Dona Ana Landscape 2: Robledo Mountains

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By Katherine Johnson

August 25, 2022

Lookout Peak & Robledo Mountain – County Road C007 – Dona Ana County, New Mexico

The land in and around Las Cruces is dominated by the Rio Grande River and several clusters of mountains, all visible from Las Cruces to the east and west. To the east, are the majestic Organ Mountains, the San Andres range that runs north of them up towards the Trinity atomic bomb site, and finally, just beyond the city limits along I-25 are the Dona Ana Mountains. To the west, just along the high plateau that runs on to Arizona, sits Picacho Peak that is most lovely when the bosque and the surrounding farms are lush and green at its base, bathed in a mid-morning light coming from the south while the sky is filled with monsoon clouds. Just to the north of Picacho Peak begins the Robledo Mountains, low at first and rising steadily until they terminate at Robledo Mountain and Lookout Peak where they plunge down 2000 feet to the Rio Grande River some 15 miles away near Radium Springs.

But that is not the view I sought out for this image. After three years of endless satisfaction with all these gifts I woke up one day curious about what the Robledo Mountains looked like from the other direction. After some getting lost on the county roads more than once and a few conversations with the black angus cows that run around without supervision I found this spot.

It should be noted that these mountains were named for Pedro Robledo, who died on May 21, 1598, while part of Onate’s expedition, whose goal was to conquer the upper Rio Grande valley and to bring Christianity to the ancient Pueblo people, and on occasion, to cut off the right foot of those that were quite content with not being conquered or Christians. Remarkably, this form of religious conversion and assimilation is still controversial to this day. While Lookout Mountain, spit balling here, was named Lookout because that is where the troops, stationed at Fort Selden in the second half of the 19th century, put up a heliograph station that was part of a network that connected Fort Stanton in the Sierra Blancas with all the other forts in the region including Fort Bowie at Apache Pass in Arizona. For the youthful reader that has no idea what a heliograph is or does: think of it as the internet using mirrors and sunlight to send text messages.

And for the less youthful readers or English majors that were expecting there to be a point to my rambling on about mountains, heliographs, and right feet being hacked off, for God, of course, I must disappoint you. There is no point other than I am having a conversation with you exactly like I would over dinner or in a pub. Then again, is that not the point? I will leave that for further contemplation or international debate. Meanwhile, I have some cows to go talk too.

Copyright 2022 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved

Dona Ana Landscape 1: Massacre Peak

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By Katherine Johnson

August 18, 2022

Massacre Peak – County Roads D002-D003 – Dona Ana County, New Mexico

Las Cruces and Mesilla are located down in the Rio Grande Valley where, if you follow it upstream or north, you find yourself within minutes by car, out in the pecan orchards and acreage devoted to chilis and other vegetables that eventually give way to Radium Springs, Hatch, Salem, Garfield, Derry and Arrey, all blessed with rich lands made richer by the Rio Grande’s water, before rising up to a high desert plain and the 100 mile stretch of the El Camino Royal the conquistadors called the Jornada del Muerto or now, in English, The Working Day of the Dead.

South of Las Cruces and Mesilla the Rio Grande continues its journey to the Gulf of Mexico but not before giving life to more pecan orchards, more chilis, cotton fields, produce of all kinds that mingle amongst towns and villages, some that were stops on the El Camino Royal and some that came later, Mesquite, Vado, Berino, Anthony, Vinton, Canutillo, before disappearing into the brutal vastness that is West Texas and Mexico, just to the south, where the violent Drug Cartels rule and undocumented migrants cluster before crashing the border.

To the east the land rises relentlessly and formidably, forgetting the lushness, replaced by the ruthless desert, the Dona Ana Mountains, and the grandeur that is the Organ Mountains, where just beyond them is the White Sands plain, where the Mescalro Apaches up in the mountains and the old Hispanic families and the newcomer Anglos, of Alamogordo, Tularosa, and Carrizozo, that lay just east of the white sands and lava fields further north, unknowingly witnessed the first atomic bomb explode, instantly turning night into day and just as instantly adding being Downwinders to their identities.

And to the west, the land becomes a cracked ridge, that once ascended, becomes an ocean of desert, flat, yellow, dry that rolls towards the Florida Mountains, Cooke’s Peak, and beyond, where the U.S. Calvary once battled the Chiricahua Apaches for dominance of this desert and the Gila Mountains to the north, and past places and people whose names echo still of that time, Massacre Peak, Mimbres, Pinos Altos, Fort Cummings, The Overland Trail, Victorio, Geronimo, Cochise and Mangus Coloradas.

Such is the landscape that now fills my eyes, my thoughts, and my life as the last years of my life come at me relentlessly and remorselessly.

Copyright 2022 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved

A Message From The Ambassador To Wyoming

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By Katherine Johnson

August, 18, 2022

The morning after Rep. Liz Cheney (Uniparty – Washington D.C) gave her speech in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on Tuesday, August 16, 2022, acknowledging that she is less liked than wolves shopping for groceries on a cattle ranch, I came into possession of some private comments she gave to her most unwavering supporters (Biffy Beagle and Cranky Cat) after the cameras and microphones were long gone.

