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The “Devil’s Highway” was a road to God’s country
Route 666 is fading in the distance. That stepson of the Mother Road, Route 66, is headed toward oblivion. That’s a shame, because for me, like plenty of pavement pilgrims who arrived in the West over the last half-century in RVs or SUVs or astride Harleys, the Devil’s Highway was the road into God’s Country.
U.S. Route 666 was a lonely stretch of asphalt stretching 194 miles from dusty Gallup, New Mexico, across the rugged Navajo Reservation, through southwestern Colorado into Utah, where it ended at Monticello, Utah. The stretch of asphalt is still there, but it has shed the number of the beast in favor of less ominous numerology. Exit Route 666. Hop on Route 491.
Last spring, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson led politicians from the highway’s three states in petitioning the federal government to change the highway’s numbers. They argued that the Bible’s link between 666 and Satan was bedeviling the economic well-being of the towns along the sickle-shaped highway.
But according to the Book of Revelation, a ram-horned, dragon-talking beast would stamp 666 on our heads and hands, not our highways. I can’t believe that it’s the three sixes that are possessing the struggling communities along that desert highway. Changing the number won’t change the fortunes of small towns strung across the dusty Southwest, in Indian reservations, and nearby, where the future offers little more hope than dry thunderclouds promise rain.
No jobs. No industry. No crops. Only lines of cars passing from one national park to the next, and they’re just passing through.
I am nostalgic enough to believe that something was lost when those highway numbers changed. Route 666 took its name from its place on the map. It was the sixth branch off Route 66, the fabled Mother Road that was once the path of choice for millions of vacationers, truckers, and automobile pilgrims looking for salvation among the motels, diners, tourist traps, and expansive beauty that was the West.
"If you have a plan to motor west," the old song says, "travel my way, take the highway that’s the best. Get your kicks on Route 66."
Only isolated fragments of Route 66 remain. They’ve been split apart by the interstate-highway system that gave us convenience at the cost of character. When I first ventured west of the 100th meridian, it was to Route 66 country, and although Route 66 no longer remained, its romance lingered. Driving on Route 666 was as close as I would get to a connection with a piece of lost Americana.
It was something else, too. That highway pulled me out of Gallup, which would seem to me like a big city once I hit the dusty towns on the Navajo Reservation. Tohatchi. Naschitti. Shiprock. This is the rugged West that doesn’t show up on postcards. And it isn’t sung about in that song.
Kicks on Route 66 are found in Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino, not Tocito or Towaoc. I became enchanted by this country’s sagebrush and mesas, turquoise skies and red rock, and years later it lured me back.
Thankfully, what I love most about old Route 666 won’t change when the signposts do. It will still be a track through a rugged, struggling, beautiful place that carries the heart of the West. But I also loved where Route 666 came from. It was a branch off a piece of history, one that is now another step closer to forgotten. No kicks, I’m afraid, on Route 491.
David Frey is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). He writes in Carbondale, Colorado.
Where we’re headed
The failure of major infrastructures throughout the United States leaves one wondering where we humans are headed. I refer to events like the massive blackouts in the Northeast in which electrical networks collapsed, leaving half the country in darkness and halting major transportation systems—among numerous other pieces of collateral damage. As New Mexico’s governor Bill Richardson said on national TV, the blackout resulted from the inadequacies of our nation’s “Third-World transmission grid.” He explained in his New York Times article “Drunk On Power,” that the failure of the system has been predicted for a long time, but the government and the power industry failed to act to prevent it.
During the same season the political infrastructure in California collapsed under the weight of a recall of the governor who had been elected just last year. The recall was “purchased” by a wealthy congressman who footed the $2 million bill for collecting the requisite number of signatures for the election. As a result, 135 candidates flooded the ballot—an assemblage of potential governors”worthy of an old Jerry Lewis film, if not Animal House. While the rest of the nation guffaws, Californians see schools crumbling, energy prices skyrocketing, businesses fleeing, and social services crashing as a result of a $38 billion deficit. In the 1960s, historian William Irwin Thompson wrote that California were “at the edge of history.” Today, many Californians—like New Yorkers in the darkness of their blackout—feel they have fallen off the edge.
