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Ned and Farmer Giles in New Mexico

Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003
written by Teresa

The 2002 Lance brochure was full of photographs of horses tethered in close proximity to various campers, bales of hay strewn about for artistic effect. It was this imagery that led Sterling and I to assume we would be getting one of these beasts when we ordered the camper and to discuss at great length what colour animal would best match our décor. As it turns out, we had the wrong end of the stick and no Dobbin was forthcoming. However, we have discovered that there is a virtual horse embodied in the shower, who neighs every time the water is turned off. He has been affectionately named Ned.

My sister Solanna is probably either groaning or laughing at this stage, since Ned was her invention and alter ego when we were young children. Ned was a very naughty and mischievous horse whose sole purpose in life was not to do as he was told and to lead his owner, Farmer Giles a sad and sorry dance. Being the younger sibling, I was cast as the country yokel locked in mortal battle with the colourful, headstrong animal, riding up and down the hallway trying to keep Ned out of the pretend carrots, and trying to remain on his back as he cavorted and bucked in an attempt to dislodge me. His success rate was remarkably high and more often than not led to uncontrollable infectious laughter. Solanna is no longer famed for her equine persona but Ned is alive and well in the shower and our memories.

Camping at The Narrows in El Malpais We have come to New Mexico in search of some warmth and an early spring but have miscalculated in terms of both altitude and latitude. At over seven thousand feet we woke this morning to a virgin covering of snow unmarked save the prints of a bobcat. Individual ice crystals glistened, caught in the early morning sun, the blanket seemingly alive in the refracted light. The flakes nestled amongst the needles of the Ponderosa Pines, balanced on the fine arched edges of dried grasses and flurried from the taller trees, momentarily airborne once again. Ponderosa Pine needles laden with snow It is absolutely beautiful and fills me with a childlike glee as my shoes crunch through the snow, breaking the silence.

In England, this much snow would bring the entire country to a screeching halt. Schools would close, trains and buses wouldn't run and people would be advised not to travel unless it was strictly necessary. As a child such rare occasions were in effect an unofficial holiday with time to build snowmen and generally play, freezing hands, feet and exposed pieces of flesh in the process.

British Rail is an institution that provides a platform for much scathing humour and if mentioned in the same sentence as the word snow is likely to lead to mass hysteria. Announcements such as "The late arrival of the train from Lesser Tidworth is due to migrating frogs on the line" or "The train expected on platform six is delayed due to a gratuitous detour via Outer Mongolia" are not unheard of. Some years ago the public were somewhat sceptical of a press release in the autumn claiming that BR had invested in a system of snow ploughs thereby ensuring that the main rail arteries would be kept open in the unlikely event of a "heavy" (read: three to four inches) snowfall. Winter arrived, the unexpected fall occurred, the trains ground to a halt and the following days headlines read, "British Rail Blames Failure On Wrong Kind Of Snow." The British public, not being wise in the ways of snow were unforgiving in their reaction and saw this as the last straw in pathetic excuses from the national rail operator.

So, you can imagine my surprise the first time that Sterling pronounced a Colorado snowfall to be the wrong type for building snowmen. It was too dry he confidently declared and sure enough, no amount of packing would persuade it to hold any shape. This was complete news to one not knowledgeable in such matters. In my mind, snow is intrinsically wet and specifically designed for the sole function of constructing rotund statues with coal eyes and carrot noses. Why else do people save old hats and scarves if not for this express purpose? Well, you live and learn. The Pool at El Morro NM

Here in New Mexico, we stayed for a couple of nights at El Morro National Monument, so named for its resemblance to a coastal headland. It is a sandstone cuesta and its steep side is a wall of cliffs towering up from the surrounding land. The face of the cliff has been used by people over the millennia to record their existence. Petroglyphs are mixed in with Spanish inscriptions dating back to the sixteen hundreds and English additions from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Most notable amongst these, for Sterling at any rate, is the name of John Udell, a Baptist minister, dated 1858.

Travellers were drawn here by the rare promise of water in the desert, captured in a pool at the base of the cliff, following runoff during summer thunderstorms and sufficiently sheltered to hold the precious commodity throughout the year.

On top of the cuesta are the remains of an ancient settlement, briefly inhabited by people of the Zuni and Mogollon tribes. Little is known of this cohabitation and its only evidence is found in the two excavated kivas. One is the traditional round design of the Zuni while the square, many-roomed one is characteristic of the Mogollon. Concrete staircase leading to the ruins in El Morro The rest of the site has been left undisturbed, presumably in a belated acknowledgement of its importance to the descendents of the original inhabitants.

The trail up to the settlement is one that I expect embarrasses the park service, now a days. I'm sure that at the time of construction the extensive work of concrete and metal must have been seen as the business. I suspect that, as with the café at Carlsbad, hindsight is a wonderful thing. You may wonder why someone who is scared of heights would bemoan the presence of a staircase but I have to tell you that I'd rather be scared for a few minutes than see the landscape scarred in this way.

Sterling emerging from Junction Cave, a lava tube in El Malpais NM A few miles down the road is El Malpais National Monument where we are camped at the moment. The badlands referred to in the name, is an area affected by volcanic activity. Lava fields stretch as far as the eye can see with various colours of cinder marking different eruptions, the green and orange lichens in sharp contrast with the rock. Lava tubes have created numerous caves, some famous for their huge bat colonies. Cinder cones litter the landscape, lining up along the path of the ancient fault, their outer slopes bare, their craters home to considerable vegetation, animals and birds.

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