Posts Tagged ‘Raton NM’

The Folsom site is a speck in northeastern New Mexico’s grand sweeping landscape, a mix of long black mesas, volcanic cinder cones and grassy swaths. Here Cattle is King and giant local ranches with names like the TO and the Cross L have been in families for generations.  Cattle, horses, deer and pronghorn definitely outnumber human residents.

At the Base of Johnson Mesa © SR Euston

The range in May is light green and tan, dappled with cloud shadows and speckled with white locoweed, purple verbena and brilliant orange-red paintbrush. Heading east out of Raton on US 64, we pass between mesas and old wind-worn cinder cones. Over 100 of these remnants dot the Raton/Clayton volcanic field which covers 8000 square miles of New Mexico, an area the size of Massachusetts. The largest, to our south, is Sierra Grande, a spectacular shield volcano, visible for miles around.

North on State Route 325 is Capulin Volcano National Monument, a beautifully conical volcano, which rises over 1000 feet from the plain. A narrow road (with no guard rails and sheer drop-offs) winds up the volcano and ends at a parking lot about 100 feet from the summit. From there trails lead down into the crater and around its rim. The view from the Rim Trail is amazing. On clear days you can see five states: New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas. Folsom is five miles north.

We return to Raton on the northern route via State Road 7 across Johnson Mesa where the 1908 flood originated. Two thousand feet above the plateau, Johnson Mesa is a breathtaking fourteen mile long, six mile wide sky island, hovering above the volcano field to the south and Colorado high plains which you can see to the north. There are no trees at all, just remnant volcano cones,  green rolling grass and depressions filled with rainwater.

Bell Church, Johnson Mesa © SR Euston

Occasional abandoned ranch buildings are all that’s left of the homesteaders who ventured up here in 1887. For a while the community of Bell thrived on the mesa top but brutal winters and the too-short growing season drove the settlers back down to the valleys below. Currently no one lives on the mesa year round. What’s left are two cemeteries and the stone Methodist Episcopal Church. And the grazing cattle.  In the late afternoon sun, we spot a herd of pronghorn bounding gracefully across what could be mistaken for the African veldt.

Next: The Folsom Site Tour

From Capulin Volcano © SR Euston

Johnson Mesa Toward Evening © SR Euston


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To many, New Mexico is an almost mythic place. This Land of Enchantment casts its “spell” (as New Mexico native son Tony Hillerman described it) over people–with its piñon-scented, adobe-walled towns, its crystalline sky, its junipered mountains, its desert dryness.

I’ll admit it: Those were exactly the traits that swept me off my feet one February night 30 years ago when our car broke down on the Plaza in Santa Fe. Even though we endured a long, cold (and embarrassing) push of that 1979 Ford Fairmont wagon into a nearby parking lot, those love-at-first-sight qualities have never ceased to enchant me.

The Palace Hotel, Raton © SR Euston

But in the intervening years my love for New Mexico has matured beyond our iconic destinations. Now I choose to travel New Mexico’s glorious back roads to visit its less celebrated locales: some bypassed by interstates, others left behind by change and time, many now reduced to mere widenings of the road. These places tell another story about New Mexico’s landscapes, its heritage, its future. This is the New Mexico I’ve married.

I have three framed photos of New Mexico on my desk. One is the colonnaded, arched-stone framed doors of Raton’s old, once elegant, now vacant Palace Hotel.

Johnson Mesa © SR Euston

The second is a herd of white-faced Herefords on Johnson Mesa. They are jostling for position as they form a mostly straight line, expectant, hoping we will provide hay.The third is a photo of me standing beside the roadside barbed wire fence, looking out on the emptiness of the Plains of San Agustin. To me, these photos offer three glimpses of what really makes this the Land of Enchantment: the wide open landscape, the small town, the cattle.

I’ve always loved maps and the cartographic idea of ground truthing the territory. I’ve always liked to walk the ground to see for myself if what I’ve been told is true. That’s what I’ve been doing around this territory for 30 years. And it’s certainly no lie: there is a spell to New Mexico.

Plains of San Agustin © SR Euston

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