Cleaning Out the Ol’ Camera Roll #1

Gunther is a Frisbee Dog

I took this photo while Nancy and Gunther were playing Frisbee when we were staying in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in November. The RV park had very long dog runs, which provided the perfect opportunity for Gunther to work on his Frisbee skills. We first discovered that he could catch a Frisbee while we still lived in Denver, and it’s important to keep his skills sharp. We’d originally had a red Frisbee as well, but I inadvertently tossed it over the rock wall of the dog run the first time I threw it (the very first time it was thrown at all, in fact). My Frisbee skills are not sharp like Gunther’s.

Pancho Villa State Park

December 26, 2021

In the early morning hours of March 9, 1916, a group of Mexican nationals under the direction of General Pancho Villa raided the U.S. Army’s Camp Furlong and the nearby town of Columbus, New Mexico. The town and camp were about three miles north of the Mexican border. Villa’s soldiers, called “Villistas,” were the first foreign forces to attempt a ground attack on the continental United States since the War of 1812.

The reasons for the raid are still under debate more than a century later (and it’s not certain that Villa himself participated directly in the attack), but Mexico was in the midst of a violent and drawn-out revolution at the time and Villa may have been attempting retribution for the United States declaring its support for another political faction within Mexico. Others think that Villa was simply seeking to take the U.S. Army’s supplies and weapons at Camp Furlong to aid in his fight against Mexican rival Venustiano Carranza.

Whatever the motive, the attack resulted in the deaths of 10 American civilians and eight U.S. soldiers, and about 80 Villistas. The town of Columbus was also burned. Within a week, a U.S. Army force commanded by General John J. Pershing entered Mexico to bring Villa and his followers to justice. This “punitive expedition” lasted until February 1917, when the U.S. forces returned north of the border without having captured Villa. However, nearly 200 Villistas and a small number of U.S. Army troops had been killed during the expedition’s battles. The U.S. Army had sent about 5,000 soldiers deep into Mexico in pursuit of Villa, and Camp Furlong was extensively developed to support the expedition. The Mexican general was assassinated, most likely by a Mexican political rival, in 1923.

In the late morning hours of December 26, 2021, Nancy and I arrived at Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus (present day population: around 1,600). The park, 30 miles south of where we were camping in Deming, New Mexico, is on the same ground as Camp Furlong, which had been decommissioned by 1923. The park was established in 1959.

This is the view south from high atop Cootes Hill, a promontory in Columbus from which Villa directed the attack on the town and Camp Furlong. The hill was later became part of Camp Furlong as it expanded to support the pursuit of Villa in Mexico. Columbus is a little more than three miles north of the border, so the mountains in the distance are in Mexico. The campground at Pancho Villa State Park, with 52 campsites built on the former grounds of Camp Furlong, is in the middle foreground.
This early U.S. Army armored vehicle is positioned at the entrance to the park’s visitor center. This is an example of the height of military technology at the time of Pershing’s pursuit of Villa in 1916; compare and contrast this vehicle with the M26 tank (named after Pershing) that was in use in World War II less than 30 years later. While the Army’s pursuit of Pancho Villa and his forces didn’t result in Villa’s capture, the effort proved valuable in getting the U.S. Army ready, from troop readiness to vehicle development, for its actions in the European Theatre when the country entered World War I.
A replica of a Curtiss JN3 Jenny biplane is suspended above the other exhibits in the state park’s visitor center. Following the raid, Camp Furlong established the first tactical military airfield in the United States, and airplanes like the Jenny provided aerial observation and communication services for the U.S. Army as it chased Villa’s forces in Mexico.
Pursuing Villa’s forces across the rough country of northern Mexico necessitated the use of new technology on wheels, including this large truck, in addition to the U.S. Cavalry’s stock of horses and mules. The text above the grille reads “The Four Wheel Drive Auto Co., Clintonville, Wis.”
This 1916 Dodge touring car is identical to the model that Pershing used as his mobile field office while in Mexico. Concurrent with the rapid development of mass-produced motor vehicles in the United States, the actions against Villa transitioned the U.S. Cavalry from a horse- and mule-based command to that which relied on motorized vehicles. Pershing would go on to command the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I – for which he’d gained valuable experience in Mexico.
The museum at the state park has an extensive collection of military equipment, including weapons, vehicles, uniforms and more, from the pre-World War I era. The slim profile of this 1916 Army medical manual gave me pause. I enjoy putting historical events in chronological context and it’s interesting to think that 50 years prior to the publication of this manual, the U.S. had just emerged from its own Civil War; 50 years later, it would be fighting another war, this one in Vietnam.
Some of Camp Furlong’s original infrastructure, such as a raised concrete area in which soldiers changed the oil on newfangled Army trucks, is still to be found in the state park’s campground. Pershing’s expedition to locate Villa was the first time that the U.S. Army used motorized vehicles, including trucks and airplanes, in a campaign; up to that point, it’d been horses and mules (which were also used, of course, in the pursuit of Villa).
You’re looking east from the Pancho Villa State Park Campground. On the other side of this campsite’s shaded picnic table and a highway that will take you to Mexico (located three miles south) is the site of the first U.S. military airfield. It was from this location that daring young men took to the skies in their mighty Curtiss Jennies, soaring southward to keep tabs on the Villinistas. El Paso, Texas (and Ciudad Juárez in Mexico) are about 75 miles to the east, as the roadrunner runs.
I’ll close with something completely different at Pancho Villa State Park: I was pleasantly surprised to still find blooming wildflowers in late December. This pretty flower is the desert marigold, which is native to the southwestern United States and north-central Mexico; it grows about a foot tall. The state park has an impressive collection of wildflowers and succulents in gardens between the visitor center and the campground.

