Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Steins, Ghost Town

The next day, on to Steins, a ghost town at the border of New Mexico and Arizona. A weird fossilisation of remnants - inhabitants from the 1900s, the 50s and the 80s all left tidemarks of junk behind. Built in the 1860s, The town died in the 1950s for lack of water, after the trains stopped stopping. Hippies moved in in the 80s, then left when the land was sold. There are wooden and adobe ruins out by the railway, bottles everywhere, corrugated tin roofs and cracked, dessicated wood. The houses were built close together because of the danger of Apache attack, and over the nearest hill is a high peak, the border of 'Doubtful Canyon', so named because of the serious danger of Indian ambushes during vital trips for water. The climate is so arid here that everything lasts forever - an 1880s book of Scottish Chiefs still sits incongruously on a bookshelf, and I wonder what sort of inspiration it gave its original owners - small chairs from the 19th century left outdoors for 100 years and still intact, one chip of cracked blue paint left to give away their original, cheerful colour.

We are told by our guide that it takes the surrounding cactii 65 years to grow to around 8 feet, and the ones with arms are over 200 years old. If you could cut into their skin and extract the imprints of centuries of sound, you would hear the hoofbeats of Apache horses. I eat the fruit from the top of a small, squat cactus. It tastes like a jalapeno without the heat, and the seeds are nutty. The Indians ate them raw as fruit, the settlers made marmalade with them. Unpredictably, it doesn't make me ill.

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