Christmas morning was always a joy for me as a kid. My parents wisely knew that half the fun of that day was the anticipation, so they made sure we had lots of little presents around the tree to indulge in. We'd rip one open, admire it briefly, rip open the next, then the next. It was difficult to linger on any one present knowing that there was another still unopened. Oh sure, all our presents were rocks, but they were nicely wrapped.


  • COUNTY:  Catron
  • LOCATION:  43 miles west of Datil on US 60
  • POST OFFICE:  1886-96, 1901-present
  • NAME ORIGIN:  Possibly from burned grass around a stream bank near here. "Quemado" means "burned."

     Maps have a similar effect on me. It's fun to be one place for awhile; even funner to wonder what the next place will be like. The anticipation is hard to battle, and unfortunately, it often means that the place I'm currently at takes a back seat to the place that's coming up next.

     In Quemado, I took a break, determined to enjoy the place for awhile and not just pass through. I stayed overnight at the Largo Motel. In music, "largo" means slow. An omen if I ever saw one.

     I took a walk in the evening, to watch the December darkness settle across the small town. The air was chilly. The cold steel of my tripod and camera stung my hands. My breath was turning to mist in the air, but except where it reflected in the street lights, the mist was lost in the darkness.

     Not every block in Quemado has street lights. Some areas along the roadside that evening were completely dark. A block from my hotel was one such area. I could make out only outlines of buildings or fences set back from the road. I felt the gravel from the side of the road under my shoes as I wandered tentatively, my path lit only by the headlights of the occasional passing truck. I wondered as they passed where those trucks were going, rushing ahead as I often did in anticipation of the next place.

     Overhead, the stars unfolded like my highway map. The night sky stretched out forever, and from such a sight I, too, would have thought Columbus' hypothesis crazy. My eyes jumped from one constellation to the next. I can recognize about five, but only name three. Something else I've always wanted to improve.

     When I reached the end of town, about five blocks, I stopped a moment to take pictures, then began my return trip. My eyes had adjusted all they were going to by that time, but it was still dark. I made my way as best I could, following what I could see of the road lines reflecting the light of the stars. Another block down, I heard dogs and rustling across the street, where I could make out the silhouette of a burned-down two-story building, one that I thought I remembered from a daylight drive past had been another hotel, or possibly a laundromat, or both. Were there dogs over there? I would be defenseless if attacked. But the rustling stopped and after waiting a moment, I moved past.

     I crossed the street in the next block to go to the store. A big place for such a small town, with wide aisles and a good stock. And warm. A few glances from the other two shoppers.

     "Cold out tonight?" the man at the cashier asked me as I laid my purchase on the counter. I had expected a "Where are you from?" instead, as my tripod and unfamiliar face gave away my status, but he seemed more interested in the weather than in me, which suited me fine.

     "Very," I assured him, nodding for emphasis. I considered purchasing a "Quemado Family" calendar when I saw it by the door. It was a calendar with pictures of prominent people from the town. But I passed.

     Back outside, I crossed the street again and continued the remaining few blocks to my hotel. A semi-truck started up in a driveway as I was passing. The driver turned the cab light on, casting a dark yellow glow into the street. Had the driver done so to light my path, or was it just good timing? I wanted to look inside the cab and see another Quemado face. Perhaps he -- or she -- was one of the "Quemado Family." But I couldn't bring myself to do it. I knew we were only extras in each other's lives; united in this place through coincidence, and, I suppose, a mutual love of the road. So instead I looked at the stars again, and asked them to see the driver and I both safely to our next destination.

     My hotel room was warm and the bed comfortable, and even though it was only 8:30, I turned off the lights and laid down to sleep. Just before sleep hit, I wondered what would happen if the sun didn't come up the next morning, and the things I had seen on my walk through Quemado that night would be the last sights I'd ever see of the world. As I settled peacefully into a pleasant and dreamless sleep, it occured to me that that wouldn't be all that bad.


(click on the thumbnail image to see a larger picture)

This photo of Quemado was
taken last fall on a trip there
by a friend of mine, Jason

The moon is still visible in
the early-morning sky near
Quemado Lake.