Some may wonder, and Nancy and I believe rightly so, why there’s a New Mexico state park named after a person who attacked the United States. According to signage at the park, the New Mexico state legislature, in 1959, designated the park in Villa’s name “in recognition of the subsequent long continued friendly relations of the two countries.” Villa had, in turns, been both a friend and foe to the United States, and his story, as well as that of the Mexican Revolution in which he was a major participant, is a complex one. In any case, there’s much to be learned about U.S. history and Mexican history, and the relations between the two countries, at Pancho Villa State Park. Nancy and I had both heard of Pancho Villa prior to our visit to this state park, but our familiarity with him and his exploits ended with just knowing his name. The exhibits at the state park rectified that and encouraged us to learn more about the people involved on both sides of the border, and we enjoyed our visit quite a lot.

Military Exhibits At and Near the Deming Luna Mimbres Museum

December 11, 2021

The history museum in Deming has a large room devoted to military artifacts, reflecting the U.S. military’s impact in this part of southwestern New Mexico dating back to the U.S. Civil War period – and those from the Deming area who later served their country around the world.

Fort Cummings

There’s an extensive exhibit covering, and scale diorama depicting, Fort Cummings, which was established about 20 miles north of Deming in 1863. Its primary purpose as a U.S. Army outpost was to protect people moving to California on the Southern Emigrant Trail and travelers on the Butterfield Overland Stage line. The fort, established on Oct. 2, 1863, was near Cooke’s Spring, the only source of fresh water between this area and Mesilla, about 70 miles to the east. The spring, along with many other natural features in the area, was named for Philip St. George Cooke, a U.S. Army general who served in the Civil War and is referred to as the “father of the U.S. Cavalry.” His contributions to the war were overshadowed by those of his son-in-law, J.E.B. Stuart, an officer in the army of the Confederate States of America.

The fort north of present-day Deming was named for Major Joseph Cummings, who was killed by Native Americans. It was made of adobe bricks and was in service for 10 years until being abandoned in 1873.

Camp Cody

Camp Cody, active from 1916 to 1919, was established in northwest Deming to provide basic training to National Guard units from the Dakotas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa prior to their deployment to service in France. The camp was first established as Camp Brooks during the Mexican Border War (1910-1919), in which the United States sent troops into Mexico (more on that in a later posting), then the name was changed to Camp Deming at the outset of World War I. Upon the death of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody in 1917, the name was changed for the final time. At its highest level of activity, Camp Cody accommodated 30,000 troops.

The camp was also intended to minimize the threat of Mexico, 30 miles to the south, from becoming active in World War I.

Deming Army Air Corps Field

The clear skies and mild weather of southwest New Mexico allowed the U.S. Army Air Corps, which later became the U.S. Air Force, to develop a bomber training base two miles southeast of Deming in 1942. By the end of the war in 1945, about 12,000 cadets graduated from the training program. The airfield was deactivated in 1945 and today serves as the city’s municipal airport, averaging about 80 flight operations a day.

This is a Norden bombsight, used extensively in operations over Western Europe by Allied bombers in World War II, on display at the Deming museum. Deming Army Air Corps cadets trained with bombsights like this by dropping bags of flour.

There is also a significant amount of memorabilia from other wars and conflicts in which people from Deming served, ranging from the U.S. Civil War on through the 21st-century wars in the Middle East. There are uniforms, banners, military equipment, journals and diaries and letters to home – all of which tell a continuing story of individuals from southwest New Mexico who served their country.

Outside Exhibits in Veterans’ Park

Veterans’ Park in Deming is adjacent to the history museum (that’s a brick wall of the museum in the background). This is a 90mm M2 antiaircraft artillery (AAA) gun in the park (I didn’t notice that the barrel is pointing at the chimney of the museum when I took the photo). I’d never been up close to an AAA gun; they’re plenty big. These guns had a 3.5-inch bore, with a barrel length of 15 feet. It could fire a 3.5-inch shell 62,000 horizontal feet or 43,500 vertical feet. M2s like this complemented the much larger and heavier 120mm M1 gun, and, after seeing heavy usage in World War II and into the Cold War, both guns were eventually phased out with the development of surface-to-air missiles.
Here’s a closeup of the workings of the gun. In 1940, each of these weapons cost $50,000 to make. I was reminded here, as well as while viewing the aircraft and bombs at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, that there’s an incredible amount of engineering, work, and money that goes into making war machines.

