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On the road, on to the Mesilla Valley
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Tucumcari, New Mexico, a bright sunny June morning and I have just sent off my "Save the Post Offices" column. I hit the Pow Wow Inn on Tucumcari's main drag and enjoy coffee and a breakfast of huevos rancheros with green chile sauce.

I hit I-40 for the 60-mile drive to Santa Rosa, then south on US 54 through high rolling range country. I cruise past Pastora, a few abandoned railroad cars and some homes surrounded by a motley assortment of vehicles - no viable businesses or post office. One wonders what those residents do; just a bunch of people living out there.

Next is Vaughn, visible on the southern horizon many miles away. If you turn left approaching Vaughn, another hour would take you on US 60 to Ford Sumner where Billy the Kid met his demise via a bullet from Sheriff Pat Garett's six-gun. Instead, I turn right and go through Vaughn.

The mile long main drag is dotted by a few convenience stores, a couple of restaurants, a few motels, and a railroad station in the middle. Light poles of the high school football field are visible south of the main drag. A mile or so west of town, US 54 turns south again through more rolling range country.

About sixteen miles south is Duran, another small collection of old residences - no post office, no viable businesses. If one wanted to get away from it all, Duran would be a rational destination. It probably was once a stop on the old Santa Fe Railroad, now the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF). On this stretch, one frequently sees a long train on those tracks that roughly parallel US 54.

Then it's through more rolling high range country dotted by pinion and juniper brush. There is a tint of green on the range, in stark contrast to last year when everything was brown and dry. Occasional herds of cattle, windmills and water tanks dot the ravines and low-lying areas.

The sun is shining brightly and the strong west wind continues to blow as I hit Corona, a small community along the railroad tracks. A post office, a motel, a couple of restaurants, a bar and a senior center constitute the downtown bordering the east side of US 54.

Then it's through more range country to Carrizozo. If one turns left on US 380, it takes you to Capitan and the Lincoln National Forest, original home and eventual burial ground of Smokey Bear, the real life symbol of wild fire protection and wildlife conservation. But I travel straight through Carrizozo, past the abandoned Outpost Bar that once produced green chile cheeseburgers that were competitive with those of the famous Owl Bar.

I stop at Roy's Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor. As always, Roy greets me cordially and asks where I have been. He serves up one of his great chocolate malts. He said he had pretty good business lately, but hasn't yet found anyone to take over his shop. Their high school graduation was a week ago - a class of nine. His assistant tells me that peak numbers were somewhere around twenty students, back in the early 1980s.

There are few hotter topics than school consolidation, but I ask him if the Carrizozo District had considered that approach. He reminds me that the neighboring Capitan District high school is many miles away to the south. The same problem holds for the Corona District to the north.

I, for one, am pleased that wide-open spaces still exist. However, when it comes to matters such as public education, it poses some pretty tough economic issues.

As I leave, I tell Roy that if I don't see him on my way back it's because I'm taking a different route back north. It's now mid-afternoon as I head south to Tularosa and Alamogordo. US 54 is a major route between El Paso and I-40, and they are making this former two-lane road into four lanes. There is a lot of construction between Carrizozo and Tularosa.

At Alamogordo, I depart from US 54 that leads to El Paso, and turn west on US 70, past Holloman Air Force Base, US Park Service Headquarters of White Sands National Park, and across the broad valley of the White Sands Missile Range. Then it's up the east side of the Organ Mountains, across St. Augustine Pass, elevation 5,719 feet. Across the pass, the broad Mesilla Valley is visible in the late afternoon sunlight.

Descending the west side of the Organs, the steep slope flattens out to a table land for another twenty or so miles, descending gradually, then abruptly to the Rio Grande and the Mesilla Valley and City of Las Cruces. More "development" along that tableland - do we really need more strip malls?

Then it's across I-25 that goes from El Paso along the Rio Grande to the north along the old El Camino Real that connected old Mexico to the northern reaches of what once was New Spain. Once across I-25, it's down familiar streets that I knew well during my eleven years on the faculty of New Mexico State University.

Past the tennis courts on which I had spent countless hours and made many friends, to Valley Avenue, and finally Avenida de Mesilla, to romantic old Mesilla. Across the plaza, north a block to Calle de Los Huertos and my adobe and guesthouse.

The tenant of my adobe isn't home, but my guesthouse is waiting for me - a bit dusty, but inviting nevertheless.

The coolness inside the adobe guesthouse is welcoming. I toss my gear into the guesthouse and turn on the electricity to the refrigerator - have to keep the beer cool.

Got to sweep out the dust, and call up my old pals - I'll stay for a few days.

- John Waelti's column appears every Friday in the Times. He can be reached at