Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Good Day at the Pass

They turned on the river yesterday.  It seemed like a good time to drive way across town and revisit the mountains.

For much of the year our part of the Rio Grande is a river of sand but in spring, they open the gates at the reservoirs upstream and it flows, brown and fetid, into Texas and Mexico. Near the Mesilla bridge, two cars were parked and guys were sitting in folding chairs, fishing.  Hundreds of miles to the north, the Rio Grande roars between high cliffs and anglers catch trout.  I don’t want to know what, if anything, they catch down here.

When we first drove out University Avenue almost three decades ago, Dripping Springs Road and Baylor Canyon Road were rocky, pitted, narrow passages, little better than jeep tracks.  Now almost the entire route is paved and the section that isn’t has been widened, scraped and covered with “crusher fine” gravel.  Smooth.

I presume the road improvements, and the other refinements we noted, were paid for with federal funds that accompanied the designation of the new Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National monument, which embraces the Dripping Springs recreation area, the Baylor Pass trail, the Aguirre Springs campground and recreation area, and much more. Lois wanted to photograph the golden poppy fields at Aguirre Springs.  We took the scenic route.

Poppies in the Organ Foothills
It had been so long since we last went over there that we were surprised by the enhancements the monument designation had spawned, and by the sheer beauty of being up close to the mountains.  New signs and markers have been placed at various points, with text explaining how the mountains came to be, where the old Lost Padre Mine was, the stories of the padre, the Hermit, Col. Baylor and his great Civil War victory. The new regime in Washington wants to give all these public lands back to the states and to private interests which will exploit and spoil them for a brief spree of obscene profit. The Republican who represents this district fought the national monument for a decade.  Our U.S.  senators and other saner voices prevailed, but now the people-haters and climate-deniers want to tear apart everything we’ve gained.

How, I wondered, as we paused at Organ Peak Road for picture-taking, could anyone with a soul, a brain, a shred of humanity, want to end the protections of these places? The sun was intense, the sky virtually cloudless.  Others were about, exploring and enjoying the monument.  California, Minnesota, Nevada, Iowa, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Wisconsin.  On our second or third visit here we had seen only one non-local vehicle, driven by a nurse from El Paso whose boyfriend helped us change a tire on the Jeep. Now we were part of a flow of tourists.  Tourists spend money for local goods and services.  Recent studies have shown that all of the newer national parks and monuments have been economic boons for local businesses.  Yet here, and in Utah, especially, the congressional fruitcakes of the GOP want to dismantle them and let the corporate bloodsuckers dig and drill and despoil.  Madness.

Monument money at last has enabled the Bureau of Land Management to replace the stolen marker that tells the story of Baylor Pass.  During the Civil War, a Union battalion was stationed at Mesilla,  It had its own hospital and medical staff.  Among its stores was a supply of medicinal whiskey.  One day the Pinkertons, as was their wont, reported to the Union commander that a far superior Confederate force was on its way.  The order to retreat was sounded and many of the troops, rather than letting the stuff fall into Johnny Reb’s hands, filled their canteens with whiskey rather than water. By the time they had traversed the 13 miles over hot, arid desert to the foot of the nearest pass over the Organs, most of them were sick and drunk.  Some had even ditched their weapons and gear.  When the six or seven mounted troops of the Confederate advance unit overtook them, the entire battalion surrendered to Col. John Robert Baylor’s men. The pass where these events took place is now named for the man who won this great victory.

It’s a short jaunt to Aguirre Springs from the end of Baylor Canyon Road, via U.S. Highway 70.  The road follows St, Augustine Pass from whose  7,500-foot summit one has a sweeping view of the Organs, the San Andres and the White Sands Missile Range.  The road from the highway to Aguirre Springs borders an artillery range.  Little puffs of smoke rose in the distance to the east.  We scanned the western slopes for poppy fields.

We had missed the peak season, which had come a little earlier than usual this year.  Lois, who is passionate about these poppies, spotted a few patches, glittering golden in the bright sunlight.  She made many pictures.

It was a good day.  As always in the west, we wondered how many more such days there would be before the bad guys had their way with the land.

1 comment:

  1. One of my fondest memories is of the poppy fields near Pleasanton CA where my Dad was stationed in 1945 at a nearby Navy base. For years my favorite color was orange. A couple of years ago on the way to northern CA we took a side trip to Lancaster/Palmdale to see the poppy fields. A poppy festival is celebrated there. Just as you experienced we missed the peak season, but it was memorable nonetheless.