The landscape is vast and dry on the road from Arizona to New Mexico. We are used to this now, remarking on how different it must be at home, where everyone is still digging out from the snowstorm. There aren’t many signs on the road out here so it’s impossible to ignore the dozens of billboards advertising The Thing. Dragoon, AZ is where we would exit the highway to see The Thing but it’s pretty clear as we pass by that whatever the thing is, it was probably made cheap and in China. It looks like a smaller Southwestern version of Wall Drug. Dragoon is also the site of the AmeriInd Foundation and museum but there is only one road sign for this compared to dozens of Thing billboards. Go figure. We keep going, passing mountains of rocks, many of which seem to be teetering on the edge, ready to drop onto the trucks and cars passing by.
Shortly after passing into New Mexico, we decided to take a detour south to the Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus NM, which borders the Mexican town of Palomas. There isn’t much to the town, which sends its kids (and some who cross daily from Palomas) thirty miles north to Deming for school.
The museum is small and the park not much more than a desert garden and a campsite, but we had a terrific visit and a good debate about whether Francisco “Pancho” Villa was a hero (one of the most prominent political and military leaders of the Mexican revolution, who was at one point generously supported by Woodrow Wilson and the U.S. government) or villain (considered a “bandit” by some, he led the raid on this town of Columbus, NM in 1916, exactly 100 years ago, which killed scores of innocent people).
We watched the sun set behind us as we passed the Tres Hermanas mountains and northeast to Las Cruces, where we settled in for a few nights.
The next few days we spent at New Mexico State University, visiting the Zuhl library, which has a stunning colletion of petrified wood and fossils, and tracking down a friend and former student, who now works at the university’s CAMP program to recruit migrant and seasonal farm worker students.
Our campsite is not far from Old Mesilla, established in 1848 when Mexico ceded much of the Southwest to the U.S. with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe. Mesilla is the place where the U.S. raised its flag a few years later to mark the completion of the Gadsden Purchase, a deal made after the treaty when the U.S. realized it had mapped the boundary line 130 miles east and 30 miles north of what it intended. It was a bad deal for Mexico, and boundary disputes continued for decades.
Today, Mesilla is quaint with its rustic wooden and adobe buildings, chile ristras hanging in every doorway. The plaza and its stores are a lovely display of folk New Mexico. A half mile away, in our RV park, we see another poorer side that we know reflects more of the state.
Now we head east over the Organ Mountains to Alamogordo, where we once lived and first imagined traveling back someday.