From Palo Duro Canyon, the trail heads southwest to Clovis, NM, then west to Fort Sumner and Billy the Kid Museum.
The museum was worth the $5 entry fee. It has a few items pertinent to life in the 1800s, but mostly is a collection of tchotchkes from more recent times plus a slew of beaded items for sale in the gift shop. Friendly people run the place. It’s a family operation, started by a gentleman who moved to the area as a young boy in the early 1900s. He worked most of his life as a traveling salesman, and over the years collected so many things that eventually he opened a museum. Now his son and grandkids run the place.
Oddly enough, the most memorable part was at the end when I read several yellowed newspaper articles on a bulletin board. They were from the 1970s, about the founder’s grandson, a 6’3”, 235lb all-state football player who went on to star at the university of NM, only to get shot and killed in a parking lot at 2 am shortly after graduating. In the pics he came across as a charismatic type, with a life full of promise, but now forever 22 years old in big bell levis. – shot following an argument over a car.
He and I would be about the same age.
I mused over that while filling my car with gas afterward, until a guy came over and struck up a conversation as I stood at the pump. He saw my mountain bike on the back of the RAV and couldn’t resist wheeling into the parking lot to talk cycling. We swapped stories about how he regained his health/fitness by doing a ton of cycling during the last year, and I regained mine by paddling all of last summer. I excused myself soon after we started, for there were more miles to cover than there was sunlight remaining, but definitely appreciated the chat. I talk to many folks during the day, but usually at my initiative.
Hey super-stoked guy, glad you came over to say hi!
Fort Sumner was built to protect settlers moving into the region from fierce resistance by Navajos and Apaches. The government eventually got the tribes onto reservations, by destroying their crops and livestock.
But the reservations did not endure. Crops were destroyed by weather and pestilence, and the Pecos River was not good irrigation in thoee parts. After less than a decade the indian tribes were released to lands where they reside still, and the Fort was sold as a cattle ranch.
Headed north on Hwy 84, past Sumner Lake to I-40. This is where several choices present themselves as far as continuing north. The two common routes are through Santa Rosa to Las Vegas on Hwy 84, or via Clines Corners to Santa Fe on Hwy 285. But today I try a new route, sandwiched between the other two. Hwy 3 is narrow, mostly follows the Pecos River, and connects with I-24 at San Miguel.
But before jumping onto I-40, I cruise Santa Rosa. There are three exits serving the town, and it’s fun to detour down Coronado Avenue (Route 66) to see the neon lights, art-deco buildings, places to buy ice cream, stuff like that. Though shabbier than it used to be, there is a sense that many parts of the strip are unchanged over the last 60 years.
Hwy 3 has no shoulder and the road pitches the car around – but there’s also not much traffic. On a road like this, at dusk, I’m more worried about deer than traffic, so drive down the middle of the road.
Villanueva and Villanueva State Park are both down a steep hill, by the Pecos River. Once again I arrive at sunset, but tonight it doesn’t matter as I’ll be sleeping in the car and that takes no setting up. It was too hot for the car in Palo Duro, but tonight’s low is in the 50s. Am eager to try it out.
The camp road hugs the river, which in turn is sandwiched between canyon walls carved-out over time. The other lines are trails. The canyon walls rise 200 feet, but well-marked trails allow hikers to scale them without too much effort.
Most campsites are next to the river. This alley of cottonwoods offers sites on either side, and those on the right back up to water. I almost went for one (all were empty) but instead opted to drive up to a dozen more sites on a hilltop – all empty too.
My spot was down a dead-end gravel lane, on a hilltop peninsula, with stone hut, picnic table, and fire ring. I set an LED candle in each of the three window openings for ambiance, heated a bowl of soup and feasted by candlelight – me and the coyotes.
The hill drops off, those are the tops of the cottonwood trees.
6am hike. It took about two hours to cover all the trails.
Atop one bluff are three primitive campsites. There is no car access, it’s strictly pack-it-in/pack-it-out.
The park was established in the 1960s. All sites have a stone structure of one type or another, and all seem to have been updated recently – except the three up top, but they don’t get much use and I got the feeling their use is not encouraged.
Chatted with the camp host, other campers and a with a couple of rangers before leaving. Very pleasant and helpful staff. Heard good things about the New Mexico State Park system as far as the number of parks, their quality, and pricing. It was $10 for the night, which I think is the rate at every State Park for a site with no electric or sewer hookup.
It was a perfect visit, until I got in my car to leave and several dashboard warning lights came on. VSC (vehicle stability control), ABS (anti-lock brakes), 4WD, and Brake lights were all lit. (the airbag light stays on since I removed the car seats).
Pulled over to check the manual, and for each light the advice was: “drive straight to the nearest Toyota dealer.” With all of them lit, I imagined the advice to be: “Park the car and WALK to the nearest Toyota dealer”.
And if that weren’t bad enough, this is what the road looked like – plus no cell service.
It was apparent what was about to unfold – a winding road, sharp turn, brakes fail, me pinned at the bottom of a ravine with “no service” on my cell phone.
But not today. The Toyota Dealership in Santa Fe fit me in late on a Friday afternoon – thanks guys!. The prognosis: a rodent or rabbit gnawed through a sensor cable. This particular sensor measures wheel speed, and is how the system applies braking to help with ABS, etc. Apparently, it’s a common problem. Manufacturers use soy-based wiring these days as it’s more Green, and the critters appreciate that as they find it more appetizing. Warm motor, cool evening, tasty food: it’s a party!
The car was safe. I drove it for a week while a part was ordered and my insurance adjuster did his job – it was covered under the comprehensive policy. The adjuster noted that in a typical year he sees about 12 of these events, but so far this year has seen 50. He attributed it to a wet Spring yielding more varmints than usual. They had a field day savaging my RAV, but I guess the Coyotes are having a field day on them too – the cycle continues.