Numerous other infrastructure failures have surfaced this year. For example, in areas such as space exploration, with the Columbia disaster, in water systems, forest and wildfire management, toxic-waste and air-pollution controls, transportation systems, global warming, and “making peace abroad,” as Iraq wavers between liberation and chaos.
These failures raise a question about human capacities and where we are headed as a species. Of course there are marvels and successes, things we can all point to with pride, but as Governor Richardson suggests about the electricity grid collapsing, it is high time we take stock of severe weaknesses in major human systems before irrevocable harm comes to not only humans, but to the biosphere upon which we all depend for survival.
A friend recently reminded me that sustainability expert Donella Meadows liked to quote the Chinese proverb “If you don’t change direction, you’ll end up where you’re headed.” This as a maxim for those of us interested in sustaining a quality existence on earth. The answers to our dilemmas lie in following natural models, or as my late colleague the ecologist Paul Shepard wrote so eloquently, by recognizing “ourselves” in nature. In a new posthumously published book of essays edited by his widow, Florence Rose Shepard, and titled Where We Belong, we can see Shepard’s lifelong interest in how humans relate to the rest of nature. In an early essay on landscape he shows how the very concept of landscape and scenery as perceived by our eyes separates humans from nature. He explores how this separation characterizes much of post-Renaissance Western civilization—and our tendency to find humans not only separate from but in opposition to nature.
Shepard ‘s studies discover the means humans have developed to try and reconnect with the natural world. For example, by nurturing a “sense of place” and through enacting rituals, or by exploring psychological and mythical associations between humans and plants and animals. In later essays, Shepard explores the effects that the virtual cyber-world of computers and simulation has on the separation of humans and nature. His prognosis is not too hopeful. As he notes in an 1995 essay: “ Life is indistinguishable from a video game, one of the alternatives to the physical wasteland that the Enlightenment produced around us. As tourists flock to their pseudo-history villages and fantasy lands, the cynics take refuge from overwhelming problems by announcing all lands to be illusory.” Such people, he says, “[Share] a belief that a world beyond our control is so terrifying that we can—indeed must—believe only in landscapes of our imagination.”
As a result, “real” landscapes, the ones you and I live in everyday, suffer from the destructive, polluting effects of post-industrial countries under the control of mindless politicians. This is sufficient cause, it seems to me, to change direction in order to avoid ending up where we are headed.
Las Vegas joins growing list of communities to resist Patriot Act
The Las Vegas (New Mexico) City Council passed a resolution in September opposing the USA Patriot Act and urging New Mexico's congressional delegation to actively work for the repeal of the law's most controversial provisions and related executive orders. The measure was approved on a seven-to-zero vote, with one councilor absent. The Albuquerque City Council unanimously passed a similar resolution just a week earlier.
The resolution is a response to the USA Patriot Act, the federal antiterrorism bill rushed through Congress with little deliberation in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001. The broad and overreaching law contains many provisions that erode checks and balances in government and threaten personal privacy and civil liberties.
President George W. Bush signed the Patriot Act into law on October 26, 2001. It contains sweeping provisions that expand the government's authority to plant wiretaps, enter homes, search computers, and carry out covert surveillance. The act also permits the FBI to subpoena private customer records from libraries, bookstores, hospitals, and credit card companies, among other places, without suspicion of a crime. It also makes it illegal for anyone who has received such a subpoena to talk about it.
President Bush has sent his eloquent attorney general, John Ashcroft, out on the road to attack opponents of the Patriot Act. Ashcroft has sarcastically called the opponents "hysterics" and called their charges "castles in the air built on misrepresentation, supported by unfounded fear, held aloft by hysteria."
Three states—Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont—and 167 cities and towns have adopted resolutions opposing the law. In New Mexico alone, Albuquerque, Aztec, Farmington, Santa Fe, Socorro, Taos, Rio Arriba County, and the New Mexico Municipal League have all passed resolutions condemning the most egregious components of the Patriot Act.
