Archive for October, 2008

Friday, Oct. 31 – Fort Craig, NM

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Awake about 4:30 AM but lie still while Denny sleeps on. Orion and the Dogs are up high in the southern sky. Eventually there’s a slow graying to the east and Fra Cristobal Mountain catches the ruby red sunrise while the entire valley is still in shadow.

After morning ablutions, I’m sitting at the table as the sun clears the horizon behind Black Mesa. Light is coming in over my left shoulder and the entire valley is golden hued. Outside, a cottontail wanders through the side yard hopping a few feet, nibbling, then moving on for other food. It’s the kind of morning that makes your heart sing and grateful to be alive to see such a day begin.

Denny and I prepare to ride our “mule” today. The trail in this area is so poorly known and access is so uncertain that we decide to resort to using the off road vehicle (ORV) to help us cover far more ground than we could just by hiking alone. We return to Tiffany Canyon where we stopped yesterday and while Denny starts hiking the canal road, I drive to the base of the bluffs looking for evidence of original trail.

The Rio Grande valley in this area experienced some horrendous floods back in the 1860’s and in 1929. An area we passed this morning was reportedly covered by as much as 18 feet of silt, so I don’t expect much. With erosion from river course changes and deposition by floods – what are the chances?

Still, I drive over to the bluffs. Within a quarter-mile, I believe I can see faint swales to the east of the two-track road I’m following. Proceeding further south, there appear unmistakable traces of wagon road and old habitations. The foundation ruins are younger than the Battalion period, but back then, one didn’t build new roads just for fun, so major sections of this road were followed by the Battalion then used as the area developed with more settlers.

Once we find the road, we shift to it and hike the bluffs. As the journalists wrote, there’s lots of sand and hills to climb up and down. Not large hills, to be sure, but hills and sand don’t mix well. Their journey is more amazing to me every day.

There’s even a major cemetery with hundreds of graves. Most interesting to me is that so many graves lack headstones, covered instead by cobblestones – much like the descriptions of Battalion members who died and were buried along the way. Of those with headstones, many lack any inscription. A few have a just a cross to proclaim their faith, but whose names are known only unto God. It was tough out here for a long time.

We are guests on the Armandaris Land Grant Ranch that dates back to Spanish Colonial times. It’s currently owned by Ted Turner, a staunch preservationist, environmentalist and who wants to see this land returned to a more natural status. Large sections of the area are being worked to remove salt cedar and other invasive trees. Cottonwoods are being replanted to bring the area back to what it was like when the Chihuahua Trail was active – more like what the Battalion experienced.

Our campsite for the night – and the end of today’s hike is Fort Craig, an Army post from the Civil War period. In fact, a major CW battle – the Battle of Valverde, was fought right here. The Fort is in ruins but is very similar to Fort Union which we visited early this month back near Watrous. This site had over 20,000 visitors last year – amazing but true. We’re nearly ten miles by road to I-25 and five of that is via dirt road. You have to love CW history to come here but people do because it’s important to remember.

Tomorrow we have another eight miles to do, a mesa to hike and the el Camino Real International Heritage Center to visit. Until tomorrow evening, I remain YHS –

Ebenezer Brown, 2nd Sgt, Co A

PS – Riding the ORV today, I learned that my beard has become aerodynamic. Apparently it has a significant drag coefficient when I’m at speed. If I turn slightly sideways, it wants to snap my head around when it catches the wind. Weird. This effect isn’t noticeable at 3 mph or even 4 when I’m in a rush. – krh

PPS – Oh! And I found another live rattlesnake today – my second of the Trek. Was stooping to examine a mineral encrustation on a boulder when I noticed it moving a couple feet off to my right. Only 18 inches or so with just 2 or 3 buttons. He was buzzing those buttons for all he was worth as he worked his way backwards under some other boulders. Cute little guy. Didn’t have the camera though. Dang! - krh

Thursday, October 30 – Tiffany Canyon, NM

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Note: If you’re tracking us with a map, don’t look for Tiffany Canyon as a town. It’s a large arroyo that empties into the west side of the Rio Grande. It’s about 8 miles north of Fort Craig historic site. Check the website for our tracking updates. To see our progress, go to:

At Socorro, we say goodbye to Jana and Peter who have hosted us for nearly a week. Thanks guys. Good luck on grad school.

