Can't You Read The Sign?
Ramah is a tiny little town on HWY 53 southwest of Grants, New Mexico. In and of itself, it is not a place worth traveling too but it is on the way to some more noteworthy destinations such as the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, El Morro National Monument and the Bandera Ice Cave.
Ramah is part of the Navajo Nation and that means you had better read the signs. If the sign says that the speed limit is 20mph (and the signs do say that), it is safe to assume they're not messing around, especially if you "ain't from around here". Additionally, if the sign says "No Trespassing", it is not a suggestion and, with the police station, courthouse and jail all less than half a mile away, I highly recommend shooting from the safe-side of the fence.
This abandoned farm house is at the edge of town and behind a barbed wire fence with a locked gate. Word to the wise: don't climb through the fence.
All photos shot with a Motorola MotoX4 and edited with Snapseed.
So, uh.... what happened here?
If there were one question to sum up the area known as Meadow Lake, it would be, "What happened here?" You could look in any direction and ask this question dozens of times. For starters, there is a man-made lake that was built who knows when or why and was closed for reasons that remain mysterious. Aside from that, run down, abandoned, gutted and often burned mobile homes are strewn across the desert like forgotten dominoes, but right next door could be a beautiful and well maintained home.
And then there's this house.
By any standard of measure, this house would've been considerably nicer than most anything else in the area. For one thing, it's actually a spacious site-built home but then there's also the enclosed courtyard and the in-ground pool. No one up here has an in-ground pool.
And then one day, the whole thing went to hell. From the looks of things, I would guess ruination day was around ten years ago.
As I approach the entrance to the courtyard, the ground is absolutely covered with every manner of thing from the house. There are clothes and shoes and toys and trash..., soo much trash. Aside from this small stuff, furniture is cast about all over the place. There are several couches sitting in the yard.
I tried to find a news story that could explain what happened but came up empty handed. It looks to me like the residents of the house did not salvage any of their belongings after the fire. As you can see in the photos, the house was completely destroyed, and these people just walked away.
Or did they?
It's possible, likely even, that they didn't survive the fire. It's also possible that the fire was not an accident, making whatever happened here a crime as opposed to just an unfortunate event.
Why was nothing cleaned up? Why was nothing rebuilt? If they survived, I would assume they had home-owners insurance but you know what they say about assuming. Where did they go and who owns the land now?
So many questions...
What happened here?
All photos shot with Motorola MotoX4 and edited with Snapseed.
Not Really Here Or There
An easily overlooked stop on the Turquoise Trail road trip, Cerrillos is literally a living ghost town. At least six or seven people still live here and they even put up historical markers providing interesting information on the town's ancient buildings.
Most tourists will want to visit Madrid, which is just a few miles to the south. Madrid has fun things like restaurants, art galleries, and coffee shops and is welcoming to visitors so long as they spend money don't stray off the main road. Should one decide to venture off the road with pavement, the hills suddenly have eyes and you could easily be cursed by a stray dog, disappearing through a portal to the nether world, never to be seen or heard from again.
And then there's Cerrillos.
There's nothing for tourists to do here so the whole town has eyes. Everywhere you go, someone is watching, possibly living and possibly not, but they'll let you know if step out of line.
The ghosts of Cerrillos are surely unimpressed by flashy jewelry and pretentious enlightenment so, if that's your bag, just drive on to Santa Fe.
All images shot with a Motorola MotoX4 and edited with Snapseed.
The historic marker was on around on the back end of this house but I didn't go back there due to the extremely shady looking fellow who was crawling around on the train tracks. I wanted to know, but I didn't want to know that bad.
Los Lunas Decalogue Stone
Way back in 2003, I bought a book called Mysteries & Miracles of New Mexico: Guide Book To The Genuinely Bizarre In The Land Of Enchantment, by Jack Kutz. Chapter One is about New Mexico's Mystery Rock so naturally I followed his cryptic instructions and found it at the base of Hidden Mountain.
That was 16 years ago.
Last weekend, I grabbed the book and took Johnpaul out to the desert and we found it once again.
Still the topic of much archaeological debate, the Los Lunas Decalogue stone is written in a dead language and predates Columbus by well over 1000 years.
It is older than the petroglyphs and written in a language from the other side of the world. So, uh... hmmmmm.
The Ten Commandments?
One common theory about the Decalogue Stone is that it is a transcription of the Ten Commandments. I even had someone on Twitter, who lives in Jordan, claim to be able to decipher the writing and confirm that it is in fact the Ten Commandments. I'm not saying it is or isn't but there have been other translations that tell a very different story.
