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In New Mexico, Watch for Oryxes
updated: Jul 09, 2011, 8:30 AM
And now for something new and different: Consider the Oryx. That's not a typographical error; an Oryx is a big animal that resembles a deer with funny antlers. The freaky horns look like long, bent screws. The beasts have found a home in southern New Mexico. Once an endangered species, they were introduced to the Chihuahuan Desert and now number in the thousands, according to Wikipedia.
Having considered that, you might want to move on.
Which leads us to the White Sands National Monument where, we are told, the first imported Oryx's were placed, and began their merry multiplying. There is indeed a LOT of fairly white sand thereabouts (this is in south-central New Mexico). The dunes go on for miles, and are indeed nearly pure sand, rising up from the desert floor. They are also stark, big, white, barren, lonely and scary. You can see them from the distant Sacramento Mountains to the east, and the high plains to the north of the dunes. New Mexico's a place of visual variety.
(The road map vaguely shows atomic warfare laboratories here and there in N.M., but we didn't see any. Did we miss much?)
The Lincoln National Forest in the Sacramento Mountains is most pleasant, covered by a fine conifer forest where people ski in the winter. This year's drought seems to have affected some trees, but many remain fresh and handsome.
Driving there, you'll pass through the Mescalero Apache Reservation, which is shared by three sub-tribes, including the Chiricahua, made famous by Geronimo. The reservation is a relatively small one of 750 square miles, home to about 4,000 Native Americans. Just off the road there's a frontier mall of sorts, consisting of a gas station without a restroom, and about five other slightly seedy places of business with many prominent signs forbidding the use of their toilets.
These didn't appear to be Friendly Indians, and I experienced a near-crisis until I tried the last one, which also bore a Keep Out toilet sign. A sullen woman took my money for a Coke, listened to my plea and nodded her head toward the . . . how to say toilet in Apache? I was grateful, even if I did have to use the squaw side, the braves' toilet being out of order.
Relieved, we kept driving until we came to the quiet mountain resort town of Ruidoso, which means noisy (it's not) and is pronounced rue-ee-doso, not rio-doso. A friend's brother was celebrating a late-60s birthday by entertaining nearly a hundred friends and spouses. We all ate New Mexican Mexican food, danced, played golf, continued to eat, and socialized for several days -- an unusual vacation time enjoyed by the milling throng of visitors and locals.
A day's drive through more forested countryside and high, gentle slopes takes you back to Albuquerque to begin a north-central loop into upper New Mexico, the justly famous part of the state. En route, you might want to drop into the biggest, fanciest Indian casino we've seen, the Inn of the Mountain Gods, a resort where you can lose your money amid stylish rural rapture. It's a big and beautiful place with panoramic views and very nice restrooms. A stream has even been dammed up to give us a lovely lake to look at, through huge picture windows.
Ah yes, "Gaming" . . . If you haven't motored around the U.S. in recent years you'll be surprised by all the "gaming" places. There are about 2,000 across the country. Following the route of the Lewis and Clark group a few years ago, we stayed at one, in relative isolation by the Missouri River in western Missouri, of all places. Nice place with cheap rooms, but the food was terrible. Probably better than Lewis and Clark's grub, but not necessarily.
NEXT STOP: Famous Santa Fe, and finishing in Taos.
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A young New Mexican cowboy was one of the
rodeo stars at an old Santa Barbaran's birthday bash. --Photo by Sharon Dirlam
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