To the North Southwest

Another winter in Anthony passed, and our nomadic life resumed. 

Linda, disenchanted with work at the private medical practice in Las Cruces, and not looking forward to a third fiery summer in the Mesilla Valley, noticed, in a medical journal, a job opening for an internal medicine physician in Alamosa, Colorado. 

After a phone call, she flew to Denver, caught a connecting flight, interviewed in Alamosa at a government-funded medical clinic for the indigent, and was offered the job.  With my blessing, she accepted it. 

I’d never forgotten that windy, chilly spring night when I made the car camp in a woodland on La Veta Pass, and gazed westward at the San Luis Valley, in which Alamosa is located.  I liked that arid, remote part of the world immediately. 

In Anthony, I researched Alamosa―located in south-central Colorado, 30 miles north of the New Mexico state line―and the San Luis Valley, consulting books, maps, and the Internet, to which I was now connected at home and work for the first time.  What I discovered about Alamosa and the Valley at the end of the 20th century largely holds true today.   

In the winter of 1806, the explorer Zebulon Pike―who historian David Lavender characterized as a “natural dupe . . . earnest, ambitious, dutiful, and naive”―and his men, frozen and nearly starving to death, discovered the valley on behalf of the White race of the fledgling United States during their attempt to find the headwaters of the Red River. 

Some eight decades later, Charles Lummis, one of the original promoters of the Southwest―and who is credited with coining the name “Southwest”―beheld Alamosa―and, for the first time in his life, the Rio Grande, which courses through Alamosa―as he tramped from Ohio to Los Angeles. 

The Valley is over one-and-a-half times the size of Connecticut and has a population of some 48,000. 

In the rain shadows of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east and the San Juan Mountains to the west, the central Valley is a desert, although a desert naturally watered by the rios Grande and Conejos, and artificially by a massive underground aquifer.  The Valley stands at an altitude of 7,600 feet, making it the largest alpine valley in the world.  At this altitude, the temperature in the Valley rarely reaches 90 degrees.  In the winter, the Valley is often bitter cold, but it is a desert-dry cold, and thus, many in the Valley would maintain, more tolerable than the cold of, say, Buffalo, New York.    If one longs for Colorado’s deep snows, she or he can find them on the peaks, ridges, and meadows of the surrounding mountains. 

The Valley is farming and ranching country.  Its crops include lettuce, wheat, and potatoes; Hereford and Angus cattle graze its rangelands.   

The town of San Luis, in the southeastern corner of the Valley, is the oldest continuously-inhabited town in Colorado, settled by Hispanics in 1851.  Meanwhile, Latinos comprise 45 percent of Alamosa’s population.  This suited me very well.  I’d made Latino friends and acquaintances in my decade in New Mexico, and I came to appreciate many aspects of Latino culture beyond simply the food.  “Perhaps because of his love of land,” Erna Fergusson wrote in 1941, “his disinclination to leave his native place, and his ability to enrich an austere life with simple pleasures, the Latin seems to have a basic stability which the Nordic in similar situations lacks.”  True, at the approach of the new millennium, millions of America’s Latinos were no longer living “austere” lives.  Meanwhile, my life with Linda had been anything but “stable.”  But I certainly didn’t lack for a “love of land” and what I felt were life’s “simple pleasures.”

The fact that the Rio Grande runs through the heart of Alamosa was comforting, certainly an added attraction: The river would still be with me, still remain a thread binding me to the Southwest as much as my new Latino neighbors.