Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pie Town and the Mal-Pie

The edge of the Malpais.
North of Pie Town, New Mexico, the land rolls in hills covered with classic juniper/pinon forest, full of chamisa, sagebrush, potentilla, cholla, and prickly pear cactus.  Further north, straight up the dirt road that leads from the Pie-O-Neer cafe to the badlands is the Malpais, the rough and tumble black lava beds that are barely 600 years old with little vegetation or dirt covering their charcoal-colored rough ropy surfaces. One can easily imagine how beastly hot a forest fire was when you see the remains, and it's equally easy to imagine the hot slow lava flowing, burning up everything in it's path, until for whatever reason it cooled enough to stop, like maple syrup spilled on a table spreads but never makes it to the edge.

The Malpais. Pronounced Mal-Pie. How fitting that it's so very close to Pie Town.

Sandstone cliffs 
Between the black lava and the amazing sandstone cliffs that remind one of a Georgia O'Keefe painting, there is just enough room for an macadam road, two lane, sleek and fast. A relief to reach after 30 miles of washboard dirt tracks through ranches and 12-acre subdivided lots, many still without their planned vacation homes. The dirt road is the path for hikers doing the Continental Divide Trail. About half way up the dirt road is an old abandoned rock store where the hikers can replenish their supply of water. They can stay overnight if they need to. Off that dirt road are more dirt roads, and then more branching off from those. Dirt roads leading to more hills, forest, and ranch lands. Men in pickups populate these roads. Pickups pull trailers filled with cut logs for woodstoves or cleared brush or pumps and machinery for fixing a well. Pickups stop in the middle of the road, facing in opposite directions so the drivers can chat about their latest projects or gun acquisitions. It's a man's land. But there are a few women, and many of them are tough ranchers too. Fashion runs to jeans and boots, cowboy hats with turquoise and silver bands, shirts with pearl buttons. Functional jewelry like leather-strapped watches adorn their slim wrists. 

An arch in the cliffs.
It's windy. It's dry. It's rocky. It's beautiful. Cell phones work in certain spots. You can spot those places by the dirt pull-outs on either side of the road, and by the bars on your cell phone. There is electricity, delivered by poles and wires, some places have land-line phones too, but everyone has a generator because you never know when the wind might blow down a power line, or when lightning will take out a transformer. No electricity means no pump, no water, no fans, no heat in the winter. It can mean the difference between life and death.

It's possible, in winter to be snowed in for two or three weeks. People who live 'way out' know to stock up on canned goods. They can bake their own bread. They keep their propane tanks full and extra cans of gasoline in the sheds and garages. They are survivors. Some are prepared for the world to end and still they will survive. This is why they live here. Most though live here because they always have. Most were born and raised here, helped their families on the ranch, then inherited and continued. It's a way of life. The towns are small. People know one another. People care about each other. People feel each other's losses as their own. An old man insisted on living on his place, but fell and broke a hip. Nobody knows when he died. Bad roads due to mud and snow kept everyone away for too many days. People felt sad, but knew it was the only way he wanted to go. Die the way you live. Not a bad motto.

Close up of the arch.