Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Monday, 24 October 2005

Mescalero Apaches

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

We left Ruidoso early today and passed by the Apache Casino on the way out of town. Indians are exempt by treaty from many state laws and tribes can operate casinos and sell cigarettes with no state taxes. These tribes once reckoned descent though women and the men religiously avoided their mother-in-laws.

About 1,700 Mescalero Apaches live on their reservation of 2,000,000 acres. There are 4,000 acres that are suited for agriculture (although Apaches have little inclination to farm) and another 500,000 acres are appropriate for grazing cattle and horses. The 25-mile drive though the reservation was not what you might expect. It is a long climb through the reservation up a winding wooded valley to an elevation of 9,000 feet. There are many small Indian ranches with lush pastures, Hereford cows and painted horses, some of which were on the road. No feathers or warrior bonnets. No marketing of trinkets. Just a quiet Sunday morning drive though lovely woodland and pasture.

The bright yellow (autumn) trees with white bark that we have been seeing are aspens, which grow at elevations above 7,000 feet. The aspen leaves shimmer in the wind like no other tree. They mix everywhere with giant pines. There is no sign of the pine beetle infestations that have killed hundreds of millions of pine trees in Alaska and in most of the rest of the US. Perhaps this pine population is isolated by the desert?

As we left the reservation, we found free municipal tennis courts in the small ski resort of Cloudcroft. I lost 6-2, 6-0. I blame the altitude. Peacocks are often unable to fly at this elevation.

After the tennis game we ride down 4,000 feet to Alamogordo, using the transmission to conserve the brakes, and then on to the 300-square-mile white gypsum dunes of the White Sands National Monument. We tour White Sands on the motorbike and see an Apache dune mouse scurry over the road. The creatures of the desert are nocturnal and most, like the Apache dune mouse, have evolved a pure white colouring to shield them from predators. We shed our shoes and climb the dunes barefoot. As we drive 30 miles at the park's speed limit, we are continuously overtaken and passed by SUVs in a hurry to see the dunes and desert creatures at very high speed.

About 10 million years ago, the Earth's crust began to settle at White Sands along fault lines running north and south. A huge basin was formed between the Sacramento Mountains in the east and the San Andreas mountain range to the west. Melting snow washed sediments into a large lake, which became saturated with gypsum. As the climate warmed, the lake evaporated and this area began to form into the ever-changing white dunes, which are 97% gypsum.

We are settled now in Elephant Butte lake, just North of Truth-Or-Consequences, New Mexico

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