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The First American
It started with a book
New Mexico's Mysterious Stone Towers,
part VI
(Travel/Explore #7: February 22, 2000)

   About thirty years ago I began an adventure which still excites me, occasionally infuriates me, and about which I still think almost every day.
  It began simply, with a short article in an archaeology book. This article paraphrased another written by Frank Hibben in the late ‘30's. He told about ancient stone towers in central New Mexico, towers which dated from pre-Columbian times and which contained mummies. His descriptions were so graphic and appealing I felt I might go there, even sixty-odd years after his discovery; I might find the towers again.
  As a boy I’d worked outdoors in Louisiana’s and Arkansas’ swamps and hills. In the Navy, between amphibious landings, I’d explored ruins in Greece, Italy, and the Caribbean. I’d found structures above and below the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. But after my final hitch I’d returned to graduate school and then settled in to a very domestic life in a job in a Central Florida community college.
  It was there, about 1975, that I read Hibben’s article in an old Saturday Evening Post that I found in the library trash. I yearned to see the country he described; I imagined what the terrain must look like; I even tried to interest my cousin, Clyde, an oilman and geologist in Oklahoma, in making a trip to the area with me. But family and job comforts let me keep pushing the adventure ahead—always until next year.
  Next year finally came twenty years later. My daughters finished college and left for their careers. My wife left for hers. Divorce changes a person. It made me take stock of myself: a stick-in-the-mud city boy in Florida’s East Coast megalopolis, overweight and beginning to feel the onset of arthritis. What had happened to the active outdoor life I’d loved? What had happened to me? It was time to take some risks. First I changed my job. Then I began the story of the towers all over again in the Cocoa, Florida public library. This time I went.
edge of the territory

   This is the sixth and final episode of what I’d intended to be only a four-part story. But it expanded. There will be an epilogue; but not for a while. First I owe my original effort one, maybe two, more trips to the Perdiz river valley.
  If you’re new to this adventure I suggest you start in our Library “Back Issues.” The early episodes have been archived; you’ll have to order those to read them, but they're worth the small extra effort. Several are still available directly from our server. After you’ve read what came before, read this episode to finish the story.

New Mexico’s Mysterious Stone Towers
Part VI, The Last Chapter
  I had made four trips to the Perdiz Valley to find the ancient Indian towers archaeologist Frank Hibben had discovered and explored in the late 1930's. For me the story started as an adventure, my first solo trip farther west than East Texas.
Trip Five
  Thinking back on my first four trips (I’m still amazed! I made four unproductive trips.) I decided to make this last trip during the hottest part of the year–July! There were good reasons.
  The second trip was spoiled by late fall rain, mud, and snow.
  On my third trip I’d gone in spring in a rented 4WD truck, confident that I’d be able to go anywhere. No sooner did I arrive than it began to snow. No problem, I thought; I’ve got a 4WD! But I was wrong; there were plenty of problems.
  Under the snow the high desert mud was very slippery. In 4WD, in the mud, the truck would spin broadside to the road direction and churn deep ruts in the road surface. In one case it pointed itself right toward the edge of a cliff. If the wheels hadn’t been slipping I’d have jumped right over the edge and into the pine tops a hundred feet below. Winter and spring trips were out!
snowy weather
Not again!
Summer hazards I knew marking the water
  On the other hand, I had learned the summer hazards very well on my first and fourth trips: heat, thirst, insects. I could manage them all with some simple preparations.
  Another difference in Trip Five: I’d be more realistic about what I’d take with me. My fantasies of camping in the desert, sipping steaming coffee beside the campfire, had been just that, fantasies. This time I’d take a tiny gas stove, no tent (but a sleeping bag), my makeshift outdoor toilet/bucket combination, and, of course, all my navigation gear. And some comfortable hiking equipment.
  I wouldn’t rent a truck this time. Mom would lend me her Olds Cutlass Ciera again. It was old, but it had done well in the desert on my second trip, and there would be roads wherever I’d go this time.
No truck this time the Ciera and I

  I’d divide this trip between La Reina and the towers and the Hatch Chile Pepper Festival, down south. I’d have a few days left at home with Mom.
  From Rockledge, the trip to La Reina takes four days: Rockledge to Birmingham; Birmingham to Shreveport; Shreveport to Tucumcari; Tucumcari to La Reina, with most of the afternoon left, since there would be no trip to Albuquerque to rent a truck.
  The trip was easy, with nothing like the excitement I’d felt on Trip One, when all this territory was new to me. I arrived fairly early in the afternoon with time to get ice and cokes for tomorrow and pay a little visit to the local ranger station. I’d let them know I’d be on Ridge Y the next day. I spoke to a different ranger this trip.
  “Ridge Y. Yes.” He thumbed his cleft chin. “The Sierra Club’s been up there making a few improvements. You shouldn’t have any trouble.” The Sierra Club, (SC), my old nemesis, had beaten me again.
  The next morning I got a good breakfast at the Frontier Café and headed for Yabis and north to Ridge Y. I arrived at the ridge about 10:30.
Ridge Y

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