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Rattlesnake Acres

I married in 1967 at age 21. Back then an unmarried woman of 21 was almost an old maid, so getting a husband was a great relief to me. Our honeymoon home was in the middle of Tucson, next door to an old couple that had married each other when they were both 14. Used to be when a boy was old enough to ride a horse, punch cattle and draw wages, he was a man.

Ten months after the wedding we had our first baby, a daughter. Three more followed. What with raising kids and our choice of high tech careers, we had never lived where horses made sense.

After the two oldest had grown up and the youngest were in middle school, John and I convinced ourselves we could make a living writing and consulting from our home. We could live anywhere. We traveled New Mexico, dreaming of our writer's paradise. We fell in love with the Estancia Valley.

"Estancia" means "ranch" in Spanish, and the name fits. The valley lies a mile and a quarter above sea level about 50 miles east of Albuquerque. Ten thousand years ago, a sea covered 900 square miles of this valley. Today, at the southern end, only salt pans remain. Across the rest of the valley, a sea of blue gramma and western wheat grass ripples. Antelope, horses and cattle graze this prairie..

To the northwest, the Ortiz Mountains hem the valley. Veins of gold and turquoise streak their slopes. Miners still are extracting gold from the mines in this range 

In June of 1991, we bought ten acres at the skirt of South Mountain, the southernmost peak of the Ortiz Mountains. An old windmill just to the south promised water. The grass was tall, and the juniper/pinon forest ended just yards from the west property line.

Back in the 70s, the people who owned the land built a two-story home in which they raised seven children -- and without electricity or running water. When the husband and wife split up, they all moved out. The neighbors were quick to mine their home and barns for lumber.


View of the windmill from the south fence of Rattlesnake Acres.

The neighbors warned us that the ruins harbored prairie rattlers. They said the neighborhood boys would go there to stock up on rattler hides. They claimed someone had killed 104 of them when they woke fromt ehir hibernation that spring and slithered out of the wreckage of the old house. So we named our new place Rattlesnake Acres.

Back then the road we lived on - County Road 11B - was a mighty deterrent to suburban types. It was just a dirt track that ran over a cattle guard. Back then, the Soviet Union was in its death throes and with it the Cold War. Much of New Mexico's economy depended on the care and feeding of nuclear weapons. We hoped this development meant that growth would halt. Perhaps 11B would forever remain rural.

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© 2004 Carolyn M. Bertin. All rights reserved.