Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Mexican Bench

The Mexican Bench

I originally posted this story some years ago. I was looking through some old photos and stories and thought it worthy of a repost.

In the early 1990’s, when I lived in Grand Junction, Colorado, I had the opportunity to travel South along the Utah border and then wander into New Mexico. A friend I met out that way was an amateur geologist and knew quite a bit about the geography and could identify rocks. I love rocks.

I was driving a 1968 Chevy Blazer that had a built-in factory camper on the back instead of the usual boxy seating and storage area. It was a four wheel drive and the engine had been changed from the original. It sported a huge 396 cubic inch power plant that had tons of torque for uneven cattle track mountain roads. We used that to travel to New Mexico and explore the Gila National Forest via a topographical map on muddy dirt trails.

I had an old Chevy Chalet like this one when I lived in Colorado.

To the South of the Gila, is Silver City. A nice little town. Sits at around 6000 feet above sea level. Cool and sunny in Winter with an occasional trace of snow, and hot, but not scorching, in Summer, because of the altitude. We supplied there, then traveled North into the Gila. We viewed the cliff dwellings, an historic ruin site from the Mogollon ( pronounced: Mah-go-yon’), people of long ago. We got on to these two track cow paths and drove for hours, at an average of I’d say 10-20 miles per hour.

Cliff dwellings in the Gila National Forest North of Silver City, NM

I fell in love with this land. I fell in love with Silver City. I vowed to return and I did, and still do to this day, every year at least once and usually more. A trip to the Southwest, New Mexico, Arizona, the Desert of Southern California, Southern Utah, Western Colorado. Any and sometimes all of these places. But I always say I’m headed to New Mexico. People ask where at in New Mexico, I tell ‘em, “Silver City”.

A view of the Gila cliff dwellings from the outside

I had a small shop there at one time. It had some living space and a bathroom in the back. The front was an old store. I set up a workshop and made an attempt at making art and craft items. Dream Catchers, Drums, Gourd rattles, Walking Sticks, Talking Sticks, and Snowshoes.

Yours truly in front of the old store front in Silver City

Now I know Southern New Mexico isn’t exactly a hot bed of snowy landscapes and the greatest market for the same, but it was a nice temperate place to live and since I liked a little travel, I could always bring the finished product to the mountains and try to sell them there. That’s what I did when I lived in Colorado. I lived in the dry low desert area around Grand Junction on the Western slope, and took my snowshoes to places like Aspen,Vail and Taos to sell them.

Map of Silver City and the Gila National Forest

Silver City, when I lived there, was a slow easy going place. Many artist types went there for the cheap rent and ample empty storefronts and buildings that they could turn into lofts and galleries. Over the years, the “art” colonies spread from Taos and Santa Fe and Silver City became somewhat known. Rents got more expensive. The secret of the great climate also caught hold and the area is flush with retirees who wanted an alternative to Phoenix and Tucson and the artists looking for cheap living quarters and the influx of tourists to buy their works.

Tucson was only a few hours away from Silver. Down from the higher elevations towards the Southwest to Lordsburg and Interstate 10, then West into Arizona. Three hours at or a little over the 75 mile per hour speed limit. When the rare freeze or snow comes to Silver City for a few days, I used to leave and spend time in Tucson at the Flamingo Motel. This is where the likes of John Wayne and Dean Martin stayed when filming the famed “Rio Bravo” at the Tucson Hollywood Studios. They had a pool and a hot tub and only charged 50 bucks a night.

The Flamingo Hotel in Tucson, AZ

After the freezing weather and snow was gone, usually no more than a couple of days, the return to Silver City was welcome. We tried several ways of snow birding there from Minnesota. We had a pickup truck with a camper, an RV trailer, the rented shop w/ living space, a rented motel kitchenette and tried a rented furnished full blown house once.
I can’t tell you which way was the best. I guess the house was really nice, but it got expensive, so we looked for another place to spend time as we escaped Winters fury from the Northland.

On our travels, we discovered many places. Places we’d like to visit again and do. But we found the best of all we needed in a place called Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. This town used to be called Hot Springs prior to 1950. An enterprising radio star named Ralph Edwards had a radio show called Truth or Consequences. It’s popularity was nationwide. He held a contest and the winning town could choose to name themselves after the show. Hot Springs won the contest and the City council voted to rename Hot Springs Truth or Consequences.

Ralph Edwards liked the weather here and bought a place in the area. He was a philanthropist of sorts for the town and did much to make it a good community. Nearby is the small suburb, if you will, of Williamsburg. Also nearby is a recreational town of Elephant Butte. The Rio Grande River runs through here and a dam, called the Elephant Butte Dam, named after a geological feature that is said to look like an elephants foot, (hoof?), that juts out of the lake that formed North of the Dam.

These days, the water level is so low that there isn’t much use of the lake. Too many boats were knocking off the motors lower unit on the rocks that were nearer the surface of the drying lake bed that loses acres each day from flowage, crop irrigation and evaporation. There has been a drought lasting for some time in the Rocky Mountains, the main feeder for water in the Rio Grande.

The elephant's foot, showing the low water level on Elephant Butte Lake near Truth or Consequences, NM

Storage is cheap. Marinas and RV parks are closed because of the drought of people coming to the area to enjoy Summer water recreation and the boating and camping. RV space is ample and inexpensive for the same reason. We found this a very affordable place to bring an RV and live there while we visited, and stored, when we went back home.

Each year, we travel down that way and attempt some form of fleeing the cold weather of Northern Wisconsin. It’s not that we don’t like Winter, for us, the Winter season is long and we like to break it up a bit by making a journey or two or three to the Southwest. Besides, we like to travel and we have the time. T or C, the locals call it this instead of the long version, is cheap enough to afford for what we like to do. It fits our budget nicely.

