"If the very old will remember, the very young will listen" ~ Chief Dan George
This will be my first big trip out to La Joya, New Mexico
with my brother Gilbert. This trip is
about family ties to our heritage, and specifically to honor our grandparents,
Pablo and Alejandra Griego. We plan to
lay a brass plaque on the petrified tree brought to the La Joya Cemetery by our dad long ago. Gilbert designed the plaque which reads:
"Pablo Griego Nacio Jan. 25, 1841 Murio - 1915"
"Alejandra Griego Nacio Apr. 26, 1866 Murio - 1948"
Day 1. Up at 5am with a cup of coffee and two zucanni muffins that Denise made from her garden. My bike is packed and ready to go. I'm anxious and before I know it, I'm knocking at Gilbert's front door. Sally, Melissa, and baby Darin are there and we talk over eggs, green chili, bacon, tortillas, and coffee. I did not see the brass plaque because I knew it was already packed and I wanted to see it for the first time in La Joya. We leave on our bikes about 10:30am and after 560 miles arrive at Ash Fork, our 1st camp. Gilbert sees his first satellite and so our camp has a name. Coyotes howl nearby. Satellite Camp is a few miles south of Ash Fork on USFS land. We build a nice fire and boil some chicken and noodles.
My camera is dead so no pictures can be taken. Luckily, Gilbert has a disposal camera which we now use. I am very worried as I need my camera to document our celebration in La Joya. From the road, I call Elva to see if I can use her camera but not sure if her chip is the same as mine. She offers her.
Day 2. Breakfast at McDonald's. Our morning ride is cool and refreshing. At Camp Verde, we drop our jackets and helmets. We are now heading East on highway 260 to higher elevations and scenic riding, all at a slower pace. We are alert for deer and elk. Heavy rain near Show Low and for the 1st time put on our rain gear. Several bikers stop to seek shelter and we leave first. I feel the storm will only grow stronger and sometimes its better to act, so we push on and it turns out to be a good decision -- clear weather ahead. In my mirror, the dark rain clouds loom.
We stop in McNary, Arizona. There is a sign for fried bread but we do not find it. We go to where our uncle Bennie lived years ago near the lumber mill. Gilbert takes a piece of wood as a family reminder of his house we once visited as kids. We stop by the McNary Post Office for a picture. We see heavy rain clouds towards Alpine so we take the higher route via Springerville and Quemado. The scenery is spectacular.
Major rain is now here just after entering New Mexico. We try to seek shelter under a pinion pine tree when Gilbert spots a blue tourist sign for a picnic area. He has excellent eyesight which will help us along the trail. We immediately seek shelter under the roof of a picnic spot. We wait but decide to get into our rain gear again and keep moving forward; the clouds are dark towards Quemado.
We buy groceries and get water for our camp at the small General Store in Datil, New Mexico. We buy two huge T-bone steaks for dinner. We go back 3 miles for our next camp (USFS 66). I camped here last year and it is special. We built a fire and find the same angle iron that I used a year ago and it becomes our hot plate. We cook our T-bones over the open fire on a small grill. No one else around. Gilbert listens to my story about the "voices" I heard the last time I camped here alone. I named this spot, "Whispering Pines Camp."
We restart the fire, pack our gear, and have coffee. We have a huge breakfast at Datil general store. On another trip here, I met a trucker who looked and sounded like John Wayne. He was from Texas, "rode a bike years ago" he said and a real talker.
We gas up and head south on State Highway 1 to San Antonio and then on to Fort Craig. It is hot. San Antonio is where our uncle Valentin Moya was stationed in the CCC"s. Later, there will be a complete chapter written about Valentin as part of our family history.
Fort Craig is 30 miles south of Socorro, the last 7 miles are on a wash-board dirt road. On a bike, this is no fun. It is hot but that soon disappears as we explore the remnants of Fort Craig. Gilbert hears about how our great, grandfather Valentin Moya and our grandfather Pablo Griego fought as Army Volunteers in the Civil War. They were on the Union side and New Mexico was a Territory then. They served about 3-6 months between 1861-1862. They were tough, proud New Mexicans - both rode horses I hear.
We explore the visitor center and a nice cowboy from Missouri talks with us; he is the caretaker and tells us that his daughter lives in Bakersfield. We explain that our family from La Joya served as Army volunteers here; he nods in appreciation. Back 7 miles back on the bumpy dirt road. We now jump on Interstate 25 and head for Abo.
We stop on the freeway long enough for Gilbert to see La Joya. This is his first view of La Joya on this trip. We reach Abo and go to Robert and Elva's place which they fondly call The Ranch. Kiko, their guard dog, is very aggressive towards Gilbert, and later me. Robert has to tie him up.
