Archive for June, 2012

Checking in from Carrizozo, NM …

As we travel through many towns of the west it is interesting to stop and walk through the local cemeteries as each one is so different from what we are familiar with on the east coast. The older sections of a cemetery, meaning graves of those born in the early 1800’s and who died before the twentieth century, make you stop and think what life was like then and what means did their love ones or others have to bury them and provide a grave site marker. “Boot Hill”, in the west alludes to the fact that many of its occupants were cowboys who “died with their boots on,” the implication here being they died violently, as in gunfights or by hanging, and not of natural causes and most of these died before they were forty. There are many such graves in New Mexico, which only have a large stone or wooden cross to mark their site and no name or date scratched on the marker. The immediate families or loved ones of these souls are probably long gone and not around to maintain to maintain the cemetery. Within the cemetery there are crumbling retaining walls, tilted monuments, and unstable fences. Some may have a cast iron gate around them or a stack of available rocks from the area. Wooden headboards and iron markers are staples of the western cemetery throughout the late nineteenth century. There are weeds and scrub brush replacing what was once there, but the scenery gives the visitor a hint of the Wild West. As you read the epitaphs honoring the dead or notice the newer stones made of highly polished granite, you cannot help but notice the mix of wood, marble, wrought iron, and simple wood pickets. These cemeteries are an interesting mix where the past meets the present.

Not far from Lincoln is Fort Stanton, which was founded in 1855 to protect settlements of the Hondo Valley from the rampaging tribes in the Apache Wars. The fort operated until 1899 with an interruption from 1862 to 1864 when Confederate forces occupied the facility. (We had no idea that the Civil War had reached this far west.) When the fort reopened under the US Army in 1864, the first commandant was Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson.

In 1899, President William McKinley closed the fort and had it converted to the first tuberculosis hospital in the nation. The hospital and research facility were limited to naval, marine and merchant marine servicemen. Seems a little strange that ocean-going men would end up being treated in the high country of New Mexico, but the dry, hot climate was considered ideal for treatment of the disease. There is a cemetery near Fort Stanton where 1,840 mariners are buried. The view from this site is fantastic, but it is a little unusual to see the cemetery marked with anchors and maritime markings. Fort Stanton also served one other purpose before its final closing. It was an internment location for Germans and some Japanese during World War II.

From Lincoln and the legend of Billy the Kid, my next destination was the town of Capitan. With a slight smell of smoke in the air from the New Mexico fires to the south, it was appropriate that I was entering the home of Smokey the Bear. In the spring of 1950 after a huge and horrendous fire, a badly burned black bear cub was found in the Capitan Gap near the body of his mother. Rescued by veterinarians, the cub was originally named Hotfoot Teddy. He soon was renamed Smokey, however, and he became the real life version of the mascot of the US Forest Service. Smokey spent the next 26 years at the National Zoo in Washington, DC. When he died in 1976, his remains were returned to Capitan where he was buried at the Smokey Bear Historical Park.

Walking the next day from Capitan to Carrizozo through the gorgeous Capitan Mountains, the elevation peaked at 7,000 feet at Indian Divide. The path then wound down to a high desert mesa with rough buffalo grass, scattered and stunted mesquite trees and more frequent cacti. Just west of Carrizozo, we came upon an almost unbelievable landscape that we had seen from Google aerial maps but couldn’t quite understand. It was what the Spanish conquistadors of the 16th century had described as the impassable Malpais or badlands. Now called the Valley of Fires, the area is actually the youngest lava flow in the continental US with its latest flow having occurred between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago. The flow erupted from volcanic vents at the northern end of the Tularosa Basin on at least two occasions and has created a field of broken black lava that measures 44 miles long, up to two miles wide and as much as 160 feet deep. At our overnight parking space at the Valley of Fires Recreation Area on a high ridge, the view is spectacular. What appears to be a black gash in the earth from the aerial shots, is more like an amazing moonscape up close if the surface of the moon had cacti spurting from the broken lava. Truly a beautiful view as the sun dips behind the mountains and cast shadows on the area.

Today at Valley of Fires, we met a group of 6 cyclists and their support team, Journey of Hope, biking across the US. This group was created by Push America (www.PushAmerica.org) and is the largest fraternal fundraiser of its kind. The Journey of Hope covers 32 different states, cycling over 12,000 miles combined and is solely comprised of members of Pi Kappa Phi whose goal is to spread a message of acceptance and understanding for people with disabilities.