Specifically, the translation from ancient language expert, Dixie Perkins, who published another translation that reads as follows:
"I have come to this place to stay. The other one met with an untimely death in battle, dishonored, insulted and stripped of flesh. The men thought him to be an object of care whom I looked after, considered crazed, to be tossed about as if in a wind, to perish in poverty and need. By my kinsmen I was respected and honored, of blessed lot, with a body of slaves and so many olive trees, a peg to hang anything upon. Men punished me with exile to exact retribution for a debt; meanwhile, I remain here as a rabbit. I, Zakyneros, just as a prophet, out of reach of mortal man, I am fleeing and very afraid. I am dross, scum, refuse, just as aboard a ship a soft, effeminate sailor is flayed with an animal hide, all who speak offensively are lashed or beaten with a cane; but after a short time, the hurtful ones may be sated; at an unseasonable time, I remain to protect from the rainy southwest winds the hollow or the ravine. Very much harvest is gathered in, very much is the woody dell and glen; very many bags of young deer. Very many hides with delicate, luxuriant hair; by the channel of a river, swift flowing. Very much is given by the gods for again and again, at the unseasonable time I become gaunt from hunger."
There are some who dismiss the Decalogue Stone as nothing more than elaborate hoax perpetrated by archaeology students from The University Of New Mexico. However, due to eyewitness reports of the stone's existence in the 1800's, the hoax theory has been mostly dismissed.
I am not a historian or an expert on ancient languages so the writing on the stone could be directions to the closest Wal-Mart for all I know. What I am, however, is a person who asks "why?"
How and why was this traveler from the Mediterranean wandering around New Mexico 2000 years ago, when people from that part of the world were not known to have been here?
Why would this person spend untold hours carving the Ten Commandments into a rock on Hidden Mountain? I mean, not for nothin', but that's a lot of work. Why would they carve the Ten Commandments on a rock for no one to see?
In my mind, it makes a lot more sense that someone who was alone and frightened would write their story, a soliloquy of sorts, into the stone in hopes of someday being remembered. Like a message in a bottle or a page in a memoir, this message is meant to say, "I was here and this is my story."
How To Find The Mystery Stone
Sadly, vandalism is taking a toll on this (possibly) ancient artifact and on the site as a whole. Obviously, the stone has become too easy to find and has been visited by too many disrespectful individuals. For this reason, I will not reveal the exact location in this post. If you want to get there, you're gonna have to work for it and hopefully vandals will look elsewhere for an easier target.
The Optical Illusion Mountains
The Manzano Mountains are in my proverbial backyard but their height is a topic of optical confusion. Their size does not seem to change appropriately with viewing distance. For example, (see the photo above) when viewed from the west side of Los Lunas - on Main Street west of Los Lunas High School, the Manzano Mountains look pretty big, like big BIG. This would represent a viewing distance of >20 miles. From this vantage point, I would think that if I were standing right in front of them they would would tower up to the sky.
The next two photos below are shot from the Manzano Expressway near Ann Parish Elementary, representing a viewing distance of 10-ish miles. At less than half the distance of the first photo, they don't look all that much bigger.
Incidentally, all the photos in this post are shot with an iPhone SE, so the focal length of the lens is not changing and I never use the digital zoom.
Mountain Shadow Road
The photo below was shot on Mountain Shadow Road in Meadow Lake, representing a viewing distance of less than 5 miles.
As Close As You Can Get
Last Sunday, Johnpaul and I decided to see how close to the Manzano Mountains we could get so we drove out to Valencia High School and then continued east as far as the road would take us and we got pretty close. All of the photos below are from that excursion.
Here's the thing though, even from right in front of them, the Manzanos do not look like towering 10,098 foot mountains. With the naked eye, they actually look much taller and more imposing from the west side of Los Lunas.
To put things in perspective, the Sandia Mountains that are east of Albuquerque are 10,679 feet are their highest point. The Manzano Mountains are only slightly shorter with a maximum height of 10,098 feet. The Sandia Mountains look imposing from any angle or viewing distance but from the foothills, you have to actually look up to see the top. On the other hand, the Manzano Mountains look like manageable hills when viewed from a short distance.
Despite their optically confusing nature, the Manzano Mountains are beautiful, desolate and difficult to approach, exactly the way mountains should be.
I am DeAnna Vincent, fine art and portrait photographer in Los Lunas, New Mexico. These are the photos from my everyday adventures.