GHOSTS OF THE SANGRE DE CHRISTOS
By Ben B. Boothe, Sr.
I think the sign intrigued me, motivated me to try harder. “DO NOT ENTER. VIOLATORS WILL BE SHOT,” the hand painted sign said. There was a gate, wired closed, daring me to come through.
“This is a marked forest trail.” I thought. “Why would anyone be so intent on keeping people out?”
I made inquiries. The landowner was a local man, drove a school bus, and seemed to have a second secret and private life high in the Sangre de Christos. The local banker told me: "Oh, Sammy Martinez, yes he is very protective of 'his' road. Someone forgot to tell him that it was a National Forest Road, he just took it. He's scared a lot of people away from up there." The words tantalized me more. Something from my youngest days, when an adult would say "NO" worked deeply inside, telling me that a "no" was simply a test for one to do "YES." Even, years later when I ran for U.S. Congress, the motto was, "VOTE FOR YES" or sometimes just "YES!" That man's "no" was the strongest motivation he could have given to me. He followed his "No or I will shoot you!" with guerrilla war tactics. All up in this area, trail head signs, Forest Service markers, had been destroyed, trails hidden by brush or wiped out. Trees were cut and pushed over to block trails. "Hmmmmmmm," I thought, "There is something to hide here." Someone didn’t want people up there, and secrets were double attractions to me. I just needed a magic carpet to get up there.
It turned out to be an old beat up blue Jeep that I found in Las Vegas, New Mexico. “Yes it’s rough, but it has a big V-8 engine, and it will take you places that few cars can.” It was the ugliest vehicle on his lot. It was so beat up, it would only add character to drive that old “blue thing” through a mountainside forest. The salesman was hungry to get rid of the junker, his eyes were greedy. When I pulled out my wallet, he physically leaned forward, totally focused on my wallet as I opened it up. He was asking $1,800, and didn't even bat an eye when I handed the man $1,100 cash and stuffed an old title into the glove compartment. Just as I was driving out, blue smoke was only slightly less obvious than the rattle from the old rear window.
Through the smoke and noise I heard him say, "Oh, I forgot, don't bring it back, we don't take resales." I saw him shaking his head, smiling, in the rearview mirror and counting that money again. He felt like he had skinned another gringo, but had no idea what power he had passed to me. That old “Blue Thing” was my magic carpet to the closed off and hidden places I needed to see in the Sangre de Christos mountains.
It was so banged up, I left the keys in it for seven years. No one would steal it. One time I put a note on the dash under the front windshield, "Please steal me," but no one would. For a radio, there was a knob and an empty box where a radio had been, with a wire from the antenna hanging loose. Many times we regaled guests by asking if they would like to hear some music, and as we turned on the dial, we started singing our hearts out as "Blue Thing" bounced across streams and rocks. In Northern New Mexico, one song will always bring a response. THE EYES OF TEXAS, was my favorite because like the "Blue Thing," it appalled and then brought a smile to people. Usually someone would beg to stop the music, and we would allow peace and cool mountain winds with sounds of the forests to replace the singing. For over 10 years, "Blue Thing" took me places that few Anglo Saxons had seen. I crossed mountains, managed to find many places that few have visited. I would take the old jeep as high as it would go and when it was too steep and it would not go further, I’d lean it against a tree and use it for a base camp to hike higher. The electric winch, an ax and a chain saw opened up paths that would reveal many secrets and ghosts in these pristine mountains. Blue Thing was ugly, outrageous, beat up and bruised, but it had a strong V-8 engine. I put new "mountain tread" tires on it, had the transmission rebuilt, and for me, it had heart, even though the outside was a wreak. My wife thought me crazy, but I loved to go places in "Blue Thing" on Friday nights. Even the people of Mora the lowest per capita income town in the nation, would shake their heads with pity when the Blue Thing rolled up beside them. At that time, I was a bank president, and on Fridays I'd slip out of the bank in Fort Worth at 3, jump into my Cherokee 6 , fly to Las Vegas arriving just before sunset, tie the plane down, jump in the Blue Thing waiting at the airport, pick up some groceries and head to the mountains.
