Monday, August 23, 2010

A Camping Trip to Northeast New Mexico and the Sad Story of Murder Along Old Route 66

Conchas Lake

Last Friday, we headed east on I-40 for a weekend camping trip to Conchas Lake State Park.  My husband and I had a new tent to try out and we'd never been to Conchas Lake which is east of Santa Rosa and about 34 miles northwest of Tucumcari.  Getting away for little weekend exporations around New Mexico is a favorite activity for us.  We relax, see new places, and learn a little history with each trip.  Northeastern New Mexico seems pretty barren, but there are a lot of lakes and rivers, historic Route 66 towns, and dirt roads through small historic villages and ranches amid beautiful mesas and gorges.  The skies are big and filled with monsoon clouds during the day and with little ambient light from development, the stars are bright at night.  

View from our Campsite at Bell Point, Site B-30
We arrived Friday evening about 630PM at our campsite next to the lake.  The lake was formed by damming the Canadian River in the 1930's.  A depression-era WPA project built the dam to assist farmers and ranchers in Northeast New Mexico with irrigation.  We didn't see much ranching or farming in this area these days.  Today, the lake is a popular recreational boating and fishing destination for water-starved New Mexicans.  There is a very nice Army Corps of Engineers operations base there, with beautiful green lawns and shady trees with BBQ's, playground equipment, and a sand volleyball court.  At Lake Conchas State Park, there is camping and swimming along the southern shore of the Lake, boat ramps and a small marina, a lounge, cafe, store, and a boat repair shop.  Just north of this are nice campgrounds along the northern shore. 

Each site has a shelter, a BBQ grill, and a tree or two for shade.  The views are lovely. The sunsets to the west of the very blue lake were amazing. The weather was hot in the 90's during the day, upper 60's at night.

On Sunday, we packed up early and headed for the town of Santa Rosa on old Route 66 for a green chile and cheese omlette and a breakfast burrito at Joseph's.  We decided to explore the area which has experienced quite a bit of civic and commercial development in recent years. The local park with it's city lake is a nice paradise with water slides, swimming beach, and paddleboats with shady picnicking areas and sports facilities.  Next to the park is the nearly finished new dive facility adjacent to the Blue Hole. The Blue Hole  is a natural limestone sink hole (about 81 ft. deep) full of constantly refreshing artesian spring water that remains clear and blue for scuba divers, snorklers and swimmers to enjoy.

Wanting to check out another lake and State Park, we headed north about 5 miles to Santa Rosa Lake State Park. This is a beautiful remote State Park with fairly new campgrounds, lots of green grass and trees and lake views. Again, this is primarily a boating and fishing destination like Conchas, but it also has equesterian trails, hiking trails, and nature walks, and an access road to the Pecos River below the dam.  We were impressed with the high quality of this State Park and resolved to return  here in the fall or spring for another camping trip.

Santa Rosa Lake
We decided to explore Guadalupe County's Mesalands and headed to the historic village of Colonias within the Anton Chico Spanish Land Grant northwest of Santa Rosa .  We pulled off I-40 at exit 267 where a Stuckey's restaurant and gas station sit remotely alone along the Interstate.  The road north to Colonias had a sign posted:  "Dead End".  As we took the narrow, roughly paved road north, we noticed the desolation of the place. We never saw another car on this narrow road, only a few cows, an occasional windmill or water trough.  No houses for miles, only an abandoned building, a corral or ranch gate here or there. Then it ocurred to us that this was the Killing Place.  About 3 weeks earlier, a horrible double murder took place nearby. A couple on vacation were brutally murdered and their burned-out trailer was found by ranch hands here about 5 miles north of the Interstate and the remains of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Oklahoma were inside. Two of their three dogs were found alive nearby and a dog tag helped to ID the couple.

Gary and Linda Haas
Their truck had been stolen and was found in Albuquerque some 100 miles to the west.  Two of the murder suspects were arrested at a remote Arizona campround and another was arrested a week earlier in Wyoming.  Two suspects are escapees from an Arizona prison, and the third is a woman who helped them to escape from the prison.  I was very sad for this innocent couple who were most likely in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I suspect they were overcome, perhaps during a stop along I-40 (old Rt. 66). I shudder at the thought of how quickly lovely life can be snuffed out by desperate and callous killers.  This harsh country has seen its share of callous murderers.             

The infamous outlaw Billy the Kid  lived and operated in this area of New Mexico in the 1870's until he was killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett in 1881.  A Billy the Kid Pageant is held in Lincoln, NM in August of each year, and a Billy the Kid Museum is in nearby Ft. Sumner.  It's a shame that these losers often are remembered long after their victims.

We traveled on to Colonias. The Spanish village built in 1821 on the Pecos River had few residents left.  The church was badly disintergrated. The small playground and basketball court in the village center was overgrown and unused.  Only the gravesites looked tended. We saw no one walking or sitting around anywhere.
The Church in Colonias
Finally, we came across some residents hard at work rebuilding a beautiful old stone and adobe home.  We asked them how we might get to Anton Chico from Colonias rather than returning to I-40.  They directed us to a ranch road that would take us to NM-84 (Old Las Vegas Hwy).  Although a grisly murder had taken place nearby, people in this area are still generally friendly and trusting even of strangers who happen by randomly. This friendliness is both the strength of New Mexico's people and also the downfall of those hapless victims of criminals who offer a helping hand.  The randomness of crime..."There but for fortune go you or I..."    

Update 10/8/203:
Justice for Gary and Linda Haas. John McCluskey found guilty of murder on all counts!

1 comment:

  1. well said mama. Next time you go camping, i'd love to join...