We will fight him on the beaches of Mar-a-Lago,
We will fight him on the greens of Bedminster,
We will fight him on the marble of Trump Tower!

We will fight him when we are dieting,
We will fight him when we are tweeting,
We will fight him when we are investigating!

We will fight him, [Subpoenas!]
We will fight him, [Warrants!]
We will fight him! [Lizzzy!]

On to Appomattox and victory!

Liz “Lincoln” Cheney – For President – 2024

Copyright 2022 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved

The Borderlands 2: The Missing and The Living of Palomas

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By Katherine Johnson

August 12, 2022

The Missing – Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico

On March 9, 1916, at 4:45 am Poncho Villa launched his attack from Puerto Palomas on the U.S. Army garrison stationed at Columbus, New Mexico just over the border from Palomas in an attempt to acquire military supplies needed to continue his fight against Venustiano Carranza, his former ally in the civil war that successfully overthrew General Victoriano Huerta in 1914 and gave them political control of Mexico.

Almost immediately these two were at each other’s throats with Carranza, backed by General Álvaro Obregón, defeating Villa in the Summer of 1915 and then again at the Second Battle of Agua Prieta in November 1915 aided by direct U.S military help. None of this went down well with Villa, especially the gringos sticking their nose into his ambitions and would contribute to his decision to attack Columbus. The attack was something of a failure because his spies completely underestimated the strength of the 13th Calvary Regiment. When the bullets stopped flying, Columbus was burnt to the ground, Villas forces had suffered 80 dead, a heavy price for getting away with 100 horses and mules, and a few other military supplies. Not to mention this foray would soon have the U.S. Army unsuccessfully chasing him, during 1916, all over Chihuahua, Mexico.

Villa’s national political status soon collapsed but he still pressed on as a self-appointed revolutionary leader whose main accomplishment was losing battle after battle with Carranza’s forces. With all of his main commanders dead and his revolutionary forces in tatters Villa was clearly headed towards a timely execution the moment Carranza, now Presidente, was able to get his mitts on Poncho. It is at this point, Villa was blessed by standard Mexican politics in 1920: Carranza was assassinated by General Álvaro Obregón’s forces who were now working in cahoots with the nuevo El Presidente, Adolfo de la Huerta. This led to Villa being granted amnesty by Huerta and given a large estate in exchange for retiring from all political life. And because this is Mexico nothing ever goes down easy. In 1923 Poncho was assassinated by the nuevo, nuevo El Presidente, one Senor Álvaro Obregón.

Today the rambunctious and rampaging spirit of Poncho, is preserved by a glorious statue of him right next to the U.S.-Mexico border in Palomas, where he is mounted on a magnificent stallion in a thunderous full charge, his right arm extended to the horizon, pistol blazing away, his body crossed with full ammunition bandoliers, his sombrero flying behind, and his saber on his left, scabbarded, until the time the killing would get personal. The locals are rightly proud of Poncho while I always have a moment of disappointment when I stop to gaze upon him. His endless charge is to the east while Columbus is to the north. When I bring this up with the locals who hang out in the park next to Poncho, that he should be charging towards Columbus, they look at me with scrunchy faces. And then, in a sublime moment, their eyes sparkle, and the corners of their mouths make a sly smile. I consider this my greatest contribution to international diplomacy and from this I harbor hopes that I have planted the seed that one day will finally result in Poncho making his immortal charge, finally, in the right direction.

But not all is well in Palomas, the reach of the cartels is here too. In town and up and down the border wall. One day some miles west of Columbus and Palomas, on the way to Hachita, out where the Border Patrol buzzes and lurks out in the mesquite, cactus, and yuccas, where the U.S. Army electronic surveillance trucks sit up on the hills silently watching everything south, where the cartel spotters sit in the hills and guide the drug mules north, I was shooting pictures of the border wall along the highway. One local pulled up abruptly next to me, rolled down his window and chastised me for taking photographs. I was taken aback by this aggression and began to push back when the driver made it clear I needed to hear him again. It wasn’t that I was doing anything necessarily wrong with taking my photos, it was this: the cartel might shoot me dead.

This constant threat of a death by the cartels, for a time, was reflected on the four murals on the base of Poncho’s statue, and on numerous utility poles and boxes around Palomas. Pasted with a certain haste were letter size paper posters of young men in full flower who had joined the ranks of the Desaparecido, The Missing. The violence here, in what we now call the borderland, like Poncho’s spirit, is immortal it seems: the Spanish and Apaches then the Mexicans and Apaches, followed by Mexicans killing Mexicans and now the Cartels and everybody that gets in their way.