We take a walk down by the arroyo and go to visit Ernie and Elessao Cisneros and talk. Ernie Cisneros, brother to George Benavidez, grew up in Barstow. She talks about the "Victory" homes and the "Cracker Box" houses. She said that we lived in the Crackerbox houses. Elva and Robert have prepared a feast for us -- beans, rice, red chile, sopapillas, huevos rancheros, and of course ice cold Corona's.
It begins to rain lightly and then a big downpour with lightning and thunder. Did we bring the rain? We talk until 1a.m., everything from A-Z. Earlier I show them several of the genealogy charts, one on the Moya side and one on the Griego side. They ask many questions and we are all beginning to understand our ancestors. Robert Esquibel adds clarity to family relationships. He is from La Joya too.
Gilbert and I sleep on a big blow-up mattress. The skies are clear and bright and perhaps the brightest that I have ever seen. I reach up and touch the big dipper.
Since Elva is leaving for Barstow on Sunday, she requests a morning gathering versus the evening one and BBQ that we were planning. We agree and the Pablo and Alejandra Griego celebration is changed to the morning. It will be cooler as well. Elva loans me her camera and I use my memory chip from my camera that is not working. This saves me - what a relief! She shows me how to use her camera.
We go to Belen and see Tudie Romero at Tabot Lumberyard where he works. Tudie and Gilbert have not seen each other since dad's funeral in 1995. I listened to their good stories: the gay bar, working on cars that didn’t work, Winchell's drive-through, and on and on. They were happy. Tudie was given Geraldine and Valentin's plaques by the church in La Joya. They had found them and wanted to give them to a family member.
I share with him what we now know about Valentin and I give him a copy of the Valentin video that I made in honor of mom. We explain why we are going to La Joya and invite him to our ceremony on Saturday morning. He works until 1pm but says that he will join us later. Later never comes. We buy groceries for our camping and our morning celebration (danish rolls, glazed donuts, cantaloupe, and coffee).
We drive by Bosque to see where Tio Carlos and Tita lived. Just beyond their house, I see two road runners side by side; a first for me seeing two at one time. Our mom loved the roadrunner and got so excited when we saw one driving out in New Mexico.
I share with Gilbert mom's story about traveling with her father, Silvestre Moya by horse and wagon from La Joya to Jarales carrying their wheat for trade. She once told me "I loved it and it was an adventure because we took several days to make the journey." We note that their journey was about 24 miles one way. We take our time, reflecting on earlier days in Tio Carlos backyard as kids, loved it!
Veguita Trading Post on Highway 304 is just ahead on the right and our last chance for food and gas before La Joya. We buy two big blocks of ice that we serve as our refrigerator in La Joya. Gilbert's Godfather, Silvestre Cisneros lives behind the store. Gilbert wants to meet him and we pass on the word that we are in the area and will come back later. We find Griego road and take pictures. How far is this from Rio Puerco that one sees on Hwy 25 approaching Bernardo? Were earlier Griegos' living here we wonder? We stop for pictures at this historic Boys Ranch Sign. To me, this means that I am so close to La Joya that I can hardly stand to wait for the last 6 miles of our journey. La Joya is like a magnet; it is always pulling me there.
Although Gilbert has been to this spot before, I welcome him to Jewels Camp and he gets acquainted. We clean up camp a bit and gather firewood. We set up our refrigerator inside the house where it is cooler. "Gilbert, this is the spot where mom said I was born," I say pointing to a bed built into the adobe walls. The semi-frozen chicken that we bought in Belen is slow cooking over an open fire. Buck, Marcello's horse, sees us and says hello.
That evening, Gilbert asks me what Jewels Camp means to me. My eyebrows go up, it means so much. I respond that Jewels Camp to me is "camping in mom and dad's back yard with my family. I feel at home, at ease, it's fun, and it brings me back to my roots." Gilbert then gives me a gift, wrapped carefully to not damage it over our 1,200 trip. It is a beautiful wooden sign made from Philippine Mahogany. It is about an inch thick, about 5"x14" with Jewel's Camp inscribed. This kind gesture was overwhelming to me. Gilbert said I could do what I wanted with it or take it home. My decision was made in the blink of an eye and I told him that this belonged to us all and it would stay in La Joya.
We then had the task of selecting a spot. The tree with the saddle had already been taken and the tree next to the fire place served to hang our cups and other eating utensils. Then I saw the tree where Tudie had sat under on an earlier trip and its spot was set. We then placed four screws into the tree at the fork of two trunks to hang the sign and it looked as if it had been there a hundred years. Gilbert then said that the "sign also represented how our family is being held together by knowing our past; that your genealogy work is pulling our family together. That our journey to La Joya to honor mom and dad by placing a simple marker for Pablo and Alejandra Griego had come to mean so much" -- I was taken back to his sincerity and insight to what I felt in my heart and soul.
