Travels in the Enchanted Circle of New Mexico…

Welcome back. It’s called New Mexico Highway 38 and it runs through the small community of Eagle Nest which sits outside of Angel Fire and then 38 goes on to the village of Red River. Named after the stream that runs through town, Red River was a mining town back in the 1870s when gold strikes were plentiful in this region. There was also money to be made mining silver and copper but by 1905 most of the minerals were all gone.

Today the area depends on tourism. Instead of miners looking to strike it rich, locals depend on visitors looking to ski in the winter and hunt and fish in the spring and fall. Summer brings lots of hikers and campers to the mountains as well. At 8,750 feet, a person can enjoy the scenery at any time of the year and many people come just for the views. The 484 people who live in Red River full time know what pays their bills and friends when you visit their town it’s all about you. They offer skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling in the winter and hiking, fishing and horseback riding in the summer. Good food is plentiful of course and watching deer and elk walking right down the middle of Main Street is a favorite pastime of mine and I’ve seen lots of them.

It’s well known that the Plains and Pueblo Indians were the first to cross this land looking for buffalo. Reading up on local history, I found that there were many Indian trails and passes through this part of the Sangre de Christo mountain range. According to local history, the old Kiowa and Taos trails were intended for horse and foot travel. Wagons, usually full of supplies, took the Cimarron Trail which ran along what is now US Route 68. I know it may be hard to comprehend reading all this but when you see the rough terrain people had to cross just to get here you know they had to be both tough and skilled at handling teams of horses. You can’t go to Angel Fire and Red River without visiting the town where the cult film Easy Rider was shot.

As you may have already guessed, I’m now hanging my hat in a town the natives call “the place of red willows” which nowadays is better known as Taos, New Mexico. Home of the famous Taos Pueblo which has been inhabited since somewhere between 1000 and 1450 AD, today it’s said there are around 150 people living in the Pueblo. The Pueblo is a very special place for sure but there are also three art museums and over 80 art galleries in Taos. The town also hosts community arts events, numerous musical performances and even shamanic rituals. Yes, Taos is an artistic town but there is more. The golf, fishing, rafting and hiking here is rated as some of the best in the country. And if they can get some snow don’t forget the top-notch skiing. If you go to Taos, Angel Fire, Red River or any of the small towns along the Enchanted Circle plan on a long stay because there is just so much to see here.

Here’s a personal snow report as of Sunday January 21st. There’s still no snow in most of the ski areas throughout northern New Mexico and if the weather trend continues this year will mark the least snowfall in modern day history with millions of dollars in lost revenue .It’s still as beautiful place, snow or no snow.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road…

Fire of the Gods

My first visit in 2018 to one of my favorite places in the world….

Welcome back. According to the dictionary altitude sickness is caused by a lack of oxygen at high altitudes and it takes three forms, the most severe of which can cause death. Altitude sickness also causes confusion and I must have had a dose of that last week when I said I was writing from Cimarron, New Mexico at 65,000 feet. As I’m sure many of you know Cimarron sits at about 6,500 feet.

That was last week and I’ve moved on. Now I’m close to Aqua Fria Peak which has an altitude of 11,078 feet. Agua Fria Peak sits next to the ski area at Angel Fire Resort and my friends I can tell you from my own experience this is a real family oriented place. In my younger days I taught my daughter Loretta to ski here and there were always kids of all ages on the slopes. There are no motels in the area but plenty of condos offering short terms rentals as well as a fantastic lodge for nightly stays. Most of these accommodations are pretty much ski in, ski out and I have to mention that the rates are very reasonable. The resort is in a beautiful valley in the Sangre Christo Mountains in Colfax County which sits in northern New Mexico.

