Monday, March 27, 2017

The ABQ Report - Season 2, Special Edition - Chasing Longmire - The Final Season

March 22, 2017. Destination: Las Vegas, New Mexico. Occasion: start of the filming of season 6, episode 1 of Longmire, the final season. 

I decided to give the notion of witnessing some of Longmire being filmed one last try. It was pretty much now or never. I had determined through a reliable source that the first filming of the final season would take place that day up in Las Vegas, NM. I left ABQ around 8 a.m. on Wednesday, March 22nd, flew by Santa Fe, and arrived up in Las Vegas around 9:30 a.m. My first stop was the Las Vegas, NM Visitors' Center down on Railroad Avenue. The friendly girl there told me that they were "shooting" today in town. I asked: "Longmire?" And she said yes. I then asked: do they mind if you watch, from a distance? She said, no, they didn't.

Thus encouraged, I had seen that the local police had blocked off an intersection downtown not far away, and there were "special event" signs posted here and there. I parked my car at a nearby park, and walked up to the location. Not sure what was going on, exactly, I headed past a police car and walked a block or two down the street. All of a sudden, I saw a group of people huddled on the next block, and a very strange looking character standing frozen on the corner across the street. He had on a white cowboy hat, sun glasses and was carrying a satchel of some sort. He seemed to be staring directly at me. Not sure what was going on, I ducked into the doorway of the local Wells Fargo Bank.

All of a sudden, a guy with a pony tail and a Netflix ball cap crossed the street and came up to me and said: "You are looking directly at the camera; would you like to come over and stand behind the shot with us?" (Meaning the film crew.) I replied: "Longmire?" And he said "yes." I said: "I am a BIG fan". He said: something like: "That's what we like to hear." I quickly complied with his request and found myself rather anonymously in a group of film crew, all pretty much dressed like I was: distressed ball cap, long, straggly hair, blue jeans, tennis shoes and with some sort of bag or straps on their body; some with sling bags like I was carrying. The guy who invited me over was incredibly nice to me about the whole thing. So even though I had no credentials to be there, I seemed to fit right in. No one batted an eye. 

Turns out that the guy who seemed to be "staring" at me was a bank robber, and they began to shoot endless "takes" of the guy walking to the corner and then running full speed around the corner. Soon after that, a young actor playing a bank guard appeared, drew a gun, and chased after the bank robber. That was the scene. Since he was doing so much of the work of making sure the scenes were ready to be shot, I soon came to the conclusion that the guy who invited me to stand with the Longmire film crew was the assistant director. I know that because I recognized the guy from Facebook who actually was the director, TJ Scott, and I knew he would be there. He clearly did none of the work of herding people around.

We were all then told to shift a block farther down to the next intersection. At one corner, a local bank's name was changed with temporary signage from Community 1st Bank to "Powder River Junction Bank". There were three vehicles parked all from the fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming. One was Deputy Ferguson's Dodge Charger, one was Deputy Vic Moretti's sheriff's department pick-up truck, and the last was Sheriff Longmire's Bronco. Soon thereafter, the Sheriff, Vic and Ferg all showed up ready to work. The idea was, the sheriff would drive up and meet his two deputies in the middle of the intersection and all walk into the bank together. The actual film crew followed close behind, actually filming. A couple of times, these three main cast characters were no more than 20 feet away from me, but they were rehearsing and working the whole time.

Undoubtedly, there was filming going on in the bank, but none of this was visible. The next scene had the blonde Vic (played by Katee Sackhoff) talking to a guy with bushy hair outside at the back of her pickup truck. Probably, the guy was a "witness" to the events in the bank. This scene went on for quite a while with take after take from a lot of angles and at various distances. This, probably, in part, because there must have been considerable dialogue which I could not hear from my vantage point across the street. (By that time, I had drifted back to my rightful position as a bystander and not a crew member.) The last thing I saw was the take where they had the cameras right up in their faces, practically.

As they were filming the scene with Katee Sackhof and the bushy haired guy, a rather large knot of production crew was gathered in the middle of the street facing the ongoing scene and filming. An Hispanic guy and his son walked behind me down the street and I could hear him say to his son: "Look at all those white people!"

The other thing going on was a group of "extras" who looked very much like a cross section of ordinary citizens, repeatedly clamored outside the bank window, alternately pointing and peering in and gesturing as if they were trying to see what was going on in the aftermath of the "robbery". There were also numerous takes of this scene.

