen, 40 miles north of Socorro, I sensed that the character of the landscape was changing.  The Rio Grande, which parallels the interstate to the east, was still bordered by dense woods and the occasional agricultural field greening with spring.  But, just west of the interstate, the land was disrobing, beginning with the disappearing junipers.  Disappearing, as well, were the bones of the land, those rock outcroppings, so common west and north of Albuquerque; they were now being replaced by mere soils given to erosion.  When Sierra Ladrones―Thieves Mountain, an isolated, dual-peaked range―appeared in the west not far from highway, I could see that the peaks and slopes it presented were not cloaked in dark alpine forests like those of the Sandia Mountains beside Albuquerque and the Manzano Mountains just south of the Sandias; rather, they were dotted with smaller trees and armored with barren rock.  Meanwhile, in the far southeast, I saw, peeking above the horizon, a jagged range that appeared to be devoid of tall forests as well.

As we progressed south of Socorro, now well into the desert, one thing was certain: this was not the Sonoran Desert I had witnessed during my visit to Tucson, Arizona, the previous decade.  There were no multi-armed saguaro cacti waving at me; no luxuriant palo verde trees lending their cool green accents to arroyos; no teddy bear cholla cacti with their thousands of murderous spines aglow and threatening misery to the rookie Sonoran pedestrian.  The Sonoran is a subtropical, and thus a far more diverse, desert than the Chihuahuan.  And, many would agree, a lovelier one.  Erna Fergusson described the Sonoran as having “a beauty no fabled wood ever equaled.”  The Sonoran is also known as an “arboreal desert,” one in which, in the simple observation of author and modern-day Southwest explorer Alex Shoumatoff, “[s]o much of the vegetation rises over your head.” 

Alas, the high-elevation Chihuahuan Desert we were now witnessing was primarily a monotonous one of squat shrubs and cacti, scattered grasses, and only an occasional tree, which I would later identify as the desert willow.

Yet it was now, for better or worse, our desert, and soon I would learn that it existed in New Mexico for two main reasons.  One was the “rain shadow” effect of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental mountains―massive landforms blocking the passage of rain-producing weather systems, condemning the mountains’ leeward expanses to unforgiving aridity.  The other was a meteorological phenomenon I would find more challenging to understand: the Hadley cell, equatorial atmospheric activity that prevents the condensation of moisture, thus creating the Chihuahuan Desert in southern New Mexico, west Texas, and northern Mexico. 

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First Bivouac with My Love – Part 1

The following month, I continued my exploration of the Southwest, this time with Linda. We planned to camp at the Valley of the Fires State Park, outside of Carrizozo, New Mexico, in the state’s southeast quadrant. I knew very little about Linda’s camping experiences. She told me of once fishing with her father, including sleeping in a tent, at Colorado’s Dillon Reservoir. I didn’t get the impression it was one of her more enjoyable experiences: cold, hard ground seemed to be the event’s main theme. Yet I did not doubt she had an appreciation for the beauty and wonders of nature. She told me of her enjoyable visits to Milwaukee’s Audubon Nature Center while she was briefly an ophthalmology resident in that city. While we were together in Colorado, she proudly introduced me to Colorado Springs’s Bear Creek Nature Center. We once bicycled for a day amid the Rockies on a paved path that linked Frisco to Breckenridge, Colorado. And we had an enjoyable spring picnic, this despite a raw, misty afternoon, on the shortgrass prairie east of Kiowa, Colorado (my somewhat unusual idea, of course).

I suggested we visit Valley of the Fires for several reasons. Carrizozo was roughly 100 miles south of Albuquerque, so I figured it had to be pleasantly warmer than the Duke City, which was still occasionally experiencing the chilly April day. I was eager to pay my first visit to New Mexico’s only classic American desert, and North America’s largest, the Chihuahuan, which encompasses the state park. Finally, I could not resist the graphic name “Valley of the Fires,” although I had no idea it pertains to a specific geologic characteristic of the park.

Linda’s fellowship at the university gave her exclusive access to the university’s “recreation” department, and it was from this that we rented an air mattress for her and a tent for the two of us. (Like me, Linda owned a bulky Sears cloth sleeping bag.) The smallest tent available for rent comfortably accommodated as many as four persons: fine, I thought, plenty of room.