The Moache Ute Indians get most of the credit for naming the area Angel Fire in the early seventeen hundreds. Legend has it that in the 1780s the Utes used the valley for a gathering place and while they were there a strange series of lights appeared. It lasted a long time with splashes of red and orange dancing across the sky all coming from what we now call Aqua Fria Peak. Back then the Utes named the mountain “Fire of the Gods’ and it was later called “Fire of the Angels” by Franciscan monks who settled in the valley. Just a legend you readers may say but the well-known frontiersman Kit Carson documented that he too had seen all the flashing colors of the “fire of the gods.”

Moving forward 238 years, today people familiar with the mountain say the colors are caused by sunlight reflecting off the icy frost on the branches of trees on the mountain. I’ve also been told by locals that this is the time of year when cattle mutilations occur. Whether it is a natural phenomenon or a spaceship from another world, I’ll hear and keep you up to date.

With the beautiful mountain range at its doorstep, Angel Fire is also a popular summer destination for tourists and two years ago the resort added a fancy RV park to attract more summer travelers. Their gondola takes you to the top of the mountain all year around and sitting in the mountaintop restaurant with its million dollar view you can’t beat it, snow or not.

That brings me to the snow report from here and I’m sad to say that so far there is minimal natural snow. Angel Fire does have the best snow making machinery available and it’s been running 24 hours a day. There are several runs open but officials tell me its turning out to be one of the driest years on record which also means millions of dollars in lost revenue. If you like to ski don’t give up hope, I’m predicting a big snow before winter’s over. Follow the Angel Fire website for all the skinny on both winter and summer activities.
Next week I’m going mining for gold in the Moreno Valley along the Red River. It’s what was happening here in the 1800s.

Till then I’ll see ya down the road….

Waite Phillips Legacy at the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch

Welcome back. Once again I’m taking you back in time this week to January 27, 1964 when Lyndon B. Johnson was President; the Beatles had a hit song in the U.S. with I Want To Hold Your Hand, Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was a bestselling book and it was also the last day in the life of a great philanthropist. You might say it all started a few days earlier when Waite Phillips sent his son Chope to check out the Philmont Scout Ranch for him. By then Waite had already given the Boy Scout organization well over one hundred thousand acres of land. He had also established an endowment to support the upkeep of the ranch and any needed building projects.

Waite’s birthday was coming up on January 19th and at 81 he wanted to be assured that the Boy Scout Ranch would be secure in the future. During the preceding few months his health had been deteriorating and after suffering a couple of heart attacks he had a nurse on call twenty-four hours a day. In his book Beyond the Hills: The Journey of Waite Phillips author Michael Wallis describes Waite’s last four months on earth. According to Wallace, Waite enjoyed remembering his youth and the days of making millions with his brothers Frank and L.E.. As most people around here know, the Phillips brothers came from Iowa and went on to establish one of the biggest independent oil companies in the world. Waite eventually split off from his brothers and formed his own successful company. When he eventually sold that company he became one of the richest men in the country.

In 1964 all that was years in the past for Waite but his love for the scout ranch that was now named Philmont was on his mind. He had already laid out his will giving thousands of dollars to his grandchildren and other relatives. He’d also left money to his staff and several friends. The University of Southern California would receive a three million dollar gift and another seven million would go to other colleges and charities. Among several hospitals Bartlesville’s Jane Phillips Hospital received $200,000. Waite’s wife would be left millions in property, along with personal possessions and cash. He also provided additional salary for his long term employees.

As January 27th approached Waite knew everything was in order and after receiving a good report from his son Chope who had just returned from a four day stay at Philmont, he felt happy and rejuvenated enough to take a walk. At 1:30 AM on January 27th, the farm boy from Iowa who had built an empire in both oil and real estate and then given most of his wealth away, died.

I’ve written about this great man in the past and honoring the anniversary of his death only seems right. If you get a chance to read it, the local library has Wallis’ book Beyond the Hills or even better take a trip like me to Waite’s favorite place in the world, Philmont. It is open all year round for tours but I warn you that at sixty-five hundred feet it can be quite cold in the winter.