Representative Tom Udall said that despite Congress's overwhelming approval of the Patriot Act in 2001, he sees evidence that support for the law is eroding. In July, the House of Representatives, by a startling 309-to-118 margin, voted to block the "sneak and peek" provision that allows the federal government to covertly search a business or home, copy or remove records, and install programs to record keystrokes on computer keyboards. The target need not be informed of the search for three months—or longer, if a judge agrees.
The opponents of that provision, which included 113 Republicans, were an interesting mix of progressives and conservatives, led by Representative Butch Otter, R-Idaho, who said, "This law goes too far, and in doing so, it gives our enemies the kind of victory they could never win on their own."
The House also unanimously passed an amendment blocking funds for the Justice Department to force libraries and bookstores to turn over records of books read by their patrons. Librarians around the country have led the charge against this provision in the Patriot Act, arguing that Americans have always been free to read whatever they choose without being monitored by government.
Jb: Two months ago you wrote a letter to the Signpost [describing how you were] upset with the cables, monofilament lines, and boulders that were placed by a "misguided jerk" across a bike trail on the Bernalillo Watershed that was "sensibly aligned and routed to enhance the trail network" and that had "sprung up in the last year or two" and "should be welcomed." I will not defend the tactics of MJ, but I certainly understand the frustration and anger that MJ apparently feels. I have felt it myself.
Jb, you may not have noticed that these trails do not "spring up," but are formed by adventure-seeking cyclists such as yourself by riding off-trail over and over again until you have killed everything in your path over a two-to-four-foot swath.
You also may not have noticed that these trails have multiplied by at least a factor of ten over the last fifteen years and are now beginning to threaten the integrity of one of the premier examples of ungrazed grassland in the Southwest.
What you describe as a "recreation area" also serves as the home to a fragile web of desert life, and it is this intact web that creates the beauty that many of us enjoy. In my opinion, intact grasslands are much more rare and valuable than new bicycle raceways.
Your restraint with your mechanized recreation would be appreciated.
MJ may be a J, but he's not M.
Some of my less liberal friends were complaining at lunch the other day about the cost of Governor Richardson's education plan. After some thought, I could see their point. If we spend the money to improve the quality of education, our young people might become smart enough to question spending $87 billion a year on an ill-thought-out, misrepresented war that we have not won and probably never will.
—Gary W. Priester
I would like to encourage Placitas residents to attend the county-commission meetings and during public comment on the agenda ask the county to develop a plan for Placitas—one that addresses growth management, especially focusing on issues such as water and land use. I would also like to encourage people to ask the planning department if there is anything happening in terms of planning for Placitas as a community. Some ordinance or policy needs to be put in place to regulate the impact of growth outside of developers' so-called vision.
We live here, too.
I was disturbed by a recent letter posted in the Signpost regarding the Carla Salinas-Simmons murder. Although I understand our fellow-resident’s concern about constantly being reminded of this tragedy, I am more concerned that the person who committed this crime still has not been discovered and quite possibly still roams our streets.
I feel more secure knowing that Carla’s friends have dogged determination and care not only for justice, but also for us, their neighbors. I appreciate their perseverance to keep our neighborhood safe from someone so violent.
I feel that we as a neighborhood should show this criminal that we will not rest until he is found and expunged from our living society. I am afraid that if we were to take down these signs, this criminal will think that his nasty act has been forgotten. I want this criminal to know that the citizens of Placitas will not tolerate such a person. I want him to know that we do not accept this in our neighborhood. This criminal is a cancer to our peaceful society and I am angry that he has tainted our nice peaceful neighborhood.
I am sorry that others may be uncomfortable with the sight of the signs for Carla, but I really feel that we should focus on the true source of our discomfort. Please do not remove the signs for Carla, but please instead take into consideration what they stand for. What if it had been one of us stranded on that road that night? We must keep watch and be vigilant. Each of us has someone that we love. Let’s do our best to keep them safe by letting this criminal know that his day of justice will come.
