Cimarron Road Trip


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Cimarron Road Trip

Since I bought a 2017 Chevy Volt near the end of December I haven't taken many round trips that exceeded its electric range. This weekend seemed like a good time to splurge. I hit the road to Taos about 0630, not knowing whether this would be just a day trip or the start of a long weekend.

Surprisingly, the highway from Santa Fe to Taos is mostly downhill. Because traffic was light I had the luxury of driving a little more slowly, and I made it all the way out of the gorge - 69 miles - before the gas generator turned on.

The Volt got its first tank of gas in Cimarron. 1650 miles on the nose, and 6.187 gallons. The next tank won't cover so much distance, so I'll just savor that nearly 267 mpg. It's like a throwback to the first few weeks with my 1990 Honda CRX HF :)

Coming around a bend in the mountain forest between Taos and Angel Fire I saw a ramrod straight prairie dog watching from the uphill shoulder. Like those in Santa Fe this one was already fat enough to look like a little brown traffic cone. I laughed out loud at the sight.

Then I almost hit one.

The road was thick with prairie dogs from this point all the way to Eagle Nest. They were often practically lying down on the shoulder of the road, nibbling I know not what.

Angel Fire and Eagle Nest already had strong winds by 0830-0930. To the northeast of Eagle Nest turkey vultures were launching off a bluff.

I had thought I might want to camp somewhere in Cimarron Canyon State Park, but decided against it. The weather promised to become hot and a bit sticky, and I found the abundance of trucks with Texas plates and Trump bumper stickers ruined the ambience. (The few Texan humans I saw were nice; they were mostly quiet fishermen preparing to wade into the mountain stream.)

I drove all the way to Philmont. It had also crossed my mind to visit either Villa Philmonte or the Ernest Thompson Seton library. In the end I decided not to stop. It felt a little strange approaching Philmont again, and suddenly thinking it strange that Roy Manning wasn't there.

Shortly after crossing onto Philmont property I saw three or four pronghorn on the prairie to the east. I couldn't see it from this direction, but later saw the stock pond that they'd been milling around. This was the thing I really wanted to see, and I was glad I didn't need to drive all the way down I-25 to see them.

I turned around at the parking lot outside the Philmont administrative buildings and headed back toward Cimarron. The lot was more than 80% full. I don't know if the season has begun, but they're definitely staffed up.

Today Taos Mesa Brewing was hosting a Matanza by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. Its purpose was to encourage people to oppose either dismembering or reducing the size of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, and to thank local military veterans for their service. These two goals were more closely related than I would have guessed.

One speaker described the importance of the monument as a wildlife migration corridor. He noted that removing monument status - an action sure to meet many legal barriers - would allow for the types of destruction that had been attempted before the monument was created. Never mind oil and gas wells - someone had actually planned to route long distance electric transmission lines along/through the gorge back in the early 2000s. Though he didn't mention it, the first example that came to my mind was a plan from 2007 or so to build a wind farm on the Taos plateau.

Two military veterans followed. They told how the Monument and the Taos Mountains were being used to help combat veterans heal. They related personal stories about how many of their friends had committed suicide, unable to live among people after being so strongly conditioned to constantly be on guard; and how time in the open, uninhabited monument had helped them tamp down the need to constantly "check six". If the monument were opened for development, they would lose one of the few places where they can feel comfortable in the world.

I can still hear the first veteran's forceful voice, on the edge of breaking with emotion, with Norteño cadence: "You don't know what you got till it's gone."

Shortly after I sat down, a fellow named Ray Powell came up and introduced himself. I did not know that he had been New Mexico Land Commissioner before, or what the Land Commissioner does. As it turns out he has been commissioner for a long time, from 1993-2002 and from 2011-2014. He was regional director for the Jane Goodall Institute from 2006-2010; it sounds like he is still involved with the institute. He was also executive director of the Valles Calder National Preserve in 2004-2005. One of his interests as land commissioner is to do more than simply take in extraction fees from oil and gas; he has already pushed for land commission properties - like universities and industrial parks - to install solar electric panels; and now he wants to use some of that oil and gas money to build transmission lines to get those (mostly off-grid, so far) solar electric installations to feed into the regional grid.

Also there was music: a mariachi band, and a duo who played traditional dance music from southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.