I had not yet seen the brass plaque, although Gilbert asked me along the way if I wanted to and I did not, but now we were at Jewel Camp and I could not wait to see it. The plaque was simply beautiful -- my eyes seemed to be blinded by it as it reflected everything around it. I could see the trees above me as well as my own reflection. It was indeed special and its simplicity reflected our culture; I knew then that Pablo and Alejandra would be pleased. I had already felt mom's pride on this journey.
Step One. We ride our bikes, or as Gilbert calls them scooters, to the cemetery. As my own reminder of this short trip to the cemetery, I ride on the center yellow line of the road, much like the funeral procession of cars with their lights on, except we ride motorcycles.
Step Two. Gilbert bends the brass plate to match the curve of the petrified tree. He continually bends the plate in various places until it fits well against the petrified tree. I watch him; he is quiet, thoughtful, and deliberate in his work.
Step Three. Gilbert was perfectly prepared for the 5 minutes of time that we had before the special epoxy set. He had his rags to clean excess glue and ropes to tie the brass plate to the petrified tree. We did a test run and we were ready.
Step Five. Within our five minute of time, we placed the brass plate at the exact spot we chose and secured it with our ropes. We stood back and in silence just looked at it….no words to describe what we felt at that moment. We took a branch from a nearby bush, and as the Indians do, we removed our footprints. We were ready for tomorrow morning's celebration.
Step Six. Gilbert goes to the cemetery at 6am to remove the rope and to assure that the brass plate is secure while I prepare Jewel Camp for our visitors from Abo. Elva and Robert were our guests for breakfast. After eating, we all drive to the cemetery. We see family graves and reminisce -- "look there is Esperidion Griego, Silvestre Moya, Geraldine, Mia, Tio Wille Romero, as well as many, many others.
Step Seven. We all stand directly in front of the petrified tree that now has the brass plate upon it. The brass plate is about 4"x7". This was a very powerful moment to honor our grandparents. These are my words spoken that day:
"God created this tree thousands and thousands of years ago, and volcanic forces baked it into stone, and yet it seems alive today. Pablo and Alejandra Griego have been dead now for many, many years but today, we honor them with this beautiful, simple plaque. Without them, we would not be standing here today."
Our ceremony lasted about 30 minutes, yet we spent two hours at the La Joya Cemetery ....... seven steps for seven brothers and sisters. Here are the family pictures of that important day.
We quickly break camp and leave. The smell of rain is heavy in the air. The rain comes down in buckets and the roads are flooded, rocks and bushes flow through each dip in the road. We are going directly into the storm but we want to see if Gilbert's godfather, Silvestre Cisneros is home. At the heaviest moment of the rain, we take shelter under the roof of the gas station, thunder and lighting is all around us. We did not have our rain gear on so we are wet, yet I have never felt so alive. The people at the store can not believe we arrived with the flash flooding. Where did you come from they asked? "La Joya," we say proudly.
Gilbert asks to see Silvestre Cisneros but he is not home and has gone to church and likely somewhere to eat and visit. Gilbert writes him a note and leaves it with the store clerk. It turns out that the store clerk knows Enereo Griego and we talk. Then, the people in line hear us and say that they are, or are married to Griegos'. We meet Manuel Chavez whose mother was a Griego. He quickly offers to let us stay at his home in Las Nutrias to get out of the rain. Then Celeste and her husband Aubrey Tucker say that she is Silvestre's granddaughter and is a Cisneros (maiden name). They both ride bikes and offer a place to come if we ever have bike problems. People seem to know mom and dad and quickly offer their help and are very friendly. Then Mr. Abeyta from La Joya stops for gas and says hello. He tells Gilbert that they share the same first name. He also tell me more about Edwina and her Griego family background -- excellent! The rain stops and we leave quickly for Socorro, Magdalena, Datil, Apache Creek, Alpine, McNary, and then Heber where we plan to camp.
Gilbert spots a junkyard as we enter the small village of Aragon and wants to stop because he sees an old Chevy truck, 1936 he thinks. A man, who calls himself Ernest Aragon comes out and says that it is a 1937 Chevy and he parked it there years ago but his daughter does not want to sell it. It has a tree that has grown through the bed. The town Aragon was named after his grandfather. He does not know Sammy Aragon but says that he has a 1st cousin who lives in Los Lunas; I'll check with Sammy another time. His granddaughter Blanka takes in every word we speak; she is about eight. It looks to me that he wants to join us on our trip, despite his wife calling him to come and eat.