Heading west over the next few days toward San Antonio, NM with parking for the RV a possible challenge. Wish us luck and safe travel.

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Checking in from Lincoln, NM …

We apologize that this blog has been delayed. Internet access is spotty and often unavailable in central New Mexico.
The terrain finally changed as I wound down from the high plains on Sunday, June 24 and arrived in the beautiful Hondo Valley. Small sparsely covered mountains rim the fertile, green valley floor which has been occupied by humans for over 12,000 years. The earliest occupants with a recorded history were the Jordana Mogollon people who lived in round, semi-subterranean houses from about 900-1450 AD. Apaches followed and controlled the area until the mid-1800s when the ranchers and farmers moved into the valley supported by the US Army.

Three small rivers (Rio Ruidoso, Rio Bonito and Rio Hondo) wind through the lowlands, but the lushness is also attributed to an extensive network of acequias (a-seh-key-ahs) or irrigation canals that have evolved over the centuries. The acequias are well maintained to this day and are owned by a cooperative of the local farmers. Over the years, the valley has been a grazing area for goats, sheep, cattle and horses and a rich producer of corn, wheat, beans and cabbage. In recent years, it has also proven to be an excellent orchard property with groves of apple, pear, peach, lemon, lime and cherry trees.

For a cowboy buff like me, however, the historical centerpiece of this area is the town of Lincoln, home to the famed Lincoln County War (1878-1881). Most historians consider Lincoln “the most unchanged and authentic old west town remaining in the US.” Due to the Lincoln County War, Lincoln also has the dubious distinction of being “the most violent town in western American history.” President Rutherford B. Hayes called the single street that runs through town (now Highway 380) “the most dangerous street in America.”

The War was a capitalist struggle brought about when wealthy Englishman John Tunstall opened a mercantile general store in Lincoln to compete with the monopoly of the L. G. Murphy Company store while Murphy was also losing a major contract to cattle baron John Chisum to supply beef to the Mescalero Apache Indians and the US Army at nearby Fort Stanton. Murphy and his protégé James Dolan, backed by Santa Fe politicians, deputized a group of gunmen known as “the Boys” to try to protect their interests. These so-called deputies murdered Tunstall and began systematically rustle Chisum’s herds. Tunstall’s partner Alexander McSwain and Chisum sought revenge and formed their own arm of the law called “the Regulators” with the approval of the US Marshall. One of the Regulators was a 19 year old named William Bonney (aka Billy the Kid). County residents quickly chose sides, and mayhem and anarchy followed. Murder, thievery, rustling, rape and destruction of rival property were the order of the day.

Of all the crimes that took place during the Lincoln County War, only one man, Billy Bonney, was ever tried, convicted and sentenced for his actions. All the rest received a pardon from New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace (who also achieved later fame as the author of the book Ben Hur). The Kid’s crime was the murder of Sheriff Will Brady, one of the Boys. Billy was sentenced to hang in Lincoln on May 13, 1981, but he made his famous escape from the jail on April 28, killing his two guards. Billy rode out of town and headed to Fort Sumner in neighboring Chaves County. His former mentor, cattleman John Chisum, turned on Billy and sent new Sheriff Pat Garrett to bring the Kid back dead or alive. Garrett ambushed and killed Billy the Kid as he was visiting a girlfriend in Fort Sumner—the last casualty of the Lincoln County War.

Lincoln is as billed, very much unchanged but well maintained. The little town has six museums and almost all of the original buildings including the jail and courthouse from which Billy escaped, Tunstall’s mercantile and Murphy’s store. In addition to Billy Bonney and Pat Garrett, tiny Lincoln’s former residents have included the scout Kit Carson and General John “Blackjack” Pershing. A trip to Lincoln is a step into the old west and a must-see stop for any western history and cowboy fan. Needless to say, this has been a favorite stop for Brenda and me.

From Lincoln, we continue on Highway 380 through Capitan and Carrizozo and on to higher elevations and points west. We are thoroughly enjoying the rugged and changing scenery.

