Tales from the Journey of the Dead: Ten Thousand Years on an American Desert

Tales from the Journey of the Dead: Ten Thousand Years on an American Desert

Tales from the Journey of the Dead: Ten Thousand Years on an American Desert

Tales from the Journey of the Dead: Ten Thousand Years on an American Desert

Synopsis

One hundred miles south of Albuquerque, two parallel chains of mountains isolate a 120-mile jumble of black rock, dry lake beds, flesh-colored sand, and desolation. This is the Jornada del Muerto, the Journey of the Dead.

So named because of a particular death centuries ago, this desert has witnessed many tales of loss and destruction. Alan Boye takes us on a trek through the beauty and violence of this forbidding land. Traveling the wasteland by foot, Boye visits battle sites from the Mexican-American War, to the Civil War, from the lonely canyon where the Apaches fought to keep their homeland, to the isolated site of the world's first atomic explosion. In the sand and dust and the ruins of war, Boye discovers stories of sadistic killers, directionless rebels, and gun-toting gauchos--but also tales of poets and dreamers, of ordinary men and women who lived their lives and continue to live under this wide and ruthless desert sky. He introduces us to many travelers who have tested the desert: mysterious ancient people who built cliff-top fortresses, Spanish conquistadors, Mexican farmers, old time cowboys yodeling classical poetry to their cattle, and modern range managers tracking livestock by satellite. This is the story of an American desert told through the eyes of those who knew it best and brought to life through Boye's own travels across the Journey of the Dead.

Excerpt

One hundred miles downstream from Albuquerque, New Mexico, the sluggish Rio Grande slams up against a series of volcanic mesas and dark, foreboding mountains. As if to avoid the desolate place, the mighty river swings in a long, wide arc to the west.

Two parallel chains of mountains form a 120-mile-long barricade that isolates a vacant, inhospitable, 50-mile-wide jumble of black rock, dry lake beds, flesh-colored sand, and desolation.

This is the Jornada del Muerto, the Journey of the Dead. Although so named because of a particular death centuries ago, many other illfated travelers have wandered the Jornada; mysterious ancient people in cliff-top fortresses, Spanish conquistadores come to reap heathen souls and uncounted riches, Apache warriors, Mexican farmers, and cowboys yodeling classical poetry to their cows. Many of these died here, while other travelers, like me, wandered the Jornada while on some longer journey.

Each tale from this wild and rugged land is the story of a life, well lived or not, set under a burning desert sun.

The earliest Europeans to see this land – Spanish men and women from Mexico who came seeking domination, converts, and wealth – referred to the distance between reliable sources of water as a jornada, a single march, a journey. Because following the river meant traversing a series of deep canyons and sharp-edged arroyos, travelers detoured across the dry Jornada del Muerto. By the early 1600s the Spanish had established regular travel between Mexico City and Santa Fe on a road that cut across the Jornada. From then until the twentieth century, when an automobile road along the river made the old road unnecessary, much of the human history of North America marched across this wasteland.

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