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Ben C. de Baca (Richard E. Saunier)

My grandson, whom I introduced to you in the last post, is now totally into the alphabet.  I know this because the day after Christmas, the floor of our old adobe was covered with alphabetical blocks, alphabetical trains, alphabetical alphabets and alphabetical animals (“A” is for alligator, “B” is for buffalo …. etc.) and he, like you, has now identified the Pirates “X” on Forrest Fenn’s MAP as an “X”.  I swear, because of his new fluency in “alphabetical animals,” I fully expect him to be teaching me the Systema Naturae of Carl Linnaeus by spring.

Unlike you, however, he has not tried to figure out just where that “X” on THE MAP is on the ground. I must say that it’s placement was an enigma to me as well until my lovely wife, who is a hostess at the Book, Map and Photo Store of the New Mexico History Museum (where she calls everybody “Hon” but DOES NOT wear short pink dresses and a hair net) brought back a copy of a map that looks somewhat like THE MAP on page 133 of The Thrill of the Chase only it is much less fuzzy and a whole lot more colorful; all of which makes the “X” become totally clear and its location instantly knowable.

Now, for those of you who are interested, the coordinates for that “X” are 36°00’46.82”N and 105°31’49.40”W—except that they aren’t. You see, I got those coordinates using a useless plug-in for Google Maps that must have been invented by a wannabe Google engineer working out of his mother’s storm cellar in Temple, Texas. He won’t make it.

If you want to know the real coordinates, you must use Google Earth, which now gives its own coordinates for any spot on the Globe.  The spot we are looking for is at 36°00’39.98”N and 105°31’36.60”W which is not really an “X” at all. Rather, it is the place where the invisible dividing line between Rio Arriba and Taos counties butts up against the invisible Mora county line for three arms of the “X” with the fourth arm being an all too real ridge coming off of a 12,000 foot-high mountain in the Pecos Wilderness.

If, by any chance you still want to go there, take the “Divide Trail” (Forest Service Trail 36 via Forest Service Trail 27) which starts at the Santa Barbara campground and then takes you on a route that is kind of northy-southy over Jicarita Peak (12,835 feet elevation) and on to the ridge in question which would eventually lead you to a small peak of unknown elevation but whose name, as far as I can tell, is “Trouble”—really, that is what the map says. It would take the most storied star athlete from Taos, even one who is high on caffeine and riding a mule, a week just to get there.  I am sure that it has been a while since our favorite mountain man and potential benefactor has made that trip.

However. If, once you are there, you take one or two very careful steps to the east, you can peek over the edge of a multi-hundred foot drop straight down to the easily reached “North Fork Lake.” What if maybe the “X” isn’t exactly located at 36°00’39.98”N and 105°31’36.60”W but a few horizontal and a great many vertical feet to the east?  Furthermore, you should know that this lake feeds the Rio de las Casas, a tributary of the Mora River which flows “canyon down” right through one of my favorite places in all of New Mexico: Loma Parda!

You want more? My guess is that most everybody in New Mexico, maybe even Forrest Fenn, knows that “Loma Parda” is Spanish for “Brown Hill!” (Or, more accurately, “brownish-grayish-dunish colored).Not only that, one of the most famous hot springs in New Mexico is just a short jaunt south of Loma Parda at Montezuma!

Regrettably though, these observations are all backwards; the clues cited above need to go the other way. You begin with “warm water,” then you go down the canyon, and then you put in below the home of brown—not the reverse.  Not only that, but Loma Parda is not even the “home of Brown.” It is the home of a whole lot of snakes (some of which rattle), a herd of passing buffalo from the Wind River Ranch, and Ben C. de Baca, the ghost town’s only living human occupant.

No matter, Loma Parda is worth the trip. Ben, whose great grandfather and great uncle ran the “Loma Parda Hotel and Taxi Service” back when the town was really jumping, is a man with a barrel of really, really good stories.  And he will tell them to you over a free soda-pop and maybe a tomal or two if he has recently been into town. Turns out that Loma Parda’s sole reason for existence was as the brothel for the soldiers at old Fort Union.

Stay the course,  /r

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