In the 1970s, in the middle of May after I finished teaching the spring semester, a few of us guys from Amarillo, Texas, would go camping in New Mexico and Colorado before snow completely melted in the mountains. We called our movable camp, The Rendezvous, after the “present yourselves” French word, and more historical, the mountain man trade meetings in the early nineteenth century. We camped out for a week, avoiding established campsites in favor of back country in the national forests: Gila, Kit Carson, Isabell. We took several pickups and one pop-up Coleman camper, tons of grub, beer (before several guys went on the wagon in the late 70s), money for bail, and reading material. Over the decade of the seventies, we camped from the Conejos River Valley in Colorado to the desert boot heel of Columbus, New Mexico. We bailed our friend out of jail at Tierra Amarilla and ate native plants near Jemez Springs.
One May, we started our movable camp at Holy Ghost Canyon near Santa Fe, up the Pecos River , then northwest ascending Holy Ghost Creek. Getting to the campgrounds was tedious, dangerous, and way, way far into the forest. The road to Holy Ghost turned into a one-lane, barely passable road where if you met a car or truck, you usually had to back up to a side cut in the road so both could pass. Warning signs back at the main road that goes from Pecos to Cowles alerted recreational vehicles from ascending to Holy Ghost Campground, although stock trailers could usually make the trip to pastures in the high country of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to round up cattle. Holy Ghost Creek was far away from normal camping areas. Remote, quiet, and unnerving. We really liked it even though it was built up with national park structures, tables, outhouses, the like.
After a couple of nights, we planned to leave Holy Ghost and venture elsewhere. But before we left, three of us had to go into Terrero for some supplies. Terrero was back at the crossroads to Cowles, a beautiful place at the entry to the Pecos Wilderness area. We got in a pickup and headed back down the road following Holy Ghost Creek, coasting down the narrow road and being careful lest we run off to the side of the road and down the embankment.
About halfway down the road to Terrero, we met a car, an aged maroon Impala Chevy, driven by an old, mostly toothless driver waving frantically out the window for us to stop. We slowed down and saw the car was filled with camping gear and trash, up to the window sills in the back seat and papers and junk on the dashboard. The driver was alone. A little Chihuahua dog was barking like crazy inside the car, running over the camping gear and junk in the back seat. The driver was wide-eyed and hair-blown. When we halted, he stopped waving. We thought there must have been a landslide or accident down the road and he was summoning our aid or warning us to turn around.
We pulled closer so that we could understand him over the barking Chihuahua and truck, and still hanging out the window, the old man shouted at the three of us: Is this the way to Idaho?
I thought: for god’s sake, mister, Is this the way to Idaho? Do you know just where in the hell you are? Apparently not. That’s why the question, but you are at least three states away from Idaho and if you continue up the road, you will dead end at Holy Ghost Canyon. There’s no way out. Further, you are way off the Interstate 25 by at least fifteen miles. Our Rendezvous group of revelers could barely navigate the road to Holy Ghost and you are looking for Idaho? Up here?
We wanted to help. So, being courteous to the old coot, we answered his question: No, this is not the way to Idaho, you are pretty far off the beaten path for that, old timer. We gave him correct directions back to Pecos, then to the interstate. He thanked us and drove up and I guess turned around at Holy Ghost and went back to the highway cause we never saw him again. We slowly drove to Terrero for supplies.
The three of us very nearly fell out of the pickup in laughter: Is this the way to Idaho? We must have told that story a hundred times over the years, but we pitied the old man in a good way.
We knew he was disoriented and probably a bit addled, but with his Chihuahua and car full of camping equipment, he probably wouldn’t hurt himself, but spend his days, driving the backroads, trying to find the road to Idaho. He could have been in a lot worse place, say, the Golden Age Nursing Home, looking at television. The old guy, I think, was much better off searching for Idaho, El Dorado or the grail in the Great West of North America than watching reruns of Bonanza from bed.