New Mexico, hot and dry

I’d been raving for months about how great Northern New Mexico is in the summer. It’s warm, but not too warm. There’s lots of sunshine, but with frequent afternoon rains, green fields, a soft breeze during the day, and cool, crisp air at night. And so on. At least that’s the way I remember it. But it wasn’t like that at all when we visited in June.

An antelopedsc_0498.jpgdsc_0499.jpg

I don’t remember antelope listlessly roaming around my grandparent’s ranch. I don’t remember the pastures being overtaken by prickly-pear cactus. I don’t remember otherwise healthy trees near my parents house drying out and falling over. It was hot and dry. Very dry.

A bridge over a dry irrigation canalA (very dry) irrigation canal

On our last night we could smell the smoke from a fire to the North, and water restrictions were enacted in Las Vegas right after we left. (No car washing or watering outside more than twice a week, for example.) I’d also forgotten how strong the sun can be. It’s not like Denmark, where you can stay outside all day without burning. We easily got more sun those two weeks than we had gotten all year.

Your typical windmillBetween Wagon Mound and SpringerNear Springer, New Mexico

It was especially dry in Springer, the town where I was born and where my grandparents have their ranch. We drove up to Springer twice, and each time I took pictures the whole way. (Both to document how dry it is and because I now have VR lens that allows me to shoot successfully from a moving car.)

Springer, the village of about 1000 people, and where I was bornSigns appear to melt into the pavementdsc_0357.jpg

The only green in Springer was the fields that had just been irrigated. Everything else was yellow or gray.

Capulin (a volcanic eruption about 60,000 years ago) from my grandparent's ranchA tire, the pond, and the nearest neighborsdsc_2327.jpg

Back in Vegas, we learned that heat doesn’t stop people from being cruel to animals. Not far from my parent’s house, we found some puppies that someone had dumped. Unfortunately, because it lies next to public land where people can discard animals without being detected, their neighborhood sees a lot of abandoned animals.

Lisbeth returns after earning the first puppy's trustdsc_1892.jpgPossibly the cutest puppy ever

I’m not much of a dog lover, but these puppies were very cute. It took us two days to round them up because they were very suspicious and wouldn’t let us get near them at first. Lisbeth eventually won them over using a mixture of patience, food and water. The first puppy she charmed was the cutest (and therefore the subject of many pictures.)

I mean, come on!After eating and drinking a lot, time for a nap...It wasn't easy to take these guys to the shelter

It wasn’t easy, but, after confirming that we didn’t know anyone that wanted puppies, we took all four of them down to the animal shelter. Hopefully they’re in happy homes now — and not homes where they’ll be dumped again once they stop being cute puppies.

It’s SO interesting to show Lisbeth where I grew up. (She was shocked by the cruelty of people that leave animals to die, for one thing.) There’s an old man that works at the grocery store, bagging groceries. He’s probably ninety, but he’s been working there for ages. I don’t think about it as odd. But she was very surprised – only teenagers bag groceries in Denmark. As we left she told me that it made her think of Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption. (That sort of made me want to run back into the store and tell the old man that there’s a friend waiting for him on a beach in Mexico.)

The Sonic drive-in

She was also surprised to find herself in a drive-in like the Sonic (where we kept getting ice cream and limeades to combat the heat.) And she was really surprised by drive-in pharmacies. And they are pretty strange, come to think of it. If you’re too sick to stand in line, then maybe you shouldn’t be driving.

Lisbeth marvels at Diego's “king cab” -- you don't see these in Denmark!She’s also a bit surprised by the size of the cars Americans buy, and how many trucks there are. I too find it weird to see so many trucks, as there are virtually no trucks in Denmark. Every once in a while you’ll see one, but it’s always a work truck — a truck that is used for what a truck is actually for — hauling stuff — as opposed to driving around without anything in the back 99% of the time.

Despite the heat, we attempted to climb hermit’s peak — the highest peak in the area, and who’s likeness one sees frequently, including on the banner for The Optic, the local paper where my dad works. It turned out that it’s a tougher hike than I remembered, and I didn’t bring enough water. But even if I had, the altitude might have stopped us from reaching the top anyway.

