Sunday, June 27, 2021

The lava rock homestead

The lava rock house and ventilation shaft for the potato cellar

Just north of the New Mexico-Colorado border we turned west onto County Road H to cross the broad San Luis Valley toward Manassa, Jack Dempsey’s birthplace. Our objective was artistic inspiration after a sequestered year and a half. It’s widely known that I have to leave town to take a picture. We hoped to find fodder in the empty reaches of the broad San Luis Valley, the highest Alpine valley in the world. Boy, do love superlatives. The mostly empty valley stretches 122 mile north to south and 74 miles east to west. That’s 8,000 square miles at an average elevation of 7,664 feet. That sucker is cold in January. The wind bites. It is not an attraction.

A fine piece of construction

Lava rock and clouds

What is an attraction is a big empty bracketed by the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Great Sand Dunes. Agriculture is the valley’s industry. Potatoes reign supreme. The outfits can be family operated like the 450 head of sheep on the Abeyta spread in Mogote or industrial strength like Jim McCullough’s potato operation in Monte Vista. A decade ago, the intrepid McCullough was producing 1,000,000 100 bags of potatoes. I’m sure he’s doubled it by now.

Farming and ranching are challenging pursuits in these harsh environs. That was evident as we drive west in County Road H to Mesita. We passed two farmsteads both vacant and left to the elements.

Potato cellar and Sangres

Framing the Sangres

The more impressive spread featured a substantial two-story dwelling that appeared to be built of lava rock. At one time it had been one hell of a home but now it was an aviary that emptied when I approached. Another element found across the San Luis Valley was an underground storage area for the potatoes. I’ll call it a root cellar though the size of the thing warrants something more grand.                                         

It turns out that most of the buildings in tiny Mesita were built from lava rock. I learned later that Mesita Volcano or Mesita Hill just west of was once mined for this very purpose. 

1 comment:

Blacks Crossing said...

Great photographs of Jack Dempsey's birthplace and the San Luis Valley. "Framing the Sangres" is a keeper, but your opening paragraph is book-worthy! You could start your book about the Abeyta spread in Mogote with that one. There is nothing like lava and clouds for a photographer, and you did both justice here, Steve!