Fitting its name, Veterans Park has several memorials to soldiers who served in World War II and other conflicts. Following the surrender of U.S. forces after the three-month-long Battle of Bataan in April 1942, between 60,000 and 80,000 U.S. and Filipino prisoners of war were transferred over land to camps. Many of the prisoners marched until they died; estimates of the deaths range from 5,000 to 18,000 Filipinos and 500 to 800 Americans. An outsized number of the troops involved with the operations in Bataan were from the 200th/515th Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft Regiments comprised mainly of New Mexican men. In fact, many of the soldiers initially signed up for service in World War II just a few steps away from the location of this monument, in the former National Guard armory that now serves as the Deming museum.

This striking monument to the Bataan Death March is in Veterans’ Park. A nearby block of stone lists the names of every soldier from New Mexico who was a soldier on Bataan. Eighty-three of the men were from Deming. The 200th and 515th Coast Artillery units included 1,816 men. Of that number, 829 – more than 45 percent – died in battle, while a POW, or immediately after liberation.
These memorials honor the men and women from Luna County (of which Deming is the county seat) who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Vietnam War.

Southwestern New Mexico, and Deming in particular, has a very rich history of U.S. military contributions, beginning with the U.S. Civil War era and continuing to today. Exhibits like these helps us remember their service.

Deming Luna Mimbres Museum

December 11, 2021

Nancy and I are big into museums. We absolutely love them, and it doesn’t really make much difference what the museum’s about; we’re interested in taking a look. Well, except maybe for museums devoted to dolls. Or clowns. Or clown dolls.

There were definitely dolls on display at the Deming Luna Mimbres Museum in Deming, New Mexico, when we visited, and some of them may well have been clown dolls. We didn’t stop at the exhibit to investigate. However, there was much more of interest to take a look at in this 20,000-square-foot museum skillfully managed by the Luna County Historical Society, and there’s something for everyone there.

About the name of the museum: it’s in the city of Deming (more about that later), in Luna County (and Deming is the county seat), and the Mimbres are a branch of the Mogollon culture, Native American peoples who lived in present-day southern Arizona and New Mexico from around 200 CE to when the Spanish arrived in the 1400s and 1500s. There are many cultural references to the Mimbres in this area.

The museum is mostly contained within the walls of this 1916 brick building. It’s a former National Guard Armory. Image credit: Deming Luna Mimbres Museum, because I somehow forgot to take an exterior photo of this impressive structure.

Nancy and I agreed that, other than Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska, the Deming museum is one of the largest and widest-ranging local museums we’ve visited. If you’ve got an interest in Native American pottery, it’s got you covered. Want to see a lot – a lot – of geodes? You won’t be disappointed. Curious about early public schools in Deming? You’ll leave wiser for the experience. Fancy yourself a railroad aficionado? Hang on to your engineer’s cap. The museum’s website suggests arriving no later than 11 AM to ensure that visitors have plenty of time to see everything, and that’s sound advice.

Let’s start with the railroads. The city of Deming lies within the Gadsden Purchase, a nearly 30,000-square-mile area in present-day southern Arizona and southern New Mexico that was acquired from Mexico in 1854 solely so that a southern U.S. transcontinental railway could be built. The city has historical ties to four different railroads:

  • Southern Pacific Company, which began building a railroad from California to the Gulf of Mexico in the 1870s. The railroad reached Deming on Dec. 15, 1880.
  • Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, which wanted to expand its line from Kansas City to the Pacific Ocean. The Santa Fe reached Deming on March 8, 1881, and by an agreement with Southern Pacific, established a new transcontinental railroad with the driving of a silver stake. Despite that ceremony, competition between the two lines for trade along the route remained fierce through the 1980s.
  • Silver City, Deming & Pacific Railroad, which was incorporated in 1882 to transport copper ore from huge deposits in the hills about 50 miles north of Deming. A 48-mile narrow-gauge line between Silver City (silver was originally found in the area but that played out and was replaced by copper, which is still being very actively mined to this day) and Deming was completed on May 12, 1883. The Santa Fe bought the line in 1899.
  • El Paso & Southwestern, incorporated in 1901, started a line intended to connect Deming with Douglas, Arizona, to move copper ore from the Bisbee, Arizona, area to eastern markets. Executives with EP & SW wanted the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe lines to compete for their business at the Deming connection.

Deming is named for Mary Ann Deming Crocker, the wife of Southern Pacific executive Charles Crocker. The city was originally 10 miles east of its current location; there wasn’t sufficient water at that first location, so the townsite was moved to the west to take advantage of the Mimbres River location.

The number of railroads, in addition to being a port of entry from Mexico into the United States, gave promoters at the time the fanciful idea that Deming would grow to be a huge metropolis. It was even given the nickname of “New Chicago.” That idea did not pan out (although Deming is really a lovely city, its current population is around 14,000).

