As a part of New Mexico Magazine's centennial celebration, we'll be looking back at some of the stories from the past 100 years. This story appeared in the August 1942 edition.
WHATEVER REASONS WE presented to the public for taking this trip were applesauce. The real reason was escape—from routine, from the war, from ruts, from whatever had tied our communication systems into knots.
We wanted to take our brains out and wash them, as Marie would say, and to soak our souls in the sun. Incidentally, two of us wanted to catch fish, and the other two wanted to eat them. Because of the tire shortage, we planned to go not very far, but it would be difficult to find a place anywhere more nearly suited to our purpose than Willow Creek in the Mogollons.
When we started out from Silver City, food, bedding, worms, pots and pans, tarps, and Marie’s Pekingese were all one happy jumble in the trailer and back of the car. The journey was uneventful except for the occasions when our cantankerous car would stop on a steep grade—seven stops in all on the way to Willow Creek … Because of the long waits, we had made a four-hour trip in seven.
Mary Alice and Recene were in such a dither to fish that they hardly waited for Marie to stop the car before they were out, untying ropes. I think they had some idea of putting up the tent in five minutes, but surely, the only sensible thing to do was to send them on their way and let us take our time unpacking.
We pitched our tent in the curve of the creek where it poured over logs and rocks. The table and fireplace were at the foot of an enormous spruce and someone had already cut a huge pile of pine logs for us. I am not much help at tent raising, but I hunted poles while Marie engineered the rigging; I held stakes while she selected places for them to go and drove them in; I held ropes in place while she tied the proper knots in them. One flap had to be raised and anchored so that we could get the maximum ventilation and the minimum protection from rain. Oh, how we prepared for rain that never came!
We finished just as the girls came back with—no fish! They had used worms for bait which they found out next day were not on the preferred diet of Willow Creek trout this year. So we substituted bacon and eggs and went to bed quite happy. What with four bed rolls and two air mattresses between us, we slept comfortably although there was ice on the water bucket in the morning.
The next thing we knew it was nine o’clock Sunday morning and Marie was offering us coffee in bed. Such tousled people we were! Only Marie was immaculate, and even she deteriorated a little as time went on and the soot ground deeper. Recene and Mary Alice, after a skimpy breakfast were off to Iron Creek to fish—a sixteen-mile round trip. Marie and I had some vague altruistic idea of brushing up camp and making it more comfortable, but all we actually accomplished was to zip Recene’s and Mary Alice’s bed rolls together to make a double bed. I admit we had done it as much out of curiosity as goodness of our heart. The catalogue had said that they could be zipped together, and we wanted to see if we could put our faith in a mail-order catalogue. We could. The girls said the new arrangement was much better.
It was almost dark when Recene and Mary Alice trudged valiantly into camp. Those sixteen miles were really a workout. But they had fifteen fish between them and such fish! Take one mountain trout dipped in corn meal, add a little grease to the pan and let a few ashes pop into it; fry well with pine smoke rolling over the top, and you have the most toothsome delicacy in the world. Eat with lettuce salad, baked potatoes, canned tomatoes, and go to bed. This procedure is guaranteed to cure any ailment except sunburn.
"This month's cover photograph, which portrays the Fiesta spirit, is by Major Charles T. Vandervort of the Camera Shop, Santa Fe. The subject is Celso Lopez, of Santa Fe." Vol. 20, No. 8
MONDAY WE TOOK BATHS and hunted Lem. Lem is the guide who also rents horses, and Marie and Mary Alice wanted two for the trip to the West Fork of the Gila on Wednesday. Lem is a difficult man to find, but we left a scribbled note on his door and hoped he could read it.
As for the baths, taking one at Willow Creek is quite a complicated affair. First, you gather your semi-clean clothes. Some of them will be in Recene’s bag, some under our bed rolls, some in the car. What you can’t find have blown off the line and are either on top of the tent, under the table, or over the fence by the creek. By the time you have gathered all the clothes you need, the fire is out under the water. You build that up, and, while you are waiting on the water, you get interested in something else and let the fire go out again. Then you decide this has gone far enough and you will bathe in less water than you had planned.
One corner of the tent is the bath house. After you push back Marie’s pillow on one side and the foot of Mary Alice’s bed roll on the other, you have room enough for the pan, your soap, and whatever part of yourself you choose to sit on. If you have everything you need now, the bath proceeds on the installment plan.
Recene and Mary Alice went fishing again in the afternoon, but caught only two fish.