Finally, after 4 or 5 hours of this spectating, I decided I had had enough and headed home, but was very glad to have actually witnessed not only one, but several scenes from Season 6, episode 1 being filmed! (Spoiler alert: I bet Longmire, Season 6, Episode 1 starts off with a bank robbery!)

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1. The Sheriff getting ready to rehearse the scene walking into the bank. Seen with the director, TJ Scott and the assistant director (far left)  2. Crew preparing to film scene with Vic and bushy haired witness.  3. Ferg, Vic and the Sheriff re-uniting with the Longmire film crew members on the first day of filming.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The ABQ Report - Season 2, Episode 12 - Addendum and Correction

The New Mexico State Capitol Building has a rather unique design: (please also note the correction: CAPITOL, not "capital" in this instance. - Ed)

The ABQ Report - Season 2, Episode 12 - Santa Fe and the Capital Building 

We decided on Tuesday, March 14th, to take a mini adventure up to Santa Fe to visit the capital building. We have learned that the best way into Santa Fe is to overshoot the southern most, and earliest exits from I-25 to downtown and go farther east to "Old Pecos Road" and "the Old Santa Fe Trail" to exit. Here, this eastern part of Santa Fe, is much less congested, and the route downtown is much more scenic and pleasant. Santa Fe is not necessarily the easiest place to learn to get around, but I figure once one does, then visits there will be increasingly easier.

When we arrived, we were pleased to find that the capital parking garage was free during the week. Free parking in New Mexico is sometimes hard to find, so we were grateful to find this out. Also, it is right across the street from the capital, and not far from downtown, shopping, and the restaurant, "El Callejon" where we eventually had lunch. This is also on Galisteo Street which reminded me a lot of Taos, and seemed to have more restaurants and shopping to explore down the road.

At any rate, grateful for this "wind fall", we entered a very lively state capital building in downtown Santa Fe to find a glorious art collection. it was everywhere around the rotunda, and full of beautiful art by New Mexican artists we had never heard of. I told Betsy: "Gee, this is like being in a really great museum, only much NOISIER." In fact, as we were trying to view the art, there were legislators, tourists and other citizens circulating everywhere in the building, lawmakers on cellphones, reporters reporting the latest to their news agencies, and down below us in the rotunda, someone was railing against "repeat offender criminals" to a rather sparse audience. Plenty of noise, but the exhibit had numerous local masterpieces, in our estimation, and that defrayed the commotion of the place. A goodly number of the artists were native American, of course. All I could say was: "There be a whole lot of legislatin' goin' on here!"

We now have the state capital building, however, as another "go to" destination for when people visit. Just the woven rug artwork is enough to warrant bringing people to see it, but the paintings are wonderful, as well. There are also panoramic views of Santa Fe from the rotunda windows.

The sidelight trip here was lunch at a place called: "El Callejon (Alley) Taqueria and Grill" down Galisteo Street near the capital complex. I had found it because there was a video and photograph on the Longmire FaceBook page that "the sheriff" had just returned from Australia to his "home" in Santa Fe with a fellow Aussie friend, and the first day there, he and his buddy were videoed and photographed in this bar and grill having probably their first drinks after arrival. So I found "El Callejon" on the internet and then persuaded the indulgent Betsy that we choose this place for lunch. So we walked in there, and the owner, Raul, (I knew that from the video) guided us to EXACTLY the same table where Longmire and his buddy had been drinking the night before. I knew it because it had a signed Longmire poster behind the table, and the wall was painted bright New Mexico orange. I imagined that since we were there around lunch time, there might be some cast members from Longmire that would come in for lunch. Alas, none did, but I had the satisfaction of being, once again, at an exact location where primary cast members HAD been. Fortunately, the food there was GREAT, so it is definitely a "go to" restaurant location now for us in Santa Fe. But what would an ABQ Report be without some Longmire experience or the other to report?

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The ABQ Report - Season 2, Episode 11 - The Puye Cliffs (Part Deux) The Thirty Foot Ladder

Our friend, Barbara, from Westerville, Ohio, was here in ABQ for a visit for several days early in March. She is a retired nurse who worked at John's Hopkins in Baltimore for many years. We met her on our China trip in 2009. In her retirement, she coincidentally moved to Ohio, fairly close to us, so we have been able to get together and stay in touch over the years. Although she had spent some time out west in the 80s, (primarily Arizona), we were able to show her some of the beauty and adventure between here and Santa Fe and beyond.