TRASH THE LINCOLN, KEEP THE BLUE THING
One day, the weather was bad and I could not fly, so I drove a Lincoln Town Car from Texas to Rociada. Milo Gordon, one of the rich, golfing "gang" leaders of the Pendaries Golf bunch saw me driving a new Lincoln Town-car and waived me over.
"Ben, we are going to have to do something with that Town Car. People up here are used to you driving the Blue Thing, and you are about to ruin your reputation."
"What reputation is that?" I asked.
"Ben, for years many of them have thought you were a poor broke man. You have confused the culture here, he said laughing, so darn it, get rid of the Town Car before you cause social unrest."
I said, "Milo, give me a better reason to dump my Lincoln." He didn't miss a beat. "Besides, now every woman and preacher within 20 miles is thinking of how to ask you for a contribution for their favorite charity, or marry you. I'm telling you, get rid of the Town Car, and do it fast."
I loved Milo Gordon. Big, tall, overweight, and always with a quick smile and a helping hand, he added joy to any place he went. He owned the Chrysler dealership in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and loved to tell the stories about all of the junk Chrysler made and some of the funny ways his dealership dealt with those cars. Perhaps that is why he liked my "Blue Thing" so much. It reminded him of those Valients, and Plymouths that he had persuaded his Okee customers to buy. I thought it ironic that Chrysler later bought out Jeep, and poor Milo had to sell the heirs of "Blue Thing" to his coveralled farmers near Ardmore. "Milo, why is it that preachers, farmers and insurance salesmen love to drive Plymouths?" He grinned, and said: "One counts on charity to live, the other blames every problem on the weather, while the insurance man lives by saying, 'You gonna die."
"What does that have to do with a Plymouth?"
"Well" he said as he put his hand on his chin. "Charity, because you constantly have to give to a Plymouth, fear of weather because the windshield wipers and heaters never work, and finally the fear of death is a part of driving a Plymouth." Milo's laugh was contagious. "We like to sell 'em, because they are so bad that in a year people need a new car, so we sell them a Valiant," he slapped his knee and laughed with glee. Milo could sell a boat to a Navajo living in a desert, and make you love him for it.
Thus, my Blue Thing, was stout, dependable and always got me where I needed to get to, or get out of. But when it was parked, it was time to get to know the land. When hiking, I discovered all kinds of colorful rocks, minerals and land that will never be developed, because much of the area is protected. Slowly I began to understand why some local people didn't want to share these lands. In their minds it was "theirs." I was later to learn other deeper, darker reasons they might not want people in these mysterious mountains.
One day a geologist from Albuquerque came and we headed up the mountains. He owned many old mining claims, and he had gone to great lengths to research their history. With ropes and flashlights, he showed me eight more mines that had been closed because they couldn’t get heavy equipment to some of the areas, or closed when WWII came and took away the labor. When those veterans came back, none of them wanted the back breaking jobs of mining. Plus, it was hard to get the financial capital to operate mines. Those dozens of small mines in "my mountains" were closed, sealed and hidden from all but me and few others. But, there were methods of making a mine look sealed and offer easy access anyway.
That old jeep rocked, rolled, dug and bounced over rocks, logs, gullies and paths that had first been blazed by ancient Indians, later used by prospectors, then mining companies, and most recently hunters and a few woodsmen. Often Blue Thing would start rolling and sliding down slopes so fast I would have to pick a good tree to run into to stop. Once I bounced down a slope and sailed across a switch back of the ancient road and flew through the air to the next strip of road below, there I nearly went down a vertical cliff. Blue Thing stopped in a cloud of dust with the front half hanging over empty space. With a clever leverage of cable and winch, I rescued Blue Thing and breathed a prayer of thanks. Tools and ingenuity saved me from disaster many times in those mountains. With an axe , chainsaw, chains and ropes, I discovered and followed ancient paths. On those old trails, me and Blue Thing made our way to abandoned houses, camps, even the hidden, oft-times called secret mountain retreat of Franciscans.” I found abandoned ranches, high range summer camps and found traces of gold, lithium and silver in those lost places. I encountered curious elk, delicate deer, wild turkey, raccoon, skunks, grey horned squirrel and mother bears with their cubs hibernating in old mining caves, I revisited the lives of trappers and explorers who built log cabins, and who left their beds, even left old canned goods when they left. For years there was a mountain etiquette that said always leave food when you leave, for the next one to come by.