Till next time, from sixty-five hundred feet I’ll see ya down the road……………

A Legendary Land Auction in Oklahoma

Welcome back. January16th come rain or shine the sale catalog says. Conducted by Winchester-Shults Real Estate Auction Co of Enid, Oklahoma. Inspection and transportation along with air charter service will all be available. This my friends is going to be the largest auction of prime Oklahoma and Kansas land in modern day history.

Thousands of acres of land, some located in the remote Flint Hills, others close to towns. The showcase of the auction will be the Bird Creek Ranch located just northwest of the Pawhuska city limits. Encompassing close to fifteen thousand acres, Bird Creek includes a large owner’s house, barns, covered scales for weighing cattle and all the pens and corrals you could need. The ranch also offers10 miles of shoreline along Bluestem Lake, dozens of ponds and excellent hunting. On the back side of the property there are two other ranch houses for cowboys to stay in as well as more barns and corrals. Bird Creek Ranch is tract #1 in the sale.

#2 is the Little Chief Ranch over by Fairfax, Oklahoma. With over ten thousand acres, this ranch has everything required for a successful ranching operation. There is a good main house along with several others for cowboys to live in. Little Chief Ranch also has barns, corrals and all the other stuff you would need on a working ranch along with something special: grassland. Many in Osage County call this area the heart of the tallgrass prairie which is considered some of the finest grazing in the country. In addition, this ranch has good highway access and again, the hunting is superb.

Tract #3 is called the “Big Annie Farm” and this property is also located near Fairfax, about fifteen miles outside of town. The Big Annie is comprised of hundreds of acres of farmland along the Arkansas River bottom. Perfect for growing crops like alfalfa and soybeans, this tract also has a house and barns for storing equipment.

Tract #4 is not a large ranch but rather parcels of land in several towns. Lots in Pawhuska, Hulah and Bigheart Oklahoma consist of hundreds of pieces of land, some with blacktop access and others more remote.

Tract #5 is a big chunk of land near Walco, Oklahoma with no improvements. Tracts #6, 7 and 8 are also unimproved land, all close to Avant, Oklahoma.

Yes, on January 16th at the Osage County Fairgrounds, a county twice the size of Rhode Island will be hosting an auction of land that’s about as big as a state. But if you are thinking about buying some of this prime Oklahoma land you are about forty-five years late. This sale was held on January 16th all right but the year was 1973. I’ll have more on this piece of true Oklahoma history on another date.

Here’s a follow up to Monday’s heartbreaking game loss to Georgia. Yes, producer Mike Henry has confirmed that Coach Barry Switzer and Thomas Lott will be doing the Coach’s Cabana again next year. I’ll have more on this fun event next football season so till next time, I’ll see ya down the road….

The Dead Man Switch Part 3

Welcome back. Merry Christmas to all and here’s hoping for a Happy New Year! After coming down with what the doctors told me was some sort of infection I learned that about 1/3 of the people in this part of the country have had it. I’ve been laid up for several days so maybe now would be a good time to remind you folks that the number one recommended way to stay safe from colds and flu is to use hand sanitizer which you can find just about everywhere you go nowadays. I’m on the mend but I can testify to the fact that you don’t want what I had.

Continuing from last week, although I’m still a little fuzzy from the medications I have been on and these events took place forty-seven years ago, over the last few weeks I’ve had time to recall the Christmas tale from a time long ago in my life that I only remember as “the dead man switch”. It was Christmas week and all the mansion’s Christmas lights were up and on. It had taken the grounds keepers several weeks to hang them all and meanwhile I still hadn’t heard if maybe I would get the day off. There was some kind of Christmas Eve dinner being planned for the twenty-five or so staff members but it looked like for Diana and me it would be work as usual on Christmas.

Diana was stone cold dedicated to the two triplet boys I’d met and nothing interfered with work, not birthdays, weddings or Christmas. She worked seven days a week and as for me it had been twenty-two days straight when Christmas Eve came around and I asked about time off. Diana was flying in on the company plane from New York with the two brothers. My job was to pick them up at the airport and take them wherever they wanted. While I was waiting for the plane which was something of a regular thing, I picked up a newspaper to read. It was then that I remembered where I’d seen the two brothers’ faces but it wasn’t them it was the third brother who was written about in the papers every year.

