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Life in the Primo 500

I never know who I’ll see in the hotel lobby in Española when we make our twice-a-month visits to our interns in the Jemez Mountain, Española, Questa, Peñasco, Mesa Vista, Santa Fe and Taos school districts.

Last spring, Suzanne Valdez came around the corner while I was awaiting my turn at the checkout counter. She was in town all week to train the new manager of the local telephone company and was finally heading home.

Suzanne, the daughter of the late Victor Lucero of Pagosa Springs and Stella Martinez of Farmington, has five communication stores in New Mexico that she oversees, but most are in the southeastern part of the state where she resides. Suzanne’s husband, Chris, is the manager of Windstream Communications in Hobbs. He is the son of Andrea Ochoa and the late Cristobal Valdez.

You know, I am really hoping I run into Suzanne again. There are so many questions I didn’t ask; not the superficial, statistical variety that can be found via a quick Internet search, but the other kind: How does your mother like living in Farmington after living in Pagosa Springs for most of her life? Do you like living in Hobbs? Do you see anyone we know? That kind. The kind of questions I won’t ask on the telephone because I prefer to wait until I see her again. Maybe next time we’ll have time for a cup of coffee so I can tell her that I’m glad we all grew up a warm abrazo away from each other on Eighth Street, and that I’m very proud of her.

Speaking of site visits, have you ever been to Peñasco? It’s a beautiful mountain community near Jicarita Peak in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. According to my friends who live in the area, logging was the principal mainstay, but when that industry went the way of San Juan Lumber, well… the Peñascoans could always find work in the nearby mines.

Today, the school district is the largest employer but not all educators who live in the area choose to work locally. Some educators brave their way down narrow, steep canyon roads via Dixon and Velarde to work in Española. Others come down the mountain via “The High Road to Taos” through Truchas and Nambé to work in Pojoaque or in Los Alamos or Santa Fe. A few drive east towards Mora or on to Las Vegas, while another few drive north to Taos or Questa. For these Peñascoans, a twice-a-day, forty-five minute road trip is just part of the job and most would rather die before they’d even think about moving down the mountain for good.

A few miles up the road from Peñasco, near the intersection which leads to Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort, is the hamlet Vadito, the home of Northern New Mexico Music recording artist Jenna, whose mother, Anna Martinez, is one of my best friends. Jenna’s father, Fabian, is a genuine Penitente — to the bone marrow! He also sings, plays the guitar, and writes songs for Jenna to sing. He can be heard on Jenna’s latest hit, “Daddy’s Girl.”

Just so you know … for my twice-a-month trek up the mountain, I prefer the High Road to Taos. The newly widened, newly-paved road near Cordova is a joy to drive in either direction. In addition, I really hadn’t seen a beautiful sunrise until I experienced one near Truchas, just up the mountain a bit from Chimayo. First light always seems to bathe the mountain and nearby ranchitos in a sacred, mystical mist.

Know you are loved.

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