High up I discovered two airplanes that had crashed, one with a message written on the fuselage, “Crashed here 11/2/72, walking out following the stream.” Being a pilot, I tried to imagine their experience, hitting the turbulent winds that come from the west and roll over these mountains, and being pushed down in the downward roll. As if in a time machine, I imagined the last instant seeing the trees fill the windshield, feeling the wings break off against trunks and rocks and the crash piling up a cloud of dust. The volume of the crash must have been immense. Then I imagined opening eyes and realizing that I was alive, and thinking, "I have to get out of here." Who needed Jules Verne or a time machine? I could time travel when hiking those mountains, just letting my mind run free.
I found an upper camp near the top by a little stream rolling down from a snow pack. There a local lived five months out of the year to look after livestock he herded up from the valleys to fatten them up on summer mountain grasses. He fished, picked berries and would take an elk for food when he needed protein. One night he "called the elk in," so I could see them up close. He invited me to stay at his camp for a few days. "You are an unusual Gringo. You don't come up here to kill or take things away. You just glory in this nature." He seemed to be glad to have human company, and I asked him a hundred questions, which he was glad to answer.
One morning I was trying to catch fish with my miniature fold out rod and reel. After watching me hang my line in pine trees and tangle it in river brush, he said: "First, you are using those expensive lures. The only thing they will catch are rich fishermen with more money than sense. First you have to have proper bait." "What?" "Worms," he mumbled. Then he dug up some earth worms, got a 2-foot-long piece of line with an old tiny hook. "Trout have small mouths. These are browns, look and you can see them, and they can see you." I looked, I could see them, only 5-7 inches long. "Crawl on the ground, don't cast a shadow, and gently drop the line with the worm and let it float down in front of the trout." He laid on his chest, carefully reached out and dropped the line in, and within five seconds in a flurry of bubbles and splashes he had the first fish. That morning he cooked fresh trout on a stick over an open fire, the next evening he cooked fresh elk steaks on a cast iron, wood burning stove that he had hauled up them mountain by pack horse. It was wonderful.
In the mornings I showered by a creek from a bucket with a hole in it, hanging from a tree limb. Twas a bit cold, but not as cold as sitting in the ice cold stream! The sun sparkled through the stream of water, the water became a mix of the 'fire' from the sun with the 'ice' of the glaciers when it touched my skin. It was a jolting medicine, and if your body was half asleep, it was fully awake after those showers. One did not linger about drying and dressing on those cold mornings, and he laughed, "No leisurely dressing up here, or you will freeze something off. Now you know why those mountain men didn't take baths very often. Sometimes they would wait a month or two, because it was just too cold, and no one was up here to complain about their smell," he laughed. The views, waterfalls, bear, elk, turkey, mountain goats, hummingbirds and hints of past inhabitants enthralled me. At a rocky, cold windy crest of the mountains, I sat and listened to the "crunch" of goats chewing grass as curly-horned mountain goats grazed their way to check me out. The bighorns seem to ignore the views of the entire Mora Valley miles below, or the Colorado mountains 90 miles to the north. Voices spoke to me up there, called me, tried to tell me their stories. Rarely have I felt more at home, more secure, more uplifted and yet in greater chance of danger than in those mountains. Break a leg up there alone, and a person is in mortal danger.
THE HORSE AND THE BEAR
There are secrets in the Sangre de Christos Mountains. This area, much of which is set aside as a wilderness area, is inaccessible by modern man and his machines. In those restricted areas, even Blue Thing did not pass. Entry is by foot or by horse trails, some so steep and extreme as to discourage all but the heartiest of people. One often must hike a long distance, just to get to the restricted areas, but of course, most people never have a Blue Thing or a good mountain horse, or a friendly mountain herdsman to help out. Many of the old timers park their vehicles and horse trailers as high as they dare, and then ride up and through the mountains. I found after a trek or two to the top on foot that horses were best. Although one day, I had ridden a spirited young mountain horse all the way to a high meadow and suddenly felt an urge to pass gas. The horse thought it was a bear, and took off in a full gallop. Every time I bounced on the saddle, I'd let another one, and the horse's ears were turned back, thinking a bear was gaining. Canteens, fishing poles, tin cups all began to fly off, causing even more confusion. I could see a cliff dropping off up ahead and with all of my strength literally bent the horses head around in a galloping circle till he figured out there was no bear. My mountain friend witnessed the event and howled with laughter.