They didn’t like salt pork either although it had been recommended by a man who had been a successful fisherman for three days on Willow Creek. Lem came by at sunset to tell the girls they could have the horses. After he’d gone, we weren’t quite sure about the time, or whether he’d bring them, or they’d go after them.
Tuesday was a meandering day of preparation for the big trip. We did the usual things about camp. Marie and Mary Alice gathered enough supplies to last for several days. They prepared for more emergencies than happened to the pioneers in a month. They were pouring liquids out of jars, bottles, and powders out of sacks, and pouring them into other jars, bottles, and sacks all day. Anything could happen.
This was also grasshopper day. Since someone had told the girls that grasshoppers were the trout delicacy this season, they decided to try them. Recene took the fly swatter and Marie her rubber over-shoe. The technique consisted of locating the grasshopper, anticipating his decision to jump, swatting him just before he made the first move, popping him into a container. If swatted skillfully, the grasshopper was stunned sufficiently to be quiescent, but not enough to be disabled. A proper balance is important because trout like their meals alive and wiggling.
Recene and Mary Alice tried out the grasshoppers late in the day. If I could only fish! But fishing is one of my blind spots. I am told that every bend in the creek is a new adventure. Just in the shadow of that great rock, there lies a beautiful twentyincher. If not there, then on down the creek behind that log, I may find half a dozen beauties. If not there, then on and on and on. In the meantime, I fill my creel with my limit of not quite so fine fish as I had hoped to get, but they are adequate.
We didn’t have fish Tuesday night either. The girls had spent all their fishing time leaving notes for Lem—at his house, at the lodge, on fence posts, probably, to clear up the ambiguity of the conversation the day before. But we didn’t need fish. We had a delicious mixture, by Recene, of bacon, tomatoes, onions, and macaroni. Lem appeared at dark on his way home to say that he would bring two horses over at six-thirty a.m., War Time.
Recene and l barely heard the girls leave next morning. I raised my head once and saw Marie silhouetted against the tent. Since all seemed well, I went back to sleep and awakened much later to a lovely lazy day. After reading and lolling about all day, we went into a great burst of speed about five o’clock to get the camp ready for the return of our adventurers. We cleaned the camp, pumped plenty of water, made the beds, picked up articles that had fallen off the line, chopped wood, set the table, and sprinkled the ground with water to lay the dust. This had been regular routine all week.
At last Marie and Mary Alice came galloping and whooping into camp.
They had had a wonderful day, across Iron Creek, up Cooper Canyon—where they saw a deer—over Turkeyfeather Pass and down to the West Fork of the Gila. No mishaps. The fishing was just right.
Mary Alice had cleaned the fish before she got to camp. I fried them. They were good! We ate all twenty of them, with accessories, in the light of the moon.
AND SUDDENLY it was our last day. We had stolen six days out of time, but now we had begun to smell the odor of shampoo and lotions and to think how nice a hot bath would be. Our hair was stiff with dust and soot; our faces and hands grimy in spite of frequent washings; our clothes ready for the laundry and dry cleaner. But, since we had to go home, that, too, would be fun.
Our fishermen were out again at noon on Iron Creek. They brought back twenty-six fish—but we decided to save them for Silver City consumption.
But we could be generous with our menu that night because we had almost enough supplies for another week—beets, beans, peas, lettuce, bacon and eggs, cookies, and something of nearly everything we had started with. We compromised on corned beef.
So we took back twenty-six fish. But we had gotten a lot of other things there on Willow Creek besides fresh fish. We got a fresh viewpoint and friendship, sun, and solitude. Yes, we had, as Marie put it, soaked our souls in the sun.
“In the early frontier days, a trip for supplies meant a long tiresome journey. Today’s hardy (?) pioneer travels by motor car (gas wagon, flivver, jalopy, or what have you), to nearby Santa Fe. Just a few minutes’ drive on an oil-surfaced highway that stretches ahead like a shining ribbon in the sunlight.” —from “Pioneering de Luxe,” by M.D. Constant
What It Cost
Magazine: 15 cents/copy, $1/year
Hotel Val Verde (Socorro): Rooms with bath, $2.50. “Coffee Room, free parking; special rates to families. Quiet and restful.”
McCrossen Hand-Woven Textiles (Santa Fe): 100% Virgin Wool. Special twill-weave suiting, $6.50/yard.
August 1942 Calendar
Old Pecos Dance at Jemez Pueblo
Cowboys’ Reunion, Las Vegas
Fiesta, Santa Clara
Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial, Gallup
Freshman Week begins, UNM
St. Agustín Day Dance, Isleta Pueblo