But, wait… not so fast. We can’t leave YET!

I have to put the final polish on the BYU Ed Week proposal then print it. Denny runs it down to the overnight freight expediter office for next day delivery. Jerry works on getting the trailer ready to move. I get a phone call for a newspaper interview that takes an hour and then have to send more forms via e-mail that THAT takes another hour to complete.

We have to get fueled up, purchase a few odds-n-ends before we leave civilization, make camping reservations, check our maps against our plans, find the radios, eat some lunch, then we finally move the vehicles down to Fort Craig. We set the new camp, greet the BLM camp host couple, Diane and Arthur who we’ll spend some time with later.

About 4 PM, I finally climb in the car and Denny ferries me to the south end of the Bosque del Apache NWR (see yesterday). The Snow Geese are still around so Denny gets to check them out and the see the cranes. Did you know the Crane family of bird species is over 50 million years old? I didn’t, but it sure explains why the look so… dinosaur-ish – don’t you think?

Didn’t expect it today, but I think I found some wagon swales as I hiked. After a few miles I get to Tiffany Canyon – a very large arroyo canyon that drains I don’t know how many square miles – but it’s big. Denny and I meet up at the end of a road just as the sun sets and it starts to get dark.

We take some photos of the very thin waxing crescent moon, Venus and Jupiter. Arriving back at the trailer about 8 PM I notice that it’s the first time we’ve had dark skies for weeks – since about Springer at the last new moon. I pull out the maps and work on our route for the next few days while Denny cooks. We have just enough energy to eat, clean up and head to bed after another long day.

On the other hand, we’re excited because we’re about to enter the area where Cooke’s Wagon Road was cut by the Battalion.

Wednesday, October 29 – Bosque del Apache NWR

Friday, October 31st, 2008

A late start due to another flat tire on the trailer. Grrrrr!

But finally, we start hiking out of San Antonio where we stopped yesterday. It’s a small village – probably the last one the Battalion passed on their way south. Still not much here. There’s a nice 200 acre parcel for sale if anyone’s interested. Water rights go with it.

Today’s highlight is our entrance into the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Bosque (prn: BOSS-kay or key – both seem to be OK) means “Wood” and the rest is probably self explanatory. The Apache Woods or Woods of the Apaches was an old time gathering place for the traders. Cottonwoods and willows constituted the woods providing a campsite with shade – a rare luxury in this area.

The staff reminds us that hiking off approved trails is not allowed. After all, the concept of a wildlife refuge is that the animals come first; recreation and people second. They also warn me I cannot carry my musket on the NWR. No problem.

There are thousands of snow geese – blazing white in the bright fall sunlight while they float on the deep blue water reflecting the skies color. Behind them are red and chocolate brown mountains with creamy tan layers of limestone.

In a few weeks this place will be swarming with birds. The Sand Hill cranes will be here in force – some have already arrived. Hundreds of bird species migrate through this location. It really is quite spectacular. So spectacular that the place will also be swarming with thousands of birders. Sorry we won’t be here to see it and participate. Put it on our list of things to do/see when Trek is done.

In 1846 one of the Battalion guys shot a pelican here and taking the throat pouch, made himself a hat to protect himself from the sun. Couldn’t do that today. You’d land in jail. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200. Go to jail. Go directly to jail.

Tuesday, Oct. 28 – San Antonio, NM

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Hiking early today, I’m joined by Mike Bilbo, a local reenactor and an employee of the wonderful Socorro BLM District Field Office. Mike, in both his official and unofficial capacities has been very helpful and encouraging. He’s also someone who cares about the history all around him.

We tool out of the Socorro Plaza just after 8 AM and Mike regales me with all the local information. When we were at Rancho de las Golondrinas early this month, Mike and I didn’t get to spend much time together. We were both pretty busy with our respective reenacting responsibilities, so I didn’t have a good opportunity to get to know him. It was delightful to find that Mike is a renaissance man – well versed and knowledgeable regarding many things.