Because of Deming’s long association with railroads, the museum has an extensive exhibit devoted to railways, including uniforms of railway staff, timetables, equipment, and other memorabilia. Looks like I chose to take a somewhat disorienting picture of this Underwood typewriter, dating to the early 1900s, which was used in the Southern Pacific freight office.

Much of the popular culture around the “Old West” is centered on cattle drives and open range ranching. It’s said that two occurrences ended the open range period: horrific blizzards in the winters of 1887 and 1888, and the development of barbed wire. Although it had been initially developed a couple of decades prior, barbed wire wasn’t widely used until 1874, when Joseph Glidden, an Illinois farmer, developed a machine to make the fencing material efficiently. More than 500 U.S. patents were issued on different barbed wire patterns between 1868 and 1874. The introduction of barbed wire in the West allowed ranchers to keep their cattle in one area, but it also meant that migratory herds of buffalo weren’t able to move around. Barbed wire also, of course, had huge a impact on the Native American tribes that lived on the plains. There’s still a good deal of cattle ranching in the Deming area, at least in the areas that can be irrigated for pasture, and the museum has a nice little exhibit on barbed wire.

Barbed-wire buffs will recognize, from top, the following patents: Two Around Two, R.E. Sunderland (patented 1884), Crandal’s Champion (1879), D.C. Stover Clamp on Barb, and Kelly’s Diamond Point with Crimped Barb (1868).
Like many of the exhibits at the Deming museum, I suspect that this display was a gift from an area benefactor who had a strong interest in a very particular field (in this case, historic barbed wire). All of those barbs remind me of hiking on trails in New Mexico and trying to avoid cacti and other spiky hazards.

Writing of strong interests in very particular fields, the Deming museum has many display cases that contain thousands (I’m not exaggerating, and I may even be underestimating) of geodes. These rocks, which formed as bubbles in volcanic rock, contain a cavity that is filled with crystals, usually quartz. Rockhound State Park, a few miles south of Deming, is a great place to find lots of geodes. The ones that aren’t there are probably at the Deming museum.

So. Many. Geodes.
Geodes are really pretty, though. But there were so many.

Writing of rocks, there were a number of other different kinds of rocks besides geodes, including dinosaur fossils, petrified wood, and samples of other minerals from all around the world.

One display case had shelves of all of the states’ official gemstones and minerals. The state gemstone of New Mexico is turquoise. It’s easy to remember the name of this rock, because it’s turquoise-colored.
Nancy often reminds me that Colorado’s state gemstone is aquamarine, even when I don’t ask. It’s a lovely shade of light blue – almost, but not quite, turquoise-colored.
Finally here’s one for the Michiganders, who will of course recognize chlorastrolite (Ca2(Mg,Fe)Al2(SiO4)(Si2O7)•(OH)2H2O). It’s found in the Keweenaw Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Lake Superior’s Isle Royale, but it’s not even close to being turquoise-colored.

Enough with the rocks. The museum has on display a couple of firetrucks from Deming’s earlier days, along with a display of other firefighting equipment.

This 1918 American LaFrance fire engine was acquired by the city of Deming around 1919. It delivers 300 gallons of water per minute. LaFrance started making hand-pumped fire engines in 1832. The company was purchased by Freightliner, a Daimler-Chrysler company, in 1995. The descriptive placard on the engine asked observers to please note the hard rubber tires, and I must ask you to do the same. The Deming fire station at that time was staffed by at least one driver and four firemen at all hours. (The wreath on the grill is not standard-issue firefighting finery; the museum had a very nice holiday theme while we were there.)
I thought this map of cattle drives was really interesting. Most of us have heard of the Goodnight-Loving and Chisholm trails, but there were quite a few more that date back to Spanish and Mexican colonial times. The major trails had their heyday for about two decades after the end of the U.S. Civil War. Tens of thousands of longhorns were driven north from Texas to the railheads in Kansas, or further north and west into ranches in the surrounding territories.
Here’s a closeup of that cattle drive map showing eastern Colorado. You’ve got the cities of Denver, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo, as well as towns around my hometown of Flagler (not indicated on map) like Hugo and Limon. It’s interesting that Bovina, which has an exit off of I-70 but otherwise doesn’t exist anymore, is shown. “Bovina” is the Spanish word for “cattle” – there used to be a number of ranches there. The map was compiled in 1992 from a variety of sources.

I didn’t take any pictures of it, but there’s a very nice display of some saddles, boots, chaps, and other equipment belonging to a locally famous rodeo cowboy from Deming who won a few bronco riding world championships in the 1950s and 1960s. He was asked in the 1980s, well after his retirement, what the difference between rodeo cowboys of the 1950s and the 1980s was and he replied, “Well, no one robs banks anymore.” I thought that was just hilarious.

The second floor of the museum, which we gradually discovered had previously been a full-size basketball court, had many more exhibits from Deming’s past, including a room devoted to some really beautiful formal Mexican clothing, an area with historic medical equipment (including an iron lung), and displays of memorabilia from Deming’s public schools through the years.