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Checking in from Roswell, NM …

For 65 years, Roswell has been the center of a UFO controversy.  On July 5, 1947, a ranch hand named Mac Brazel was checking for damage to fences and line shacks following a particularly severe thunderstorm the previous evening.  He stumbled upon a field of metallic debris that he could not identify.  He turned the material over to the Chaves County Sheriff who subsequently delivered it to the Roswell Army Air Field.  On July 8, the Army Air Corp (a predecessor to the Air Force) issued a press release stating that a “flying disk” had been found, and the Roswell Daily Record headlined that a “flying saucer had been captured.”    But on July 9, the Pentagon got involved and rescinded the earlier announcement, stating that the materials found were part of a radar deflector being tested as part of Project Mogul, a Cold War initiative.  The issue simmered until the 1970’s when Major Jesse Marcel, who had been involved in retrieval of the materials in 1947, asserted that the Pentagon’s efforts were part of a cover-up.  He stated that the Roswell debris was definitely not part of any radar or weather device.  The material was covered in hieroglyphics and was extremely light like balsa wood but was very hard yet flexible and would not burn.  At about the same time, an internal memo from the FBI surfaced that supposedly stated that three flying saucers had been found near Roswell in the late 1940s along with nine life forms, three foot high green creatures, that had been whisked off to the super secret Area 51 near Las Vegas, Nevada for study.

The conspiracy theorists had a field day and a controversy that lives on to this day.  At least two movies, Roswell and Fire in the Sky, have been made about the 1947 events.  Roswell has embraced the controversy as a tourist attraction with a UFO Museum and almost every business featuring little green men.  For most it’s all in good fun, and Roswell and UFOs have become synonymous as part of the most publicized of all alleged UFO incidents.

Roswell’s history, of course, goes back to well before any alien invasion.  In 1542, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado documents camping at what almost certainly is the Pecos River near Roswell as he searched for the mythical Seven Cities of Gold.  Coronado never found the gold, but he did lose enough horses on his journey through the area that the local Indian tribes would no longer be pedestrian for the next three hundred years.

The Roswell area is also the home of John Simpson Chisum who is recognized as the West’s most prominent cattleman.  He is the first to bring a herd of cattle to New Mexico Territory on the Goodnight-Loving Trail where he established his headquarters by the Pecos River on the Bosque Grande between Roswell and Fort Sumner.  From 1867 to 1880, Chisum’s ranch survived Indian raids, rustlers, droughts and devastating floods, and he was able to send over 200,000 beeves to Eastern markets.  Chisum was involved in the famed Lincoln County War between rival cattle barons as a friend of John Tunstall, the first casualty in this bloody conflict.  At first a friend of Billy Bonney (aka Billy the Kid), Chisum is the one who sent Pat Garrett to hunt down the Kid and ambush him in Fort Sumner.

The area around Roswell is so remote that we have had to park at an RV campground for several nights while Brenda ferried me to and from my starting and ending points on my walk, trips of up to 40 miles each way.  That will apparently be what we’ll have to do as we cross New Mexico.  Along the edge of the road on my walks through the ranchland, we have found numerous patches of something that looks very similar to the paw paw patches that spotted the broom sage fields around my home as a kid.  An inquiry to the Native Plant Society of New Mexico revealed that these local patches are either coyote gourds or buffalo gourds (the former has smooth fruit while the latter has ridges).  Paw paws or local gourds are baseball sized green fruits, inedible, that are ideal for the equivalent to hot weather “snowball” fights.  Brings back fond memories of battles with my cousin Drew when we were kids.

My path over the next few days is west of Roswell on Highway 70/380 toward the Capitan Mountains.  Wish us luck in navigating the challenging terrain and finding places to park our RV.

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WIDE OPEN PLAINS

Checking in from Caprock, NM …

New Mexico is different. The speed limit is 75 mph, and you need not have a permit to be packing (carrying a concealed weapon). Guess I’ll need to walk faster – don’t want to be road kill.

We have noticed an almost immediate change to the terrain in this state. In all directions, there appears to be nothing but wide-open spaces covered in spotty grass and an occasional stunted mesquite tree. It’s hard to portray the sense of what it is like being in the midst of this vast ocean of mostly flat plains. There are times when there are no buildings in sight, no animals, no people; just me, a seemingly endless road, some power lines and a whole lot of land. Thank goodness Brenda and Zuzu find me from time to time.