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Four Corners Sojourn – Conclusion

By evening, the skies had cleared. Anticipating a long, cold, lonely night, I decided to create a warm, colorful, lively companion until sleep overcame me. Wandering near and far, I gathered juniper limbs and branches, gray and arid, that I found scattered upon the red earth, and piled them at my campsite. After scouring the ground, I reluctantly took to breaking branches and limbs from nearby junipers dead but still standing. Although still reaching for the sky, that leafless wood was equally gray and parched. Yet, when I ripped a limb from a trunk, producing a sharp report that echoed faintly off the canyon wall, a reddish inner pulp, like the marrow of a bone and still faintly aromatic, was revealed.

That night, after a meal of beans and apricots (and yes, a windy night inside my Sears bag would follow), I sat on a boulder and fed juniper into a fire for three hours, studying the distant lights of Bluff, watching a particular star progress across the sky at the pace of an hour hand, and thoroughly smoking myself with the incomparable spice of burning juniper.

The following morning, I awoke to the croak of a solitary raven winging through the vast stillness in the direction of nearby Monument Valley. Before leaving, I investigated, simply out of geological interest, a nearby cluster of boulders, some as big as storage sheds, at the base of the cliff. After rounding the corner of one, I was stunned.

The side of the boulder was not belly-round, but rather planed perfectly flat, as if sliced with a giant diamond wheel. And pecked into its surface, which was darkened as if with years of accumulated soot (later I would identify it as a geological/chemical phenomenon known as “desert varnish”), was a collection of obviously manmade figures.

Several figures clearly depicted human beings, or, rather, abstracted human beings. Today, they might be said to resemble a modern person’s impressions of space aliens. One was armless with stubby legs and an elongated trunk with a large rectangle in its center. Another possessed all its limbs, although it, too, had an elongated trunk. A third had an elongated neck and stubby legs and was accompanied by a circle (signifying what?) immediately to the right of its head. There was a figure that recalled a snake, or perhaps a river, or perhaps a mountain range. There was another that clearly resembled a scorpion.

I knew immediately the figures were not the work of modern man or woman.  Any newcomer to Albuquerque with the slightest bit of curiosity quickly learns of the petroglyphs―manmade etchings―in the volcanic rock of the vast lava field on the western edge of the city. Indeed, Linda and I had already visited the field that would, within two years, become Petroglyph National Monument. There we saw etchings, some perhaps seven hundred years old―well before Coronado’s arrival in today’s North America―that prepared me for the ones I now beheld in southeast Utah. The idea that these lonely etchings had survived possibly seven centuries of wind, rain, heat, cold, and dust, murmuring their presence to virtually no one throughout nearly all of those years, stirred my guts. Then I entertained the absurd possibility that I was the first to witness them after such time, but the paved road two miles to the east more or less affirmed otherwise. The petroglyphs stayed with me all that day as I returned to Albuquerque.

(Years later, while consulting a map, I would learn that the camping experience just described occurred just below a place called Muley Point. Also years later, I would read, in an October 25, 1982 entry of Edward Abbey’s published journal, his description of the point: “It’s as marvelous as ever up here. The tremendous stillness. The tremendous infinity of sky. One raven croaking. The inevitable raven, guardian spirit of this place. Sunlight on the beaches down in the Goosenecks of the San Juan River.”)

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Four Corners Sojourn – Part 5

Shortly after turning north onto a road leading to the Valley of the Gods, I diverted onto a side road that led briefly to a place called the Goosenecks. Since breakfast, the San Juan River had been shadowing my journey, flowing meekly over the desolate land, nearly always visible. Then it seemed to disappear at Bluff. Now, some 20 miles from the village, I stood at a railing at the Goosenecks, staring at the same river 1,000 feet below, meandering through a canyon as convoluted as my small intestine. The dramatic geological transformation was baffling. At what point over those 20 miles, I wondered, did the pleasantly daylit San Juan make the plunge into this appalling underworld, shed its blouse for an overcoat? And why? And how? Staring at this spectacle, I had to wonder: Which had the greater appetite, the river for the land, or the land for the river?

The Valley of the Gods, a vast landscape of sandstone mesas, buttes, and monuments, spread at the base of a 700-foot-high rampart that ran from northeast to southwest. I parked Little Red at the entrance to a dirt road that, according to my map, looped through the valley. Cars and trucks trickled onto it as I remained parked.