This cart was owned by Leonardo Reyes, who sold hot tamales in downtown Deming from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. The tamales were kept warm in the cart’s crock with heated bricks in the crock’s bottom. Note the hard rubber tires. I would normally have cropped out the display cases of German nutcrackers in the background, but this perspective, I think, gives one a better appreciation for the diversity and scope of the Deming museum.

There’s a very nice display of quilts dating from the late 19th century (the blue one at upper right, for example, was made around 1885).
Here was a nasty shock for me: I used a Macintosh SE identical to this one (on the right) to write for my college’s weekly newspaper, and lay out the pages for printing, when I was a student in the late 1980s, and here’s one on display in a historical museum. I held out my hand to measure the screen; its diagonal length was almost exactly the distance between the tips of my thumb and pinky. And I used to lay out newspaper pages on it. Unbelievable. This dusty old artifact is shown next to an even older typewriter, and they are both part of an exhibit of office equipment used in Deming through the decades. [I just looked up the specifications of a Macintosh SE: the screen (monochromatic, naturally) measured 9 inches on the diagonal, it had 1 MB of RAM (expandable to 4 MB for a price well outside the budget of a collegiate newspaper), and it weighed 17 pounds. The laptop on which I’m writing has a 17-inch color display, 8 GB of RAM (8,000 times the RAM of the SE), and it cost less than what expanding an SE’s RAM to 4 MB would have been.]

The museum also has an extensive collection, both inside and outside, of military equipment dating back to before the U.S. Civil War. I’ll write about that collection in another posting.

The Deming Luna Mimbres Museum was a great visit for us, although, to be honest, it was a little overwhelming in some areas. I thought I had taken pictures of a display of dozens upon dozens of buttonhooks (again, I’m not kidding and I could definitely be undercounting), and that’s what I was going to end with, but I guess I didn’t get any photos. It’s unfortunate. While I was there, I wondered – a lot – about who would find some of these displays of any interest. But I realized that’s exactly why museums like these are so important: you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something of interest to you, and particularly you, whether that’s fire engines or commemorative Jim Beam whiskey decanters or geodes or ancient Macintosh computers or a copy of the Braille edition of Playboy magazine (again, not kidding) or German nutcrackers or horsedrawn hearses or iron lungs (the iron lung was stationary, not horsedrawn) or barbed wire (I actually do have an interest in barbed wire) or buttonhooks or Native American pottery. Everyone has their particular interest(s) that are absolutely appropriate for curating exhibits (except for dolls – there should never be dolls on display). I recently read of the existence of an International Jim Beam Bottle & Speciality Club (IJBBSC). It has more than 150 affiliated clubs and more than 5,000 members. I hope some of those IJBBSC members make it to the Deming Luna Mimbres Museum, because let me tell you: there’s an impressive collection of whiskey decanters to be enjoyed.

Rockhound State Park

December 12, 2021

One of the few state or national parks where one is encouraged to bring home natural souvenirs, Rockhound State Park is located about 7 miles southeast of Deming, N.M., along the western flank of the Little Florida Mountains. Nancy and I learned, prior to coming to Deming, that Florida in the case of the mountain range is pronounced “flor-EE-duh,” in the Spanish way, much like the Arkansas River is the “ar-CAN-zus” River in Kansas. The Little Florida Mountains are adjacent to the Florida Mountains, separated by a valley. Rockhound a fairly small park, with only about 1.5 miles of hiking trails in the main part of the park. However, it has great views not only of the Floridas but of the open desert to the west, and you can take home up to 15 pounds of rocks! The park has plenty of rocks for the taking, including jasper, rhyolite, and perlite, and geodes – round rocks that have a solid or partially filled (usually with quartz) cavity – can be found as well. The campground in the park has 29 sites.

True to their name, the Little Florida Mountains are a range about three miles long. Rockhound State Park lies between the Little Floridas and the Florida Mountain range, which is about 12 miles long and has mountains ranging from 5,000 to 7,000 feet in elevation. Volcanic activity from millions of years ago is responsible for the appearance of the mountains, as well as the type of rocks at their base.
This is a rock that was in the hiking trail; the photo shows an area about a foot wide. I thought it was a very striking rock (some rocks are more striking than others, I’ve found), and it’s held up to thousands and thousands of footsteps. This is jasper, one of the more common minerals in Rockhound State Park. Jasper is from the quartz family and can be red, yellow, brown, pink, white, or all of the above.
Rockhound also has a plethora of prickly pear cactus.
Rock hound at Rockhound. I told Gunther he’d have better luck at finding the really good rocks if he looked at the ground rather than at the sky, but what do I know?

I believe there’s a state park in Arkansas (pr. ARR-kan-saw) that allows visitors to take home any diamonds they find, but I think Rockhound is the only other park that encourages its visitors to bring away mineral resources. I brought two specimens back to the Goddard.

This is a small sample of perlite,, which is a natural type of glass that is formed by quickly cooling lava that has a lot of silica in it. Perlite is mined in northern New Mexico, and it’s later heated to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit when it forms small white balls that are used in construction products, filters, and gardening products (gardeners often add perlite to soil to keep it from compacting too much). The ballpoint pen at right is for scale only; it didn’t come out of a volcano.
You might think this is petrified wood, and you’d be wrong. This is a mineral called rhyolite, which is found throughout Rockhound State Park (as opposed to petrified wood, in which Rockhound is sorely lacking). The banded contortions show how lava flowed during volcanic eruptions.

