We make an effort to do something special for our anniversary, usually a trip. Retirement means we no longer are limited to making these trips on vacations or weekends, and you can be sure an anniversary gets priority on our calendar.
This year we went to Ojo Caliente, New Mexico, a resort village centered around an venerable spa incorporating several natural hot springs. We were not attracted by the spa or the hot springs, but rather that this village is literally in the middle of nowhere. It is surrounded by minimally spoiled wilderness. We went there for the hiking.
Perhaps it was not the wisest choice. My wife and I are both recovering from injuries that have left us out of shape. Nevertheless, we went and hiked. We were tired and sore, but we kept within our physical limitations and had a great time.
Ojo Caliente is in a valley with lush cottonwood growth (referred to locally as a bosque which is Spanish for woods). Once one climbs out of the valley, one is in the world of the high desert. Scrub juniper trees and sparse vegetation is all there is, but the hiking is great, partly because of spectacular views.
We stayed at the village’s only bed and breakfast. In the morning we headed out with sandwiches and water in a day pack.
At the trailhead there is a sign advising hikers of cougars (aka mountain lions). The sign advises hikers not to try to approach a cougar, and then gives suggestions on what to do if a cougar approaches you. Please don’t panic. Cougars are shy predators who tend to avoid contact with humans. On the average there are only 4 cougar attacks on humans per year in the entire country. The advice is that hikers do their best to appear larger and noisier than the size animal the cougar will want to associate with. The other primary piece of advice is not to run because the cougar’s chase reflex may cause it to think you are prey.
Even though I kept hoping to see and photograph one at a distance, we never saw a big cat while we hiked the two miles to a mica mine. The mica mine is spectacularly beautiful with sunshine reflecting off of pieces of mica. While the beautiful mica, which in some cases looked like sunshine reflecting off of large chunks of silver, did not give me any immediate inspiration, it is a location of beautiful that my make a great backdrop for a story.
That night we ate a gourmet dinner in the spa’s restaurant. The following morning we hiked less than a mile to the ruins of an ancient Indian pueblo. The weather having turned three story adobe structures into piles of dirt, the ruins are not particularly spectacular, but interesting. A pamphlet helped us to interpret the mounds of dirt. The pueblo was large and probably housed several hundred people. What we thought was spectacular was that pottery shards are everywhere. We were enchanted by the variety of designs we found on the shards.
By the time we left, however, all of these stimuli came together to inspire me to write a story. What if there were a conference of archeologists at the spa? The spa provides both living space and meeting rooms with the bed and breakfast and the village’s one motel providing additional facilities. The spa restaurant could provide meals, or the meals could be catered from any of the four small restaurants on the highway at the edge of the village. Of course, between sessions, the participants would be free to engage in the hot springs or hiking.
The plot of the story would revolve around the death of one of the archeologists who is found on a hiking trail, apparently killed by a cougar. There are cougar tracks next to the body, but did the cougar do it? During the conference there would be professional arguments and professional jealousies. There could be at least one case of flirtation that might cause a husband to become jealous. Any number of humans could be the villain if they could imitate the wounds of the cat’s claws and leave cougar tracks. As long as the cougar is under suspicion, a cougar hunt would be organized, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if the cougar could actually surprise the true villain and make him run. In that case, the cougar would chase and catch the villain.
Well, I have a bit of work to do to turn the inspiration into a story, but my mind is working on it.
I am also intrigued by the fact that the turnoff on the highway is marked NM414, but this state highway must be the shortest highway in New Mexico. It extends from the main highway to the spa. a distance of 1/2 mile. Perhaps at one time, it extended onto the rough gravel road that climbs out of the valley behind the spa and crossed the high desert to nowhere in particular. My mind is wondering about the history of this short highway. I may be able to turn that into a short magazine article. Who ever heard of a state highway only 1/2 mile long? But then, who ever heard of a cougar helping the sheriff catch a murderer? The first is reality. The second might happen in my next book.