P.S. I would like to add that before I was able to send this letter, we had another tragedy in our neighborhood. Another body has been found in Placitas. Although this is more likely a separate incident from Carla’s I would like to point out that we need to unify as a neighborhood. Please, let’s all be a united front in the face of these violent people that approach our borders. We need to display the attitude that we will not tolerate this. Let’s keep those signs up and keep a watch for suspicious behavior.
I read Cary Weiner's letter in the September issue of the Signpost, and I wholeheartedly agree that it's time to remove the signs.
While we all feel for Carla's family and hope that this case will be solved, I believe that the signs have served their purpose with regard to obtaining information. After almost three years, anyone who had information surely would have communicated with the authorities by now.
Our community, meanwhile, is left with constant reminders of this tragedy. This crime actually took place outside of Placitas, on the mountain road near the Sandia Man Cave, but the signs give visitors to our community the impression that Placitas is not a safe place.
Placitas Chamber of Commerce
re: signs are a reminder, a warning
In response to your article on the Carla signage, I wonder what part of this murder they feel is over. As long as a mother, wife, and friend is gone from this earth and a murderer runs free leaving us all to feel unsafe driving through this beautiful canyon, I don’t believe it is over. The signs in our community may be a reminder that a beautiful and precious life was taken or maybe a warning to all that our community will not give up, will not allow a tragedy like this to be forgotten. I hope these signs haunt the murderer every day until he is caught. I hope these signs remind us every day that it could be one of our faces or our loved ones’ faces on these signs.
re: lack of sympathy, respect for murder victim
A writer to the Signpost is "uneasy" about the signs regarding the murder of Carla Simmons. In the writer's view, they are inappropriate and "the time for community notice of this terrible event is over." These statements and the way the writer casually refers to Ms. Simmons as "Carla" demonstrate a lack of sympathy and respect for the murdered woman and her family. Can anyone blame the family for wanting to apprehend the killer who attacked Ms. Simmons and left her alone on the road to die? New Mexicans have a tradition of placing monuments (descansos) at the scene of fatal highway accidents. Does the writer want to eliminate these as well?
Many signs occupy Placitas, including the ubiquitous real-estate and subdivision signs. Is it too much to ask to allow these other signs to remain as well if it will help the victim's family and friends in some way?
Who wants them removed? Are these people most concerned about property values and the profits of realtors and developers? Do they want to pretend that we live in a world in which crimes like murder do not happen? We have enough room in Placitas for the signs and we should have enough compassion to remember Carla Simmons.
The signs should stay.
Regarding "Seeking community comment on Carla-murder signage," I would like to offer my point of view on the matter.
I agree that seeing those signs along the road, as well as in various other locations, invokes "uneasy" and less than pleasantly secure feelings in one’s heart. It's never an easy thing to experience the harsh reality of the evil that our species is capable of. This is especially true when that extreme depravity rears its ugly head in a location that exemplifies the extremely contrasting image of beauty, serenity, and a kind of peaceful, slower-paced way of life. I'm quite sure these are some of the very reasons that Cary moved here over two years ago, and the reasons that many other residents as well have been in the Placitas area for various lengths of time.
However, I hope very much that these uneasy feelings are exactly what we all experience every time we do see these signs—or any other testimony to the dark deeds that some of the more subhuman inhabitants of this space can be counted on to perpetrate on people who are guilty of nothing other than being in need of assistance, or are otherwise vulnerable for one reason or another. As long as most people get these uneasy feelings, it will serve as a confirmation to me that the good people far outnumber the bad.
I would also like to say that these signs are not meant to be a way of mourning Carla. They are there to remind people that we are still looking for Carla's killer. The FBI is still actively pursuing any lead that arises. The signs are also still up to serve as a reminder to whoever is responsible for Carla's death that we won't give up until this person is not ever able again to offer death instead of assistance to someone stuck on the side of the road.
Finally, I would like to point out that if we can bear these uneasy feelings until the signs obtain the desired result, there may not be a need to experience the unimaginably “uneasy” feelings I experienced when I answered the door to find two FBI agents telling me that they had located my wife's body. And we may never again have to sit on the bed with our eight-year-old daughter and eleven-year-old son and tell them that their mother is never going to come home again.