Betsy is our great trip planner, but the Puye Cliffs was a place I discovered on my own last year when I was out on the road "chasing Longmire" (see last year's ABQ Reports for more details.) It is the property of the Santa Clara Pueblo, up near EspaƱola, and they run an adventurous, if not a bit "rugged" program to tour the cliff dwellings. We signed on for the hour long "combo" tour of the top of the mesa along with coming down on foot along the side of the cliffs. They did not really specify, at the time, exactly HOW we were going to be walking down. Our young native girl guide, Cheyenne, gathered us as we stepped out of the van at the top of the mesa. She was very knowledgable about all of the history of life of the Santa Claran pueblo people at the top of the mesa. In the far off distance we saw the Black Mesa over on the neighboring pueblo known as the "San Ildefonso Pueblo". She related how the Black Mesa, in fact, geologically, was the top of the Valles Caldera some number of miles away that had "flown off" some millennia previously and landed in its present location.

The Valles Caldera, as you might remember, is the location of "Longmire's Cabin". It is a beautiful deep basin/valley surrounded by hills and evergreen trees up past Jemez Springs. It is a perfectly beautiful spot for the filming of some scenes for a modern day western like Longmire. Longmire will return soon (later this month) to Santa Fe to go into production for the sixth and final season of the series for Netflix. I expect the cast and crew will be back out to the Valles Caldera at least once during their 3 month shooting schedule in New Mexico, and maybe even the Puye Cliffs. The Puye Cliffs was a location for the filming of at least one scene from Longmire, season 5, last year. 

Cheyenne pointed out the piles of broken pottery shards that could be picked up and handled as long as they were replaced, and spoke about how Spaniards and white men, in general, had massacred so many of the trusting pueblo people. There were also large piles of some animal scat, and she said there were a lot of "free range" cattle up on the mesa. Then she kind of looked at us somewhat oddly (or so I imagined) over her very dark glasses and said "Let's go practice our descent on the 15 foot ladder down into the kiva." (Kivas are basically covered holes in the ground for religious purposes.) When the Catholics arrived, they wanted to snuff out the native American religious practices, so they built churches over a large number of indian kivas in the southwest. This one did not have a church built over it, so we negotiated the ladder down into essentially a dark hole with not much in it. But the "practice" part on a ladder made me feel a bit uneasy, and when she said we were going down a "sluice path" and a 30 foot ladder to get down, I really got a bit concerned. I had figured the path down would be an easy, breezy and maybe a bit winding path down the steep cliff somehow, but could not really imagine it. 

So we found ourselves in a very winding, rocky and somewhat treacherous "gully" down the face of this steep cliff whose bottom may have been some 40 or 50 feet below. You could not step flat, and one's feet and shoes kept getting caught on something or wedged between rocks, or the like. You sort of had to work your way down the side of the cliff on your butt while your shoes were getting alternately stuck and scuffed by the uneven rocky path and your pants were getting filthy. Finally, one got to the edge of the cliff and the ladder which was 30 feet high. There was a lattice like wooden barrier around the ladder, but you had to back into the ladder area and grab on to a couple of metal railings at the top of the ladder and then climb down 30 feet to the bottom. There was no way out of this except down, so we were all determined to get on the ladder and descend as best we could. Once started, it was not all that bad, and at the bottom one stood there with a great sense of relief, and a set of very rubbery legs for one's trouble. To get to the very bottom, there was still a ways to go along a concrete path. But one was grateful to be safely down, even in a hobbled state. We told Barbara that she had "been there" for one of our greatest adventures out here yet, and it was only rivaled by our bumpy and endless ride on an "unimproved" road down from the Sandia Mountain crest last year.

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1. Betsy, Barb and our young Santa Claran Pueblo guide, Cheyenne.    2. Betsy, under the watchful eye of Cheyenne, glad to be down off the ladder.  3. Barb about half way down on the ladder. 4. The ladder from a distance: "It's higher up than it looks!"

Monday, February 13, 2017

The ABQ Report - Season 2, Episode 10 - Carlsbad and Beyond

We left the Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa in Texas on Wednesday, February 1st, and headed west along the Rio Grande. This takes one immediately into the Big Bend Ranch State Park. It is smaller than the national park, but in some ways, even more spectacular than the national park. There are winding, steep roads and hairpin turns along this stretch, but it is the way "out" of the parks region here to get to the highway north. Nonetheless, the scenery is similar in magnitude to the national park, and it all follows the river until one gets to the road north. I still shake my head sometimes and say: "I didn't know there were MOUNTAINS in Texas!" (ha)