Socorro is old – very old. The original pueblo predates the arrival of Juan Onate in 1598. That was just 400 years ago, so yes, Socorro is old. At the same time, they’ve got a lot going for them now. The Battalion men and Lt. Emory note the mineral deposits. The New Mexico college of mining was established here in the late 1800’s. Lots of students still. Juan Onate named it Socorro, meaning “succor” or “aid” as here his group were hosted well by the native tribe. We’ve been treated well also.

Our route south out of town led past the old Dragoon (cavalry) camp, then along the base of the bluffs and beside the acequia (prn: Ah-SECK-e-ah) or canal. Through this whole stretch, the canal stayed beside the bluffs and away from the river, just where you’d also expect the road to be. The new canals are much larger and longer than the old ones, but the principles still apply on where things should be located. There’s a good logic to it.

As we pass a canal work site, Mike casually mentions how cloudbursts will create flash floods that bring down lots of rocks, gravel and sand from the mountains. If the storm is severe, the debris may cross over the canal and block it, requiring a thorough cleaning; shoveling it out so water can flow again. I note that just downstream of the partially blocked canal, there’s a section of water moving faster – like a mini-rapid.

That triggers my mind on a Battalion member (was it Hancock?) mentioning there being rapids in the Rio Grande. The comment seemed out of place when I read it since the Rio Grande isn’t the kind of river to have rapids, but the comment stuck in my mind. When Mike tells about having to clean out the acequia’s, the rapids comment finally makes sense.

REALLY severe floods or repeated floods from the same canyon would carry debris out past the canal all the way to the river, creating either a constriction or a complete damming of the river. This would create a rapid at the blockage…AND…the blocking material would form a large alluvial fan and “push” the river to the opposite side of the valley. HA! The journalist comment finally makes sense and the casual comment may make it possible to pin down another location along the Rio Grande. Gotta find the comment and check the maps to find a BIG alluvial fan for the day they recorded the rapids.

The communities were getting very few and far between in 1846. In fact, as we pass through this area, it represents the last set of communities until the Battalion reached Tucson in mid-December.

San Antonio is small and I refuse to give any free publicity to a restaurant that serves below average hamburgers that are overpriced – even if they have fancy-schmancy chili pepper sauce.

In the evening, Mike and his wife Barbara treated us to dinner at a local restaurant. After eating, we just sat and chatted for over an hour about all kinds of things – a continuation of our earlier wide ranging discussions. We enjoyed the time away from camp and the opportunity to converse with someone other than ourselves.

Monday, Oct 27 – Socorro, NM

Monday, October 27th, 2008

After leaving Albuquerque, the Battalion had difficulty with the deep sands which slowed down their progress considerably. We’re taking advantage of our faster hiking pace and trading being “ahead of schedule” for conducting some research in Socorro and the area.

Mike Bilbo is the BLM Recreation Planner at Socorro Field Office. Mike was one of the reenactors at Golondrinas a few weeks ago (on his own time). He also is quite excited about our rehike and has been of immense help in determining whether our proposed hike route will be on public lands. Today I spent most of the day in consultation with BLM staff, volunteers and checking maps. They also have a marvelous aerial photographic collection.

We get to show off our Battalion route software and history project to a few of the staff. The GIS specialist gave it a hearty “Way cool!” vote of approval. Such expressions of admiration are highly appreciated coming from those who do GIS for a living. Being a ‘newbie’ to the geographic information systems world is daunting. I wasn’t raised on computer programming and have had to learn it on the fly while holding down jobs, being a parent, having church callings and doing volunteer work. So, to be told that I’m breaking “new ground” (which I’m NOT) is flattering even if it’s not entirely correct. There are lots of others doing similar things. I’m just putting a history spin on the content. Others will get around to it soon enough.

But, I’m finalizing a proposal to present at a BYU conference next summer. The application has to be in by Thursday, so it will be another late night so we can mail tomorrow. We will let you know how it goes. If we’re accepted, it will be a three or four day series of “show and tell” about the Battalion route, the things we’re learning during the Trek and areas for future study.

Sunday, Oct 26 – Socorro, NM

Monday, October 27th, 2008

It’s been a very mellow day for us. Beautiful sunrise and we were treated to a quiche, hash brown, sausage, OJ and bacon breakfast by our hosts, Peter and Jana Valdez. As Bob Tingey would say, “Where’s the suffering?” The RV is parked beside the Valdez’s apartment and we are pulling power to run our necessary equipment that lets us keep everyone in touch.

