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We herded the turtles out of town Friday at about 8 a.m.  I got  — I started to say “the black one” but I only have the one kitty now — anyway, I got him to the pet hotel bright and early at 7:30.  There was a line.  As I was waiting, a man and his daughter (she looked to be about 7 or 8) brought in a big brindled dog and a huge Great Dane.  The child could easily have ridden the Dane.  His head was level with my shoulder.  Dogs check in faster than cats apparently, but I finally got the little man checked in and hurtled off to pick up mom to head out to New Mexico.  Got her loaded up and belted in, with instructions to the ready, and off we went.  I filled the tank at Walmart’s pumps — we were in and out, zip, zip and gone.

Alas, we faltered before we even got out of town. They were working on the overpass at the point where we were supposed to get off Spur 327 and head for Brownfield*, and there were no signs to tell us that, yes, indeed, this was where we needed to turn onto Marsha Sharp Freeway (which for most of my life to date was the Brownfield Highway, but now it isn’t until you pass the City Limits).  After a detour and a U-turn, we got sorted out, on the right road, and off we beetled into the distance, swooshing right along on US 62-82, which is a 4-lane divided highway*.

Typically, they were doing construction work on the road shoulder on one side, as in improving the road bed so there could be a shoulder.  For long stretches, there were orange marker cones to warn you that there was no shoulder, only about a 6-inch drop-off onto uncompacted dirt, the point being that, even if you were actually doing the posted speed limit for the construction zone of 65 mph/104 kph instead of the “normal” speed limit of 75 mph/120 kph (which everybody ignores anyway), the drop off was far enough that if you went off the road, you’d flip the car and probably roll it four or five times and tear up somebody’s cotton field, which the farmers don’t appreciate.  But, except for the shoulder work, it was beautfully smooth, straight, West Texas highway, only as we’d hit construction work, I would keep glancing compulsively at my right side mirror to see what kind of room I had on that side, because I just knew I was going to take out one of the road cones with the side mirror. . . .

Once you hit US 380 past Brownfield, it goes to two lanes, yours and oncoming traffic, and you can pretty much tell when you get to New Mexico because the quality of the paving falls off noticeably.  They dribble tar over the cracks in the asphalted road surface, and any gravel that may be added quickly either gets pressed into the roadway or slung off by car tires.  You don’t even have to be looking.  You can tell by the sound when you leave Texas.  The topography in this part of the country is just miles and miles of big flat empty nothing until you are past Roswell and start climbing up into the Capitan and Sacramento mountains of eastern New Mexico.  There are no bypasses around towns, so every time you come to a town, you have to slow down from 65-70 mph/104-112 kph down to 35 mph/56 kph, which seems like you are barely rolling by comparison.  Depending on the size of the town, you may or may not have stop signs or traffic lights, and depending on the time of day, you may or may not have the locals turning into and out of streets, businesses, etc. Once you clear the town, you speed up again and off you go.  Fortunately, (or unfortunately, if you are in need of gas or a restroom), towns are few and far between.

IMG_0005Right about the time we started getting into the mountains, it rained — starting with a spattering to all of a sudden bucketting down faster than my windshield/windscreen wipers could sling it off — while I’m going 50-60 miles an hour down this narrow 2-lane, mountain highway that is so twisty that most of it is marked with a solid yellow line (no passing/overtaking) in one lane or the other, or both lanes, for miles and miles and miles.

Part of the fun of going to New Mexico is changing time zones at the border.  Texas is in the Central Time Zone.  New Mexico is in the Mountain Time Zone, so when you cross over into New Mexico, you lose an hour.  Bang.  Just like that.  IMG_0004We made good time, though, rain notwithstanding, and arrived in Capitan  at about 1:15 Texas time, so it took us a little over 4 hours, and almost right at half a tank of gas.   Rather than show up at my cousins right in the middle of lunchtime, we stopped off at Smokey Bear Restaurant in Capitan and had a late breakfast.

Most folks are familiar with “Smokey Bear” — the blue-jean-wearing Forest-Ranger-hatted shovel-toting symbol of the US Forestry Service’s anti-forest fire campaign (“Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires!”), but there was an actual Smokey Bear — an American black bear (Ursus americanus) who was found as a cub after a forest fire in the Capitan Mountains in 1950.  He was rescued, rehabilitated, and lived for 26 years in the National Zoo in Washington DC.  Needless to say, half the businesses in Capitan are named “Smokey Bear.”

IMG_0116Thus fortified, mom and I tootled on out to my cousin’s place — and missed the turnoff.  Not hard to do, actually.  I did see the “street” sign, but overshot it and had to do a U-turn.   Their road is not paved, (none of them are) but is graded regularly.  There is a lot of National Forest and Bureau of Land Management Land in New Mexico, but it’s not all in one piece.  In the five or so miles from the highway to my cousin’s  we drove through part of a ranch, Forestry Service land, part of another ranch, and more Forestry Service land, before we got to their acreage . . .

IMG_0170In 2012,  what was dubbed the “Little Bear Wildfire” happened in the Lincoln National Forest near where my cousins live and 36,000 acres (52 sq.miles) of forest and 150+ homes were burned.  The fire came within several miles of them, and they had to evacuate, but fortunately the fire was stopped before it got to them.  IMG_0027As a result, the Forestry Service had been out “thinning” the trees near where my cousin lives(see above).  They cut down selected trees and then shred the lumber and leave it on the ground.  This has the effect of a fire brake, to slow down the spread of a forest fire.  They have been lucky this year because they’ve had a lot of rain and things are nice and green.

IMG_0051My cousin has two horses, “Buddy” (left) aged 13, and “Dakota” (right) aged 29, both of whom are still ridden regularly. (In fact, the older horse is in better shape than the younger one!)  We sat out in the barn and talked to my cousin as he fed and cleaned up after them.  Both my cousin and his wife are in their 70’s but they are active and fit, and my cousin still rides, although his wife no longer does.  Here he is at right on a trail ride on “Buddy.”

IMG_0130One of the reasons they retired to this particular part of the country was because the weather is temperate and they have room for horses, dogs, cats, etc.,  Her mother, aged 94, lives with them, and she, although careful of her footing, is still alert, healthy and active, and plays a mean game of dominoes!   At the current time, they have the two horses, as well as two dogs, a basset hound named “Cissy,” a black mostly Labrador named  “Ranger,” and two cats, “Kitty Carlisle” and her mother “Momma Kitty.”  The dogs have a fenced yard to disport about in but the cats are strictly indoor.

IMG_0104Thus assured of kitty companionship, I was content to sit and knit and listen to the flow of conversation as my mom caught up on the goin’s and doin’s of that part of the world.

My cousins have a lovely home. They have provided a little suite for her mother with its own en suite bath and amenities.  The house is light and airy, and my cousin’s wife has decorated it with lovely pieces of southwestern artwork and objets d’art. The house has tiled floors, a patio area, a nice detached garage with car port and she has a little garden.

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*The names of towns in our little corner of the world are incredibly picturesque:  Brownfield, Levelland, Plainview, . . . .
** two lanes going one direction and two lanes going the opposite direction, with about 50 feet of land in between the two.
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