The Spanish called it Jornada del Muerto, “Journey of the Dead,” and traveling through Southern New Mexico’s desert, you might think it’s aptly named.
Even as it parallels the Rio Grande, Interstate 25 looks mighty bleak.
I cheat, of course, starting my road trip a bit farther north in Bernalillo, a blossoming art community on old Route 66, simply because I like saying the name.
Bernalillo … Bernalillo … Bernalillo.
Maybe it’s heat stroke. Actually, it’s the plate of blue corn enchiladas at the
I-25 bustles with life along the northern corridor: Albuquerque … Santa Fe … Las Vegas … Valmora … Okay, scratch that last one. In Albuquerque, you’ll find Deana McGuffin carrying on her father and grandfather’s tradition in a one-woman cowboy boot shop. You’ll find Tony Hillerman, Max Evans and a Triple-A baseball team (Albuquerque Isotopes) that takes its name from a Simpsons episode.
But if you ask most tourists, south of Albuquerque is a Dead Man’s Walk.
Funny, this Journey of the Dead seems full of life.
The spirituality of Tome … the homemade burritos of Belen … the desert solitude of Socorro … and a pit stop (all that tea at the Range Cafe) in San Antonio, where a hotel gent named Conrad Hilton was born.
Sandhill cranes, eagles and bird lovers flock to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, which is full of life (and mosquitoes), while a few miles to the east, in the middle of the Jornada, sits the Trinity Site, where the world changed in 1945 with the detonation of the first atomic bomb. Yes, there are times when Jornada del Muerto is aptly named.
Just down the road from the Bosque, though, stand the crumbling ruins of Fort Craig, now a national historic site. Confederate forces earned an 1862 victory at the Battle of Valverde nearby. I have Fort Craig to myself before venturing back to the interstate.
No life? Why you’ve never seen the lights on Elephant Butte Reservoir at night or bitten into a green chile cheeseburger at Truth or Consequences, which got its name from a game show. (Bob Barker has that kind of power?)
A lifeless desert? Shoot, turn off at Caballo and check out Hillsboro, where Oliver Lee and James Gililland were acquitted of the murder of attorney Albert Jennings Fountain’s son (and, de facto, Mr. Fountain, too) in the “trial of the century” in 1899. Or reap the benefits of chile (hey, New Mexico’s state question is “Red or Green?”) in Hatch.
I also have Fort Selden State Monument to myself (and the park ranger) when I visit this historic site in Radium Springs. Douglas MacArthur walked along these trails back when his dad commanded the post in the 1880s.
I don’t have the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum to myself in Las Cruces. This 47-acre interactive facility that examines the state’s 3,000-year-old agricultural history is full of visitors.
Of course, on the Journey of the Dead, Las Cruces has its share of graves. Pat Garrett was gunned down not far from here in 1908 and is buried in the Masonic cemetery on Compress Road. A headstone marks the passing of lawyer Fountain, too, although his body was never found (one reason for that acquittal up in Hillsboro).
Over in Old Mesilla, Billy the Kid was convicted of the murder of Sheriff William Brady, setting up his escape from the Lincoln County courthouse in 1881 (no, the building wasn’t a tourist trap then).
My journey’s over, and I’m heading to La Posta for a margarita and more enchiladas.
Yes, life is always good on the Journey of the Dead.
Road warrior Johnny D. Boggs recommends the Range Cafe in Bernalillo and La Posta in Old Mesilla.