“Leaving Las Vegas: Saying Goodbye to the Land of Enchantment”: Episode 16 of The Rocky Mountain Rubber Tramp

Kurt Buss
8 min readDec 17, 2020
Las Vegas, New Mexico, in the Land of Enchantment (Not the Land of Entrapment).

Alright, amigos, it’s time to saddle the horse and prepare to head north. We’ve got to leave the allure of Las Vegas, New México, while we still can. This place is getting ahold of me, but I gotta go, get back to my mountain hideaway in the northern Rockies of Colorado - before it’s too late…

“The weather is finally gorgeous — warm and sunny with little or no wind. I’ve been waiting months for this. Definitely going to take Rambeaux for a walk, do some photography of some historic buildings and maybe buy a license and go fishing, get back to an active lifestyle after these winter doldrums have made me lazy.

The construction crews are working overtime and trying to catch up on getting the main residence and carriage house ready for the tenants, who’ve been living in temporary digs, waiting to move in. It’ll be housing for the owners and staff of the restaurant at the Casty [Castaneda Hotel] which is opening soon, after seventy years of vacancy and no small amount of decay, being resurrected by dreams, and vision, and money.”

— Journal entry: Wednesday; April 3rd, 2019; 10:48 am. Restless in my camper, Cochise.

Bitter weather has finally released its grip and green things begin to grow, and I’m ready to go, finish this first season as a rubber tramp, living out of my 19’ vintage camper with my dog, Rambeaux, and head north to that little piece of dirt in the mountains of Colorado that I call my own, just south of the Wyoming border. But the weather there won’t let me return… not yet — still too much cold and blowing snow making the ground a horizontal barrier to passenger vehicles.

The Beast with Cochise in the background waiting patiently to be Leaving Las Vegas.

The word from my neighborhood newsletter there informs me a late-season storm has dumped more than two feet of wet snow that gale-force winds have formed into an impenetrable blockade, snapping the hydraulic cylinder mounts on the road grader and holding smaller vehicles with snowplows at a standstill. Locals have to rely on snowmobiles to get groceries and everyone is waiting for the weather to break, warm the air, melt the snow and allow the normalcy of summer to bring life back from the dormancy of winter. I wait from what should be safe distance, but often doesn’t feel that way. We live by the choices we make, and mine are sometimes not the best. I think that’s just part of being human. At least that’s my excuse…

“Oh, the last month has slipped by quickly, slippery with wet memories and little to say in this journal…trekking through snow melting slowly and hot soaks at Montezuma Hot Springs, often followed by a trip to the local watering hole, walking without caution and not watching out for the unseen crocodile waiting to dine on an unsuspecting visitor, like me.”

— Journal entry: Saturday; May 4th, 2019; 9:06 am. Waiting for the weather to break and open the way to my little slice of paradise in northern Colorado, nearly 500 miles north.

North…north…north I must go, back to the home I know and the sound comfort of familiar ground, as the sound on the ground of this place is disrupted by jackhammers breaking concrete and many busy feet hustling over the property as utilities are inspected and new conduit connected, sheetrock, tile and finish trim are put in place as the new owners bring furniture and boxes to store in finished rooms, pushing the workers to let them in, and out of their temporary stay and storage spaces so they can accelerate into the traffic of activity at the Casty, join the pace of frenzy there as the grand old hotel approaches its grand new opening — many decades in waiting.

I wait as well, for weather north to let me enter so I can go forth from here, where I no longer feel at home.

The worm turned when I woke to cold a few weeks ago and discovered that my freshly filled propane tanks had been stolen, the cover replaced but the space inside empty, fittings damaged as though undone in a hurry with tools instead of nice and easy by hand.

Who would steal my source of heat in the dead of winter? Why? Why, tweakers, of course, and their junky cousins, ’cause they gotta get that high — and nothing else matters. Punks and thugs…wasting space.

So I just left, and headed back to Storrie Lake to wait for the green light from the weather beyond to put the horse and cart on the road and go.

Back at Storrie Lake State Park Campground and out of the loudness of Las Vegas.

Summer hours are in effect which means the water is turned on and the doors are unlocked to the showers and bathroom facilities, so I find a spot as the campground begins to fill on Cinco de Mayo weekend. As the sounds of heavy engines shatter the atmosphere in town.

“This place is so peaceful, so contrary to the streets of Vegas, of pounding exhaust systems that drivers love to hear open up and get throaty, bouncing the sounds of dual pipes off buildings and people, beating the bellows of internal big-blocks with headers, Glasspack mufflers and 3” tailpipes aimed at you like the burping muzzles of anti-aircraft artillery guns.

And then there is the choir of sirens coming from cops, ambulances, and firetrucks — in that order. Not a quiet town, Las Vegas, NM, and when the property I was watching became a full-on construction site I knew it was time to leave. I should have left sooner.”