"My Gringo Amigo, you just gave me the best entertainment I have seen in months," he said as tears rolled down his face and he bent over with laughter. When, with rubbery legs, I got off of the horse, I started laughing as well and learned that we didn't need a movie or a TV, we just recounted that story and with a drink of mountain water, beer, or something stronger, we could make an event of telling and retelling that story. It of course grew and exploded with detail every time we retold it. Months later I was in a board room of bank directors when one of them let a loud one. I, of course, instantly thought of that horse running from his bear and broke out into laughter to the confused and somewhat embarrassed look of those pin-striped-suited bankers. It was then that I had to distract them from profit and loss statements and tell them the story of my mountain "bear chase."
TWO REALITIES, WALL STREET AND HIGH LINE TRAIL
The secrets, the untold tales, reach out to me and have whispered to me for most of three decades now. Having been a bank president and a Wall Street type, I was attracted to this area as a place to find escape from the pressures of banking, business, finance and the ups and downs of Wall Street’s economic roller coaster. After going through the destruction of economic cycles and the power struggles of corporate America, encountering a bear or surprising on an elk with magnificent antlers was a joy. The encounters with mountain lions which horrified others, were like an inspiring communion to me. I simple said, “Nice to see you, I will not harm you. I'm just enjoying your mountains.” They seemed ok with this and always let me pass. Once high atop Skyline Trail, not far from the Hermit's Peak cut off trail near Lone Pine Mesa, I encountered a Spanish man on horseback. We stopped our horses and chatted for a moment. I instantly liked him.
“Nice up here, isn’t it?” I said.
“Yes," he said, "You just cooked your lunch in Charlie’s place.”
“Who is Charlie?” I asked.
“Didn’t you see his marks on the trees? He’s a big one.”
I then remembered the bear claw marks on the trees around the camp fire I had built.
“Oh, you know him?”
“Yes, he’s a friend.”
Then he said, “Not many gringos make it up here.”
I said, “I doubt that many of the Spanish in the valleys below make it up here either.” He smiled at the push back, then said: “Yes, you are right. Takes a special desire to come up here, I feel close to God here.”
I had a 44 magnum revolver in my saddle bag, and thinking of that bear, said, “Do you carry a gun up here for safety?”
“Oh yes, but not for my friends like Charlie. I only carry the gun for human predators. They are the worst.” He smiled. It was not threatening; it was a truth. Men in the mountains with guns were far more dangerous that beast, if you were in tune with nature. We both laughed and he tipped his hat, spurred his horse, disappearing on a trail that went through a thick ancient forest of Aspen. There was something touching and special about meeting another man on a trail high above the world of "civilization" way down below. He and I had something in common, it was unspoken, but it was real. A few days later when I got back down to my cabin, one of Charlie's friends dropped by to say "hello" as he peeked from behind a tree in my front yard.
HIDDEN TRAILS TO THE WILDERNESS BECKON
When I was building my rustic log house high in the mountains, I climbed to the roof rafters, turned around and looked back, and saw the most magnificent views. I called out to my wife and my two sons. "Hey, come up here and look at this." They climbed up and here above the tree tops we could observe great canyon entrances leading up to the highest of the Sangre de Christos mountains. Then and there, I asked Tony, my carpenter, "Can you build a crow's nest here?" He laughed and said, "Sure, only you would build a house with a crow's nest." Over the years uncounted visitors have climbed the steep stairs to see the view from our crow's nest.
