Patrick Gibson's Reviews > Tularosa: Last of the Frontier West

Tularosa by C.L. Sonnichsen
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Apr 26, 10

bookshelves: new_mexico, the_west, history
Read in April, 2010 — I own a copy

My buddy Daniel and I spent half a day traipsing around Valley of Fires on an interminably hot day. There was a fantastic thunderstorm on the opposite side of Journada de Muerto—much too far away for relief. It would take hours to get to us. So we hydrated as best we could and sweat like losing racehorses. Without the storm I couldn’t find inspiration for any kind of interesting photographs. A cerulean sky can be annoying sometimes. I bitched and he grumbled. Relenting, before succumbing to heat stroke, we made our way back to the truck. In an attempt to find something to drink other than warm water (my kingdom for a Diet Coke) we sauntered over to the ranger station, which was about the size of a four-hole outhouse. The soda machine was empty. The delivery guy was three or four weeks late. To quell my embarrassment at just standing around soaking up the air conditioning, I felt I should buy something. Always ready to add to my refrigerator magnet collection I looked for some sort of Valley of Fires memento (not realizing the accumulated dirt in the truck would be souvenir enough when I got home). Nothing except a few books on New Mexico history. The nearby town of Tularoa consists of a restaurant which serves one of the best chiliburgers in the state, a general store which always looks closed and a few adobe homes which have that famous New Mexico abandoned look. There is no bank, school, or gas station. My first thought, when I saw the book ‘Tularosa’ on the near-empty shelves, was ‘what in hell could there be to write about in that prairie dog mound?’ I flipped the book and read the back. Then fanned the pages. Huh. Pretty substantial.
Daniel gave me that raised eyebrow look. I have to support the park system. I’m buying the friggin book.

“Tularosa” turned out to be completely entertaining. Written by a local, it covers the formation of the land (probably best known for White Sands) through the recent history of atomic bombs and missiles. The geology section is mercifully brief. It’s all sand, people, sand! From the Conquistadores forward, the history (to my surprise) turned out to be fascinating. Most of the authors ‘research’ consisted of interviews from descendants who knew Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and Oliver Lee. Murder, cattle rustlers, corrupt politicians, building the railroad, ghosts and strange creature apparitions in the desert.

Interviews with locals who risk prosecution by sneaking on to the missile range to look for lost treasure (an absolute fact of existence as far as the author is concerned). Hidden treasure for me was finding this book. Couldn’t have enjoyed its easy ‘history-lite’ style any more than I did. I have since looked upon Tularosa in an entirely different way—even spending some time walking around indentifying some of the landmark buildings. One morning I set on a quest to locate Susan McSweens house—and actually found it. (It was her other house in Lincoln where the famous three day gunfight took place. Rent ‘Young Guns’ if you don’t know what I am talking about.)
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