Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
By Janice Dunnahoo
Special to the Daily
Who doesn’t love a picnic in our beautiful mountains west of town? Growing up in Roswell, that was one of our favorite weekend outings. Mom would get up early, fry chicken, make a jug of lemonade, and off we would go.
We are so fortunate to be within about an hour’s drive, give or take, to such majestic scenery, cool mountain breezes in the summer, beautiful colors in the fall, sparkling white snow scenes in the winter, and always the wonderful smell of the pines, especially during a gentle mountain rain.
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Even though Mon Jeau was devastated by the Little Bear fire, and will never look the same again in our lifetimes, the earth is greening up again, providing food and forage for the wildlife in that area, and the views are still amazing. Yes, a picnic to the mountains is always in order, and will always clear the mind and refresh the spirit. Our little mountain villages and hamlets will need as much support as we can give them, too, when things open up again, so when the time is appropriate, go enjoy the fresh air, history, renewed spirit and healthful benefits and beauty, which are all for free.
Following are a couple of stories I thought would be fun to share here. They are nostalgic for me, as I hope they will be for you:
“Mon Jeau, By Joe!”
By Wilfred McCormick
New Mexico Magazine
Shared with permission from Kurt Coey, New Mexico Magazine.
“It was a typical August morning on the Ruidoso — sunny and clear, but with a crisp snap to the chilly mountain air that made flannel shirts a welcome, almost necessary, protection against the resin tangled canyon breeze. Elenor and I were loafing on the front porch of our summer cabin, which is snugly nestled back among a labyrinth of giant pine and spruce.
“Suddenly, far below, a motorcar screeched to a sliding stop. After a moment’s hesitation, the driver wheeled around, shifted into low, and roared up the jagged incline toward us.
“A big man, well dressed in town clothes, got out and strode over to the porch. He had a cigar half buried in one corner of his mouth, and his hat was pulled squarely down on greying hair that had probably once been jet black.
“His eyes surveyed me intently.
“‘Are you,’ he asked, ‘the bird they wrote that article about ‘Summer in Skyland?’
“‘Yes,’ I replied, a trifle uneasy. ‘You didn’t like it?’
“He ignored my question, abruptly stepping closer. Out came the cigar, off came the hat, and forward came his hand. I gripped with him, wondering.
“‘Young man,’ he said, after an awkward pause, ‘I’ve stayed over an extra day, just on purpose to hunt you up. I want to thank you — thank you for giving me the finest trip in my life.’
“‘You mean, to Ruidoso?’
“‘Not exactly. I’ve been a heat refugee here before. But that article of yours pointed the way to something else.’
“‘The trip to Mon Jeau. We made it yesterday.’
“‘Then you liked it?’
“‘Liked it!’ The big fellow returned the cigar to his mouth, chomping on it furiously for several seconds. ‘By Joe,’ he continued, ‘I’m here to declare there’s nothing like it in the country. I’ve traveled around quite a bit in my time, too. But Mon Jeau — why, it’s great! By Joe, it’s stupendous! And the only thing I regret is that you didn’t say more about it. Why don’t you let folks know what they’re missing in a regular article?’
“The idea caught. Like the big fellow Adrian Pool, (U.S. Collector of Customs at El Paso) I have long felt the Mon Jeau drive ranks with anything in the western Rockies for sheer scenic beauty.
“I made the trip again this week. Not alone, but in the way it should be made: at sunrise, with a congenial group of other ‘summer hillbillies,’ cars plentifully stocked with old fashioned, but still incomparable breakfast: bacon, eggs and coffee.
Within half a mile from the Ruidoso post office, we got our first thrill. Two beautiful deer, startled from the early morning feeding, bounced swiftly across the road in front of our car and off into the tangled brush beside the trail. Now, I’ve seen deer in their wild habitat before. Hundreds of them, I suppose. But when the hundreds have stretched into the thousands, I believe and hope that the same spine-tingling sensation will still race over me each time I glimpse of the wonderful creatures making its getaway.
“But – on to Mon Jeau!
“Nobody seems to know where or when the place first got its name. Not even the oldest old-timers can remember. At any rate, Mon Jeau is a craggy mountain peak accessible by road some 12 miles from Ruidoso. The 12 miles are not all climbing, however. Only the last three or four. But they climb a-plenty!