— Journal entry: Tuesday; May 7th, 2019; 2:26 pm. Back again at Storrie Lake Campground, waiting for clearance to go.

“It has been one year since I’ve taken up the rubber tramp life. Hard to believe. It’s been interesting, though. That’s Fo sho!

I’m in a much better place here at Storrie Lake than I was in town. I’m going to cook a big breakfast outside in this beautiful weather and maybe follow with a trip to the hot springs and a shower here at the campground.

I need to get caught up on some blog posts and other writing, but the weather is so nice right now that I want to get out, take some pics - and fish. I won’t have this opportunity much longer…”

— Journal entry: Wednesday; May 8th, 2019; 9:21 am. Relaxed and reflecting on an extraordinary year gone by.

Breakfast at the picnic table, reflecting on the first year as a Rubber Tramp in the Rocky Mountains.

“The wind is portentous this morning, pushing north with force but slipping around me — for the moment. I think of Colorado, being where I feel that I belong, no longer the stranger among the tribe of descendants, the ancestral ghosts who spoke only Spanish and watched the harsh landscape exact its toll, separating the grain from the chaff. I feel as though I’m flapping in the wind, looking at the prairie, about to be cast out over the Llano Estacado into Comancheria — among and amid the Lords of the Plains. Hoka Hey!”

— Journal entry: Thursday; May 16th, 2019; 10:29 am. Stuck at Storrie Lake Campground waiting to go north, as my last two-week stint approaches its expiration.

“Last morning at the picnic table — I’m going to miss this place. It was my first home on the road and has been good to me. Good and gusty, most of the time. I remember the winter…oh, the horror! Snow, cold, and blowing wind combining as a trident of elements bent upon my distress, but failing miserably in its effort.

I checked the weather in Red Feather [Colorado] and it’s 34 degrees and raining right now. It’s going to be cold and wet all week, getting below freezing each night. Damn. I still can’t go.”

— Journal entry: Sunday; May 19th, 2019; 10:34 am. Preparing to head back to Vegas RV Park, waiting for the northern storm to clear.

“Now I’m at the RV Park after an easy jaunt the other day. The Beast pulled Cochise better than BroBo ever could. Finally got the right tow vehicle after more than a year of bucking the wrong horse. Still learning how this rubber tramp life works…

Sunny and warm with cotton balls suspended in the historic sky blue of the American West — no other airspace is quite like it, no firmament so pure as this. Without bounds and enveloping the ground as far as is visible. It’s rather nice, I must say.

I’d like to get into town, snap some pics of buildings, soak in the hot baths at Montezuma, and head to Villanueva [State Park] to wet a line in the Pecos. That would be a good day.”

— Journal entry: Wednesday; May 22nd, 2019; 9:04 am. Enjoying the last days in Las Vegas, New Mexico, before heading “home” to Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. Anxious about the return trip.

The rustic hot bath pools at Montezuma Hot Springs overlooking the Gallinas River.

“Memorial Day. Been a boisterous weekend here at the RV park. Lots of Harleys and hot rods, lowriders and muscle cars ripping up 7th Street and out of town. That’s where I’m going. Next Sunday I’m booking to Colorado. Yes sir! Got my reservations made at the necessary campground and holding no others — reservations that is. Hoka Hey, Colorado!”

— Journal entry: Monday; May 27th, 2019; 5:54 pm. Waiting still…

“Here it is…the last night in New Mexico for this season. It’s June. I should have been up in Red Feather a month ago, but the weather wouldn’t let me in. Now I’m just gonna go. Get back to where I belong. But I’ll return here to this land, and tramp farther south next time, beyond Vegas, down to T or C [Truth or Consequences] and Elephant Butte [State Park], maybe City of Rocks outside of Deming, closer to Mexico, peek over the border through a hole in the wall. Who knows? But I shall return, to this Land of Enchantment. It’s got a hook in me. Orale!”

— Journal entry: Saturday; June 1st, 2019; 5:50 pm. Last night here…

And then it happens, dear reader, yes, yes, yes indeed. Indeed, and finally. I hook the horse to the wagon and say goodbye to the neighbors, my fellow rubber tramps and ne’er do wells, boondockers on society’s fringe.

The Beast pulls Cochise onto I-25 and hauls ass past Watrous, Fort Union and Wagon Wheel north toward Raton Pass when the sun gets shrouded and the clouds pop their bellies as rain falls on the interstate, transforming into mist under tires turning on the warmed asphalt — but we barrel on…

We grab breakfast at Denny’s in Raton, the first stop six months ago when we entered this New Mexico. I finish my huevos rancheros and let Rambeaux out to get one last stretch before we leave. She chases a pair of ravens from the dumpster and back onto their power-line perch running over the parking lot, just as she did when we stopped here last fall.

And… then we go.

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Kurt Buss

I’ve been writing for publication since it was done on typewriters, oh so long ago. I try to bridge the gap between the then and now of being a Baby Boomer.