In other parts of the country, the month of September means school, changing leaves, or possibly the observation of Teddy Bear Day (a real thing).
To New Mexicans, however, September is synonymous with one thing: CHILE. Red, green, fresh, fired, hot, mild, however you like it. Drive across the Rio Grande bridge in Albuquerque with your windows rolled down on a warm night in early September, and you will smell roasting chiles wafting up from the city all around you. Everyone will ask, “Do you want to go in on a bag with me?” – meaning a giant, three-foot by two-foot sack of dense peppers – or “Do you want to help me peel?” – layman’s terms for, “if you help me and sacrifice the tips of your fingers and touching your eyes/nose/mouth/nethers for the rest of the day, I will share it with you.”
Chile and all its delicious by-products are cheap, and it is glorious.
There is also the Hatch Chile Festival, which we attended on Sunday for approximately twenty minutes, which was long enough for Jeremy to eat a funnel cake; Boon to steal a hunk of it as a chaser to all the pepper seeds he deftly picked off the ground; Annie to be accosted by strangers on account of her cuteness; and me to scan the booths and pick out a new Festival shirt for my dad, whose tattered one is probably 17 years old.
We ended up in Hatch near the end of the day, after a morning of trying to salvage seeing and doing everything that the previous day had robbed us of seeing and doing. We left Oliver Lee State Park covered in splotchy, red welts from the sand fleas that blew all over us all night on the wings of that terrible wind, and decided to head back up into the White Mountain area of the Sacramento mountains to see if we could conquer Sierra Blanca by car.
We couldn’t. The old stratovolcano is over 12,000 feet high (8,000 of it straight up from the desert floor), and is in the northwest corner of the Mescalero Apache reservation in Lincoln/Otero counties. When I lived out here as a kid, we used to drive up all the time, bust around a little while in the snow, and head back down to 90 degree temps in Las Cruces. We made it 11 of the 12 steep, switchback miles before we turned around in defeat. The landscape all around us was consumed by fog – a new meaning to ‘white mountain’ – and we couldn’t see a damn thing. Cars coming by on the way down were only visible at the point that they were horizontal with ours. Trees along the guardrail you could see, but nothing beyond. It was like being inside of some muted dome, damp and cold, and inescapable. We only waited eleven miles because it took us that long to find a good spot to turn around. Plus, we figured that the amazing views from the top of the highest mountain for hundreds of miles would be lost on us, having been consumed by the Nothing and everything . . .
After Hatch, demoralized by a weekend of misses, we got dinner in Socorro and started the trek up I-25 north, heading home.
I did take some photos, though! And there was a rainbow over Caballo Lake amidst all the rain. But that was it. I vowed to go back the following weekend, by myself, and I did. But more on that later.
Be well. – SAWK