“Hang ’em first, try ’em later.” Judge Roy Bean
As I said goodbye to aliens and UFOs and pedaled out of Roswell on Highway 380, my thoughts turned to the Pecos River, about ten miles away. Like the Rio Grande, it was another river of cowboy fame. This was the land of the mythical Pecos Bill, who could accomplish such prodigious feats as lassoing a whole herd of cattle at one time. He carried a rattle snake for a whip and was said to ride cyclones and mountain lions as well as his horse, Widow Maker, who feasted on dynamite with the same relish that Peggy eats dark chocolate.
Judge Roy Bean, a Justice of the Peace and saloon keeper, was another legend of the Pecos. He was the real thing, however, a ‘hanging judge’ who billed himself as the ‘last law west of the Pecos.’ Cowboys could stop off at his place for whiskey or justice, depending on their needs. His courtroom/saloon was down on the Texas border with Mexico, far south of where I would be crossing the Pecos, however.
Most of my knowledge of the Pecos came from Westerns. Between ages 11 and 13, I read every Zane Grey, Luke Short and Max Brand book I could lay my hands on. When I was off riding the range, punching cattle, and chasing outlaws, not even the call to dinner could pull me off the great stallion I rode. I carried my own brand of justice, blazing six-guns. And I was lightning fast. Step aside Billy the Kid. (No wonder Americans are so gun-crazy, given the legacy of the West.)
I paused at the Pecos and threw a rock into the water as a symbolic gesture to my youth. Then I returned to the present and checked out a hill I had to climb on the other side. It wasn’t much. I had passed the 1500-mile mark on my journey and was on my way to 2000. My legs and lungs now laughed at such obstacles.
What did bother me was that I was saying goodbye to the West I loved, the west of towering mountains. I would soon be biking across land that was flatter than the proverbial pancake. Yes, rivers and streams cut through these lands, there would be canyons and steep ups and downs, there would even be impressive hills as I made my way east. This land had a beauty and personality of its own. But I wouldn’t see another mountain until I reached Gatlinburg, Tennessee and started over the Smoky Mountains. And they don’t tower.
I was soon cycling across the flat plains and the mountains were receding into the west. This was sagebrush and cattle country. What trees existed were small, little more than tall bushes in comparison to their far western counterparts. In the distance I could see a long escarpment that signified the beginning of the Llano Estacado, one of the largest tablelands in North America. Between the road and the escarpment, I was surprised to see sand dunes. Later I learned that they were the Mescalero Sand Dunes, apparently an ATV paradise. (The dunes took their name from the Mescalero Apaches. Maybe their ghosts hassle the four-wheelers for disturbing the peace.)
I climbed up onto the Llano, passed through the non-town of Caprock, and eventually reached Tatum, New Mexico. As I approached the community, I started noticing metal art, everywhere, scads of it. It seems that everyone in town and for miles around supported the local artist. There were cowboys, buffalo, coyotes and other western themes, each simply and clearly outlined, dark shadows against the sky and countryside. Figuring I had found a town that supported art, I just had to spend the night.
NEXT BLOG: I enter the forever state of Texas and prepare for my first tornado watch— with a six-pack of beer.