Preferring solitude, I decided to avoid it. I reloaded my backpack, including the ridiculously bulky Sears sleeping bag and wide foam rubber pad, hoisted it onto my back, and, after negotiating a barbed wire fence, struck off in the opposite direction, a roadless swale devoid of formations, yet no less lovely. In addition to shrubs and juniper, the land was dotted with tufts of tall grass on which some two dozen Hereford and Angus cattle grazed. Their piles of manure, dark, rippling, and glistening when fresh, gray and crusty when aged, were not infrequent. But neither the smothering manure nor the destructive footprints of these huge, lumbering beasts bothered me. Again, so charmed by the myth of the American cowboy was I that I accepted them as just one more part of the beguiling landscape.

After establishing a campsite beside a tall, broad juniper, I spent much of that afternoon sheltering myself from rain squalls, my plastic ground cover doubling as a rain fly. The purchase of a small tent prior to my departure didn’t occur to me. After all, my two previous visits to Utah’s canyon country involving camping took place in July, when the weather was sunny and 104°F, and September, when the weather was cooler but equally dry. So I had concluded that it rarely rained in southeast Utah. In any event, I considered myself tough enough to handle any weather condition. Thus, in the shelter of the fly, I looked around and around, marveling not only at the distant formations on the valley floor, but also at the rock rampart at my back. This was the fulfillment of a dream: the Pawnee Buttes multiplied beyond imagining.

The landscape fascinated me for a number of reasons, beginning with its “geometry,” a result of its sedimentary nature. The natural world I’d known up to now―the Berkshire hills and mountains of Massachusetts; the Catskill and Adirondack mountains of New York; the hills, mountains, and valleys of central Colorado―appeared more or less fashioned with a waving, cupping hand. Curves characterized these landscapes. Utah’s canyon country, however, with its millions of predominantly rectangular and triangular formations, appeared to be the work of T-squares, meat cleavers, guillotines, and circular saws. It did not flow. It chomped.

Meanwhile, this rather linear landscape had a charming familiarity. I loved it for its natural qualities; yet I loved it as well for the man-made constructs these natural formations recalled: tables, temples, battleships, edifices, pyramids, butcher blocks, all in various stages of silent, mysterious, melancholy ruin. And what curves there were in the land had a striking ability to evoke parts of the human anatomy such as breasts, nipples, and heads of phalli.

It was a naked land. Before witnessing southeast Utah and northwestern New Mexico, I’d become accustomed to a landscape cloaked not only with grasses, trees, and shrubs, but with soils. The canyon country, however, was often paved with nothing but bare, lifeless rock―the very bones of the Earth.

Space in the canyon country looked and felt different. All of these right angles, these vertical rock faces, seemed to arrest the flow of space, trap it, concentrate it, lend it a remarkable substance. Huddled beneath my rain fly, I could almost hear space colliding with the massive rock wall that ran behind me.

All in all, a uterine security, the trance of entrance.

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Four Corners Sojourn – Part 4

Determined to get even closer to the Four Corners, and certain that I would be sleeping under a sea of stars, I left Shiprock, heading west into Arizona. As I drove, I knew that somewhere not far to the south loomed the legendary rock formation that gave Shiprock its name, but I was unable to see it in the darkness beyond the lights of my car.

At a place named Teec Nos Pos, I pushed north on an even more remote highway, well aware that it was late, yet hoping that, in the light of a new day, I would find myself among those grand and colorful mesas and canyons, vibrating with broken rock, that I associated with Moab. After some five miles, I paused at the junction of a road that, according to a sign, led to the Four Corners Monument. I consulted my map: the monument was less than a mile away. I stepped out of the car, its motor and lights off. When my eyes adjusted to the starlit darkness, I looked around: no grand cliffs and canyons, not even a manmade structure; just a bland, rolling, nearly treeless upland. Thus, my introduction to the Four Corners: a cartographer’s curiosity, and some additional income for the Navajo nation (an entrance fee to the monument was required), but beyond that, not much. Small wonder each state provided a mere corner of itself to the place.

I resumed my drive in a northeasterly direction, but, exhausted, I soon stopped. Wary of sleeping on the ground so close to the highway, yet equally wary of bumbling off into the gloom with a loaded pack on my back without a flashlight, I lowered the back seat of Little Red, raised the hatchback, crawled in like a furtive high-desert creature. I didn’t know which of four possible United States I was in, and the mystery gave me a cheap thrill. Crumpled in my car, I spent a nearly sleepless night.

