Sunday, January 18, 2009

A visit to Jemez Springs

Yesterday was sunny and mild, a good day for a road trip. I'd been promising to take my mom to Jemez Springs since December when she expressed a desire to see the place again. So today, she and I and my niece Jenny Alsup made a pilgrimage some 53 miles north of Albuquerque to this village tucked into the Jemez Mountains.

In the early '70s, my mom and dad, along with three other partners, bought the Los Ojos Bar and the Jemez Springs Mercantile—with gas pumps out front—located across the road from each other in the center of the village. For two years or so, they lived and plied their businesses—Mom and my dad’s cousin Loretta McDermott running the mercantile and gas pumps while my dad, Loretta’s husband Bob, and the third partner Tom Kelly manned the bar by day and into the night. Then my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the financial status of the business had deteriorated to the point where the partners were having trouble paying their suppliers. At that point, they sold everything and returned to Albuquerque.

Mom and Jenny on the porch of the Los Ojos BarI picked up Jenny and then Mom at the Rehabilitation Center of Albuquerque shortly after 12 noon, and it took us about an hour to get to Jemez Springs. We pulled into the unpaved parking lot of the Los Ojos Bar, and I took this photo. (Click any of the photos on this blog to see a larger view.) Across the road is Deb's Cafe, where the Jemez Mercantile used to be.

Mom and JennyWe went in and ordered lunch—Mom ordered beef-vegetable soup and a beer (I talked her into the beer), Jenny a “yodelburger” (a swiss cheese and grilled onion sandwich), and I ordered a “famous Jemez burger” with an order of onion rings for all of us.

Mom and meWhile we waited for our food, I took Mom around the place, which she found much changed since she’d last seen it. The big fireplace still exists although its façade has been updated, and the bar is now shorter than it used to be, making more room for pool playing. The stuffed heads of deer and antelope as well as stuffed birds and a bear skin still hang on the walls. The collection of old firearms and cowboy hats are still hanging there, too. A dining room has been added off the bar area to accommodate folks who doen't want to eat in the bar. In this photo, you can also see the small stage at the rear where, I presume, musicians still perform from time to time.

Mom and me with the Jemez River behind us After lunch, we crossed the road to Deb’s Café. Why did we three chicks cross the road? Why, to see what used to be the small grocery store where Mom and Loretta used to work all the livelong day. As Mom observed, the place is totally changed, but the woman who now owns it—Helen, who named it after her daughter Debbie—was very cordial even though we’d arrived just before closing.

Mom and Jenny by the creekWe had coffee and coconut cream pie there and then walked the short distance behind the café to see where Mom and Dad used to live: in a trailer just a stone’s throw from the creek that runs parallel to the highway winding through the Jemez Valley. The trailer is long gone, but the house where Don and Peggy, their neighbors, used to live in is still there, and Mom regaled Jenny and me with the story of how Peggy would wake late in the morning and wait for her husband to bring her “Bloody” (Bloody Mary) as an eye-opener each day.They were only two of many colorful residents in Jemez Springs when Mom and Dad lived there during a time when hippies, loggers, and bikers passing through added to the eclectic mix of humanity in that little village.

Then Mom said she’d like to see the house where Bob and Loretta used to live, so we walked along the side of the road past the little post office but not quite to Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church (where my brother Jason used to serve mass as an altar boy). The house Bob and Loretta lived in is rather worse for wear, but Mom clearly recognized it.

Next we got back into the car and followed the ribbon of road north through town—past the Jemez Bath House, the Jemez Monument(consisting of ruins of a Spanish mission church), the Bodhi Manda Zen Center, Soda Dam, and several Catholic monasteries and convents—along the way to Battleship Rock. I wanted to show Jenny the place where the ashes of her grandfather, Murray King, were scattered. However, we couldn’t go to the actual site—a place in a stream bed under tall trees located not far from the picnic area—because there was no way I could push Mom’s wheelchair there.

It was 3:30 or so when we headed back to Albuquerque, through Jemez Pueblo, San Ysidro, the back side of Rio Rancho, and Bernalillo, at which point we got on I-25 and soon home.

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