The third brother was credited with saving the lives of several hundred people on a special train ride into the mountains on Christmas Eve forty years earlier. I got so caught reading about the near disaster I didn’t notice the plane come in and leave again nor did I notice Diana walk right up behind me. In a rare display of emotion she sat down beside me and told me the part of the story that was left out of the papers. As young men the triplets had all been different. The fancy dresser I had met had loved the book work involved with running a company while the first one was a builder. He enjoyed the whole process from the first shovel of dirt to putting the roof on. The third brother planned to be the engineer in the outfit. He also was fascinated by trains and the way they operated and it was a train accident she tearfully told me that killed him. Diana confessed that they had planned to be married later on that same train but he had been riding up front with the engineer in the locomotive when they saw another train speeding right towards them.

By this time in the story Diana was crying so hard that all I could get out of her was that the third brother had pulled what every train engine has, a “dead man switch” which stopped the train in its tracks. Unfortunately it wasn’t fast enough for the brother and the engineer who were both killed but the pair was given credit saving the lives of everyone else on both trains.
Brokenhearted, since that day forty years ago, Diana and the other two brothers had thrown themselves into their work. She said there were no days off, no vacations, just work and then she said she didn’t think I needed the money that badly. She was right and I gave her my notice one year later on a snowy New Year’s Day I left their employment but I’ll never forget the job or the story of the dead man switch.

Have a Happy New Year and till next time I’ll see ya down the road…..


Farewell Charlie Harris

Welcome back. The date was September 30, 1927, the place was Pawhuska, Oklahoma and the occasion was the birth of a son to Charles H. Harris and Muriel Mae (Stephens) Harris. Little did they know that this boy would grow up to become one of the most famous Oklahoma aviators since Wiley Post. This little boy who got his education in the public schools in Pawhuska (a place he always called the “crown jewel” of Osage County) went on to serve his country in the military before receiving several college degrees. After college he formed his own very successful company in Tulsa.

Transportation Leasing Company would become one of the largest independent vehicle and aircraft leasing company in the entire southwest. This boy, who was an older man by the time I met him, would put together the most well-known antique plane collection in the country and be inducted into just about every aviation hall of fame there is. He would also serve on the Board of Directors of many of Tulsa’s most high profile organizations. But it wasn’t all about making money; he loved to help under privileged children and his pockets were never empty when it came to giving.

Charlie W. Harris is the man I’ve been telling you about and he died last week at the age of 90. Charlie was the founder and chairman of the Biplane Fly-in for the twenty-year existence of the event (1986-2009). He and Virgil Gaede who was his right hand man brought hundreds of vintage aircraft from around the country to the Bartlesville airport. There were planes from WWI and WWII as well as experimental aircraft and with the planes came the fliers, many of whom were war heroes. It was quite a show and every year it made statewide news. Friends this event also brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Bartlesville economy as the many participants and attendees visited our hotels, restaurants and museums.

In 1998 Charlie was awarded the Medallion of Honor by the Bartlesville Chamber of Commerce. As usual he gave all the credit to everyone else, praising Oklahoma as the best place in the world to grow up and live in and friends he could have lived anywhere.
Charlie W. Harris was a truly classy guy and he gave me crucial help in putting together the bestselling book Footprints in the Dew. I can tell you from firsthand experience he will be missed by everyone who knew him. When you add the loss of Ken Bruno who was my first high school basketball coach and my friend the legendary athlete Red Murrell I’d have to say it’s been a rough few weeks for many of us in Bartlesville.