After a long empty stretch on the highway north, we decided to stop once more in Marfa, TX, to see what we could see. Our first stop here was the Donald Judd art exhibit with the outdoor concrete block sculptures that I mentioned in episode 9. In the interest of time, we opted to just take a look at the outdoor part of the museum because one had to join a tour to see the work on display inside. We then headed downtown to the "Paisano" Hotel which was the "headquarters" during the filming of the movie Giant back in 1955. We decided to duck our heads in here. The hotel was very ornate in a 50s sense. The lobby had giant pictures of Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and George Stevens (the director of Giant) relaxing between takes. Off to the side of the lobby there was a little room that looked like it used to be a news stand, souvenir, or even hat shop. It was now a "shrine" to the movie and its actors. It seemed a little bizarre to keep something like that with memorabilia for the public for a film some 62 years old, but there it still was - one of Marfa's claims to fame - the filming of the movie "Giant", an epic tale of Texas.

I took some pictures but we moved on quickly because we wanted to get to the Guadalupe Mountain National Park on the border between Texas and New Mexico and still have time to hike. Once there we hiked a couple of trails. Betsy had her official walking sticks that the kids gave her for Christmas, and I had my walking stick that I bought on the trail along the Rio Grande in Big Bend Park. These helped propel us up the mountain trail.

By that time, it was getting late, so we headed up to Carlsbad, New Mexico, in the southeast part of the state. We found a great Italian Restaurant in a former hotel, and our intention, the next day, was to go down into the Carlsbad Caverns. Betsy was a bit under the weather the next day, so we just decided we would do that some other time and we would head up to Roswell and see the art museum there. It was a beautiful day to be travelling (and to be above ground.) They were having a show of both Peter Hurd's work and that of his wife, Henriette Wyeth. "On-ree-ette" as I later learned was the pronunciation of her name, (the French pronunciation) was also a very accomplished artist, and in fact, the sister of the internationally known American artist Andrew Wyeth of Chadds Ford, PA. Peter Hurd was born in Roswell, and so he is a New Mexico native son with the connection to the Wyeth family. He had migrated to the east early in his career and studied with the great painter/illustrator N.C. Wyeth who later became his father-in-law. The show was extremely good, and they also had a great bunch of "minimalist" landscape paintings by various local New Mexico artists.

The strange thing about this part of New Mexico is that it does not look at all like we understand New Mexico to look like. It is very flat, and the architecture in both Carlsbad and Roswell looks more like Texas to me than New Mexico. Betsy opined that the flatness was due to the fact that this part of the state is an extension of the "Great Plains" and you don't really get into what you understand as New Mexico (the brightly colored landscapes with mountains and mesas and the low profile adobe architecture) until you get farther west into the state.

After Roswell, we headed to a small place called San Patricio which was far enough west to begin to look more like New Mexico. It is closer to places like Ruidoso or Alamogordo, and may be the foot hills of the Sacramento Mountains. This is where the Hurds (Peter and Henriette) settled when they came back from the east to live and paint in New Mexico. It is very hilly and scenic, and they had a ranch there still occupied by their son, the painter Michael Hurd. They also have an old house there that is the visitors' center. We had been there before several years ago, but it was not open. This time, there was a lady on duty to greet us and another couple from California who appeared to be negotiating to buy some high end painting at maybe a price of at least 10K. We briefly looked around at the Peter and Michael Hurd paintings and the Hurd family memorabilia and then were on our way. We headed over to I-25 and then back up to ABQ. By that time, we were back in very familiar territory with our mountains, our desert, our colorful mesas and the low profile adobe architecture.

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Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas. Downtown Marfa, Texas, and the Peter Hurd Gallery in San Patricio, NM, "La Rinconada"

The ABQ Report - Season 2, Episode 9 - Big Bend National Park

Betsy and I left on Sunday, January 29th for Big Bend National Park in Texas. Neither of us had ever been there. Since this was Texas, I figured it would be flat, and lush with trees being close to the Rio Grande River. Nothing could be further from the truth. Big Bend may be one of the U.S.'s greatest national parks. It is a diverse eco-system of giant mountains, hills, interesting rock formations, desert, canyons, "badlands" and of course the Rio Grande River which also runs through ABQ. The park covers some 800,000 acres.

We left ABQ and passed through Las Cruces where we had just been hiking in the Organ Mountains with the kids about a month ago. I was surprised that El Paso, TX, was only some 46 miles farther from Las Cruces. We got on I-10 and El Paso tightly hugged a seemingly endless stretch of I-10 featuring every sort of commercial business you could imagine, densely piled one on top of the other. One even got a brief glimpse of Juarez, Mexico from I-10 over on the other side of the Rio Grande.