Dawn found me, to my surprise, at the top of a slope that led briefly down to a broad river, the San Juan, which I had skirted in Shiprock the previous night. I hastily repacked my gear and continued northeast. I passed a sign welcoming me to Colorado, so I assumed I spent the night in New Mexico. I crossed the San Juan, which flowed through a dismal landscape of barren gray hills, its shoreline dense with squat trees yet to leaf out. Other than the highway and a littered parking area beside a brief trail that led to the river bottomland, the area was devoid of any traces of humanity.

Immediately upon climbing out of the river basin, I pulled the car over and had a breakfast. Hungry as I was, I would have liked five scrambled eggs smothered in chile verde, a side of chorizo sausage, and two ten-inch flour tortillas, but I settled for my stewed apricots and coffee. As I ate, I studied Shiprock, not the city, but the actual geological formation, the Navajos’ “rock with wings.” It stood 25 miles to the southeast, aglow in the sunrise, jutting above a horizon of dun-colored tableland, like a lone, worn tooth of a saw blade.

Driving on, I turned, at a junction as desolate as the one that led to the Four Corners, onto a highway that led west to Bluff, Utah. After Aneth and Montezuma Creek, two reservation towns of ramshackle trailer homes, cars and trucks on blocks, muddy roads, and roaming dogs, I finally returned, just east of Bluff, to the red rock country that recalled Moab. Bluff was a tiny, tidy town with a grocery store, motel, homes that were actually built there, and even some lawns. Great sandstone formations hugged the north side of the town.

I didn’t linger there. Under mostly cloudy skies, I pressed on to a place northwest of Bluff with the alluring name of Valley of the Gods. I plunged and climbed through a massive canyon at the bottom of which ran Butler Wash. More gigantic rock formations appeared, although these were less angular, because far more curvaceous, than those in the Moab area. They stood upon a sea of the most beautiful combination of native soil and plant life I’d ever witnessed. Even under cloudy skies, the soil was vibrantly red as chile powder and peppered with diminutive green shrubbery accented occasionally by a juniper tree. As the man himself had lovingly proclaimed two decades earlier: “Abbey’s country.”

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Four Corners Sojourn, Part 3

I headed north on Highway 666, unaware of this number’s modern-day association with the antichrist or the devil. (Some 15 years later, as a result of its Satanic connotation and periodic thefts of its official highway signs, the “Devil’s Highway” would be renumbered/renamed 491.) Scattered along my first 10 miles of 666, ghostly apparitions coalescing in my headlights, were some one dozen northbound hitchhikers, presumably Navajos. On the one hand, it was an odd sight: in a nation overflowing with cars and trucks, all these individuals afoot and seeking rides; on the other, it suggested a solidarity, a remarkable faith, surely tribal in nature, on the part of each and every one of these hitchhikers that, sooner or later, despite the obvious competition, he or she could count on a car or truck for a lift to Sheep Springs, Newcomb, Sanostee, Little Water, or Shiprock before the 10 o’clock weather report.   Few, I sensed, are forever left by the wayside in Navajoland.

Although, that night at least, no thanks to me: I passed them all, wiping their existence away in the wake of my high beams. My current solitude was too delicious, too white man, obviously very un-tribal. Meanwhile, KTNN broadcast “No Reason to Quit” by Merle Haggard, the ultimate drunkard’s rebel yell (without the yelling, however, only Haggard’s incomparably beautiful baritone).

After 70 more miles of darkness, flecked only by the occasional light of a house near to or distant from the 666, I arrived in Shiprock, New Mexico, a veritable metropolis in this remote country, for the first time in a dozen years. At a Taco Bell, I purchased some Mexoid and a Pepsi to go.

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Four Corners Sojourn, Part 2

In a chilly twilight, I exited the interstate in Gallup, New Mexico, and, as the Stones’s rendition of the Bobby Troup song played in my head, motored down the city’s stretch of the former Route 66, which seemed as long as the western New Mexico horizon was wide. In what I presumed was the city’s center, the traffic on the five-lane blacktop was considerable, yet its businesses, primarily Indian merchandise stores and pawn shops on the south side of the thoroughfare, were all closed, with many storefronts obscured behind drawn scissor gates. Immediately on the north side of 66, the Santa Fe Railroad, heretofore consisting of merely two tracks, now appeared to swell to ten, with many of the tracks loaded with long, dark strings of freight cars. Except for one string crawling westward, all were at rest.

