When I was cordially invited to attend the wedding of a friend (of not more than six months) at his future bride’s New Mexico ranch, I eagerly accepted. Not only was I honored to be invited to witness this new union, but I was also quite excited at the opportunity to explore new parts of the country.
One of the pleasant surprises one encounters flying eastward from California over the American Southwest, is just how many impressive canyons there are that aren’t the “Grand” one. Indeed, so captivating a sight are these numberless trenches, that writing about their existence can become difficult as it requires one to peel their eyes away from the window. The task is made much easier when the captain takes you headlong into thunderclouds many thousands of feet above both New Mexico and the plane, virtually eliminating visibility.
From the air, Albuquerque is seen as a low-sprawling metropolis isolated in the middle of a vast desert valley. The mountains which ring the city are distant, with long tracts of desert between the two so that the city appears lonely. A green oasis serpents through the whole of Albuquerque; the Rio Grande is as responsible for this city’s existence as the Nile is for the Pyramids. The desert is crisscrossed with dirt roads, connecting its martian-like floor in a spider-like web of crooked ochre tracks.
Albuquerque’s natural beauty neatly captures New Mexico’s motto. The city is surrounded by the picturesque Sandia Mountains, which are themselves dashed with luminescence from gaps in the clouds, which are themselves more enormous and, I don’t quite know how to put it, present than any found in California.
I didn’t venture long in Albuquerque, but from what I saw, the human element was not doing so well. Buildings and homes looked disheveled and the city felt disconnected and poorly planned. Some friends brought us to Los Cuates, a New Mex-Mex restaurant (if the term even exists), which delivered a rousing entree of green and red chiles, which one could order separate or, as the locals do, mixed “christmas style”. The baked bread served with honey neatly captures the essence of the New Mex Mex flavor: sweet, savory, smokey, and damn good.
The wedding was held at the bride’s ranch near Angel Fire, high in New Mexico’s northern mountains about a four hour drive from Albuquerque. On the road we had several noteworthy encounters.
Highway 64 is littered with fireworks vendors. This being July 7, our party took full advantage of the 50 percent-off discount and loaded our vehicle with a rampart worthy of Washington himself. The vendor was an affable guy, round, tanned, and smiling. He was assisted by a toothless Native American who, whether by alcohol, amphetamines, or something else entirely, had a very difficult time forming coherent sentences.
Onward into the desert, and one finds vast tracks of land sparsely populated. What industry exists in these frontier reaches? I don’t know, and the few locals we spoke with didn’t seem to know either. At a gas station near Taos, two ladies pulled up near our car and complimented me on my glasses. I responded with a lie, complimenting the tacky piece of car furniture dangling from the review mirror of their beat-up mid 90’s Chevy Blazer. I then took the opportunity to gab with the locals, who told me there was some mining done “near red rock”, that Taos produced better Marijuana than California, and that the disheveled guy walking toward me was in-fact a world famous vagabond who is suffering (or enjoying) a 40-year-and-counting trip from a single outing with LSD upon return from Vietnam. They told me he’d ask us for money, which they advised against giving. Both of these things happened shortly afterwards. Our conversation ended after a woman, probably in her late 40’s, came up to their window, dropped a six pack of Coors Lite on their laps, and advised the girls move on before people got suspicious. Just outside Albuquerque we spotted a Dunkin Donuts next to a cemetery.
Angel Fire appears to be mostly a gas station town to serve those headed towards the several skiing resorts nearby. We arrived around 10pm, and found our ranch destination shortly afterwards. Apart from two girlfriends, the evening was segregated: the bridal party was resting in a cabin somewhere nearby, while the groom’s party drank and lit explosives. Having rained several nights prior, we were fully liberated to deploy the vast arsenal: for nearly two hours, handfuls of aerial explosives were arranged and every lighter on the premises called into duty. For the grand finale, a single arrangement of 300 rockets were launched, laying siege–if not to the moon–then certainly to some low-lying bats or moths.
Saturday was the wedding, held at the cattle ranch which has laid with the bride’s family since the 1880s. The day was, from what I was told, typical New Mexico, warm with intermittent rain and thunder. The ceremony was held in an Aspen grove which, I was also told, constitute the largest organisms on the planet. I was quick to ask about the California Redwood, but it was claimed that Aspen groves develop from a single root system which technically makes them a “single” tree. The catered food was New Mex Mex, which was again fantastic. The bride, who looked stunning, also has good taste; by her orders there was a collection of wedding pies instead of cake.
By far the most important feature of my journey into the Southwest was the first and best opportunity I’ve had to don the jewelry I inherited from my grandpa. I’m speaking, of course, about this amazing bolo tie.