We weren’t in the part of the park that featured geodes just laying around, but we saw some really pretty rocks nonetheless and enjoyed a pleasant hike with Gunther. The views, too, were just beautiful, especially looking to the open spaces of the desert to the west. We also brought home two specimens to add to the Goddard’s growing gem and mineral collection, which now numbers two.

Did You Know / Did You Care #4

Nancy and I were surprised to see this field while driving near Mesilla, N.M., a small town that borders Las Cruces. It’s cotton. Did you know / did you care that New Mexico produced 71,500 480-lb bales of cotton in the production year that ended May 1, 2021? Where does New Mexico rank among all cotton-producing states? Not very high. Texas led all states with 4.75 million bales in 2020, and then it dropped off quickly: Georgia had 2.18 million, Arkansas had 1.3 million, and Mississippi had 1.2 million. The no. 10 state, North Carolina, had 540,000 bales – 7.5 times as many bales as New Mexico in 2021. Still, it’s kind of neat to see cotton fields in the desert. We’ve since also seen them south of Deming, N.M., just a few miles north of Mexico. (Apologies for the blurry photo; as I wrote, we weren’t expecting to come across a cotton field.)

Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument

November 28, 2021

The Organ Mountains, situated 10 miles northeast of Las Cruces, are visible from nearly every part of the city. They’re really distinctive, and, while always beautiful, look their best in the evenings as they catch the setting sun. The range extends north and south for a distance of about 20 miles, and the highest peak reaches 9,006 feet in elevation. The Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument, in three different regions, spans almost 500,000 acres of BLM-managed land and surrounds the city of Las Cruces. The Desert Peaks part of the monument is west of Las Cruces and includes the Doña Ana Mountains, the Robledo Mountains, and Sierra De Las Uvas, and the Potrillos Mountains 30 miles southwest of Las Cruces. Nancy and Gunther and I visited the Organ Mountains region of the monument in late November and enjoyed a nice 3.6-mile hike – the monument has a total of 48 miles of hiking trails.

The Organ Mountains were formed from a series of volcanic eruptions that started about 36.5 million years ago and ended 500,000 years later. The mountain range was tilted and uplifted through action of the Rio Grande Rift about 18 million years ago. That tilting, and the erosion in the millennia following, resulted in the distinctive look of the mountains.

One of the first features we encountered on the trail was La Cueva (“the cave” in Spanish), at the base of a huge rock face. It started being inhabited by the Jornada Mogollon natives about 5,000 years ago. Excavations in the 1940s and 1970s uncovered fragments of ceramic pots as well as projectile points and stone scrapers. There are 243 known archeological sites in the monument. La Cueva was later used as an outlaw hideout.

This huge rock face (see the people standing outside the cave at the bottom for a sense of scale) is formed from rock that erupted about 36.5 million years ago, forming a rock type called tuff from a moving river of hot gases, ash, and rocks. Dogs aren’t allowed on the trail going to the cave, so we weren’t able to get close to it. Thanks, Gunther!

We both grew up and spent most of our lives in Colorado, so it’s been exciting to learn about all of the animals and plants of the southwestern desert region. Despite the rugged and arid environment of the monument, almost 150 different grasses, ferns, cacti, trees, shrubs, and herbs have been identified in the area.

The plant in the foreground is desert spoon. Although it looks like a succulent, it’s classified as a shrub. It’s also known as sotol.
The monument is located in a really harsh environment, but there’s a huge variety of plant life. Prickly pear cacti abound, of course, but there are also 15 species of grass. Prior to becoming a monument in 2014, the area was used for many years by ranchers for grazing their cattle.
There were some unexpected finds of plant life. A seasonal stream runs near La Cueva, and it supports some decidedly deciduous trees (that look like they still had to work pretty hard to grow).
These are the spines of a type of barrel cactus called a fishhook, and you can see how it earned that name. We have seen lots of fishhook cactus in the wild and also in cultivated gardens in New Mexico.
On the trail, Nancy, always on the lookout for historic mines, recognized the mound of light-colored rocks in the lower left as a tailings pile. Just a few steps later on the trail, an interpretive sign identified the area as being what remains of the Modoc Mine. The Modoc Mining Company spent a million dollars in 1898 (more than $30 million today) to build the silver and lead mine, a three-story ore mill, and a small townsite. The mine had shafts that tunneled several hundred vertical feet, and a well drilled four hundred feet down supplied water to everything.
Here’s a closeup of some desert spoon spines. As with most plant life in the Chihuahua Desert, it’s best to look and not touch. And definitely don’t lick these spoons. The Spanish word for spoon is “cuchara,” which is the name of a spoon-shaped valley in Colorado’s mountains that’s home to a former ski resort also named Cuchara.
This is looking west from the monument. The city of Las Cruces is behind the dark ridge on the left. Prickly pear cactus in the left foreground; desert spoons in the right. Spoons, spoons, spoons … everywhere!
… And here are some more. Desert spoons send up a flower stalk six to 17 feet tall, but their roots extend only about a foot underground.
The Organ Mountains are really interesting to look at – the erosion over millions of years has resulted in some very picturesque rock formations. All of the lighter green plants in front of the mountains are prickly pear cactus.
After all of the desert plants we’ve seen, it was nice to encounter this old friend growing alongside the trail. I learned about sideoats grama, and many other range grasses, as a high-school student in Vocational Agriculture class.
This pretty grass is splitbeard bluestem, also known as silver bluestem. It was not one of the grasses I learned to identify in high school, so more learning for me now. In late November, of course, all of the grasses had already gone to seed but a few retained their seedheads.
This is black grama, which looks very similar to blue grama that grows in Colorado. Because of its quantity and nutritive value, black grama is a very important natural grass for New Mexico’s cattle ranchers. Blue grama is my favorite species of grass (a close second is big bluestem, a relative of the splitbeard bluesteam above), probably because the mature seed heads look like eyelashes. What’s your favorite species of grass, and why is it also blue grama?