After breakfast we attend services and speak with quite a few folks. Then, an afternoon of letters, planning and a rousing evening of dominos with Jana. Again, I get to work on past-due blogs then off to bed after midnight.

Saturday, Oct 25 – Socorro, NM

Monday, October 27th, 2008

We think we’ve finally figured out how to improve our “real time” tracking so it’s more consistently updating. You can see our GPS route updates about every ten minutes by going to this URL:

Today is Ron Kirkpatrick’s last day hiking this week. He’s been a great assistance to the Trek and has earned our heartfelt appreciation for all his work, encouragement, upbeat outlook and uncomplaining patience. We also appreciate Susan, his wife, for letting Ron come play with us all week. Susan is a trooper. May be Ron can join us again sometime in the future.

Nothing in particular about our route today - fifteen miles total. We pass south of Lamitas (aka, Limitar) where the valley narrows to just two thirds of a mile wide. Perhaps this is the location where Azariah Smith and others in the advance group had to get into the water and repair the road for the wagons. Pueblito Point is a highly likely candidate for this event.

We complete our hiking just after noon. Ron’s daughter, Jana joins us to hike along our last mile of el Camino Real into the Socorro plaza. Interestingly, the LDS church building is on the Camino so the Battalion marched past the future building site some 162 years ago. Next we passed the “new” Catholic chapel. This building was built after the Battalion’s time, but in the same location as the old building. A short stroll brings us to the plaza – the smallest one we’ve seen. Makes one wonder if this was the original plaza for Socorro. Have to look into that sometime.

We celebrate by driving down to the Owl Café at San Antonio, south of Socorro. The Owl is a local hang out known for catering to atomic scientists, Army workers and others involved with nuclear testing. The grill has quite a few commendations and project posters hanging from the walls. The place is known for its green chili cheese burgers and has become somewhat of a regional legend.

We high-tail it back to Socorro to get jobs done. This will be one of the few “large” towns we will have until we reach Tucson in mid-December. While Denny works in the trailer, I go to work on the outside fixes, get the ‘burban washed, put things away in the Henski Truck and work on catching up the blog. As I write this, it’s slightly after midnight but it’s been a great day and a great week for us Trekkers.

Friday, Oct 24 – Polverde, NM

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Yippee! I get to go hiking again. Today Ron and I hoped to puzzle out the Battalion’s route over some sand hills north of Polverda.

This is the place Col Cooke described as being where “a sand hill reaching the river bank was encountered; two hours, with teams doubled, and twenty men to a wagon, were required to reach its top,–only three or four hundred paces.” That means eight mules and twenty men per wagon, which still takes about two hours to advance about four-tenths of a mile – or about an hour to go a quarter-mile.

After hiking up and down the hills, we’re no more confident about their route than when we started. There are some “obvious” routes they “could” have taken, but nothing to tell us which one or even if our suppositions are correct. Perhaps we will locate additional information in the future, but for now, their route remains lost in the obscurity of shifting sands. Even to locals are not sure where the oldest roads went. Maybe we will check with the County Recorder.

In the evening I repair some electrical wiring in the trailer (so I can blog more easily at night) and we get a late dinner, then off to bed.

Thursday, Oct 23 – La Joya, NM

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Day four of my confinement but I get to hike some today. Not far – just a couple miles, but it proves the toes will get by just fine. It looks like tomorrow I’ll give it a go and try hiking with Ron. Toe feels much, much better.

Ron and I drive around to inspect the sand hills we propose to hike tomorrow. We are trying to make sense of the journal entries with what the men say in their journals. This area is part of a National Wildlife Refuge, so if you’re in the area, check with the officials to know what’s permitted and what isn’t.

Today is Denny’s birthday and she turns … well, she’s still younger than I.

Wednesday, Oct 22 – Bosque, NM

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Day three of my confinement.

Correction to Monday’s stopping location. It was pueblo Isleta, not Belen as previously reported.
Today’s stopping location is pronounced “Boss-key” meaning a wooded place or grove. Thus, Bosque del Apache is the grove of trees inhabited by members of the Apache tribe of indians.

Nothing else to report, other than I’m starting to feel mighty ornery.