It gave vision to help as I created my own maps. Starting with binoculars and an old telescope, I could make out faint signs, pathways up the mountains, I knew I would have to explore them. I spent the next 10 years discovering and documenting those mountain trails. To 99.99 percent of mankind, this was unknown territory that they would never experience -- pure wilderness, where nature's rules, rule. It was a discovery of this rugged, wild unknown that enriched my life. The local people rarely spoke of the trails or pathways. Forest rangers rarely took these trails, but a couple generously shared surprises that awaited the bold and the energetic. Forest signs and trail signs were regularly destroyed in those days, so with a detailed forest map and a Big Chief tablet, I began to make my own maps. There were secrets there, treasures and tales, fortunes and disasters, that local people seemed intent on holding secret and dear. I determined to learn the secrets of the Sangre de Christos that the natives knew, but would not share. And years later, while sitting in some boring executive board meeting, I would drift back to a sparkling mountain stream where I had lowered my face into cold pure mountain water and drink deeply.
Now cold, pure water from snow melt atop the mountains will refresh your spirit! Sometimes one could spot the sparkle of gold (or fool’s gold) in the river bottom while drinking nature's purest drink.
In my search, there were abandoned gold, silver and lithium mines, abandoned ranches, an abandoned retreat of the Franciscans. Why did they go there, of all places? Why did they leave? I found mines that seemed to still be alive but were not on any maps. They became "mine" in a sense, because I was one of the few who knew how to find them. I imagined the prospectors who built those old mine shafts by hand, one pick swing at at time. one log beam at a time. Many a time I would dig through a sealed entrance to a mine, rope tied around my waist with the other end to a tree or rock outside, and explore those old shafts. They were instructive, like reading a book. One time I followed a shaft in a downward angle nearly 75 feet, until I hit water. The shafts down low were horizontal, but filled with water, which seemed amazing because I was on a mountain at least 8,000 feet high. Then I understood the old pipe. They must have been pumping water out with some kind of portable power supply, engine or generator.
One day, an abandoned ranch appeared before me that had one of the most impressive mountain barns hand-built of hand-hewn logs shaped from the mountain forest. I often wonder why the rancher left that beautiful place he had discovered and worked so hard to build. Perhaps a mountain blizzard came, and he found it too difficult to survive up high. Perhaps his wife refused to live in such a remote place. Or was there another tragedy that caused him to leave his paradise? I knew the stories of wives in these mountains.
MOUNTAINS VS CITY LIFE WITHDRAWAL PAINS
An executive with a well known corporation brought his millions and his wife, and built a gorgeous mountain home, three levels, astonishing view, spa, hot tub, entertainment porches to die for. It was the closest house to our rustic mountain cabin. One day I knocked on his front door, and the woman of the house answered. Her face was pale, contorted with sadness.
"Hey Suzanne, I was wondering, we are out of eggs, and I am trying to bake some cookies. Can I borrow...." She interrupted, "You can have anything you want, I've got to get out of these mountains. I've never been so depressed in my life." As she spoke, there were hints of anger, despair, desperation. I heard footsteps and her husband walked up behind her.
"Hey Ben! Good to see you." his voice was cheerful, almost too cheerful. "Don't worry, Suzanne will be ok when she gets back to the country club and her friends at the spa in Dallas. She is having a serious case of mall withdrawal," he laughed. She didn't. She glared at him, and when they left that time, they didn't return. Their mountain mansion remained vacant for over a year, and finally sold.
It occurred to me that it isn't much fun having a showplace with no friends to show it too. Suzanne taught me that possessions are given light and life when you can share them with others. A mountain mansion with no friends or family to enjoy it with is like a Rolls Royce in a hog pen, it just doesn't work well. Me, I was ok, I had Blue Thing and a wife and kids who loved the mountains as much as I. For us, the wilderness and 'our' mountains became the largest free entertainment center park in the world. One day another mountain hiker, a former executive with a large car manufacturer, told me. "Up here, one has to reach down and find fun and interest within. More than anywhere, the wilderness is a place where one can come to know himself or herself and get into the flow of finding peace within. With that you can find joy any place in the universe." He was correct. To truly find peace in wilderness areas, you need to find it within, resolve things within, face and deal with things within.
We were keeping two kids one day and they had their computers and cell phones and said they were "bored" in the mountains because they could not get a good signal. For two weeks they did not even leave the house, they seemed afraid to walk outside, through the forests or up the mountains.
