When Sam Hill And The Continental Divide Collide

A few days ago we had one of those discombobulated travel days when things sort off drift off the rails and annoying things happen. On a discombobulated day, your water bottle spills in your back pack, and you forget important things like maps, or your bathing suit.  You might temporarily lose your keys in the desert,  and your camera battery might die in the most beautiful place you have ever been.

The key to keeping chronic discombobulation at bay while traveling is to stay  organized yet flexible, but sometimes, like a thick fog, discombobulation rolls in and the only thing to do is become transcendent.

We both wanted a solid hike that day, but I really, really wanted one because my entire sense of  well being is predicated on being physically fit. For one reason or another, I had been way too sedentary for too many days and my back was starting to ache menacingly. The stage was set for galloping discombobulation.

Because we tend to take our good luck for granted sometimes, we went into the Gila Mountains along Route 15 without a good map, thinking we would stumble into something fun. That particular stretch of road traverses the Continental Divide and is a great place to hike and take pictures.

We pulled into a likely spot but were put off by a Mennonite family, figuring that if they planned to hike in long dresses and leather work boots, then the hike was too short. Before we left the parking lot, we asked an outdoorsy looking guy about good trails, and he directed us to something that sounded perfect. The trail he described ascended to 900 feet  for about a mile and a half and ended with beautiful views from the fire tower at the top.

His directions were perfect, but because we are used to a huge national forest service presence where everything is clearly marked, labeled and mapped out, we could not find the trail head. He had mentioned that there was a seven-mile drive up the mountain, or a three-mile hike.

I had gotten the strong impression that the hike and the drive were an either/or situation, but My Royal Consort firmly believed that the seven-mile drive and the three-mile hike were somehow related. Unsure of whether the road we had found was the seven-mile road the guy had referred to, we decided to take it anyway.

As you would expect, the Continental Divide is dramatic, with plunging canyons and towering rock walls, but we had temporarily forgotten about the exciting geography after we read the sign at the bottom that coyly suggested using a high clearance vehicle but said nothing about four wheel drive, life insurance and Depends.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you already know that I have the power to telepathically control the forward trajectory of the vehicle I am riding in. I am both passenger and driver, and without my constant vigilance, we would surely perish in a fiery wreck.

When you get to the top of this hill, you cannot see the bottom because it is like a roller coaster.

When you get to the top of this hill, you cannot see the bottom because it is like a roller coaster.

What I failed to admit to in that post, due to my innate sense of modesty and decorum, is the fact that much of my passenger-as-driver powers originate in my sphincter. For example, when we get to the top of one of those staggering hills that pop up in the southwest, and I cannot see the road ahead because the descent is so precipitous, the sphincter automatically kicks in just in case the road has actually ended and we are about to drive off a cliff into the void.

There are certain drives, like that section of Route 15 between Silver City, New Mexico and the Gila Cliff Dwellings, that require strong sphincter management to keep the car safely on the road.

The unmarked dirt road that we had embarked upon looked benign enough when we first set out, winding along at a gentle grade for the first mile. As we ascended via switchbacks overlooking deep ravines, the Auto Sphincter System had not yet kicked in. It wasn’t until the ravines became canyons and the patches of snow turned into four inches of continuous snow in the road that I felt the need to deploy the ASS.

We finally got to the top, where we figured out that the trail head was easily accessible from Route 15 had we only looked closer at the sign. We dutifully climbed the fire tower, got back in the truck and headed down the snowy, single lane dirt road. My telepathic powers ensured that we met no other vehicles, a contingency that was too awful to contemplate. Had such a contingency arisen, it would have been classified as “Squirt Worthy”—a designation given to only the direst driving circumstances when the ASS  completely fails. In these situations, it is helpful to have a few convenience bags available.

Our little drive up the mountain had consumed three twisting, turning, lurching, nauseous, anxious hours. I had gotten carsick right out of the gate, and by the time we were done, I was more dead than alive.

There comes a time on a discombobulated day when one person, usually the carsick one, takes a time out for the good of the mission. I went off to the clubhouse at the campground and tried to write, but was distracted by various people who wanted to know about our Casita and how it was that my husband and I weren’t divorced from living in such close quarters.

Feeling revived after my stint in the clubhouse, My Royal Consort and I decided to go out for dinner and have some fun.

The southwest does not concern itself with any of the various dietary permutations like vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free diets that are so pervasive in the northeast. The southwest concerns itself with meat, cheese, beans and lard. Eating out is generally an occasion for culinary mischief, but every once in a while it is fun to roll the dice and see what can be done with a pound of fake cheese, a can of refried beans and some jalapeno peppers.

Since I had been such a pant-load all day, I agreed to go out, never dreaming that My Royal Consort would get all adventurous on me and venture back up the cursed Route 15 to an unknown place called The Buckhorn Saloon.

As we blundered along in the dark, I envisioned some faux Wild West themed restaurant that smelled of dirty mop water and fryolater grease, complete with “wanted” signs and swinging doors. In my head I was making up snarky remarks about the Fuckhorn Saloon in bumfuck and hoping My Royal Consort got chiggers.

IMG_0647After traveling down a pitch-black road into a hamlet called Pinos Altos, a place so tiny and obscure that our GPS couldn’t find it, we came to a beautiful and authentic old saloon situated next to an opera house of the same vintage.

Stepping into the place, we were greeted by some raunchy old vernacular murals of prostitutes, a stone fireplace with a fire, beautiful woodwork and a long wooden bar. The bar had a good assortment of beer and there were

The Buckhorn Saloon

The Buckhorn Saloon

several items on the menu that did not involve meat, cheese and lard. Before long, the earlier missteps of the day were all but forgotten, and a singer started to set herself up by the fireplace.

Like most independent musicians, she was working her butt off—driving several hours from her home base in Las Cruces to play a gig at the Buckhorn Saloon in the middle of nowhere—and she was really good.

As the night went on, we had a stellar conversation about kids, music, racism, and mole sauce with a Mexican American family from California. We met several other interesting people, but the best part was making the acquaintance of Sam Hill, Moose, and Blake

Sam Hill and his posse came blazing in during the second set, dressed in hunting camo and reeking of wood smoke and cigarettes. Right away we were caught up in their cheerful, moonshine -fueled (legit!) orbit. Sam was clearly the ringleader. He was a little drunk, but not any more than anyone else, and it was obvious that drunk or sober, he was a naturally exuberant and friendly guy.

Moose was missing his teeth but had plenty of hair on his head and face. He was a talented cowboy poet who recited several of his poems to us while we stood in a tight circle around him and breathed in his beery breath. Sam explained that he was taking care of Moose, who was finally rehabilitated and completely destitute after serving two, non-consecutive prison sentences.

Lane was a little quieter, but when we drew him out we learned that he was a fountain of information about gold mining and rock hounding. He lived in a cabin on the hill near Little Cherry Creek. His wife had left him for lack of plumbing back in the Eighties.

Our instinct for self preservation and the rumored mandatory $5,000 fine for even thinking about driving drunk in New Mexico drove us out of the bar and back down the mountain to our campsite.

Who knows where you will be when the fog finally lifts.


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  1. Al says:

    Great adventure. Thanks again for sharing. Of the 4 food groups you mentioned which ended with “lard” you could have included whiskey, definitely a western survival staple.

    1. admin says:

      Yes, or in my case, wine, because wine is cheap here! Really cheap in Texas!

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