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  • Writer's pictureRaymond Niblock

Memories of Roads Solitary: A Reflection


Old New Mexico Highway 279 - The Road to Torreón

Yesterday, upon the vast and silent roads of New Mexico, I indulged an old habit from the times when I called this land my home. I ventured northward, driving alone toward the mighty Jemez Mountains, with only the soulful strains of instrumental music from Pandora as my companion. Rather than taking the familiar path through the Jemez Valley and the Pueblo toward Jemez Springs, I chose instead to travel west, skirting the southern reaches of the Sierra Nacimiento. There, where US Highway 550 turns northward again, following the Rio Puerco toward Cuba, I found myself drawn not to the end of the road but to a lesser path cutting westward toward Torreón.


Upon the intersection with Old State Highway 279, a place familiar yet distant in memory, I parked my car. Stepping out, I sought communion with the landscape, desiring a clear view of Cabezon Peak, a volcanic sentinel rising nearly two thousand feet above the valley. The peak, with its dramatic geology, has long been a beacon for my soul, a place where spirits wander — though whether benevolent or malevolent, I cannot say. It calls to me as the Sirens once called to Odysseus, with a voice woven of wind and whispers.


Cabezon Peak

In younger days, my friend Carl and I, driven by a thirst for adventure, journeyed on these very roads. We sought the hidden corners of Chaco Canyon, daring to camp amid the sacred desolation of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Our travels along Old Highway 279, with music blaring or enveloped in profound silence, were times when the road was anything but lonely. Each moment, shared in silent understanding or in raucous laughter, became a testament to our brotherhood, though never bound by blood but by the sheer force of being alive in those fleeting moments.


Now, seated alone in the quietude of Carl’s widower’s house, I reflect on those bygone days. Our friendship was not of ordinary measure; we were confidants, partners in the clandestine dances with destiny along dusty, forgotten roads. Our secrets, our laughter, our defiant joy in the face of life’s ephemeral nature — all these we shared, savoring each breath of the dusty desert air as if it were our last.


One such adventure took us into the embrace of Chaco Canyon, where we pitched our camp sans tent, because a tent would have been an affront to the sanctity of the place beneath the vast New Mexican sky. Our presence, though uninvited, was tolerated by the land or perhaps the spirits who watched over it.

That night, when the eerie quiet was suddenly pierced by the distant rumble of an engine—a sound both out of place and time—Carl and I tensed. The old truck, its approach marked by the labored heaving of its tired engine, seemed to carry with it a cargo of unknown intentions.


As the headlights finally breached the crest of the hill, their beams cutting through the darkness like the eyes of some nocturnal beast, the night air grew thick with the weight of unanswered questions. Who were these late visitors? Friends, foes, or spirits of the land come to reckon with our intrusion? The truck’s gears groaned as it navigated the rugged path, each turn and dip stirring up clouds of dust that hung in the moonless night like specters.


“Kill the fire. Kill the fire,” Carl whispered urgently. In a flurry of motion, I smothered the flames, plunging our camp into darkness just as the truck’s silhouette crowned the hilltop. We crouched low, our breaths shallow, hands gripping the cold metal of our guns. The truck paused, a hulking shadow against the starlit sky, its occupants hidden within. A door creaked open, then slammed shut—a sound that echoed across the silent sage and dirt, a declaration of presence both ominous and mysterious.


We watched, hearts pounding, as figures moved within the dim glow of the headlights. The engine revved, a harsh, grating sound challenging the silence of the Chaco night. Then, as unexpectedly as it had appeared, the truck turned, its headlights sweeping across the landscape in a wide arc before diminishing into the distance, leaving behind a cloud of dust and a mystery unsolved.


We had won the day. The ground was ours. The retreating Chevy with its two phantom occupants was confirmation that the spirits guarding the place were not offended by our presence. We returned to our fire pit triumphant and rebuilt a bonfire with the last of our wood so large that it could have been seen from the far end of the world. And with the flames leaping taller than we stood, we prayed and sang aloud, dancing and toasting our victory unreservedly with cheap whisky and smiles.


These memories, vivid and poignant, compel me to wonder if Carl’s spirit beckons me back to these sacred landscapes. Yet, I live in Arkansas, living a life graced by love and purpose, albeit far from the haunting beauty of New Mexico. But in moments of solitude, when the call of the west stirs old longings, I know that Carl’s spirit lingers, urging me onward in my writings and in life, to love fiercely and live fully, whether here, or there.


Thus, as I penned this reflection, it was not just an exercise in reminiscence but a soulful homage to a friend whose essence guides me still. And he lives on in my first novel, The Last Independence Day: Secession. I suspect he will live on in its sequel, because I am not ready to let go of him just yet. His memory and the lessons he taught are too important to relegate to mere nostalgia. But as I sit here, right now, our journey to Torreón, to Chaco, and beyond, along roads solitary but never lonely, remain vivid in my heart, as I continue to navigate the landscapes of memory and the terrains of the present with a spirit undimmed by time or distance.

Old New Mexico Highway 279 - The Road to Torreón

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