Now, a few years later, the Desaparecido posters are gone in Palomas and what is left is the rhythm of life in a small border town next to New Mexico. The children daily are escorted over the border and bussed up to Deming, New Mexico for school and back where mothers, mostly, greet them for the trip back over the border to Palomas. Mexican soldiers, young men and women, in crisp camouflaged uniforms carrying AR-15s greet me indifference when I walk over the border, no passports or ID are needed. The indigenous women, who barely come above my chest, a block down from the border, are wearing intensely colored dresses and weaving baskets in the shade of a tree. Further down on main street and on the surrounding side streets the dental offices and pharmacies quietly do a brisk trade with the Americans. The old men in the park, a couple of blocks over spend their days not doing much but getting older. Right next to the border, Mexicans wait in their cars and trucks, under the blazing sun, so they can get into the U.S for a day of shopping and visiting family, but only after the U.S. Customs agents look them over hard and the perro detectors, whose bodies twitch and tug against their leashes, seek out the smell of drugs with their equally twitching noses. Back in Palomas people come and go from the Pemex gas station while others buy car parts up the street. On the main drag young men show off their rides and share loud Cumbia songs, welcomed or not, while the stores along the street join in with other music, Mariachi, Cumbia, Tejano from PA systems just outside their doors. The restaurants all seem to keep busy with serving perfectly made fresh local food and frosty Cokes in glass bottles and the cantinas, their doors wide open and their interiors as dark as night, never seem all that busy serving cerveza and tequila during the day.

And when I turn to leave, I always stop and admire Poncho and wish he was racing north, something I am sure Poncho would love, and if the day is going just right, I get to be a diplomat and make a few eyes light up.

Copyright 2022 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved

The Borderlands 1: Juarez

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By Katherine Johnson

August 9, 2022

Juarez – TX-375 Loop El Paso, TX

When I visited El Paso, Texas for the first time, instead of going someplace sensible for sightseeing, like the El Paso County Morgue, I immediately went to the stretch of highway were the border wall, fence actually, is most intimidating. It is a challenging place to visit as the road is in a forlorn industrial area that is without sidewalks or places to pull over. Eventually, I found one spot that met my needs: a place where I could park, gawk at Juarez and take a few photographs.

I spent my life going back and forth between Washington State and British Columbia and never did I give much thought that I was going over an international border; Canada was just so familiar too me. The US – Mexico border is a whole different situation for a novice like me that does not speak Spanish. That border is one hostile environment.

On the American side the US Border Patrol is constantly buzzing around while the US military electronic surveillance vehicles are parked out in the desert, watching everything with the stillness of a rattle snake waiting to strike its prey: the drug runners that move through the desert like wraiths and the undocumented migrants increasingly skip the wraith part and just surrender to the nearest Border Patrol agent.

The Mexican side of the border, outside the cities and towns, is looks empty and still, a wasteland. This is an illusion. Everywhere, I have come to learn are cartel spotters on all the surrounding hills watching everything that moves that can be remotely construed as disruptive or hostile to the cartel drug and human smugglers either waiting to cross the border or already on the US side. The wildcat undocumented migrants simply take their chances with the Border Patrol, the land, and the heat; it is not unusual to find durable signs in fluorescent colors, deep in the desert explaining, in Spanish, how to use the 911 emergency system.

The borderland cities and towns are a whole different matter. There is a vast movement of goods and people both ways over the border, all day, every day. Some of this is Americans going south for medical services and some of it is Mexicans coming to shop at Walmart; just like the US -Canadian border. This fact caught me by surprise the first time I was down on Stanton Street in El Paso; a street that is teeming with Mexican shoppers who come over the border from Juarez for the cornucopia of cheap Chinese goods on sale in the shops that line both sides of the street. I point this out to note my complete ignorance of life in the borderland area when I first came to New Mexico.

Another detail that complicates everything is the border itself, while real, is a fiction at the same time. People here have family on both sides of the border, and they are tight with each other with bonds that were forged many generations past if not hundreds of years ago. During my few years in Las Cruces, I have met numerous people, young and old, who were born in the United States and grew up in Juarez. Over these same years I have visited all the border crossings from Fort Hancock, TX to Nogales, AZ and where the towns on both sides of the border were jammed together, I have gone exploring on foot. It took me a bit of time to sort out the differences, the norms and unwritten rules, and because I don’t speak a lick of Spanish how to pantomime when buying something or ordering lunch. The whole trick to making this work is to be gracious, smile a lot, laugh a lot, and most importantly trust the locals a lot; it is that simple.

Except for Juarez. The only way I would go there is if I went with somebody I know here in Las Cruces and has lived there. I learned to be wary of Juarez on that first visit to the border wall. While I was gawking at Juarez that day, a Border Patrol agent pulled over, jumped out of his truck, marched over to me to ask what I was doing. It was apparent he thought I was insane for being where I was. He got right to the point after we exchanged a few opening formalities by informing me that I was, at the exact moment under intense cartel scrutiny from the various buildings just over the border, and that most likely I had at least one sniper zeroed in on me. That gets your attention in a damn hurry and instantly clarified that this border is not like Canada at all. Out of the entire length of the US – Mexico border in the area, I managed to visit the hottest 200 yards of border. Great! Complete success! We chatted some more and after a time he let me know he had a few minutes to kill and because of that he would stand next to me while I took my photographs. The snipers don’t shoot Border Patrol agents it seems, bad for business and generates lots of negative press. Like I said earlier that border is a hostile place and it isn’t getting any better.

Copyright 2022 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved