by Lyle Lofgren (photos by Elizabeth Lofgren)
March 26 - April 23, 1994
Comments? Contact Lyle at

New Mexico deadwood


Pantex Plant
The Jesus Tortilla
The Death of Grunge
The Rugged Indoors
State Roadside Decoration
Monotheism in the Desert

We had lunch at the art museum. The lunchroom, unlike the galleries, was crowded. It must be the Place For Lunch in Wichita. An old guy with a farmer sunburn, bald, tall, big-boned but gone to potbelly, inappropriately dressed with a suit and tie, was having lunch with a hefty middle-aged lady with a red wig. She was an acquaintance, but obviously not a close one. She didn't have to say much, as he was a skilled conversationalist. Some of what he said (almost verbatim) was:

"I'll tell you, meat loaf is absolutely no good if you make it with that stuffing-in-a-box they sell in the stores. I tried it and you could hardly eat it. I know how to make good meat loaf with ground deer. Now, my son-in-law, he doesn't know how to cook deer chops at all. Absolutely worthless. To make deer chops correctly, you first sauté them, then add cream of mushroom soup, then burgundy wine. Yep -- Deer Chop Burgundy. It can't be beat."

Last Sunday, according to the TV, the members of the Methodist church in a small Alabama community had just begun Palm Sunday services, with the children lined up for their part in the ceremony. No sooner had the congregation started to sing The Lord Will Provide than a fearsome tornado blew down a brick wall on the children, killing most of them. Well, the song doesn't say what the Lord will provide, and "my ways are not your ways." That reminded me of the Spring Lake Lutheran church. Spring Lake is a township near Harris, Minnesota, my home town. When they built the church in the late 1800's, the church council considered whether to buy lightning rods. The nays prevailed with a clincher argument: "Do you think God would be foolish enough to burn down his own house?" So they built the church with a nice high steeple, but no lightning rods. Well, you can guess the rest. God could not resist the challenge to prove how foolish he was, and the next year he struck the steeple with lightning and burned down the whole shebang.

Just before Amarillo, we passed the Pantex plant in the distance. The Pantex plant is where they assembled hydrogen bombs. I read somewhere that most of the workers at the plant are fundamentalist Christians, who justified their activity as the performing of God's work: they were hastening the blessed Second Coming of Christ. The ability of humans for self-justification has to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Moral World -- maybe it's all seven wonders. Now, though, we are supposedly no longer building H-bombs, and the Pantex plant is allegedly being used for dismantling old warheads: pounding swords into plutonium. I wonder what those Christians think now about the justification for their jobs: they're postponing the Second Coming, for Christ's sake!

There's a sign on the highway as you enter town saying: ROSWELL -- THE HOME OF 3 MUSEUMS. We're suckers for museums, so we followed the signs to the Roswell Art Museum. The art collection was fairly good for a small city, with some good paintings by Andrew Wyeth's sister, but the Robert Goddard Wing was more interesting. They had exhibits of his early rocket designs, and a recreation of his workshop. Goddard tried to build gasoline-liquid oxygen rockets in Roswell in the 1930's. In the strange bedfellows department, Charles Lindbergh (a noted anti-Semite of Swedish descent) convinced businessman Henry Guggenheim (a Jew) to fund Goddard (a WASP). None of the experiments worked as well as Goddard expected, although some of the incidents were Acts Of God: a tornado once wrecked a launching stand, for instance. Others were of the type you'd expect of someone groping in the dark. It didn't take very many explosions, for instance, for him to discover that ceramic insulation was too heavy, and he developed the idea of using a curtain of vaporized gasoline around the inside of the rocket nozzle to insulate the metal. Nevertheless, the best he achieved was 3300 feet above the ground with a small rocket. Guggenheim lost patience and cut off the funding. After this, "Goddard left for Annapolis, MD, in 1941 to share his knowledge with the military." Actually, it wasn't the US military, because they paid no attention to him. But, over in Germany, was Werner Von Braun paying attention to Goddard's published papers? You bet he was.

"What are the other two museums about?" I asked the clerk in the museum bookstore. "Flying saucer museums," she answered. Sure enough, even in the art bookstore, you could buy a facsimile copy of the Roswell newspaper from 1947, about a flying saucer that had crashed on a ranch outside Roswell. The landing and wreckage were witnessed by Mr. and Mrs. Rancher, both sober pillars of the community. The Air Force, from nearby Roswell AFB, showed up and took all the wreckage and the bodies, and "sent them to another base." The Air Force later denied that anything had happened.

The Jesus Tortilla:
I'd be willing to believe the Roswell flying saucer crash was an anomaly, a true accident and not a sign of supernatural activity permeating New Mexico, but I'm at a loss to explain this miracle, from nearby Lake Arthur, as described in New Mexico, by Nancy Herbert (Compass American Guides, 1992):

"Eight miles north of Artesia, in a cotton belt unimpressive in natural beauty, is the hamlet of Lake Arthur. The town enjoyed a glimmer of heavenly fame in 1977 when an image of Jesus Christ appeared on a flour tortilla made by a Mrs. Rubio as she was preparing burritos for her husband's lunch. The tortilla was never eaten. Instead, it is honored inside a shrine in the Rubio home, and thousands of visitors come to view the miracle."

What dummies!! Any Christian knows that the Eucharist isn't worth a shit unless it's eaten.

White Sands is impressive, even in the daytime when all the little ripples in the dunes are invisible. My impression is that there's enough gypsum there to make interior drywall for every house in the US. But, of course, if they began to mine it, it would be all gone in two years. Funny thing about mining -- once you start, you can't stop until the ore is all gone. Then you pick through the tailings, as they did with the taconite on the Minnesota Iron Range. Then maybe you figure out a way to use the waste from the last process. All through this, the miners are dirt-poor (or maybe the cliché should be "ore-poor"). There's something funny about the world economic system that isn't explained in the macro-economics textbooks: why does the least money always go to the primary producer, such as miner, farmer, or herder? And if you can discover the economic law that keeps the miner poor, try tackling the psychological law that causes him to keep working away at a mine until every last grain of ore is gone, then complain because his un-livelihood is taken away. The same thing will happen in Oregon when the last Douglas Fir is cut down and falls on a lumberman's head. I can't begin to imagine what the thought process is, unless it's the same one as expressed by Tom Lehrer in his nostalgic song about the south:

Take me back to Alabammy,
Back to the arms of my dear old mammy,
Her cooking's lousy and her hands are clammy,
But, what the hell, it's home.

As the Ogden Nash poem says, the only job to get is one where you get to sit down.

The brochure at the ranger station says that the pocket mouse at White Sands is very light, while, only a few miles away at the Valley of the Fire lava flow (which is black rock), the same species is very dark. I'll have to take the brochure's statement on faith, because we saw neither -- that just goes to show how effective the camouflage really is. The hawks are the determiners of the mouse colors: anyone who stands out doesn't last long, just like in China. But if hawks hunted by smell instead of sight, the mice in both areas would smell like New Yucca Dew Shampoo, and the shampoo commercials would exhort you to have hair that smells like a pocket mouse. And the hawks would attack your head.

White Sands


Gran Quivera is a ruin of a combination Indian pueblo and Catholic church. The Franciscans came into New Mexico in the 1600's, and established several of these missions. In the area south of Albuquerque, they were known as Salt Missions, because they were on the route to a source of salt, which was apparently one of the goals of the Spaniards in their Christianization of the Indians. Well, Jesus did say, "you are the salt of the earth." The Franciscans mainly brought Greed: the Greed of God. They evidently didn't remember that Greed is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, even if God does it. The pre-Spanish Indians at Gran Quivera lived in pit houses 10 feet long by 6 feet wide by about 6 feet high. The first priest, Frey Letrado, started to build a modest church, but, after two years, heard God call him to go convert the Zunis. He exhorted the Zunis about how they should abandon their kivas and their old ceremonies to false gods in favor of his new God. In fact, he nagged them so much that the only sensible thing to do was kill him, which they did (Pride is also a Deadly Sin). Meanwhile, Fray Santander arrived at Gran Quivera, and, appalled at Letrado's puny plans, began to design and build a real church: 140 feet long (the length of 14 Indian houses) by 30 feet wide by perhaps 50 feet high, with additional oversize rooms: a baptistry, a sacristy, a sacristy storeroom, plus all the comforts of home for the priest in his convento: a porteria, an ambulatorio, bedrooms, kitchen, stables for cattle, sheep and goats to feed the priest, a butcher shop ... 18 rooms in all, each one bigger than an Indian's living quarters. Actually, he didn't build the church; he convinced the Indians to build it. Even then, the church never was completed. The Indians got disgusted with all the hard work in 1672, and besides, there was a drought and they were starving. So they left, leaving Fray Santander with the biggest half-finished cathedral in all New Mexico, but no flock to guide. The whole operation didn't even last long enough to be wiped out by the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

Gran Quivera


The south-central part of New Mexico is much more of an extension of Old Mexico than I would have thought, having previously driven across only the northern part. Gaily decorated crosses along the roads mark the exact spot where a loved one got distracted and drove off the road from this world into the next. The little adobe churches in the small towns have churchyards with gaudily decorated grave markers, including, in one case, a cheerful red (fading to pink) Styrofoam MERRY CHRISTMAS on the grave of a long-dead grandmother. How do the dead celebrate Christmas? Do they give each other gifts? Who makes the gifts, the angels? Where does the raw material come from for gifts between numinous beings?

New Mexico also shares with Mexico the Good Friday tradition of the Penitentes, who build a black cross (preferably a heavy one), take off their shoes, and lug the cross up a steep, rocky hill on their knees. One such Penitente told the local newspaper, "I do this each year as an inspiration to the younger generation, that they may follow in my footsteps." My Scandinavian heritage does not regard pain as a spiritual condition, so I would say that, if all you can learn from the older generation is to hurt your knees and feet in the same manner that they did, the younger generation would do well to keep their ears glued to the rap music on their transistor radios. That's certainly what I did back on the farm, and neither rap nor transistor radios had been invented yet.

Punta del Agua


We drove near Los Alamos, and saw the laboratory through binoculars from a nearby mesa where we were tramping through the ruins of, yet another prehistoric pueblo, Tsankawi, which is part of Bandelier National Monument. We didn't go through the town, though; we've been there before, while the deep ruts the pueblo peoples had made in the Jemez tuff just by walking repeatedly in the same path mystified us. The New Mexico license plates say THE LAND OF ENCHANTMENT, and it's true -- the enchantment is tangible, and it's all tangled up with primal religion -- and I don't mean just the Indians and Mexicans stubbornly holding on to their old beliefs. At Los Alamos, after all, educated "civilized" rational white Americans fooled around with substances that only gods should mess with. The trouble with these Sorcerer's Apprentices is that the Sorcerer never returned home to save us.


David Koresh and his Branch Davidians should have settled in New Mexico. The spirituality here is so thick that I don't think anyone would have noticed them. Maybe he wasn't very good at spiritual geography. Just across the Chama River from Abiquiui, for instance, is a compound that is an Islamic Mosque. It's off the road, and only visible by binoculars, but it looks large. I have no idea if it's permanent home to a hundred Moslems (if so, where do they work? At Los Alamos?), or if it's a spiritual center to be visited regularly by the faithful who have to live in the Great Satan, America -- a sort of spiritual version of the medicinal baths at nearby Ojo Caliente, where you have a choice of soaking in, and drinking, sulfur water, lithium water, arsenic water, or radium water, depending on what ails you. All I know about the mosque is that it fits right in. Ghost Ranch is right down the road. Presumably it was named that way because it was once (maybe still is) home for a bunch of supernatural beings, the ones who understand the concept of Jesus on a Tortilla and Crashing Flying Saucers. But now, of all things, Ghost Ranch is owned by the Presbyterians. As Jimmy Durante used to say, "Everybody's tryin' ta git inta da act."

The Death of Grunge:
A few days ago, the news commentators on the TV were all upset by a suicide committed by a rock singer I'd never heard of before. Since then, I've forgotten his name, which is not surprising, because there's a new generation of pop musicians every three years, and I lost track of the music around the time the Beatles broke up (later research shows it was Kurt Cobain). They say he was the "inventor" of a type of music known as Grunge Rock. He had been in treatment for the usual musician's vocational diseases: drugs, alcohol, etc. One TV guy, reporting that the star had shot himself in the head, commented, "definitely not the answer." That's a pretty stupid thing to say, considering that the commentator had no idea what the question was.

The Rugged Indoors:
We stayed at the Abiquiui Inn and Conference Center for a couple nights before we got up enough spunk to brave the outdoors in our pup tent. The Abiquiui Inn is on the only highway near Abiquiui, which is not much of a place, and further is a good 100 miles from anything that could call itself much of a place in the modern sense. It's an unlikely spot for a Conference Center, yet, the Inn was taken over by people from Xerox and some other company I'd never heard of before. Dinner conversation at the other tables was all Xerox Talk. Several of the underlings were called to a special after-dinner meeting with one of the bigwigs to plan the next day. A professional host, imported from Albuquerque, was tending to all the details. He was continually running around among the Xeroxers, who were dressed in denim jackets, jeans, and outdoor boots, but still carrying their Franklin Planners.

To top off the week of rugged indoor meetings, the host was taking them all camping (he borrowed a skillet from the Inn so he could cook for all of them), where they were presumably going to bond into a new type of re-engineered corporation, one based on the skills they had learned in the great outdoors. The idea was considered so unique by the sort of people that think those things are unique that GOOD MORNING AMERICA was covering the beginning of the outdoors event on live television. The media coverage took place on the morning we left. All the loyal employees were gathered in a group in the yard, opposite the lone TV camera, which had not yet acquired a cameraman. The group was already posing soberly; no one was going to wave to Mom when the camera was turned on. In the Inn lobby, three bigwigs were discussing who to have on camera to explain things to the Americans who need to have someone on TV say Good Morning to them. "I think 3 or 4 executives is too many," said one tall fellow who had a lot of self-confidence already. "I think maybe we should use Frank. What he said this morning was really succinct, about how we're concerned with three factors. He said one of them was Change, and - er - I don't remember what the other two were."

Liz turned to me and said, "The other two were Stability and Progress."

Any old-time Minnesota farmer would have a "grove," an area out behind some sheds where all the old cars and farm implements would be put out to pasture, perhaps to await the Great Mechanical Rapture, when all the old machines will be called up to heaven to be judged. The unreliable 1950s-era Renaults and the Killer Pintos will be sent to hell, of course. The Renaults will be forced to run continuously without a rest or even an oil change, while the Pintos will be repeatedly melted down, only to be made into a shiny new Pinto, which then gets rear-ended and goes up in flames again.

Kentuckians, on the other hand, have no sentimental attachment to their old machinery. They just push them over an embankment into the creek. Most likely, the gasoline and engine oil in the drinking water buffers the sulfuric acid from the coal mines upstream, producing an organic compound that adds needed protein to the Kentucky diet. Or maybe Kentuckians feel that the car or tractor stopped working because it wasn't baptized, and push it into the creek to rectify the condition.

New Mexicans are more sentimental about their old inanimate comrades than Minnesotans. Instead of carrying the dead implements to a hidden grove, they leave them right out in their own front yards, where, when rusted, they add yet another shade of deep red to the landscape. When we entered New Mexico, and first came on one of the large commercial feedlots packed with red Herefords, I thought I was looking at a massive junkyard filled with rusted vehicles. Now I realize that there are no commercial junkyards in New Mexico, because every front yard is one (and the only ones who give a shit about the environment are those Herefords in the feedlots, and they give lots of it). This desire to keep the dead near is apparently a holdover from Mexican traditions, the same ones that cause people to decorate their cemeteries with colorful dimestore plastic presents: polyethylene posies, tinsel, red Christmas strings, holiday greetings. I wonder if, on the Mexican Day of the Dead, the New Mexicans go out in their front yards and decorate the corpses of their old pickups, tractors, and plows? Or maybe I'm misreading the situation. Maybe those machines are in the front yard because they're still in Purgatory, and are waiting for their old owners to light enough candles, say enough Novenas, to get them out, and then they'll disappear. The Catholic concept of Purgatory, after all, is a lot more realistic than the Protestant concept of Rapture. None of this BS about driving your car down the highway, and it's suddenly empty. No, your descendants have to work and pray and pay (hard, hard, and dearly) to get you out of limbo once you're dead. Nothing comes easy, even in the after-life.

Just north of Abiquiui, on a bend in the Chama River, we found a dam that goes the people of Kentucky, with only a few cars in the creek, one better. This is a pickup truck dam, and I don't think it was designed by the Army Corps of Engineers. It's about the height of a beaver dam, but beavers don't normally use wreckage from concrete buildings (complete with tangles of reinforcing steel bars) or boulders for dam materials. At one end of the dam, the builders must have run out of boulders, because the water there is blocked by 5 or 6 old pickup trucks. Some are on their side, crossways to stream flow, which is pretty effective for damming. Others, though, are on their wheels, pointing in the direction of the current. The most ineffective one is an old Ford pickup with no engine and a large hole in the back of the cab. It is pointed downstream, and the water enters the truck bed, flows through the hole in the cab, and out through the open hood, all without noticeable impedance. Actually, I don't really know that the pickups were put there intentionally to dam the water. When we were at Dinosaur National Monument, in the mid-1960's, the official brochure said that the fossils had all collected in one place because it was a sandbar in a river, and the myriads of dead dinosaurs that came floating down the river like a flotilla of submarines, all got snagged on the sandbar, presumably in such quantities that the carrion eaters couldn't keep up, and they got buried. It may be that these pickups came downstream with the spring floods, and happened to get caught at the dam. I hope they get covered with mud before they rust, so some future paleontologist can puzzle over their fossilized remains.

Car Dam


State Roadside Decoration:
All states have official birds, flowers, rocks, fossils, insects, etc., but New Mexico goes them one better: it has a State Roadside Decoration, and it's the beer bottle. Although the roadsides are also almost completely covered with beer cans, their paint fades quickly, and the cans look not much different from the roadside gravel in other states. The brown beer bottle, however, whether whole or broken, retains its color for years, even in the merciless New Mexican sun. The vegetation is sparse, so the bottles show up clearly, looking like some exotic desert plant. The governor of New Mexico, who is running for re-election, is evidently running against himself, because his campaign slogan is: "I'm tired of New Mexico being forty-seventh in everything." Well, they're not forty-seventh in roadside beer bottles: more like first or second. Highways in other states have been adopted by charitable organizations or private corporations run by assholes (e.g., "next two miles adopted by the employees, but not the management, of Sweatshop Sweater Shops"), but there is very little adopted mileage in New Mexico. The poor motherless roads must fend for themselves, and they don't do very well. Of course, what can you expect from a state where you can buy beer from a drive-up window at a liquor store? If you don't have to get out of your car to buy the beer, it doesn't make much sense to get out just to dispose of it. Liz is of the opinion that it's dangerous to walk along the highway: you'd likely be beaned by a 60 mile-per-hour beer bottle.

Monotheism in the Desert:
I doubt that monotheism could arise in a lush jungle, where everything is obviously closely connected, where the birds and animals jabber all night long, where rain comes daily and food is not scarce. Monotheism must have occurred to some simple-minded individual, in the desert, late at night. Cold, hungry, endangered by lions and jackals, and with the only sound the insidious hiss of silence, this person, looking at the immense sky above and the flat, sterile land around, found the keys to monotheism:

a) There is only one God.
b) He doesn't give a rat's ass about you.

Actually, there is no such thing as a monotheistic religion. I'm extrapolating back to an imaginary Ur-founder of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Even the most fundamentalist Jews, those who dare not say JHVH but must use euphemisms, believe in Satan and Dybbuks and Angels, and if they're not gods, I'll eat my red hat. If you want to attain deity, you need only three things: Immortality, Supernatural Powers, and Presence. Notice that omniscience is not necessary, although it would help to have more knowledge than mere mortals. And omnipotence doesn't exist, even for Jehovah, or he would have mopped up the floor with Satan long ago. Omnipresence isn't necessary, either, although Presence, an individually felt Presence, is. That's a problem for the ideal monotheistic God: He's spread himself too thin, and by achieving omnipresence, he's got so far away that he can't be reached without the aid of helpers. Not to be outdone, Satan needs helpers, too. I don't know much about Islam, except that, like Judaism, they at least have angels and demons. Christianity started with a trio of gods: God as Jehovah, the Remote Father; God in the human aspect of Jesus, who intercedes with Jehovah on our behalf; and God the Holy Spirit, which I interpret as the much-needed personal Presence of God: the aspect of God that makes you see visions, speak in tongues, and whirl like a Dervish. I'm not affected by the sophism that they're really one god: I can count on my fingers as well as the next person. As a proselytizing religion, Christianity quickly found out it would go nowhere with the Heathens without adding some more gods, mainly the Holy Virgin, who is not only immortal, but went to heaven body and all. Therefore, she's not just an ordinary spiritual goddess, but a corporeal being, capable of making personal appearances, like Elvis. The Roman Catholic Church, modeling itself on the Roman Empire, created a complicated hierarchy of popes, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and priests for this world, and, in justification, constructed a parallel heavenly hierarchy: if I remember right, the angels by themselves are organized into seven bureaucratic levels, followed by the saints. The Vatican recently cleaned house, defrocking thousands of saints, and sent them out of the House of God. Even Saint Christopher, the patron saint of fast cars, got laid off. I worry that these disgruntled saints will try to get a job with Satan, possibly tipping the delicate balance of power onto the wrong side.

It is here, I believe, where the flock shows more sense than the shepherds. The larger supermarkets in New Mexico have a whole section devoted to votive candles. These are not the puny ones you see in northern stores, but wax-filled tumblers the size of a rum drink in a pseudo-Polynesian restaurant. Each candle has a picture of the saint, its name, and a suggested prayer to the saint, both in English and Spanish. The Virgin Mary appears in many guises, as pure mother, as Lady of Pain, as Lady of Sorrows, Lady of Mercy, etc. St. Jude, the patron saint of Lost Causes, is of course prominently featured and amply stocked, but so are a lot of the defrocked saints. If you want to commit a venial sin, you can buy one of these candles and say a prayer to an unemployed saint. It may not do you much good, but it will certainly make the saint feel better. Some of the other saints were on horseback, and one was a little girl -- well, presumably still is a little girl, since saints don't age. I didn't take the time to read the prayer to her, but now I wish I had, since I don't know what you'd ask of such a saint. The prayers I did read, however, all followed about the same formula, and were aimed at those who feel themselves deprived, not by Satan, but by life itself. The typical prayer had portions that you had to fill in for yourself:

"Oh holy Saint (blank), you know how abject and poor I am, and how (blank) I am, and how I need (blank). Please hear my supplications in this time of trouble and help me to (blank). Thank you."

None of the tumblers have any suggested prayers dealing with thanking a deity for blessings already received, or boundless wealth due to winning the lottery, or easy victories over formidable foes. I don't think the case is exactly that New Mexican Catholics are an ungrateful lot; it's just that this isn't the Land of Milk and Honey, and, in any event, human wants always exceed supply.

I could go on at equal length about Protestants, who boast in the old ballad The Romish Lady that they

cannot worship angels or pictures made by man,

but they're more pitiful, because more imagery impoverished, than the Mexican Catholics. Still, they have the Holy Trinity and Satan with his Demons, and many of the angels. Gabriel, for example, is hanging around, waiting to announce Judgment Day. You'd think he could find some way to make himself useful while waiting. But, then again, no one's lighting any candles to him.

I said at the beginning of this tirade that gods need immortality, supernatural powers, and presence. Immortality is the tricky part, because they can achieve it only if they can get humans to continue to worship them. They have devised a survival strategy, but at quite a cost: they have to change with the times. They have to change their names, their physical appearance, sometimes they even have to have sex-change operations. That's quite a price for immortality.

Los Ojos Grotto


Abiquiui is Georgia O'Keefe country, except that the rocks are more beautiful than she could ever paint. The reds, greens, grays, yellows, and whites change intensity during the day, so no photograph, no painting, could ever capture the grandeur of the colors, not to mention the unimaginably large physical scale that's a characteristic of all of the west. Our campsite at Echo Amphitheater campground has been almost empty for the last four nights, but last night we had lots of company: an elderly couple driving a 4-wheel-drive vehicle and pulling a Silver Turd trailer; a woman and dog with a small car (they slept in the car); and two middle-aged couples traveling together in separate camper pickups. One of these guys, apparently attracted by our campfire, came over to chat with us. He was from Colorado, and was teaching the other couple the Right Way to camp in an RV. "Those others were in the habit of camping only in campgrounds. I'm teaching them to camp in safe places, like Safeway parking lots. One night, we even camped in front of the police station," he said. He was interested in, and knowledgeable about, the prehistoric Anasazi and Fremont cultures, the differences between the pottery styles, and their trade routes. He had taken a course in Indian History from a white professor, a liberal, who had tried to lay a guilt trip on him. It didn't take. "I wasn't the one who did it to the Indians," he said, "I didn't take their land, so it's not my fault." He also goes whitewater rafting and kayaking in Navajo country, and he's vexed because of an annoying habit the Navajos have: they steal the tires and batteries from your car while you're gone. He said his group had been able to minimize the problem by parking their cars very close together, so the Indians can steal only the two tires on each outer car, for the equivalent of one tire set.

After he left, I got to reflecting on the thieving Navajo. I first thought it was kind of sad that the Vanishing American had been reduced from stealing whole herds of horses from the enemy camp in the middle of the night without waking anyone to taking the tires and batteries out of a car while the enemy was off canoeing. Why didn't they take the whole car, since they would have to break in anyway to unlatch the hood? It reminded me of the Gary Larson cartoon where Zeke, who has tied his horse up in a bad part of town, comes back to find all the legs missing, and the poor horse mounted on blocks. Also, if the enterprising Indians had thought to bring a pry-bar, they could still get the hoods open and steal all the batteries, even with the cars parked next to each other. Of course, you could bring more cars, and park two rows of them, hood-to-hood, so it would be too tedious for the Indians to try to get the batteries out. But  they'd get eight tires then, instead of four. The calculations got kind of complicated as to the optimum number of cars to bring. And what about the scrapes to the car bodies caused by trying to park very close together? Is that covered by insurance? I wonder why they didn't hit on the idea of chartering a bus to drop them off, then pick them up if they made it through the rapids to their destination. I bet you can hire quite a bit of charter time for the cost of all those tires and batteries.

But I guess I don't know the first thing about this booty stuff. For 25 years, I had two tires from our 1961 Volkswagen Beetle in our garage. They had lots of tread left, too. Unfortunately, when I wasn't looking, tires became hazardous waste, and, to get rid of them, I had to take them to the Hennepin County Hazardous Waste Reception Center, which, as I recall, at the time was only open twice a year, and I had to pay $5 each to get them to take the tires. Even then, they wouldn't take my jar of muriatic acid, which I had bought for a difficult soldering job, but had only needed a small amount. They said it was too hazardous to even look at, and to get out of here with it. I had to take it home and dump it down the sink. Now, sulfuric acid in batteries is even stronger and more corrosive than my muriatic acid solder flux, so I hope I never have an excess car battery. I never would be able to get rid of it, unless -- aha! I'll install the old tires and battery in my car, tow it to a bad part of town (the Indian section, obviously), and leave it parked overnight. Then, in the morning, I'll arrive with my new tires and battery, put them on, and drive away. There's only one catch: what if the Indians, in spite of their claim to be the first ecologists, aren't willing to recycle my tires and batteries? What if the guy with the pickup camper was exaggerating, and it's possible to leave a parked vehicle near an Indian for half an hour without having everything, including the paint job, stripped from it? Maybe you can trust the white man around batteries and tires, but what about if there's money or land laying around? And if I can be exonerated for not stealing the Indian's land, can I be exonerated for using the land that someone else stole? I seem to remember some point of law about receiving stolen property.

Echo Canyon