After a couple of years, we got rid of the RV altogether and now just rent a kitchenette for a period of time when we go down there. We always make a run to Silver City and stop in Hatch for some Chile peppers and Mexican food.

Wow, that was a mouthful just to tell you about a yard bench, but I had to set the stage, and besides, the Grandkids will be reading this stuff in 2024 and telling their kids about this character they called Papa.

Anyway, there is a place in Truth or Consequences, T or C, that sells Mexican goods. Used to be that gringos went to the border towns and bought goods from the vendors. Furniture, flower pots, decorative items in the Mexican motif. They still do, and some Mexican vendors drive into the states to sell.

The guy I deal with used to travel down into Mexico and transport the goods himself. But he told me he got robbed too many times and stopped going. Now, he sends a guy, who is from Guadalajara, in a truck down to get stuff to sell. The guy knows how to travel and not get robbed I guess, because the store in T or C is full of Mexican made antiques, reproductions, flower pots, furniture, vases, and on and on.

A couple of years ago, we went to the store and I liked the display of the colorful Mexican benches he had for sale. I was driving my pickup truck and pulling a small trailer with my motorcycle on board. I bought a couple of benches and brought them home. We placed one in the back, in the grass, an the other on the sidewalk in front of our enterprise, the Westside Workshop in Ashland.

Old Sol, carved into the backrest of the Mexican Bench

We sit around and drink coffee. Folks stop by and we talk. The benches are a meeting place. I get a lot of compliments on them. The colors, the carved happy face of Mr. Sun on the backrest, the simplicity.

Gas prices went sky high. I can’t go down and get a dozen benches at wholesale and sell them at retail. There is no retail when it costs so much to transport. Besides, the economy tanked. The market will not bear what I’d have to charge. So, I decided to reproduce the benches in my shop. That might be this Winter’s project. A designated shop space to manufacture Mexican Benches.

I will copy with a few exceptions. I’ll tilt the backrest out a bit more, widen the arms to accommodate a cup holder and change the artwork a little. Instead of Mr. Smiling Sun, I’ll go with the North woods Bear, Wolf, Moose, Pine Tree and Lighthouse motif. I’ll mute the colors to the Hunter Green and Forest Brown and the deep Lake Superior blue for the ones with the lighthouses.

I think I’ll have to make some of them in the crazy wild colors of the Southwest and use Kokapelli and Aztec designs as well. I’ll weave dream catchers into the backs and top the side rails with colorful painted gourds as well. Gotta get the Saguaro cactus in there somewhere too. I might even make a few Green bay Packers benches. These folks up here are crazy for the Packers. They’ll buy anything. I see these benches on patios, in flower gardens and on front porches.

I remember being all gathered around the Mexican Bench, talking and drinking coffee.

I always think I should open a coffee shop. A simple place with no gimmicks and great coffee. I guess I already had that, spontaneously, in the yard by the Mexican Bench. I don’t have the problems associated with a business. No overhead because I live there and the customer has to be satisfied because there is no charge for the product or the service.

I think I’ll call it the “Hit or Miss Coffee Shop” Hit, because sometimes we’re there, or Miss, because sometimes we’re not. I’ll work on this concept a little. The bottom line is, if you drop by for a cup of great coffee, sit a spell on the Mexican Bench.

As of now, January 2010, I haven't made any benches, but the old bench now sits in my garage and is partially disassembled and ready to make patterns for new benches from the parts of the old.

Peace to all.


Mel said...

Go figure we've been there...all of 'em actually. Oh, but I'd have to agree that the journey to Truth or Consequences was great fun. And it is gorgeous there. (btw, I preferred to Elephant Butt...LOL..but go figure that!)

Lovely bench.....and what a gifted/talented person.
With the season I'm generally lost in some 'project'....note that's a 'generally'. None this year so far.

'Cept getting to the linen closet and getting rid of 'stuff' that simply isn't required any more.
OMGosh do we have 'stuff'.

I guess that's a project?
Not as pretty as the bench--or as awesome as the snowshoes and dreamcatchers--but.....

....keeps me out of trouble?


Spadoman said...

Mel... I love it when I talk about places I've visited and others have been there or are familiar with them. Tell me some day about your New Mexico adventures. I accept e-mail.
I always have a lot of projects. I just don't always work on them. I did sell 4 pair of snowshoes this weekend. I have one pair left in the world and I might have them sold too. I won't make any more unless I get a pre paid order and that's that.
I do want to start making these benches in earnest. One of these would look great on your wrap around front porch, wouldn't it? I could do any motiff you'd like.
By the way, you need more than a project or two to keep you out of trouble, sortakinda.


This Eclectic Life said...

Now, I love New Mexico, but I haven't gotten to travel there as much as I would like. When I read about Truth or Consequences on your blog before, I put it on my "bucket list."

As for the bench, it's gorgeous! You really ought to put it back together and enjoy it. You've got a boatload of projects to do already, don't you?

Have a great day, my friend.

susan said...

You are a wise man who makes wonderful things. Now I know you're going to be working on more benches like this beauty I won't be so sad about the snow shoes. One day I guarantee I'll be in the market for a dream catcher.

CanadianGardenJoy said...

Thank you so much to your link : )
I love the bench .. and I can imagine Aztec designs and Dream Catchers and all the beautiful paints combined .. my husband has a Dream Catcher .. he used to drive a Ford Ranger .. but now we had to change vehicles with my spine problems .. we both loved those trucks and they served us well : ) Yours was AMAZING !!!
I love South Western themes .. but one of the most important "sights" I would love to see is the night sky .. away from city/town lights .. just see the sky as naturally as possible .. see those glittering stars .. maybe a falling one too ?
This was a wonderful post !
Thank you : )
Joy .. "bad-back-bench-gal" LOL