Destiny at Oak Valley
Destiny at Oak Valley
Rachel Kingston gripped onto the steering wheel so hard her knuckles turned white. She tried to keep her eyes on the road as she craned her neck to look at a map spread out over her sister's lap.
"Rachel, I can't find Oak Valley. Are you sure it still exists?" Lauren asked, her eyes scanning every corner of the Lincoln County map.
"Look at the foot of the mountain ranges, 60, maybe 70 miles north of here. I think it's near Carrizozo Mountain," Rachel responded trying to point to a small section of the map and keep control of the steering wheel at the same time. "I don't remember exactly what Mom said."
Lauren turned the map sideways, cocked her head accordingly and strained to read the map. Running her finger up along a faint line indicating a road, she moaned and shook her head.
"Man, it's going to take a miracle to find this place; I'm not seeing it on the map," Lauren scowled, eyes scanning the edge of the crisp, new auto club map.
"Don't worry, have a little faith," Rachel quipped. "We'll find it."
Rachel Kingston and her sister, Lauren, headed north on a narrow two-lane road out of Alamogordo, a small town in southeastern New Mexico, near White Sands National Monument and home to Holloman Air Force Base. She rarely ventured out of Albuquerque in the north except to pursue her favorite diversion, flying her brilliantly-colored, hot air balloon. In this part of the state, though, the wilderness reminded Rachel of how she loved the rugged, untouched terrain of southeastern New Mexico.
She glanced out across the high desert landscape and thought how more than a century before it probably looked no different. Snakeweed and grayish-green straw grass rippled in the warm, mid-day breeze. Tufted mounds of brilliant yellow chamisa choked the roadside casting a veiled golden glow across the uneven asphalt. Between the shocking-colored chamisa, yucca plants resembling ice picks pointed skyward, spiny cholla cactus and sagebrush blanketed the rolling landscape.
To Rachel, this part of the state resonated with images of the past. It didn't take much imagination to visualize stagecoaches following the same dusty, worn road, bands of Mescalero Apaches standing guard atop the flat-top mesas, and an occasional outlaw crouching in the crooked ravines, awaiting wagons of unsuspecting new settlers.
The morning air was steeped with the intoxicating sharp scent of chaparral wafting through the car. Whenever Rachel ventured into the desert outback she smelled the land and its roughness, its raw soul, its belly. Here she felt alive, a part of the defiant land and its tumultuous history. Casting her eyes along the horizon, Rachel well remembered the region's past from history classes. This land had seen it all: the cattle and Indian wars, the squandered dreams of fortunes found and lost, and the devastating droughts that callously slaughtered both animals and settlers alike. It was a land framed by sky-bound mountains, translucent pale blue skies and a proud people who believed a better life was possible here. Of course, many of those people expected to make their millions in the gold mines of Oak Valley, the elusive Oak Valley of her family's past.
An hour after leaving Alamogordo, the sisters turned down an abandoned dirt road that led to a hill overlooking an old dilapidated town crouched in a valley. They scrambled out of the car to get a better look. Crumbling adobes and weather-beaten wood-framed houses hugged the road ahead, an occasional tumbleweed skirting in the wind.
"According to the map," Lauren said, "this should be Oak Valley. It's definitely a ghost town, Rach. But, look at it," she grimaced. "It's deserted and a wreck. I find it hard to believe