“Back-and-forth, gradually spiraling higher and higher as though ascending some giant corkscrew, the road leads upward to an elevation of nearly 2 miles at the summit, every inch of the distance winding through a scenic wonderland of lofty timbered beauty.
At the top is a glassed-in ranger’s perch from which the vigilant forest guard can see down over the ruffled carpet of trees for dozens of miles in every direction. Off there to the north, he shows us, is Capitan. There, a mere speck in the distance, Fort Stanton. Nogal Lake, the black outlines of the lava beds near Carrizozo, the Ruidoso Canyon — and so on — everywhere below is a breathtaking view of rugged mountains, all densely thickened with Pine, Oak and Aspen. Within a step from where we stand is an awesome drop of more than 2,000 feet.
“Giant boulders, weirdly formed as though intended for a breakfast nook of the gods themselves, rise out from flower bedded clearings. And with the lookout’s penetrating glasses we are able to see deer, bear and wild turkey moving stealthily along their shaded runways — an intimate view into nature’s own privacy.
“For this, if for no other reason, the trip up the winding, zigzag mountain road would have been worthwhile.
“‘Do you have many bad accidents along the trail up here?’ we ask the young chap on guard.
“He shakes his head.
“‘Not a one so far,’ he tells us. ‘The forest service opened this to the public in 1931, and there has never been an accident of any consequence since that time. Maybe the trip scares folks into careful driving, or maybe the poor drivers haven’t the nerve to tackle it — I don’t know — only that Mon Jeau has never yet claimed an accident victim.’
“The guard’s implication is better realized after one has actually made the trip — after one has hugged the towering cliff walls, fervently hoping not to meet some drunken driver careening along the narrow trail. Then it becomes forcefully evident that the trip is not for those affected with nerves, booze or inexperience.
“But for the reasonably good driver, the trip is a cinch. The road is well graveled, sufficiently wide to be perfectly safe, and a spectacular view from above is one that will never be forgotten; especially if enjoyed along with a campfire breakfast at sunrise.
“And with a campfire breakfast at sunrise was exactly the way we enjoyed it.
“There were 15 in our picnic party that morning, and consequently 15 to agree with me that the outing was incomparable. They liked it. In fact, they loved it! And it wasn’t alone because the girls happen to be well experienced in the fine art of campfire cooking or because somebody had spiked the bacon and eggs into brightening our viewpoints. It was almost entirely because of the indescribable beauty of the trip itself — a trip I do not hesitate to rank along with anything I have ever seen in the West.
“To have missed Mon Jeau is to have missed some of the best our New Mexico has to offer. Because, to swipe Adrian’s very fitting words: ‘It’s stupendous, by Joe!’“
Carrizozo Lincoln County News
Sept. 27, 1940
“A Trip To Mulcahy Ranch
“‘I will lift mine eyes unto the hills’ (121 Psalm, 1st verse) is a biblical quotation which can be practiced in very truth by Mr. and Mrs. C.D. Mulkahy, who lives far up on the mountainside, near Mon Jeau Peak. In fact, there isn’t any other place to lift up your eyes, for the mountains completely surround you. Mr. and Mrs. Mulcahy had invited the editor of the Lincoln County News, and family, to visit their roof garden, so recently my daughter and her husband and myself accepted the invitation. Their cottage nestles at the foot of the peak and is surrounded by mountains covered with beautiful pine trees which sigh to the winds. Their flower garden is a riot of gorgeous color. It is in natural terraces, in semi-circular shape, and as you look up it seems to be suspended from the hillside pansies! The most beautiful colors in different shades, violets of all kinds, too, and any number of other flowers.
“It may be that you have stood up on some scenic point and let your gaze wander over a panorama of beauty, or perhaps you have looked up at the blue of the sky from the mountainside; if you have, you possibly know how we felt up there. We stood on their porch and gazed at the peak upon which the government has constructed a fire lookout, three stories high; one story is made entirely of glass. Looking up, it reminds you of a Chinese pagoda. We are informed that the government has a six-year plan which is being carried out for this particular point in the forest. The road winds far above and gradually reaches the peak. Cool breezes, fragrant with the breath of the pines and laden with health and vigor are the rule up there.
“Mr. and Mrs. Mulcahy gave us some of their mountain flowers to transplant into our own garden.
“On Mon Jeau, thousands of feet above sea-level, you can rest in the atmosphere, bask in the radiant sunshine and forget the cares of life.”
Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.