Outside of Tatum, I did come across a rarity—three other walkers—coming at me from the west. We stopped to visit. Turns out this a group of Pro Life supporters led by Catholic priest, Father John. There are 12 people in the group, walking in threes, 7.5 miles per shift, four shifts a day, a total of 30 miles a day. I was surprised to learn that they were walking almost the exact same route as me, just in reverse. They left the Santa Monica Pier on May 15, are headed to North Carolina and will then turn north to Washington, DC for a rally with other Pro Lifers over Labor Day weekend. We were able to share info that should help each of us on the completion of our respective trips. Regardless of one’s stance on their issue, Godspeed and safe travel to Father John’s group.

When I have seen the occasional animal, they are new to me. Saw my first live snake since Georgia, an 18 inch long beige creature with gray horizontal stripes. It was as interested in getting away from me as I was in staying clear of it. I’ve also seen my first jackrabbits. These are not the cottontails that are common to me. They are larger and thinner, beige or light gray in color, with long erect ears. And, boy, are they fast—fast as, well, a jackrabbit. Finally, we spotted two antelopes grazing on the prairie. We now know where the antelope roam.

Since I am only able to walk in the mornings due to the intense afternoon heat, we are staying a little longer on our overnight stops. We spent two nights in Tatum at a nice city park. The next scheduled stop on our path was to be Caprock, which turned out to be a just crossroads with a general store. No RV campground and no obvious place to park. When we stopped to talk to the owners of he store, a very nice couple named Jack and Reba Luce, they volunteered their small parking lot for the night. What a nice and welcome gesture. Hospitality like this helps us over some of the potentially rough spots on our trip. By the way, the Luces call themselves retired though they open the general store four hours a day and run a “hobby” herd of beef cattle. All on their “little” ranch that covers 17 sections. A section is 640 acres, so their ranch is just less than 11,000 acres in size. Retirement can be very busy.

Reba was feeding twelve cowboys the next day from a neighboring ranch on branding day. Brenda provided some help with the Jonathan Cheves, a nice young man who works for the Luces.

A new friend, Tom Thomas, has written a very nice article about my walk in his newsletter, The Cardinal Advisor, which goes out to a wide distribution including nearly every collegiate athletic department in the country. Tom is a renowned leadership instructor and strategic planner. It is great to have his support, and his kind words are truly appreciated. A link to the article appears on this website under the “News” icon.

For the next few days, I will be walking 15 to 17 miles each morning around Roswell, New Mexico on Highway 380. We are looking forward to the craziness that we have heard about this town. More on that in future blogs. Thanks for your continued interest and support.

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Checking in from Tatum, New Mexico …

After 32 days, my walk across Texas ended on Sunday as I entered New Mexico at crossroad called Bronco Crossing.  Both Brenda and I have thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Lone Star State.  From Jefferson in the east to Plains in the west, we have found Texans to be friendly, hospitable and genuinely interested in our journey and its purpose.

The Texas Bankers Association has been a huge help, and many local bankers provided parking for our RV, arranged publicity and in Garland and Fort Worth put together very nice ceremonies to promote our journey and heart health.  We were able to spend time with old and new friends and were gratified by the support of strangers who were interested in and in many cases contributed to our cause.

We also got to see the changing terrain from the Piney Woods, through the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex to the Plains of West Texas.  What a vast and beautiful state.  For a wantabe cowboy, I’ve loved the ranch land, the cattle and the absolutely gorgeous horses.  Even the sometimes terrific storms and the afternoon heat could not put a damper on our time here.  We’ve come to love Texas and will be back to visit in the future after my walk is complete.  Thank you, Texans!

Eight of eleven states have now been crossed with three remaining.  Over the upcoming weeks, we look forward to discovering New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California.  Hope you’ll continue to follow our progress and will keep supporting Heart Trek USA.

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Checking in from Denver City, Texas …

“I’m a Thousand Miles from Nowhere” is a song by one of my favorite country singers, Dwight Yoakum. I thought it appropriate for this blog as we are in some pretty remote territory, and we happen to be in Yoakum County, Texas. On the other hand, it may not be appropriate since I believe (and hope) that I am a thousand miles from the Santa Monica Pier. And we couldn’t be a thousand miles from nowhere—we are either smack dab in the middle of nowhere or we can surely see it from here.