I took the grass photos toward the end of our hike. Although it was relatively short, the hike afforded an opportunity to see a huge variety of plants. We didn’t see very much wildife, but the area supports dozens and dozens of native and migratory bird species, including seven species of hummingbirds and 23 species of towhees and sparrows.

Several historic persons of note, including William H. Bonney (“Billy the Kid”) and Geronimo, are known to have passed through what is now the monument. Twenty-two miles of the Butterfield Overland Trail, which, from 1858 to 1861 ran between St. Louis and San Francisco as a forerunner of the Pony Express, passed through the region. Areas of the monument, prior to coming under BLM management, have also been used for bombing practice by the U.S. Air Force and for astronaut training (not at the same time).

We’ll definitely return to the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument, and next time we’ll leave Gunther in the Goddard so we can visit some of the features that (understandably) are off-limits to dogs. I’d especially like to see the area in the spring during the wildflower blooming season.

Las Cruces Museum of Nature & Science

November 27, 2021

The City of Las Cruces operates two museums that are co-located on Main Street: a natural history museum and an art museum. Nancy and I visited both in late November after strolling through the Farmers and Crafts Market. The Museum of Nature & Science has several very interesting and well-designed permanent exhibits. I think we appreciated the reptilian and amphibian wonders of the Desert Life exhibit the most, and Nancy made friends with a common snapping turtle named Zilla.

One of the first exhibits is this fine cast of a dimetrodon, which is not a dinosaur but a species of animal (it’s more closely related to mammals than reptiles, but it is not an ancestor of modern mammals) that went extinct 40 million years before dinosaurs came on the scene. Fossils of dimetrodon have been found in what is now the Robledo Mountains area northwest of Las Cruces. Theories differ on the purpose of the spined sail along the back, ranging from use as an actual sail while swimming, to assisting with controlling the temperature of the animal, to helping support the back of the animal while it walked in a side-to-side motion.

Most fossils of Dimetrodon species have been found in the southwestern United States, but one species has been unearthed in Germany and another in Canada. They lived about 300 million years ago, and were 6 to 15 feet long. I didn’t know that animals that are more closely related to present-day mammals than to dinosaurs even existed before dinosaurs ruled the Earth, so I learned something just minutes after stepping into the museum.

Here’s a mounted skeleton of a western diamondback rattlesnake. These reptiles can have up to 300 vertebrae, and their rattles are modified scales. They get a new rattle each time they shed their skin, which is three or four times each year. Adult diamondbacks commonly grow to 4 feet in length. This species is responsible for the greatest number of snakebites in the United States, and is found in the southwestern region of the country as well as the northern half of Mexico.

Tyrannosaurus roamed much of the present-day western United States, including the area that’s now New Mexico, up until the day the dinosaurs went extinct about 65 million years ago. The largest specimens are estimated to have been more than 40 feet long and weigh more almost 8 tons. Sharp-eyed tyrannosaurus enthusiasts will recognize this cast as coming from the skull of Stan, one of the more famous fossils for which there is a nearly complete skeleton. Stan was found in 1992 in South Dakota’s celebrated Hell Creek formation; he has a hole in the back of his skull that’s about the size of a Tyrannosaurus tooth, so make of that what you will.
Some of the museum’s exhibits featured animals not yet fossilized or skeletonized. Here’s an intense-looking Trans-Pecos rat snake; they are very gentle and non-venomous snakes, and usually don’t attempt to bite. They are natives of the Chihuahuan Desert, and the largest grow to about 5 1/2 feet long.
These are Woodhouse’s toads. Kinda grumpy-looking toads, don’t you think? They live in the west-central United States from Texas up north into the Dakotas. They can grow up to about five inches long. One must resist the urge to lick a Woodhouse toad, as they have toxins on their skin to make them taste bad to potential predators. And, I don’t think licking this toad would make it any less grumpy anyway.
Finally we come to Zilla, the museum’s common snapping turtle. This species is native only to the Cimarron and Pecos rivers region of northeastern New Mexico, but populations are now being found in the Rio Grande River in the central third of the state. Common snapping turtles are found in the United States north and east of New Mexico to Canada and the Atlantic Coast. Nancy was really taken with Zilla.
And who wouldn’t be? Contrary to common belief, common snapping turtles probably aren’t capable of biting off a human finger: humans have more force in their jaws than do common snapping turtles. A non-closely related species, the alligator snapping turtle, is definitely capable of biting off fingers, so you’re probably safe sticking your fingers in front of a common snapping turtle but don’t do it in front of an alligator snapping turtle.
According to a staff person at the museum, Zilla is about 25 years old. It’s thought that common snapping turtles can live more than one hundred years in the wild, so who knows how long Zilla will keep going. They keep growing with age and the heaviest one found in the wild weighed about 75 pounds, so they get pretty big.
Here’s a study of Zilla’s front left claws. Snapping turtles’ impressive claws are used for digging for food in the rocks and mud and not, as one might think, in swift slashing offensive attacks. They’re turtles.