Thank you so much for your support, Placitas!
I’d like to take this opportunity to respond to the letter about the signs regarding the murder of Carla Salinas Simmons.
Those signs were not put up to help us mourn or heal. They were put up to help us find a killer. They have brought new insight to the FBI investigation. People have come forward with information whether or not it has any bearing on Carla’s case. They found the courage to make the call. I can honestly say that without those signs her murder could very well be considered a cold case.
Carla did not live here. She was traveling from Carnuel on the other side of the mountain to see me. It was a surprise visit and had I known that she was coming, maybe things would be different. If I could go into more details about the facts of the case I would, but it could hinder the investigation. I will say this: whoever murdered Carla either lives here or lives close by. You would have to live in the area to know that the road was still open at that time of the year.
This person actually tried to help Carla. Pretty scary, isn’t it? A person leads you to believe that he’s there to help, he goes through the motions of trying to get you unstuck, and suddenly he turns on you.
I understand that these signs can’t be up forever, even if the case goes unsolved, but now is not the time to remove them. The FBI has told me that our efforts have kept people talking. When we made the signs to put up, I called around. The people I asked who supported the idea did not hesitate to say yes. When I asked to post signs in some of the businesses, owners who said yes did not hesitate. They did not worry about any negative impact to their businesses or how their customers might react. They felt (and still do feel) that they were doing the right thing. They were more concerned about a killer who is still out there.
Recently, I found out there are several private citizens who are taking part in trying to find out who killed Carla. After Carla’s murder, I was so afraid. I couldn’t go out into the darkness even in my own yard, where I should have felt the safest. But our community, that you and I share, helped me to get through that. Most people recognize my husband and me by the signs on our cars. We are often approached by strangers with kind words and even hugs. That is the beauty of this community.
This killer could be a member of our community. He may act again if the opportunity arises. I hope and pray we never have to find out that he has struck again, but until then let us continue with our efforts to help the FBI solve this crime.
In the meantime, I would like to thank all my family and friends, especially Video Vista, Carl and Wayne at the Mini Mart, and all the wonderful ladies at the Merc, the First State Bank, and La Bonne Vie. They have helped to keep the murder of Carla Salinas Simmons in the public eye. We have learned more in this past year than we knew during the first year after this tragedy. This truly demonstrates the beauty of our community, and I thank you all for letting me continue the search for “Who Killed Carla?”
—Margaret (Carla’s best friend for thirty-eight years)
Since the summer I have been working on a project which centers on the unsolved brutal murder of Carla Salinas Simmons, the young wife and mother whose body was discovered near Sandia Man Cave in November of 1999.
My university instructor, a well-known author, recommended that we tell everyone what we are doing because often people do not know what others know. Telling everyone prompts folks to remember and sometimes that memory jog can provide an extremely valuable lead.
In reviewing the newspaper articles, I noted that Sandia Pueblo had a billboard erected on their property which stood for a year asking for information, but over time, there have been fewer and fewer references to this horrible murder.
I think the posters celebrating the life of Carla Salinas Simmons demonstrate a characteristic of some of the very best of ourselves as citizens of a civilized society. We know they will come down only when the murderer of this young wife and mother is solved. Alas, that is a time which has not yet come, but perhaps with this article and a renewed similar focus as we approach the fourth anniversary, we can look to a time when Carla and all those who knew and loved her finally achieve a lasting peace.
—Margaret Palumbo, Placitas
Although the murder of Carla Salinas Simmons remains unsolved nearly three years later, family and friends are still waiting for the forensic evidence collected at the crime scene to be processed. One piece of forensic evidence includes the assailant’s hair found in Ms. Simmons right hand. The FBI forensic lab has indicated that part of the delay in processing the evidence is a result of the September 11, 2001, tragedy because of the backlog in processing information for those victims.
The case is being handled by the FBI because it did not occur in Placitas, but on National Forest land. If you have any information that might be helpful in solving this crime, call the FBI locally at 224-2000.