Day 11: Truth or Consequences, Hillsboro, Kingston, Silver City
September 26, 2016
I did make it a point to stop in all of these places. Secretly, or maybe not so secretly, I had been scheming to relocate to Truth or Consequences or Silver City because of a vivid dream I had about the area. I thought that perhaps I’d succeed in escaping the wind, dreariness, and cold weather of Cheyenne, Wyoming for the winter.
The drive from Albuquerque to Truth or Consequences (T or C) was, in fact, very vivid although much drier and drearier than I’d anticipated. I couldn’t say I wasn’t warned about the intense energies of T or C or the beautiful view over Emory Pass just beyond. Stopping in Truth or Consequences, I immediately caught onto its ghostliness. I knew from the history that many ghosts do reside here– but the people I spoke with were all genuinely happy and friendly, so I assume they are not hard to get along with. The sky was densely overcast and wind was abundant- not so divergent from any small, ghosty Wyoming town.
My first impression of this town differed drastically from that of a store owner’s first impression. Her reason for staying in this small town for over thirty-five years began with the sight of a happy dog laying carelessly on the side of the road as she first entered town, wagging its tail to greet her. Soon afterwards, she drove past a cowboy and an Indian slapping each other on the back, both with guns in their pockets, laughing gaily. This conversation also comprised of this woman’s entire life story, and I believe this was the highlight of my brief encounter with T or C. I’d been wanting to soak in one of the many hot springs there, but the suppressive weather and energy of this particular day was too strange for me to stay.
However, the blue hue of the rugged mountains was just as vivid as I’d imagined. The alternative interpretation for this dream, as I suspected, was simply that if I had not dared to venture this far, there would be consequences. What I could not have foreseen was the significance of “truth” in the name. It would only be later in my journey when I would come to an epiphany about this…
The woman I spoke with advised me, with an instinctive gleam in her eyes, to head over the mountain instead of taking the freeway so that I could stop in Hillsboro and Kingston. “Just buy a bottle of water or something so you can step out and get a sense of the culture in these towns. They’re very eccentric and worth knowing.” This reminded me of a similar, long conversation I had with a market owner in Palisade– the same instinctive gleam in her eyes. She’d even written down for me the same landmarks in these towns I was now being directed to again .
As I came over the mountain and into Hillsboro, I pulled over by the sole Post Office although I had a feeling none of these four businesses were open on Tuesdays. As soon as I opened my car door, I shrieked in astonishment at the recognition of a CHEYENNE CAR passing by me! I’m positive I would have personally known whomever may have been inside the car, as I saw them throw their hands up in similar astonishment. This town was literally in the middle of nowhere settled into a desert mountain’s foothills, total population 124, and not another car in sight. What are the odds?
The clouds had not made any reassuring moves by the time I made it to Kingston, NM- just below Emory Pass- giving the atmosphere an unsettling and wearisome vibe. The roads were windy, and though apparently there were only about 60 miles to go, it seemed at this rate like it might be never-ending. I pulled into the infamous Blackrange Lodge, a landmark both new acquaintances had suggested. I stepped inside to an eery air and creaky floors, dusty furniture and dim-light edges. A telephone rang loudly, cracking the silence and stillness.
“Oh, hi, Mom- how are you?” It was a woman’s voice, and somewhat a relief to know perhaps ghosts and dust mites were not the only inhabitants of this lodge.
I’d wanted to stay and talk, maybe acquiring some concealed answer to the mystery of why I had been directed here. I didn’t feel like interrupting the conversation, so I quietly stepped out into the cool early-afternoon air.
I opened my arms to the expansiveness of the Gila National Forest when I mounted the viewing point of Emory Pass, exiting my car for a moment to do so. The remaining drive was downward and windy, passing the Gila Cliff Dwellings and the City of Rocks. Mysteriously, hauntingly beautiful.
This was not what I’d been expecting. What I’d been expecting, perhaps, was more of a tourists’ appeal. More color, more amenities, more people. What I received instead was a sense of realness of this southern New Mexico land: a brutal honesty was nestled in the ancient pines and cliff dwellings. I’d heard word of various wild hot springs littering the entire forest, which was enticing to me and I would have attended them alone had it not been for pressed time and poor sense of direction into the unknown wilderness.
