Enchanting Stories of New Mexico - Episode 26 - "A" Mountain's Legacy

Welcome to the Fresh Chile Company Podcast - Enchanting Stories of New Mexico. Tune in to listen to all things New Mexico Chile, and other enchanting facts about New Mexico.
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Episode 26 - "A" Mountain's Legacy

Michael Swickard here. Welcome to Enchanting Stories of New Mexico sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, N M. Our award-winning Hatch Green and Red Chile is brought to you from locally owned farms in Hatch, NM, The Chile Capital of the World.

Let us start with a mountain. No, not just any mountain, it is a mountain which many people at New Mexico State University call A Mountain. It has another name and some interesting purposes. Why A Mountain. 103 years ago, in 1920 the decision was made to paint an A on the Mountain four miles east of the college campus. There was school spirit but that wasn’t the driving force, it was the Engineering Department and the Surveying group which wanted a challenge. They wanted to lay out an A perfectly and guide the whitewashing of the A so that to the then New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts it looked perfect.

Subsequently the A has been painted many times. When I came to NMSU in 1968 there were a couple hundred freshmen wearing the Freshmen beanies, if you saw Animal House, that is what Freshmen Beanies looked like. They were putting a fresh coat of whitewash on the rocks and the upperclassmen were razzing them. I was a photographer and didn’t wear a beanie. In the 1968/69 NMSU Yearbook there were pictures I took since I was the head photographer.

When you look at the Mountain today, really Tortugas Mountain, Spanish for Turtle, you see a large broadcast antenna and the Tortugas Mountain Astronomical Observatory, owned and operated by the Astronomy Department of New Mexico State University. In December, you see a pilgrimage to the top of the mountain by many people in the annual Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A four-mile climb. The mountain is connected to Tiwa Indian Pueblo.

Lastly, there was hikes around the mountain and one hike that goes around and up to the top, five miles long, called the Tortugas Mountain Trail and takes less than three hours for most people. Another is the Loop trail which just goes around the mountain at the base and is relatively easy walking. There are two parking lots that service the trails. Dogs are welcome on the trail but must be on a leash. Bring water and a snack for the best time.

If you walk to the summit, the views are very nice, and it is considered good luck in Southern New Mexico to have summited Tortugas Mountain at least once in your life. There are other summits such as Wheeler Peak and Sierra Balance that I will talk about one of these days.

You know what is also considered good luck in Southern New Mexico? Going to the Hatch Chile Festival this coming Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. September first to the third. Great luck and great food along with lots of entertainment. I am looking forward to seeing the renowned Cowboy Chef, Kent Rollins, making delicious things and telling lots of stories. I have seen him on a television show and his lovely wife. They not only talk about Cowboy delicious cooking, but they also show how it is done. And, this is important, it doesn’t just work for him. When I use his cooking methods, it even work for me. It really does.

Michael Swickard here with Enchanting Stories of New Mexico sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, N M. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

Sixty-Nine years ago, Holloman Air Force Base just to the west of Alamogordo, New Mexico, was the Human Guinea Pig capital of the world with Lt. Col John Stapp who used himself as the Guinea Pig in an experiment on humans surviving very rapid deceleration. He wasn’t the only volunteer but one of the most frequent in tests of deceleration. They were looking at what pilots could stand and what kind of straps and sitting positions were best. Backwards was best so many military jets carrying passengers have them sit backwards. They also came up with a double shoulder seat belt as best. It was a tough test. John Stapp on two occasions fractured his right wrist, broke ribs, had fillings come out of his teeth and it caused his retinas to bleed that caused a loss of vision for a while. He at that time sustained 38 g forces in an almost instant stop. But he wasn’t done. In his 29th and during his last run on the decelerator, he reached a speed of 632 miles per hour and suddenly stopped. He was the fastest man on Earth, and it was very rough on him, like taking a tooth out without Novocaine. No fun but he did since it simulated a jet pilot having to eject at speed. And the shoulder strap you use on your automobile uses the principles of John Stapp researched in 1954.

One more thing about Lt. Col. John Stapp. He was a funny guy who came up with what is called Stapp’s Law during his work on this project. It states: The universal aptitude for ineptitude make any human accomplishment an incredible miracle. Amen Brother.

