Earlier this week, the dogs and I took a drive to the other side of the mountains east of Albuquerque to hike on a trail in the Manzano Mountains that we hadn’t walked on for a while. Our route took us through several land grant communities that have their roots back to the days when this part of the country was held by Mexico.
The land was granted in the 1830s and 1840s as a buffer against potential encroachment from Texas and the United States. When the communities were settled, their economy was based upon raising sheep.
Being far away from the Rio Grande and isolated on the other side of the mountains, they would have been in constant danger from raids by hostile Plains Indians. It would have been a very tough life. Many descendants of the original settlers still live in the area today.
Even though the communities are less than fifty miles from Albuquerque, there is still a sense of isolation and of it being a different place. Once past the outskirts of Albuquerque the first community on our route was Escobosa. Other than a highway sign and a small church, there is not much to identify Escobosa as a settlement.
As an aside, if you want to learn more about places like Escobosa or actually explore New Mexico, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of The Place Names of New Mexico by my friend Bob Julyan. The book is indispensable as it has great background information and interesting factoids on every town, settlement, and obscure crossroad in the State. It is the definitive New Mexico book.
Returning to the drive, the next land grant community on our route, Chilili, may be the most hostile place that you will ever drive through. The operative word for the community seems to be NO! I’m not sure if a sentence in Chilili would be considered complete without the word NO! I wonder what would happen if the word Yes snuck its way into a sentence.
Rather than trying to explain, let me share some pictures.
Upon exiting the land of No and returning somewhat to the world of normalcy, our route passed through beautiful New Mexico countryside. Being on the east side of the mountains where there is more rain, it is much greener than many parts of New Mexico.
Our route eventually took us to Tajique. Compared to Chilili, Tajique is a warm and welcoming community. There are even a couple of shops where you can pick up a snack.
Tajique may also be the firewood capital of New Mexico if not the entire world. There are huge piles of firewood everywhere. I imagine if we take this drive in a month or two we would see pickup truck after pickup truck pouring out of the mountains full of wood.
What a tough way to eke out a living. But for town like Tajique, gathering wood is the economic opportunity. Think of the effort it takes to find the wood, cut the wood, split the wood, haul it into town, and then stand by your truck on a cold day trying to sell it. Fortunately for the woodcutters, there is a market for the firewood as many homes in New Mexico rely upon wood for heat. I just hope that there is enough money in it for the woodcutters to make a profit.
One thing that is always fun when driving through the small towns of New Mexico is taking time to check out the cemeteries along the way, and every settlement including Chilili had one. They always give you a sense of the community, and in New Mexico the cemeteries happen to be quite colorful and are a form of folk art.
After passing to Tajique, the dogs and I made it to our hiking destination and had a great walk. And as for a wandering lesson, there is always something to learn and see on the journey whether it is on foot or behind the steering wheel.