"I am bored, can we leave?" one of them said to me with a whining voice.
"Bored people are the most boring of all," I said . "Because they don't know how to reach down, and make their own entertainment."
The child said, "What entertainment, there isn't even a TV here!"
"Instead of sleeping until 10 a.m., did you know we had a family of deer, a mountain lion, and a gaggle of wild turkey in our back yard this morning?"
His eyes went wide. "A mountain lion?"
"Yes, he was following the deer! And did you know a bear came through our front yard?"
"Yes way, come here and look!" In our flower bed there were big bear tracks in the soft mud.
"How about we build an entertainment observation deck high in a tree like they do in Africa?" I suggested.
He said, "Ok but I don't know how!"
So he and his sister and I spent the next 2 days building our own tree house deck. Not fancy, but it was their mountain mansion. After that they didn't complain of being bored. "Papa Ben, can we play checkers or chess on our mountain deck?" the little girl would ask, and we'd climb up there and talk, watch the birds, play games and just enjoy forest sounds. I took a camera and binoculars and we started finding things. "How many birds and squirrels can you identify by sound?" I would ask, and 'boring' simply disappeared. They simply needed to be withdrawnl from the electronic and media world that someone has scripted and get to "reality" time. Also there was another aspect. They needed an adult to give them attention, something they seemed to have missed.
THE SURPRISING PAIN IN THE DERRIERE
There are stories, indeed legends, that continue to call out to me from those places that only a few ever see. One particular valley that once had a house in it continues to give me chills when I walk by, and I have learned to avoid putting footsteps on that land. Something or someone dark was there, the people are long gone, but the spirits still haunt the place. The man, by local accounts, was a "pain." I can imagine that man in a rumpled long sleeve shirt standing in his mud-covered boots on his wooden front porch glaring at visitors, mumbling, "Get off my land. Leave me alone. Get out!" If you have a sensitive nature you can pick up on those frequencies. The memories of time that come from that place are violent and suck up the light. Even the man's glare was threatening. Rumors abound of people that he harmed at that place. Those are dimensions that I dare not explore.
There are caves near there that I have explored and wondered, who else stopped here for shelter in a snowstorm? Certainly bear and wolves slept there, or a passing pilgrim like myself. There is nothing like sitting in a cave with cold rain and hail crashing down, beside a little fire, with some coffee and a can of Vienna sausage. One day as I sat inside a cave, I could feel the air and sprinkles of cold raindrop mist from a sheet of water streaming just inches from my face. The sound of water falling is hypnotizing, deeply relaxing. In an instant the sun came out, and a shimmering wall of water curtain was visible just for an instant. It was astonishing. The only distraction was pain from where I was sitting. Instinctively I reached underneath, and it was sharp. As I looked closely, I realized that it was a flint arrowhead. The time travel started again. Some Indian had been in this very spot, perhaps ages ago, sending me back to wonder and imagine what he was doing there. The sun came out for a moment, and I held it up to the sun, a thin line of light outlined it, and I sensed the energy and skill that went into it, by some Indian long ago. He left a pain in the derriere that sits at my desk even today. I touch it sometimes to share the same thing he felt.
There is some magical spell that comes over the few who discover and "know" these mountains that I cannot explain. I have learned that it is best sometimes not to share my precious discoveries, or to do so only with careful consideration. Others often do not share the awe or respect that the mountains demand. Once, after discovering a cave with a mother bear and her two cubs hibernating, I shared the location with a man, a flat-lander, who had more guns and wealth than judgement. He promptly hiked up, killed the mother bear, and left the cubs on their own. He felt very macho and bragged that he had killed a bear. Somehow the idea of killing a sleeping mother bear with her cubs brought him no shame because he didn't report that part. He certainly must have bragged about his new bear rug and glowed with macho pride, to his guests. He violated my "RULE NUMBER ONE: "DON'T COME TO THESE MOUNTAINS TO KILL, DESTROY OR DEFACE." Don't get me wrong, I understand hunting, but there is a protocol, an ethic, that gives the hunt some dignity. That man was a braggart, representing something imbalanced and without class. Truly a pain in the derriere.