Just a handful of pedestrians appeared on this stretch of 66. A small group of men, each lean, broad-shouldered, and bearing a waterfall of raven hair―Navajos likely―wandered through some brush beyond a chain-link fence that partially cordoned off an Amtrak railroad station. A woman in a tee-shirt emblazoned with “GEORGE STRAIT” staggered east down the south sidewalk, her forward progress only slightly more than her lateral.

By now, I knew―from conversations with long-time New Mexicans, stories in Albuquerque newspapers, and Abbey’s musings in Desert Solitaire―of Gallup’s history of rampant alcoholism among its visitors from the vast Navajo reservation immediately to the north. On this Friday evening, I tried to imagine the bars of Gallup. Were they joyous places? Was that “cowboy,” George Strait, crooning on their jukeboxes, the Indian wars now obviously over, differences now reconciled, all forgiven, and “let’s drink to that”? Surely some of the bars were profoundly grim venues where sipping and light repartee was dispensed with because the object was to get hammered as quickly and cheaply as possible. In any event, I imagined them beginning to fill up. Fifteen years earlier, had I been in Gallup, perhaps on route to Tucson or Phoenix to visit friends or relatives, I would very likely have entered one or more of them, slumming, getting buzzed, as I occasionally did on Denver’s skid row. Now I was grateful to be free of that scene, as well as the regular patronizing of bars of any repute.

Yet, in my imagination, there was still a stubborn, attractive romanticism to all of it. For there was a time when bars offered me laughter, music, male companionship, female companionship, and one fight (which I lost). For years, I thought such authors as Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski, sodden alcoholics both, understood and harnessed such romanticism to their benefit (Bukowski maintaining wine was his best accompaniment to writing). I thought Malcolm Lowry, English chronicler of Cuernavaca, Mexico, and arguably literature’s most ruinous drunk, did as well; indeed, of him, film critic Pauline Kael seductively wrote: “[H]e somehow got himself to believe that alcoholic self-destruction would give him access to the states of mind necessary to set words on fire.” I didn’t seek self-destruction in alcohol, but I often found comfort.

Today, I acknowledge the enormous complexity of alcoholism, including and especially Native American alcoholism; that Friday evening, I simply felt smug that I had managed to avoid the predation of places like Gallup, although I was still fascinated by the city’s tragic nature. Even Bob Dylan, although no alkie, fell prey to Gallup’s romance, once, when he was 20, falsely telling an interviewer that he was “raised” in the city.

I continued through Gallup, past its cold, dark brick and sandstone buildings, without stopping. The last thing I noticed, while negotiating a bridge over the Santa Fe tracks, were two pairs of rails leading westward. Above their grime, the crowns of the rails, cleaned and polished by the wheels of millions of freight cars, held an eerie glow that seemed to defy the diminishing twilight: silver ribbons afloat on a black sea of desert that spread to eastern Arizona.

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Four Corners Sojourn, Part 1

After moving to Albuquerque, I was hungry to explore the Southwestern lands well beyond the cities and towns. My first exploration was to the Four Corners region, the Colorado Plateau country northwest of the city. Ten months prior to my arrival in Albuquerque, I finally visited the Moab, Utah, area, regarded by many as one of the prime destinations of the plateau country and the locus of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. I would visit Moab two more times before moving to New Mexico. Like Abbey, I was fascinated by this arid “red wasteland” of relentless rock monoliths―like ruins of ancient, fabulous civilizations―and yawning canyons. On all three occasions, accompanied once by family and twice by friends, I had approached it from west-central Colorado; now I aimed to enter it alone from northwestern New Mexico.

On a Friday afternoon in March, directly from work, I headed west on I-40. In Little Red’s rear was stowed my camping gear: a circa 1976 Kelty backpack, Sears sleeping bag, foam rubber pad, plastic ground cover, Svea stove, surplus-store mess kit, plastic cup, can-opener, a can of baked beans, dried apricots, instant coffee, sugar, creamer, water, and my worn paperback edition of Desert Solitaire. I had no idea where I would lay my head that night. Fifteen years earlier this prospect would have frightened me; now, I reveled in its limitless possibilities. After all, I was now a cocky New Mexican, a Southwesterner, a friend of foresters, loggers, and sawyers, and no one could tell me I was a stranger here.