A “horny toad”Another “horny toad”The view from (almost) the top of Hermit's peak

On the way up there was more evidence of the heat: horny toads. I don’t remember seeing horny toads above 6000 feet. We saw these two at about 8,000 feet. (Hermit’s peak is 10,200 feet, or 3,130 meters in elevation.)

A few days later, Ben and I went on a more successful hike — a hike that we try to take every time I visit, north along the ridge that borders Las Vegas to the West.

A new and unmarked cross on our usual hike near mom and dad's houseA prickly-pear cactus in bloomA church rumored to be used by “Los Hermano Penitentes”dsc_2493.jpgdsc_2494.jpgRed soil reflects on the water

There’s a church along the way that is appently a “morada” or church of Los Hermanos Penitente – a splinter group of Catholics that have a rather ”secret society” reputation. We’ve never seen anyone at the church, but it’s clearly well cared for. On this hike we came across a cross that hadn’t been there before. We also saw an alarming number of trees that have dried out and fallen over, especially on top of the ridge where water is in particularly short supply.

An abused and then abandoned hot-rodThe “taco box”This lot has been unused for almost as long as I can remember

I took Lisbeth on a meandering drive on one of the days, partly to show her around, and partly so I could take pictures. I intended to stay in town, and started by taking the shots above, but we wound up driving quite a ways out of town to the North, past Storrie lake and past Sapello, where we found an odd little church with a cemetery.

A tiny San Isidro cemetary past Sapello, New MexicoA tiny San Isidro cemetary past Sapello, New MexicoA tiny San Isidro cemetary past Sapello, New Mexico

It’s still in use, apparently, and had some tombstones from just a few years ago. The oldest one (that was legible) was from 1922.

A worried Lisbeth, before the party

On Sunday my family threw an “engagement party” for us. We were both apprehensive at first, Lisbeth because she knew only a few of the people that were invited, and me because… well, I didn’t know everyone either. But it was a good idea since the wedding will be in Denmark.

The Danish version of our wedding invitationsIt’s been a long time since I’ve lived in New Mexico, and a lot of people I knew have left and people I don’t know have taken their places. But it turned about really nicely. There were perhaps thirty five people that showed but, and the food was great (my brother Diego and his wife Connie did most of the cooking.) Here’s the invitation I put together. There’s an English version too (with the same picture).

The wedding announcement that appeared in the Las Vegas OpticI didn’t take any pictures of the party itself (I was too busy talking to people), but I did take the picture of Lisbeth (above) right before people started showing up. I think it captures the angst and maybe even stress that she was feeling. To the left is the announcement that dad put in the hometown paper.

Near the end of our trip we went back to Springer and stayed with my aunt Donna and her husband Clarence. And, in true rancher fashion, they put us to work. There’s a windmill not far from their house, and they needed to reinstall 160 feet (50 meters) of pipe and rod in order to get it working again. We made progress, and I was really looking forward to seeing it run, but the last segment of pipe turned out to be worn beyond repair, and we were out of time.

Spring is about 45 minutes South of the Colorado borderOff to fix the windmill -- with the help of “Mellow” the catLisbeth gets put to workMy uncle Clarence and aunt Donna at their ranch in Springer, New MexicoWindmill repair 101Windmill repair 101

The hardest part of the trip was seeing how hard life has gotten for my grandparents. Grandpa spent his life outside, farming and ranching, and detests the fact that he’s no longer well enough to work outside. Grandma’s hip is so worn that she really can’t walk anymore.

My grandmother, Velma CoppockIn my grandparent's yardThe barn grandpa had built when he bought the ranch almost 70 years agoMy grandfather, Stanley CoppockIn grandparent's yardThe barn grandpa had built when he bought the ranch almost 70 years ago

All things considered, they were in good spirits. We visited, did puzzles, and later sat outside and watched a bird take worm after worm to its young. Life goes on, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Lisbeth and mom on a walkSunset at the ranchSunset at the ranchSunset at the ranchSunset at the ranchSunset at the ranch

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