Speaking of a while ago, I was talking to someone about the Space Shuttle Columbia landing at White Sands Space Harbor near Holloman Air Force Base outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico. It was STS-3 and many people think it was the first Space Shuttle to land in New Mexico at the White Sands Space Harbor when it landed March 30, 1982. Incidentally it had to land there since its primary landing site at Edwards Air Force Base was flooded out.

In fact, it had already landed twice at Edwards Air Force Base in California. However, it was not the first Space Shuttle to land. Nope, we must remember the Space Shuttle Enterprise which was put into service September 17, 1976 to perform atmospheric test flights. It was not launched like other Space Shuttles, rather is was launch from a NASA modified Boeing 747 since it had not engines or heat shield so it wasn’t going to space. But it was part of the Lifting Bodies concept of Space Shuttle so was landed several times without people and three times with astronauts flying it down to the ground in 1977 at Edwards. Never landed here.

We have gotten some rain and people have asked about cows standing by the roads. They do so to get the grass that quickly grows after a rain because the roads push that water right at the edge of the road to the grass. Often it is a variety called Lovegrass, all one word that grows very fast and Cattle along with everything else on the range loves. So don’t be surprised on the open range to see cattle right at the road’s edge.

If you have been on the campus of New Mexico State University you may have seen Kent Hall which is right at the intersection of University Avenue and Solano Drive. The funny people say, Kent Hall, why it doesn’t look a thing like him. Very funny. Harry L. Kent arrived in Las Cruces 102 years ago this month to take the presidency of the college, It was then called New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts which is now New Mexico State University. Harry Kent was president for 15 years which was tied at 15 years by Roger Corbett in the 1960s. Frankly, the college was in big trouble when he arrived, not of his doing. The college had a deficit of 60,000 dollars which in 2023 dollars would be over a million dollars. He was able to hold off the creditors, get more money from the legislature, budget effectively and do lots and lots of good things for the college environment. He increases the number of graduates in his term from 15 to 67 each year. He left somewhat under a cloud but people here really did love him. Seems his academic credentials were how shall I say, not what they were purported to be when he was hired. But they loved how he made the college ever so much better. He would be out driving a tractor and then helping to cook in the cafeteria and telling stories to legislators. A man for all seasons.

When the charge of false credentials hit, he suffered a stroke and was not pursued as to his credentials as he tried to get better. In fact, lots of people wanted him to run for Governor, that would show everyone. But Harry Kent was ill and was given time to recover which he never did at the college and another president, Hugh Milton in 1938 was selected.

Here is the interesting part of the Harry Kent story. He was loved so much. How much Michael. In 1939 when a new building was built, it was named for him, Harry Kent and for a while was a dormitory but now is a museum.

A little Chile news: One thing is for sure: all Chile Peppers are not the same. Some have more or less taste heat than others, some taste a bit sweeter. Well now, the same is true with onions. Those are onions that are not as strong, not as pungent as other onions. They are also used in the development of a new product at the Fresh Chile Company.

It is Hatch Sweet Onion Dressing. Great on Mashed Potatoes and on steaks. About ten percent of the onions grown in our area are Sweet in nature meaning they are not as strong which is what some people like. This Hatch Sweet Onion Dressing is so very good, words are not enough, you must try it. Use checkout code Podcast15 to get 15% off your order this week.

One thing that happens when people live in Las Cruces or happen to be in our little slice of paradise. They can come by the Fresh Chile Company Gift Shop at 1160 El Paseo Rd, Suite D7A in Las Cruces, NM. It is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

I need to tell you about some new products at the Fresh Chile Company that I find wonderful. There is a Local Honey with Hatch Red Chile that is great on biscuits. French fries are so much more with the Fresh Chile Company’s Hatchup which is ketchup and Hatch Red Chile. Come browse and there are many more surprises that I assure you are wonderful. Again, from Monday to Saturday, the Fresh Chile Company Gift Shop at 1160 El Paseo Rd, Suite D7A in Las Cruces, NM. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

This is Michael Swickard with Enchanting Stories of New Mexico brought to you by The Fresh Chile Company. Thank you for your time today. We will have lots of News and stories about New Mexico for you on these Podcasts, If you have something or someone you want me to talk about, write to: michael@freshchileco.com

Have a great rest of your day. Oh yes and eat plenty of that good Hatch Valley Chile. Like I always say, “Some Chile is good, more is better.” Bye for now.

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