Departures: NM99: Part D

Another hole in the ground... Some really good enchiladas...

Greyhound vs TNM&O

1999.03.27 SAT

You may recall that in my earlier discussion of bus travel, I mentioned that there was a noticeable difference between travelling on TNM&O lines vs. on lines run by Greyhound proper. Do you want to know what made me think that?

I was at the Greyhound station with plenty of time to catch the bus to Grants, NM. I noticed that there were a lot of people lined up at the boarding gate, even though it wasn't opened yet. I smirked. I was an old hand at riding the bus now, and knew that the buses never filled up. I sat and read until the gate opened up, then sauntered to the back of the line. I noticed that the line was pretty long. The first frisson of unease snuck down my spine.

The line shuffled forward. I was getting close to the gate. Ahead of me, the ticket-taker stopped a young mother with children--while there were enough seats on the bus for her and her kids, they wouldn't all be able to sit together. The mother looked at the ticket-taker with non-comprehension, ran back to an older man who'd been waiting with her. The older man knew both Spanish and English; the young mother didn't know English. When she heard a translation, she decided to wait for the next bus, which was even now being made ready. The line started shuffling forward again. I was at the head of the line when the ticket taker told me to stop. "That's it. The bus is full."

He told me that they were getting another bus ready. He pointed it out. I asked if I'd have time to grab a snack. He said I had about 30-45 minutes. I thanked him.

I'd noticed that the Gold St. Caffe had a big pastry case. I'd noticed that it was close to the Greyhound station. I decided to go there instead of the coffee shop in the station. It turned out to be a sit-down-to-order place with a swamped waitress. Everything took about forever. I took too much time for coffee.

I hustled on back to the Greyhound station. I walked up to my gate, looked out. The bus--the bus that was being prepared for those of us who hadn't fit on the first one--the bus was gone.

I tottered over to a seat to sit and plan my next move. Tossing a brick through the window of the Gold Street Caffe would have punished the wrong people. Maybe I could rent a bike and ride out to the base of the mountains, ride a tram up to a place with a nice view?

That's when I noticed the young mother, the one who hadn't known English. She was standing next to her English-speaking acquaintance. I ambled over, asked him if they were still waiting for that bus. He said yes. They didn't know where the bus had gone, but it would be back. I thanked him. I was going to Grants after all.

Natural Wonder from Your Bus Window

Soon the bus re-materialized. Soon I was on my way West. Obviously, riding a cross-country route on a weekend was trickier than riding a local route on a weekday.

We rode through desert and canyons. At one point, a snow-covered volcanic cone rose in the background, red canyon walls in the foreground. I held my breath, it was so beautiful. We rode through land which was covered with broken-up volcanic rock.

I was the only one to get off the bus at Grants.

New Mexico Mining Museum

[Photo: minehead]

Photo: foreground: Mining structure / background: Uranium Cafe

I entered the building which housed the Grants Chamber of Commerce and New Mexico Mining Museum. A clerk asked me if she could help me. I said I was there for the museum. She said that she was going to go to the post office for ten minutes, and would have to lock up. Could I just wait outside for ten minutes?

I looked at my watch. Thanks to my earlier delay, I only had about an hour and a half before I had to catch the bus back to Albuquerque. I asked the clerk if I could please start looking at the museum right away. "I'll be really careful," I said, "I won't, like, bump into anything or anything." The clerk let me stay. And I didn't break anything, so her trust was warranted.

I moved past displays which gave the history of Grants, NM. It involved a lot of dwindling. There was a population boom in the 12th century, mostly because surrounding lands were suffering from drought. Then the settlement dwindled. In the 1880s, it became a train stop and Europeans started showing up. My notes are illegible about what the town's first industry was, but they are quite legible when they note that this industry dwindled. Settlers then got into lumber until the local forests were wiped out, at which point the industry dwindled. Next came--I'm not making this up--carrot farming. After a while, this dwindled.

It was around 1954 that Ah Pah/Patricio/Paddy Martinez, a native American, spotted the yellow rocks and showed them to scientific types who were looking for uranium in the area. His obituary noted that while Paddy didn't get rich from his discovery, at least he got famous. I'd never heard of him.