We enjoyed the visit to the Museum of Nature & Science. We both learned a lot about animals that live in New Mexico (now and tens of millions of years ago), and Nancy left with her heart warmed by meeting Zilla.

The Farmers & Crafts Market of Las Cruces

November 27, 2021

The city of Las Cruces, New Mexico, dates back to 1849, when it was founded after being surveyed by the U.S. Army. The land on which the town sits was ceded to the United States as a result of 1848’s Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). The city was named after three crosses that used to be located north of town.

The year 2021 marks the fiftieth anniversary of a farmers market in downtown Las Cruces. The Farmers & Crafts Market of Las Cruces, a nonprofit organization, conducts a market along seven blocks of Main Street each Wednesday and Saturday morning throughout the year. Nancy and I enjoyed visiting the vendors on Saturday, Nov. 27. There are more than a hundred vendors selling everything from fresh tomatoes (we bought some) to pistachios (we bought some) to bread (we bought some) to handcrafted pottery and glassware (we didn’t buy any; we live in a home that moves down the road at 65 MPH every couple of weeks).

There are many permanent vendors at the market, as well as a long list of temporary ones, in addition to entertainers along Main Street.

To be honest there weren’t a lot of people selling actual farm goods, but the growing season, even in southern New Mexico, is nearing its end. I was impressed with all of the good smells (mostly from breakfast burritos) and incredibly vibrant colors of the clothes that some of the people were wearing.

They’re doing amazing things with cacti nowadays. Nancy was buying a pound of pistachios from the out-of-focus man in the upper right when I took this photo. We returned to the market a week later, and Nancy bought another pound of pistachios! From the same man!
Chile ristras are not hard to find in New Mexico, especially at farmers markets, but they’re always fun to see. Those are the Organ Mountains in the background.
It’s always fun to see old movie theaters in downtown locations: they’re usually very ornate buildings. The Rio Grande Theatre dates to 1926 and is on the National Register of Historic Buildings. The theater (“theatre” if you’re feeling fancy) survived an urban renewal project from the late 1960s and early 1970s that destroyed many of the older buildings in downtown Las Cruces. The Rio Grande still shows movies, and had a slate of holiday-themed films on its schedule when we were there.
I don’t know when this Woolworth’s on Main Street was opened, but it’s been closed for many years and now the building serves as a church. The door handle is really, really cool, and I wonder how many ring-bedecked fingers it took to give it that wonderful wear. Nancy and I have noticed many references on billboards and business signs in Las Cruces to something called “refrigerated air.” As far as we can tell, it’s the same as air conditioning.

Meet the crew of The Goddard

Joining Nancy and I on our travels are our cat Rusty and our dog Gunther. As you can tell, they’re both full of energy!

Rusty is three years old and appreciates watching all of the people and animals (especially birds) from the ever-changing views through the windows of The Goddard.
Gunther, who is two years old, enjoys checking out the dog runs in each of the RV parks and making new dog friends. He’s working on his Frisbee catching skills, and loves playing fetch with his tennis ball. He also likes accompanying Nancy and me on our hikes.

Some folks may be wondering why we call our fifth-wheel trailer The Goddard. Robert Goddard (1882-1945) was an American scientist who developed the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket in 1926. In 1919, he published a paper that proposed using a multi-stage rocket to reach the Moon. Goddard was ridiculed by many for that notion, but mankind did walk on the Moon 50 years later and it wouldn’t have happened without Goddard’s advancements in rocket science. Nancy and I learned about Goddard on a previous trip to Roswell, New Mexico, where Goddard conducted many rocket experiments in the 1930s. The Roswell Museum and Art Center has a reconstruction of Goddard’s laboratory. It’s in recognition of Goddard, and his contributions to science to fulfill his desire for humankind to go places, that we named our new home The Goddard.

Robert Goddard, rocket scientist. (Photo courtesy U.S. Library of Congress)

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