We stop for gas and we are wet from the rain. It rains hard from Socorro to Magdalena. At the gas station, a man pumping gas into his truck says that he passed us at Lemitar and saw that we were wet. We make small talk and we tell him about our trip, staying in La Joya and so on. "My name is Nicolas Baca and I live in Quemado" he says "And if you need help, stop and see me." I offer to trade my bike for his truck and he laughs. A very nice man, dressed in western attire, and straight-up New Mexican.
We stop for a break and coffee to wake us up at Apache Creek, but they have none at the small store. We make small talk with a young guy who is cooking in the backyard and soon several others come out to talk. They offer drinks and suggest we camp there, but thank them and explain that we still have a ways to go. Just before Apache Creek, I saw my third road runner I tell them. The older Apache comes closer and asks about the three roadrunners. He intently listens then holding three fingers to his temple speaks, "Seeing three roadrunners in one day is a sign of good luck."
Cool, high elevation (8,500') riding. Ideal place for elk, deer, and bear. We see hundreds of horses in the meadow; all running freely. I have never seen that many horses at one time.
We stop for gas and I asked a man how far is it to Heber as we are already getting tired and must reach camp soon. This guy is a talker and wants to tell us all about the area which is very helpful but we need to get going. I tell him that I need to go buy some groceries. We get a couple of hot dogs and some beer. When we return, he spots our supplies and says gruffly, "Do you know what we call that....a six-course dinner with a side of jackrabbit". He was a rough-looking character and made us laugh. He explains that he is on his way to Illinois in the morning.
It is getting late and we do not make Heber. I tell Gilbert that Keith and I found a camp spot this side of Heber on forest service land and that we should try to find it. He tells me that he saw hundreds of elk grazing and a deer buck and doe too. I tell him that I didn't as I was looking for a campsite. It is getting dark when I see the road and we quickly went to the spot where Keith and I camped last year. We build a nice fire and have beef burritos with our tortillas. It looked like it would rain, so we made small lean-twos with our ground cover. Later it cleared up, so we slept on the ground as normal. We gave this spot its name, hence "Keith's Camp".
We have a nice big breakfast in Heber; no rain last night. We are off for Payson, Camp Verde, Flagstaff, and then Laughlin. We are getting 50-60 mpg -- excellent! In the café, a guy tells us that he rides a Harley. He recently had an accident on it when he hit two elk. He broke many bones but the worst thing was the elk tried to gore him with their horns while he was still on the ground hurt. Ouch!
We stop for gas and I pay with my credit card. The store clerk recognizes the last name and asked if I know Marty Griego or his son Josh. She says that they are from Phoenix. I tell her about Tio Ben Griego and a possible connection; I leave my name and phone number just in case.
It is 116 degrees in Laughlin. We see the Colorado River and camp at Davis Camp Park directly in front of the river. We have a fire pit, picnic table, and overhead shelter. We see another biker arrive, looking hot and searching for a campsite. We invite him to our camp and he quickly sets up his tent. His name is Guy Gottle from Santa Rosa and he is a school teacher. He keeps a journal too and leaves his email address. Gilbert goes swimming to cool off and I go to the casinos for some fun. I join him later for an evening swim and the water is on the cool side but so refreshing. We have a nice fire and have spam, beans, tortillas, chips, donuts, and most everything else leftover. Several campsites down, we hear some good Mexican music but they are keeping it down to not disturb us. We walk over and let them know that like their music and could they please turn it up a bit so that we can hear, and they do.
We are up at 5am for a quick get-away while the sun is low and cool. We give our donuts to the caretaker on our way out.
We split-up at Dagget; Gilbert continue to Barstow on I-40 and I take the Dagget cut-off to I-15 and then Hwy 58 to Bakersfield. My trip with Keith last year was special but this was the best bike ride to New Mexico for me. Gilbert was a great companion and a good camper. I give Gilbert a hug and I'm off.
I stop by the cemetery to visit mom and dad and to tell them about our journey and our celebration for Pablo and Alejandra. Gilbert had given me the rest of his water in Dagget to drink on my trip home; I have a good drink and sprinkled the rest on their graves. I sit on the bench next to their graves and lean up against the tree, tired from a long ride with miles to go. I feel so relaxed, and for a moment I thought that I was sitting next to our tree in Jewels Camp. Long miles will do that to you.
The trip from Laughlin was long, some 12 hours and 576 miles to Three Rivers, arriving at 5pm, after one week of traveling. Our bikes ran well and our average 50 mpg was great! Two brothers, two wheels - La Joya bound.
The odometer records 2,322 miles . . . . .