Moving forward now with six days left until Christmas, here is the third installment of the “Dead Man Switch.”
After our handshake the second man left the room through the same door he had entered from. It would be Diana who explained all the details of my new job which mostly entailed helping her with the day to day running of her office. Even though the two brothers acted weird, fresh out of college with a lot of debt I needed the job. In any event the money they offered me was too good to turn down. I quickly settled into a routine of taking the mail to the post office every day, picking up whatever mail was there and acting as Diana’s driver toting her and her luggage wherever she needed to go. With a private plane at her disposal, from coast to coast, border to border, she never stopped and she kept me quite busy.

I had been working for Diana for two weeks straight and with Christmas just six days away was hoping for that day off but knew that probably wasn’t going to happen. I had taken the job knowing that I would have very little time to myself and I could already tell that Christmas would be just another day to Diana. She was so dedicated to her job that she even lived somewhere on the grounds of this huge complex where we worked. With a dozen maids and groundskeepers, a couple of butlers, a top-notch chef and security guards as well as Diana and myself it all added to quite a payroll just for the household. All along I kept asking myself why had they hired me out of the thousands of people who worked for their company? Why had they picked me for this job? I’d find out on Christmas Day.
Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road…..


Route 66 and Part #2 of The Dead Man Switch

Welcome back. Zigzagging across the state of Oklahoma this past week I had the good fortune to travel on a highway that many of us in this fast paced, growing world may have forgotten but friends I’m here to tell you that Route 66 is alive and well. While in Miami, OK , the birthplace of Route 66, doing a live radio interview with KGLC/KVIS Radio station manager Michael Woodruff about the new audiotape version of Footprints in the Dew, I learned that this historic road runs right through the center of town. When it was built back in the late 1920s it covered two thousand four hundred miles from start to finish and Miami held the record for having the longest stretch of road running through a town. Maybe it was just me but this radio station where Michael and I were talking sits right on Route 66 and looking out onto the highway from a big picture window I could just imagine what it might have looked like back in the early 1930s when Route 66 was the main road through Oklahoma, it was all pretty cool.

Advertised as the gateway to Oklahoma, Miami also had the Coleman Theater which I’ve mentioned before and like Route 66 the theater is very much alive and well. In fact tomorrow night the legendary violinist Shoji Tabuchi is bringing his holiday show The Wonder of Christmas to the Coleman. As many of you may know Tabuchi is a long standing favorite in Branson, MO where he has his own theater. During the holidays there are many other shows going on at the Coleman and if you’ve ever wanted to check out this beautiful theater this would be a good time.

With that said and only thirteen days until Christmas I will continue with the holiday story I started in last week’s column called “The Dead Man Switch.” If you missed Part I visit the E/E’s website or pick up a copy of last week’s paper at their office.
Led by the doorman to a large office tastefully decorated with what appeared be fine western art, I saw the man who had summoned me. When he rose from his desk to shake my hand I could see that he was dressed in jeans, a tee shirt and old tennis shoes. A man maybe in his mid-seventies, he surprised me not only with his appearance but also with his physical condition. When I shook his hand he had a firm grip and it was easy to tell he had done some manual labor at some point in his life. But there was something else. He looked familiar. I’d seen this guy before.

After a very brief conversation, a secretary introduced only as “Diana” brought me some water and asked if I needed anything else as the man excused himself and disappeared into another room. Diana on the other hand was very talkative and told me she had worked her way up in the company, starting as a hostess in one of their restaurants, then moving on to become a manager and then a personal assistant. She seemed to already know it when I told her it was the same path I had taken to get there. It was easy to see that she was devoted to this man I had only just met and it was then that she gave me my first clue as to why this obviously wealthy man had summoned me when she said he was one of a set of triplets. During our conversation another man walked into the room entering from another door. Although his facial features were exactly like the other guy’s, this man was all decked out in a fancy suit and tie. There hadn’t been time for the first man to change into the clothes this new guy had on which included a diamond watch, gold necklaces and fancy shoes so I figured he had to be another of the triplets and with a weak handshake I knew he was.

Next week with six days to Christmas, the third brother appears in the “Dead Man Switch.”

Till then, I’ll see ya down the road……………..