Section 8: Fort Hancock to Presidio
Time to get moving. We are ready to be around people again. The mood was subdued as we walked the final miles to the road that will bring us into Candelaria. This section has easily been the most challenging and we are looking forward to a break from the craziness of our own minds.
Our map indicated that our route into town was along a county road but when we got there it was clearly private property. Large and frequent signs warned us not to continue without explicit permission. Crap. We were far away from Fred and his turf and we didn’t know who to talk to. As we were sitting by the road a pickup truck approached and stopped next to us. An older man with a cowboy hat and several dogs sat in the cab and we rushed to explain our presence. Tom had seen our footprints and had been looking for us on his way into town.
He told us this was a private road and that we were about to encounter a formidable padlocked gate so he’d be happy to give us a lift into town. Can we please? Let’s go!
Tom was quite the character, about as close to an old-time cowboy as you can get. He was probably in his seventies and had worked as a ranch hand his entire life. We bounced at a slow crawl down the road as he entertained us with stories of the area and the ranches. His dogs moved freely throughout the cab, shoving in for their pets and standing on the dashboard bobbing their heads in time to each bounce of the truck. We stopped in a small trailer park so Tom could ask around about a dog of his that had wandered off the day before. When he returned we asked him if we could buy him a drink to thank him for his help. He easily agreed and took us to the local watering hole, a general store with a little bit of everything, including cold beer!
Our conversation was all over the place. Tom and his gruff, sing-song cowboy voice fluidly moved from topic to topic. Jennifer, the store owner, sat behind the counter facing our lineup along the barstools. First some...colorful jokes. We guiltily chuckled along with the punchlines but most were too obscene to repeat. He hit every genre out there. Even bear jokes. Jennifer threw in a couple too.
A kid asked his mom how much she weighed, and how old she was. Then he asked why she got a divorce. She told him it was rude to ask a woman those questions and refused to answer. The kid came back the next day and told his mom that she was 28 years old and weighed 135 lbs. The mother was surprised and asked how he had found out. “I looked at your driver's license” said the kid. “And I know why you got a divorce.” “Why?” asked the mom. The kid replied “Because your driver's license says that you got an F in sex!”
That was one of the only ones we could share on the blog. Between the laughs were local tales, ranching stories, and talk of politics, sustainable energy measures and the military. The ramblings ranged far and wide.
Tom boasted there are more cows than people in this county. He’s been the caretaker of at least three prominent ranches in the greater area and is very proud of his Texas Longhorn cattle. They're lean and tough in these parts because there's little to eat. He pulled out his phone and showed us an “artsy” pic of one of his prized bulls which had horns stretching over seven feet in width. The animal weighed 1,200 pounds. His home is in the middle of nowhere and that’s exactly how he likes it. Though there are complications (or treasures as he described them) of living out so far. To get electricity El Paso General Electric charges $1300 for every electric pole that needs to be installed and $5000 for a transformer. He pointed out that the hot springs we had seen yesterday could be harnessed to provide electricity for all of Candelaria and Ruidosa. A few solar panels per household could achieve the same but the government refuses to make that technology affordable.
Tom also talked about one of the profitable jobs in the area, leasing private land and guiding trips for hunting groups. Recently a local served as a hunting guide to a doctor who came in from the big city. They set up camp with the doctor and his family in an RV. Sometime late evening the doctor moved the RV (probably to find more level ground or something) and the local assumed it was banditos highjacking the RV. He began shooting at the driver who returned fire, hitting the local in the groin. The incident blew up the news and was blamed on “the banditos” which infuriated the people in San Antonio, a small town in Mexico across from where the scenario played out.
Blame placed on Mexico, sound familiar?
Of course there is a drug cartel in this area, but according to Tom they impose strict regulations on their smugglers, not allowing them to carry any weapons on their route. They are professionals and have a vested interest in avoiding stupid mistakes that attract attention. Just as we thought.
And on to other topics. Presidio County is solidly Democratic. People who live in Candelaria have lived here for generations whereas people in Ruidosa are more likely transplants. A Candelaria local we had greeted earlier called Tom at the store and Tom switched seamlessly to Spanish when they spoke. He said he’s been fluent in Spanish since he taught himself at age 23 and that his friend’s mood determines which language they speak together. In this part of the country many people live in Mexico but have homes across the border so their kids can go to school in the US. It’s a trade off because the US has better schools but Mexico has better hospitals (and public healthcare). A Texan landowner was injured when she fell off her four wheeler and had to cross into Mexico to reach the nearest clinic.
What else? Tom even knew the common and botanical names of most native flowers in the area. He brought Jennifer a bouquet of Bladderpods and Marigolds.
At some point Tom recited a poem, Strawberry Roan.
“He says this old pony has never been rode
And the man that gets on him is bound to be throwed
I gets all excited and I ask what he pays
To ride this old pony a couple of days.
He says, "Ten dollars." I says, "I'm your man
The bronc never lived that I cannot fan
The bronc never tried nor never drew breath
That I cannot ride till he starves plumb to death."
Tom was around seven beers deep at this point. He shared some meaningful wisdom too, about traveling, personal accountability and his time serving in the Vietnam War. He insisted that the 70s were the best era, before technology made everything complex and on display. His favorite saying, which he made up, was “you have to exceed your limits to know them.” To describe why he appreciated our mission, “it’s about discovering that we’re all different and that we’re all also similar.” Agreed. We enjoyed his stories for several hours of the afternoon before reluctantly getting back on the road. We said goodbye to him and to Jennifer, getting their contact info and promising to stay in touch. Back out into the heat!