My sense of direction was actually improving with uncanny accuracy throughout the course of the venture so far, but I’d been too far away from my homeland to notice any such changes.
Eternity rolled around before I finally set tires on the city limit I’d been so intent upon visiting for the entire year. I still had hills to climb yet after reaching the limit, and couldn’t see the city. When it became visible, it was not anything I’d imagined. The clouds were even darker, the air was even more intense and unwelcoming. I came to realize this was in part because of the minerals of St. Rita’s Mining Site blowing around in the wind. In all honesty but with no disrespect to the city, it was not beautiful like I’d heard from many references. Already I did not meld with the flow of this city; it had more of a frazzling effect on my spirit and body.
Or so I thought. I felt exhausted when I arrived at my host’s house. I drove back and forth past it at least four times before finally recognizing the entrance down a gravel path. I walked up the steps, trembling with angst from the drive. The door flung open as I mounted the porch, and a woman with long silver hair greeted me with a warm smile and a bow, “Welcome, Camille. Namaste. My other guests are also writers and musicians who are looking forward to meeting you.”
I walked in to meet Rob, a writer, who was on the same path as mine (originally, anyway): on a mission to complete his novel which takes place in New Mexico. We talked for awhile about the parallelism of this, and the process of writing. He was working and traveling with his wife, Laura, who was a professional jazz singer I would meet later. One of my unspoken, lost dreams is to be a jazz singer.
Lora, our host, talked to me about my journey and also brought up the Black Range Lodge. “Did you meet Catherine?” She mentioned Catherine is always looking for help and that Lora herself worked at this lodge for a few months. This lonely lodge could have been a job opportunity for me had I not been so unimpressed by the area’s solitude and overcast skies. I did contact Catherine about work options and live music, and she agreed that sometimes crowds of guests would like to hear live music if I was interested in performing that weekend. I wasn’t able to, but I was beginning to see the formation of a future music tour through New Mexico.
I rested in my room until nearly 6pm, then headed up to Pinos Altos for open mic night at the Buckhorn. This is something I’d researched the day before in Albuquerque and was excited to see I would be able to attend on a Monday night. While everyone else in the world was absorbed in the first 2016 Presidential Debate, I was in the highlands of a desert mountain town at a historic bar with eccentric paintings covering every square inch of its walls. It was raining, nearly freezing.
Classic country music was reverberating from the man in the corner as I walked inside- Johnny Cash and other old classics. I sat at the bar and ordered a bowl of green chili. Green chili is something to savor at any location in New Mexico, especially when one is shivering from the cold of late September. The two characters a couple seats down on either side of me at the bar were questionable conversationalists, making me feel a little on edge of my barstool. I was grateful when, after half an hour, the host and previous performer of open mic sat down next to me. He reminded me of two people I know from my mother’s hometown, making me feel more at home.
We watched the next performer, Gene Booth, apparently coined as “New Mexico’s Country Music Legend”, take his place on stage. His music was reminiscent of what I imagine the old Spanish polka-folk songs my New Mexico family used to dance to must have sounded like. Maybe that was just my imagination at first impression… he did also sound very similar to Johnny Cash and George Jones. It was a rare treat and comedy to watch him perform.
When I began singing my set, I watched all the customers of this restaurant and bar set down their forks and glasses to listen. I was in awe of their intent observation of my fingerpicking style and my voice. I watched positive gossip circle each table, some describing the range of my voice in hand motions. Some made eye contact with me and smiled, nodding their heads. It was a special moment, as they had not done this for the previous musicians (likely because these two were regulars). I felt accomplished after this short set, though the crowd was diminished more than usual this particular night.
I talked with the remaining performers and friends of performers. One described Silver City as “the melting pot of misfits”. The people I met here were all truly unique, from all walks of life. Not many people, I learned, were originally from the town. They’d come in from a variety of different locations for different reasons. They are the ones who make this location an authentic, artistic, and open-minded place to live.
It was interesting, but not what I’d expected out of a place that had been calling for a few months. Maybe I wasn’t giving myself enough time, but it was initially clear to me that my life path did not require the immediate relocation to southern New Mexico.