On I-40, I was among the steady stream of westbound autos and eighteen-wheelers. Meanwhile, I glanced at the frequent freight trains on the Santa Fe Railroad main line intermittently visible from the highway. I passed the Indian pueblo of Laguna, a small, pale apparition on a hill overlooking the highway. I crossed the Continental Divide, a mere swelling on the land, a trifling imitation of its soaring, rugged, snowbound stretch in much of Colorado. At Prewitt, New Mexico, an array of towering sandstone headlands, rosy in the setting sun, began to appear just north of the interstate. According to my map, I was now about to skirt the southern edge of the Navajo reservation. Soon I passed an exit to a place with the odd name of Rehoboth.

Out of curiosity, I switched on the Lynx’s AM radio and began turning the tuning dial from far left to right. Almost immediately, at about mid-60s kilohertz, I came upon an old favorite: Johnny Horton singing “Whispering Pines,” so I stayed there. At the completion of the recording, a voice, presumably that of a station announcer, came on. The Chinese I’d overheard as a busboy at Denver’s Lotus Room years earlier was odd enough. The language of the announcer sounded like Chinese sliced and diced, then recorded and played backwards. Occasionally, however, some English would bubble up through the bizarre linguistic goulash: a numeral, “auto parts,” “Chevy pickups,” “Baptist,” “Four Corners,” “booster cables.” After George Jones sang “Walk Through This World with Me,” the announcer returned with the strange lingo, but this helping included the utterance “66 KTNN, voice of the Navajo nation.”

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Home Sweet Homes in Burque

Within several weeks of my arrival in Albuquerque I was living in an apartment a block down Madeira Drive from Linda’s, which was the way we initially wanted it. The names of our respective apartment complexes back then might raise red flags in a marketing department of any land development company in New Mexico, if not all of the United States, today. Back then, however, they were presumably acceptable, and they strangely―or, if you’re so inclined, comically―mirrored one another.

My complex was called The Plantation. For the life of me, I couldn’t see the New Mexico connection in the name. As far as I knew, the state had no history of large-scale tobacco, sugar, and rice farming. (Although I would eventually realize that cotton is farmed in southern New Mexico, though hardly on the scale of the 19th-century South.) Since my arrival in the state, I’d not seen any Georgian and French Creole architecture, any mansions encircled by twelve-foot balustrade galleries. Therefore, all I could do was assume the name was simply meant to recall the bounty, leisure, and Gable/Leigh romance of―what? The antebellum South? The postbellum South? Yet, hearing the name, I couldn’t quash images of whips, chains, manacles, welts, auction blocks, and pints of salt. And I had to wonder how Albuquerque’s Black community, which at the time comprised 3% of the city’s population, regarded the name.

Yet, The Plantation was indeed a pleasant place. It was quiet at night. I’d thrill to the spring winds shaking my apartment door. On warm spring days, I’d occasionally and discreetly watch, through my front window, the female tenants sunbathe by the empty swimming pool in the complex’s courtyard. And nearly every evening I’d relax to the moody serenade, through my living room wall, of my neighbor as she practiced her cello.

Linda’s apartment, meanwhile, was named The Conquistador. It was obviously named to acknowledge, if not honor, the first Spanish explorers, Francisco Vasquez Coronado premier among them, to arrive in today’s North America. Shortly after my arrival in New Mexico, I developed an intense interest in the state’s history, and, among many other things, I learned that many contemporary New Mexicans of Spanish and even mixed-Spanish blood revere these explorers. They were conquistadores: “conquerors.” They conquered lands―loosely speaking, that is: they “claimed lands for Spain”; they were neither pioneers nor settlers. However, they also “conquered” peoples, and not always in a gentle manner. This was brought to my attention in the pages of Albuquerque’s newspapers. In various articles, the Pueblo people were reminding New Mexicans that these 16th- and 17th-century conquistadores were responsible for forced labor, familial breakup, punitive amputations, rape, religious persecution, and the spread, unintentional yet deadly, of infectious diseases among the Pueblans’ ancestors. So I was soon joking that I was living on a two-block stretch of Madiera Drive known as “Slavery Row.” (In 2018, the Spanish and Catholic organizers of an annual Santa Fe reenactment of the 1692 “reoccupation” of the city by the Spanish, the “entrada pageant,” agreed, after increasing pressure by New Mexico’s Pueblos, to end the event. Meanwhile, my former apartment complex is no longer The Plantation; Linda’s former dwelling, however, is still named The Conquistador.)