This land on the very western edge of the Texas Panhandle is sparsely populated and is a mixture of large farms, small ranches and areas being returned to a native state of buffalo grass and mesquite. We’ve been told that the Federal government is actually paying the landowners to let the land go natural in order to lessen the dust and sand storms which are so common to the area. Just in the last two days from Lubbock, through Brownfield and on toward Plains, Texas, Brenda and I have experienced two such storms where the sky turns gold to brown, visibility drops and every surface (including skin, hair, eyes and teeth) gets coated with a gritty powder. The sand/dust storms start in the late afternoon or early evening when the winds kick up and are generally followed by some very serious thunderstorms. Thunder, lightning, high winds, torrential rain and hail appear to be the norm as the evenings cool from the hot afternoons. We’ve experienced several such storms from Dallas west. Sitting or trying to sleep inside a motor home with a fiberglass roof during one of these storms is like being inside a drum, a drum that is rocking on its chassis. Everything in Texas is big including the weather.

My walk on Saturday ended short of Plains, “Home to Cowboys and Cowgirls,” right at the edge of new oil fields. There is a strong, not to pleasant, smell of something like diesel fuel in the air. Must be what the locals refer to simply as “crude.” Another sand/dust storm was coming at me at the end of the walk. It was also pushing along a tumbleweed—the first but probably not last that I’ll encounter on the rest of my journey. Weather permitting, Sunday should be the last day in Texas with less than 25 miles remaining before we cross into New Mexico. Tatum is the next stop on the list as I walk down Highway 380 toward Area 51 and Roswell. I’ll be on the lookout for little green men.

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LUBBOCK AND BUDDY

Checking in from Wolfforth, Texas …

On Wednesday and Thursday, June 13 and 14, I walked from Idalou on the eastside through Lubbock to Wolfforth on the westside. The trip took longer than usual due to the pleasant interruptions of people wishing me well on my journey. Having seen a piece about Heart Trek USA on television Tuesday evening, scores of people honked their horn, slowed down and rolled down the window to shout encouragement, made the heart sign with their hands or pulled over just to talk about my trip. Several handed me donations to the American Heart Association. Maybe it’s my reflective vest, but I’m particularly popular with roadside construction crews. These are my peeps—I really appreciate them. Check out our Facebook page for photos of some of these folks. It’s amazing what a little publicity can generate. And it is gratifying to see the response that people have when they learn the purpose of my walk. In addition to individual donations, we received a nice contribution from Vista Bank in Lubbock, TX. Thanks to all our new friends and supporters.

In Lubbock, I walked along the south edge of the campus of Texas Tech University, a large and impressive school with a nice uniform look with buildings made of the local yellow brick. There is definitely a lot of Red Raider pride in West Texas.

Lubbock was an intentional inclusion on this trip, as it was the hometown of one of my favorite stars from the past:

Charles Hardin Holley, aka Buddy Holly

Brenda and I visited the Buddy Holly Center and Buddy Holly Plaza at the corner of 19th Street and Buddy Holly Avenue. The center is a tribute to this favorite son of Lubbock whose career as a pioneer of rock and roll was tragically cut short by his death, along with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, in a plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa on February 3, 1959. Buddy was only 22 years of age, but had recorded 25 songs including 10 top ten songs over just eighteen months. He has been called “the most influential creative force in early rock and roll.” Buddy and his group, the Crickets, were the first American rock group to tour Britain and Australia. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dave Clark Five and other groups that later formed the British invasion all emulated Buddy’s musical styling. Paul McCartney studied Buddy’s fingering on his famed Fender Stratocaster guitar. The Beatles were named as a tribute to the Crickets. Elton John took to wearing oversized eyeglasses to follow Buddy’s trade mark black rimmed glasses. In my opinion and that of many others, if Buddy Holly had lived, he would be the greatest name in the history of rock and roll music. Oh, what we missed by his death. As Don McLean later penned in his song “American Pie”, it was “…the day the music died.”

Here is a short list of some of Buddy Holly and the Crickets hit songs:
That’ll be the Day Rave On! Maybe Baby True Love Ways
Peggy Sue Oh, Boy! Every Day Not Fade Away
Long live the memory of Buddy Holly!

The highlight of my walk on Thursday was an encounter with an aerial crop duster. Flying a trademark yellow and blue Air Tractor (manufactured locally in nearby Olney, Texas), I watched in awe as this pilot made passes under power lines and just over the top of houses and moving transfer trucks. The aerobatics were phenomenal. This guy could have bested the Red Baron in a dogfight. The only downside—I think I got crop dusted.

On Friday, I head to Brownfield, Texas on Hwy 62, then turn west toward Plains, Texas and Tatum, New Mexico on Hwy 380. Hope all will keep following this journey. Thanks for your interest and support.

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