Dark as a Dungeon

Soon I was ready for the cool part of the museum. I entered the elevator which whisked me downwards into a replica of a uranium mine. I emerged into a tunnel hewn of stone, supported by beams. Chainlink covered the ceiling, keeping rock chips from falling on my head.

I saw the ventilation "bag"--canvas conduits which channeled air around. (Ventilation is important in the mine. You might not think uranium dust packs much radiation, but a little radiation that gets into your lungs is bad news.) You could see a machine used to take core samples. Another machine drilled holes into walls. You could see how charges were placed into drilled holes so that tunnels could be blasted. This involved setting off charges with precise timing--one charge going off milliseconds after the previous one.

There was the slusher, a motor. The slusher worked ropes which pulled the scraper back and forth over the ground. The scraper would scrape loose the floor, which hopefully contained ore. The scraper would pull the broken up rock to a hole down to the next level--an ore pass. Ore would fall through the hole into a hopper down on the next level. The hopper could be opened into a mining railcar.

An area being scraped is called a "stope". When it's mined out, it's called an "open stope". While most of the mine consists of narrow passages, the open stope was a large room.

Photo: ventilation bag, ore pass, ore cars
[Photo: underground]

I thought that I might feel claustrophobic in the narrow passages of the mine. I didn't. When I stepped into an open stope, I felt nervous, however. It felt too open. I wondered what was keeping its ceiling from falling in. I wondered how deep I was (not very), how much dirt and rock was weighing down that ceiling (not much). I did not linger there.

Nor did I linger long in the lunch room (which also served as the room in which to sit during demolitions), despite the many amusing warning signs posted therein. I didn't stay in the repair room long.

I wasn't alone down there. A middle-aged guy, perhaps a former miner, was leading around two people who could have been his relatives. I'd listened to what he was saying at first, but it seemed like he didn't remember that much, and he wasn't saying that much that wasn't explained by interpretive text displays.

He noticed that I was taking notes. "You designing a mine?" he asked. I said, "No, I'm just taking notes on what I'm seeing here. If I don't write it down, I'll never remember it all." He chuckled, said, "Okay." Then he paused, frowned, took a step back, said, "That's good."

I don't know that it was that good. Looking at my notes now, they contain less information than the museum did. I don't know if the uranium miners had lore. As with the lore of telephone workers, I wouldn't know where to look for it. How does one go about preserving such a thing?

Around the early 1980s, lots of the local mines closed down. Kerr-McGee, owners of the Quivera Mining Company, shut down most operations in the area. On my way back to the bus stop, I noticed that lots of storefronts on the main street were abandoned. As I waited for a bus, I looked across the street. In the driveway of a muffler repair shop, a couple slow-danced. I guess there wasn't too much business.

A Good Meal

Riding from Albuquerque to Grants, I'd been on a bus with people who were on the start of a long Greyhound ride. They were not happy people. On the ride back, I was with people who had been riding Greyhound for hours. It was a bus crowded with unhappy people.

When we got off the bus at Albuquerque, those people had half an hour in which to scrounge up lunch before their bus would continue. I, on the other hand, could take longer. It was early afternoon, and there was nothing else I wanted to do today.

I went to the building marked Sanitary Tortilla Factory, home of the M & J restaurant. They were just closing, but let me in anyhow. There I had the tastiest, spiciest, best cheese enchiladas of my entire trip. Oh, just thinking about them now makes me drool. One of their marketing points was that they were in blue corn tortillas, but the subtle tortilla taste was blown away by that sauce. The guy had asked me whether I'd wanted red or green sauce. I'd asked him which was spicier. He said the red. I said I'd have the red then. I don't know if it's always that spicy, or if they decided to jazz things up after that little exchange. I was in heaven.

Well, it was almost heaven. Yesterday's walk through the sun and wind had left my lips rather chapped. As this spicy sauce touched my lips, I was made aware of many little cuts in my lips. Each one yelped in pain. But the sauce was so good that I couldn't stop eating, protest as my lips might do.

I'm not generally into sopaipillas, but this was an emergency. When I was done with the enchiladas, I ripped apart a couple of sopaipillas and used them to scour my lips. Honey made a fine balm for my wounds. I presently waddled back to the motel, where I spent the rest of the day reading, napping, and watching TV.


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