SUBMITTED AUGUST 2014
BY Old Shadows
I’m going to disclose a solve I’ve had for some time but only got to this year, briefly. It’s a beautiful place, the clues fit like a glove… all but one. Maybe you’ll be luckier; I think it is very promising.
Valle Vidal is a pristine wilderness in the Sangre de Christos that is bisected by a single dirt road, FR 1950, which slides down through it like a stain on britches. Both entrances are inauspicious. Arriving from the West on SR 196 via Costilla and Amalia, the pavement just ends, and a dirt road begins. There is no kiosk, no gate, no arch, just a small bulletin board … a quiet go-alone feeling. Three days later, when we exited East, we found the same modesty.
There are two campgrounds w/ pit toilets and water… the water part is wrong. There are WATER SPIGOTS, NOT WATER. We made reservations on-line & paid for a week’s stay based on FS brochures and a live advisor, but left on day 3 due to NO WATER.
NM acquired Valle Vidal in 1988 when the mineral/oil resources were found to be commercially insufficient for its private owner. A local debate about preserving this “Yellowstone of New Mexico” had been going for some years, and I supposed that its acquisition, plus the protective ‘Park” designation, along with its name, Valley of Life, might have had an uplifting appeal for an environmentalist with a cancer diagnosis.
Scanning Valle Vidal on Google Earth I found two WWWH whose logic satisfied me. Each had a canyon. And they converged! Neat.
First was the NM fishing designation ‘Warm Waters’ which halts at the state border. So I picked the biggest canyon I could find on Google Earth that crossed the CO/NM border and entered into Valle Vidal. It ends right at FR 1950. If one were flying down the canyon, they’d see Little Costilla Peak on the west and two Ash Mountains on the east. South Ash Mt. brilliantly displays a big white arrowhead blaze that points right down into the little basket valley between the peaks. The headwaters of Middle Ponil Creek and Mc Crystal Creeks are here. Hope rising.
My other WWWH is somewhat symbolic. Where the paved road halts in Amalia, so does all modernity. There is no ‘warm water’ for modern man in the Valle … no gas, food, lodging, security, phone, electricity, wi-fi, or potable water. Visitors must be prepared, or, will be up a creek without a paddle. We weren’t prepared.
Starting down FR 1950 late in the day, we were Caliph-to-the-dirt. Obedient dirt took us with confidence down into a tight little canyon where Mother Nature unsheathed her beauty weapon and showed us that Caliphs are but beggars in her temple. Rolling at 15mph through fifty shades of mist, windows wide open, Costilla creek on our right rushing to somewhere behind us, wet grasses shoved their fragrant fingers into our brains. All six of us, towing 4 dirt-bikes stacked atop a raggedy-ass pop-up discovered a prehensile reverence for Mom’s most elementary weapon.
Leaving the canyon, the road forks at Comanche Point. Look at your map, this area of VV is squared like a window… imagine grandma’s girlish nose pressed against it to see the Comanche in the yard.
Take the right fork. Clayton Corrals is not far, it’s the intersection point of my two canyons.
Just beyond the corrals, we pulled into the near-empty Cimarron campground to ‘pop-up’ our camper, cook a meal and hit the sack. Well, 3 corners popped up. The 4th did not. Now fully raining and visioned only by the glow of a cloud covered half-moon, a women, a girl, and a semi-crippled grandma needed to search an unknown woods for a 8-9’ log to prop up that 4th corner… to be able slide out the beds, to get to the flashlights, to search for a log … well, you get the circularity. All 4 corners had popped-up at Meteor Crater the night before, but a cable must have snapped somewhere on Caliph’s Wild Ride. Yes, I said women; the men panicked at NO WATER!… they left, drove back up 30 slow wet dirt miles hoping to find a working tap in a village that has one gas/convenience store which probably closed at 7pm. And they did! They filled lots of nice jugs, and cursed the defunding of Forest Service all the way back to camp. Log found, roof up, beds pulled, dinner et, the six went to sleep with the owls (to awake next day with the woodpeckers).
The morning was sparkling glorious. 7 young mule deer ran single file right past me. Didn’t see any of the famous elk. Heard the bears had been removed because the elk herds were aging & not producing enough calves. That was good news… but was it like “Yup, there’s water”?.
Now here’s a little stuff about Little Costilla Peak… first look-up Costilla in Merriam-Webster. Its Spanish, it means rib, or chop… a better cut of meat. But a colloquial meaning is WIFE, ‘my better cut of meat’, like ‘my better half’, Adams rib. And WIFE sits on top the Taos/Colfax county line.
Reading ‘Hush Puppies’– they ‘plastered walls while watching the Cowboys’. WALLS? Four walls are just North and East of Little Costilla, specifically, N. Wall, S. Wall, Little Wall, and Rock Wall. Eyeballs south –the cowboy’s corral! I was on a roll. Kelly and Zoe’s braced arms no longer implied Gilbert Gaul’s bridge, nor covered-bridge trusses designed by Engineer Brown. The girls were Taos and Colfax! No, wait, they were the two Ash peaks! Because, where better to be buried than in a perfect little basket between Wife and Daughters and forever be ‘In The Middle Again’. Well, if this wasn’t the place, it should be.
A little more confirmation, see that little graphic on Tea With Olga — mountains — with a WALL! And my Google Earth tool measures the distance between Santa Fe and Little Costilla Peak at 90 miles. I think this is where Olga’s ashes were scattered. So that makes a 3rd logical reference point for WWWH, a metaphor for a warm memory of a halted friendship and teas. It’s a melancholy thought which I think might come to a man composing his final auto-bio.
From the corral there are two trails … one up to Little Costilla Peak and another to S. Ash Peak. But none into the little canasta between them. It’s an easy bushwack, about 3-4 miles, but if you find the horse trail which is not visible from the road, you’ll have an easy way out and for re-entrance. The kids got in OK, didn’t find the treasure, but really didn’t put up much of a search. They wanted to go biking. What’s wrong with kids today? They did get to the tip of Ash Mountain’s arrowhead blaze. You can walk on its white boulders, maybe break an ankle. But if you are quiet and ‘listen good’ you can hear a gurgling creek that runs under them which you cannot see or touch.
As for, IN THE WOOD… wiki: pinus aristata. They offer a unique hiding capability with millennial longevity. There’s supposed to be a couple Champions here. And the GE photo on the Middle Ponil by C.Woods…See Woods? Bring a sandwich and a flashlight.
I couldn’t find a satisfactory HOB… unless you count the prairie dog village in the corral parking area. I didn’t. However, dirt road’s number, 1950, is also the year the Hemingway book ACROSS THE RIVER AND INTO THE WOODS was published.
So, there you go. Good luck .
Grandma would like to find a lump of gold in her stocking next Christmas.