I hear the cries of hippies who were murdered here in these mountains. They discovered these mountains in the late 1960's and formed a community in the mountain valleys above Mora Lake. They saw the beauty here and were offended by the hostility that people in cities had for their "hippy" ways. So they made homes above Mora Lake. There they fished, grew gardens, smoked their marijuana and harvested mushrooms. They stayed among themselves, were friendly enough when I passed through, and I and met some of them.
The girls worked hard up there to make those old abandoned log cabins into safe and comfortable homes, plus they still managed to wear wild mountain orchids in their hair while they cooked, washed and managed to live. When the winter snows hit, the locals thought that they would go away, but they learned to survive the mountain snows. One day, a party of the dark ones, some of them locals (we would call them rednecks or hotheads today) from Mora and the area quietly came up and fell upon them. Those hippie kids were executed in mass by locals who simply didn’t want them there. Some worked the crowd up because of the "invasion of our culture" or a "bad influence on the kids." But others were angry because these kids had altered the balance and source of the drug trade in the area. The dark ones, of northern New Mexico, with their meth labs and profitable sources, didn't want any new competition. I cannot hike those valleys without hearing the cries of those girls, who simply wanted to wear flowers in their hair and spend some time of youthful freedom before they went back to traditional society. They died for their youthful exuberance. The FBI came to investigate, and not a single person of the Mora Valley disclosed a word. It wasn't and still isn't safe to expose the "dark ones" of the dark side. Those young people simply died, and their deaths were described to me years later, riding high in the mountains with a local man who was there.
"We took care of those hippies, we didn't want them bringing their drugs here," he sail. He wasn't a hippy, but he was a local who ironically got hooked on drugs trafficked by locals and who later committed suicide. So now, I suspect the stories are lost to rumor. Bigotry, greed, control and criminal acts among men exists in those remote mountain valleys, and criminals who live in town and look like normal people have a dark side. They exist and destroy lives in New Mexico, even as happens in big cities. But I hear the cries of those kids who came to the mountains to escape persecution and to try to find a life of peace and independence. I hear them in the moans of the mountain winds when I visit Mora Lake. The dark people of the Northern New Mexico area violated RULE NUMBER ONE. The ghosts are still witness to that tragedy.
I hear the laughter of rough mountain prospectors who found quartz, gold, silver and later made more money mining lithium than gold. I hear the heavy chains and earth movers that dug deep shafts that still exist to this day, with veins of color that helped build and enrich the city of Las Vegas, New Mexico. The trenches, roads, plumes and mine tailings have largely been hidden or taken back by the mountains. But if you look carefully, you'll see that there are a surprising number of mining camps up high. I seem to also hear the soft steps of the Indians who hunted these forests and followed the game trails that are often forest trails today. They must have seen the flowers, aspen, and hidden lakes that must have inspired them to be closer to the Great Spirit. In those hidden lakes by my campfire, I have thought that they shared the same spot, the same earth and sky.
I hear the songs of the hummingbirds, who fly here from Mexico to sing their song. They often hover in front of my face as if to say, "Hola Amigo, hello again!" One got his beak stuck in a window screen one day, and it was an enthralling pleasure to hold his delicate body in my hand as I rescued him. No doubt he had quite a tale to tell his hummer friends. He came back often to greet me after that, and even seemed to pose for photos.
These visions are like time travel to me, as they bring forth a different space, a different dimension. It is attainable for those who dare. They are not to be taken lightly, as nature is unforgiving, but most generous. People are filled with doubt, fear, greed, control issues and darkness, or they are open to light, grace, love, respect, kindness and charity. All of it becomes apparent in the high country.
Mountains and communion with nature are the great gift of existence. This gift is medicine for the spirit. Teddy Roosevelt, and later Franklin Roosevelt, said that "Even if most Americans don't get to spend much time in our mountain forests, it is important that we know that they are there. That knowledge is an elixir to the spirit."
I urge you to make the effort to touch and be touched by the mountain lands. As my dear father used to lecture me when we went into the forests, "Leave it with no damage, no garbage, cleaner than you found it, as if no one has ever been here." Yes, remember, RULE NUMBER ONE!
If you see my mountain friends up there, tell them Ben said "Hola."