• J.F. Rowan

A Murder Mystery at Oliver Lee


We left Hueco Tanks and headed to New Mexico, a small town named Alalogordo. Texas was a great state to visit and I’m sure that we’ll be back real soon. So sure in fact that while I’m typing this, my wife is finishing off our application as camp hosts for one of the many great state parks in Texas. I’ll cover this at a later date and reveal more details, but these are the basics. As a couple, we could possibly volunteer our time at a Texas state park. In exchange, we would get to stay at the park for free. Time frames vary but it could be as little as a month or in extreme cases, as much three months. For us, since we actually get to chose, we probably would opt for about a month. More on this later...

Space Museum in Alamogordo Texas. Lots of hardware and history here.

We left Hueco as soon as quiet hours were over, 6 am. We arrived in Alamogordo around lunch time so instead of going directly to the state park, we opted to visit the Space Museum (yes, I like anything to do with space exploration) and do a little grocery shopping before heading to camp. The museum was great. Several pieces of hardware of interest includeing a tail section from a WWII German V2 rocket. The rocket was tested at White Sands Missile Test Range as part of “Operation Paper Clip” back in the 40’s. When testing was done, various pieces and remnants were stored and later donated to various organizations.

Along with hardware that they had on display, they also have an ongoing “Hall of Fame” display with various astronauts and other individuals that were exemplary in their contributions to the exploration of space and astronomy. The museum also had three rockets in particular that I had a fond interest in because as a former owner of a model rocket company, and model designer, I had developed scale models based on these three.

Plenty of rockets on display.

The museum was very dense with historical information and will easily be on my “return to” list if we pass this way again.

After some quick shopping in town, we headed to our final destination and arrived at the camp around four in the afternoon. We picked out the best site we could find, spent some time leveling the rig and in the process, decided the best configuration would be to disconnect the truck from the trailer and turn the trailer 90 degrees to the truck thereby giving us a little extra privacy and a better flow when using the trailer’s kitchen. It also would give us the ability to travel outside of the campground without the trailer being behind us all the time.

Seeking out the right spot.

It can be difficult sometimes to write about the parks that we see and keep the word count down under 1500. This is one those times. This park’s history revolves around a reclusive Frenchman who had a cabin, was obsessed about building straight stone walls and in 8 years time transformed an otherwise desert area into an oasis of fruit trees, and several hundred head of cattle. He harnessed the year road water that came from nearby Dog Canyon for his orchard and his cattle. He was a hard-working and a successful man. Which is why it’s strange that the local sheriff found him shot in the chest sometime after Christmas in 1894. Just google “Frenchy’s Cabin in Alamogordo in New Mexico” and “Oliver Lee”, and you’ll find several versions or theories about Frenchy’s murder.

Re-construction of "Frenchy's Cabin" as it stood in the 1800's. Frenchy was found dead in 1894, a bullet in the chest. Apparently only god and Frenchy know who pulled the trigger.

The trail selection ranges from easy to very difficult. Yvette and I hiked the lower wash into Dog Canyon up to where the trail markers have you turn back. Some of the trail was clearly marked while portions of it were on a “best guess” at times. One of the last days we were there, I took the largest lens I had and hiked the canyon in search of any bird life that I might find around some of the scarce pools or streams. The canyon trail proceeds upstream and you wander around the carved rock and small crystal clear pools. Just as if I were 12 again, the urge to go father up, even after the trail ends, was too strong to resist. I’m sure I wasn’t the first, but on this day, I was solo. A slight breeze at my back, I kept pushing higher into the canyon. I climbed until several close calls with the camera swinging precariously towards a rock face singled enough was enough. The urge kept me looking over my shoulder as I worked my way back downstream. But it was all worth seeing what time and mother nature can do to shape and carve stone.

Dog Canyon. Lots of cool carved rock formations and shimmering pools of crystal clear water.

On an “errand day,” we took some time and visited the White Sands National Monument. It is amazing to be driving through the scrub and cactus one minute and then through dunes of white-as-snow sand the next. Mind-boggling. We also stopped by the district office for the Lincoln National Forest to get some pointers and maps. The folks there were very helpful in giving us ideas for dry camping that we’ll do when the weather warms a bit and the snow melts. They were very enthusiastic in making sure we knew where all the “sweet spots” were.

White Sands National Monument. A "must see" if you get any where close to here.

I can’t say Yvette feels the same way about this park as I did, but that’s okay. We have very similar interests, but the lack of wildlife at this park I think left her a bit high and dry. She loves birds, but would rather have seen few hundred bison pass through camp I’m sure. I on the other hand really enjoyed exploring the canyon. Still, I think she loved the quiet at night. The wind seems to come more frequently now and I’ve heard it’s normal for this area. There was also an occasional “Harrumph” sound in the distance. It wouldn’t wake you up at night, but it would get your attention during the day. I did a little research and there was a strong possibility the sound could have originated from artillery practice at a nearby Army installation. I wonder if they allow observers? We spend almost five days at this park and I would have liked it to be longer. There was one trail that required about 5 hours and 3000 calories to complete. I would have been up for that, perhaps next time.

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, Alamogordo, New Mexico.

The day before departure we run our usual checklist and hookup the trailer, close up and stow all the kitchen wares. We’ll be eating light in the morning, a cup of java and maybe some eggs or oatmeal. With the dawn comes a few last minute details, a final walk around and then we creep out of the sleepy campground and wave goodbye to Frenchy’s ghost. We clear the campgrounds cattle guard on our way out and the sun cracks over the horizon. It’s north we go, north to Albuquerque.

Want More?

Click Here to see the YouTube video on Oliver Lee Memorial State Park

#Alamogordo #SpaceHistorymuseum #LittleJoe #SaturnVSaturn1b #HonestJohn #ApacheStronghold #Aerobee150 #F1Engine

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