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Surprise on Snake Hill

The dogs and I went exploring the Plains of San Agustin. Wikipedia tells us that it is a graben, like Death Valley. Graben means ditch in German; have some fun ggrrrowling the word out. It is a block of land that sinks between two parallel faults or cracks. Supposedly San Agustin sank 4000 feet, and then filled halfway in with sediment from the nearby mountains.

Many travelers are fond of Old Highways -- the ones that aren't drivable anymore. There are places where you could camp smack dab in the middle of the old highway. Who owns the Old Highway anyway? Does it revert to adjacent landowners?

At any rate Coffee Girl and I checked it out. It got close to a twin mountain that was small and picturesque. Since I wasn't sure whether I was trespassing or not, we returned to the van, after seeing an old abandoned building where I least expected it.

Soon Coffee Girl will be taught to ride in the BOB trailer. Until then it seemed best to leave her in the van with the old boy, while I went mountain biking alone. There was a small knoll next to the road. I'm glad I biked up it; a 100 foot gain in elevation was all that was needed to survey the Plains of San Agustin. Indeed, it is remarkable how true that is of sightseeing in general. There were the remains of a small building on top of Snake Hill. Why was it there?

Soon I followed a two track road that left the Plain and gradually climbed back to that Twin mountain. To the eye it looked too loose or muddy, but as with walking on shorelines, you can sometimes get the pleasant surprise of a hard pack surface.

I was tempted to try to make a loop out of it, but experience has taught me that a single explorer is much safer doing out-and-backs.

The reader may wonder why I puff up such a humble outing with the term, explore. To me, the term does not imply anything athletically heroic or death-defying; it merely means that you go out to see what's there, without knowing the answer beforehand, without following glossy brochures from the visitor's center, or being spoon-fed the answer by those brown stakes put out by the US Forest Disservice.

On the return, the 3% downhill doubled my speed. But I was also reminded why an explorer should be in the habit of turning around when exploring: thunderstorms were brewing on the other side of the Plain, and seemed headed in my direction.

Just before getting back to the van, an old boy in a pickup stopped me for a chat. It was so nice to be in a part of America where people are friendly and expect entertainment from a passer-by. The 80-year-old seemed to be the local historian. He said that the first old building was the remains of a town that died when the highway was moved.

The building on top of Snake Hill had been an Army radar site during World War II. They had used it to observe the first atomic bomb blast in White Sands, by Alamogordo, a hundred miles away. Apparently there is a gap in the mountains that permitted an almost line-of-sight view of the explosion.