We finally escaped El Paso and ended up out in the vastness and emptiness of west Texas en route to Marfa and then on to our Quality Inn in Alpine. Marfa is famous for outdoor minimalist concrete block installation work by the artist Donald Judd, mysterious "ghost lights" which actually probably are only reflected lights from cars out on the highway, and it is the location of the filming of the 1955 epic about Texas "Giant" starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. Betsy could tell, even on line, that staying in Marfa was a "no go" and the better place was Alpine, which proved to be true. Alpine was a much more accommodating town, albeit kind of quirky and hippy and very old west looking, itself. But apparently, it is a place where many visitors to Big Bend stay since there are so many motels there. Even so, it is still quite a distance north of Big Bend. But it was our launch point for entry into the vast park next day.

Betsy had booked us two nights at "Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa" which was located between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend State Park. This, only because it was the only place close to stay unless you stayed in the park, itself, at their lodge, or trekked all the way back up to Alpine. But Betsy did not think the dining opportunities were very good there in the park. As it turned out, the Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa was kind of a strange place out in the middle of nowhere, but very comfortable and accommodating, and a very good restaurant. We almost had the whole place to ourselves. The weather was almost warm enough for golf, but there were few golfers present. It was quite dark at night out there in the vastness and emptiness of west Texas, and the stars were amazing. 

In short, over the next two days, we did the eastern part of the park on the first day, and the western part on the second. We visited all four visitors centers, stopped at numerous overlooks, viewed a fossil exhibit, attended two outdoor ranger talks and hiked several easy to moderate trails. There was lots of driving, but scenery everywhere. I even bought a walking stick hand made in Mexico by an illegal who walked over to the trail along the Rio Grande from Boquillas, Mexico, and laid out his/her wares next to the trail. One purchased a walking stick or some finely done wire sculptures of roadrunners or scorpions on the honor system by leaving one's money in a coffee jar next to the goods. But it is ironic how the Rio Grande, every place we encounter it, is often very shallow and narrow and one could actually easily just walk across the border.

In short, Big Bend is utterly amazing in terms of its landscapes and scenery. I had never known this type of terrain could be found in Texas. Heretofore, I had thought all of Texas was generally flat. 

We began our trip home on Thursday after our two days at Big Bend and had further adventures which will appear in the next episode of the ABQ report: "Episode 10, Carlsbad and Beyond."

View of Big Bend near Santa Elena Canyon, the Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa and a view from the Chisos Basin Visitors' Center.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The ABQ Report - Season 2, Episode 8 - The Organ Mountains

Since son Tom and his wife Sarah from NYC were here for Christmas, we decided to revisit some of the places in the southern part of New Mexico that Betsy and I had visited a couple of years ago. We first headed south and then east towards Alamogordo and the "White Sands National Monument". Since it was cold out, the white sand there seemed like snow, only one never got wet. To further the comparison to snow, they were selling saucer sleds at the gift shop to be able to slide down the dunes. Karola, my German daughter-in-law, was very keen on the grands doing this, and it worked out well. There were very nice slopes in the sand (see below). Much of the sand was hard packed, but the slopes were soft and forgiving.

That night we had reservations down the road some 50 miles in Las Cruces. We spent the night there and then continued west to the "City of Rocks", literally out in the middle of nowhere. We spent several hours there with both kids and grandkids climbing around on the rocks.

At this point, stepson Peter and his family headed across country to I-25 and then back up to ABQ. We (Betsy and I and Tom and Sarah) had decided to go back to Las Cruces to spend the night again at the same Marriot, and we had dinner at a New Mex-Mex restaurant in old town Mesilla, which was just down the street.

Perhaps the most thrilling part of the whole trip was discovering the "Organ Mountains" which are very close to Las Cruces, but by no means as close as the Sandias are to ABQ. One had to drive a distance past the city limits of Las Cruces to the newly created Organ Mountain National Monument. One assumes that the name "organ" refers to the fact that the peaks on this range look a lot like a "pipe organ".  It was a beautiful 65 degree day in December in Las Cruces, and we arrived at the park very early to get a head start on our hike up towards the mountains. We hiked the one and a half mile gravel trail up to "Dripping Springs" and a host of ruins of a sanatorium and a resort hotel of years gone by. As we hiked back to the visitor's center several hours later, we began to encounter more people hiking the same trail. A gorgeous day for a hike in gorgeous scenery.

After a hearty meal of vegetarian pizza and salad, we began the three hour trip back up I-25 from Las Cruces to ABQ.

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White Sands sledding City of Rocks Organ Mountains near Las Cruces, NM