The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, ]r.rnThe Alternative CandidaternSeveral thousand feet below a smokerncloud 20,000 feet thick and 1,500 milesrnin diameter, the American West looks sornpeaceful, so at ease, so normal, no matterrnthat over a million acres of it are on fire.rnThe fires, most of them started by dryrnlightning strikes and burning out o’ermaturernforests thickened with dead andrndown timber, aren’t really the problem.rnThe threat, at the present moment,rncomes from Philadelphia and Los Angeles,rnwhere America’s vaunted two-partyrnsystem is engaged in further deconstructingrnthe country whose welfare is ostensiblyrnits raison d’etre, not least by its encouragementrnof aggressive millions ofrnimmigrant aliens whose effect on Americanrnculture and institutions, as well as onrntlie land itself, is comparable to the damagerna pine beetle infestation wreaks on arnWestern forest. The powers that be, gettingrnthings backward as always, want thernfires exhnguished, the invasion ignored.rnStill, the traffic is noticeably lighter thanrnwhen I came this way through Coloradornlast year: high gas prices discouraging thernnative tourists, unfavorable exchangernrates keeping the foreign ones at home.rnBetween Climax, the mining town thatrnover the past century has removed andrnchewed up the topmost part of a 14,000-rnfoot mountain, and Leadville, threernyoung women in shorts and haltertops,rntheir skins deeply tanned, jog in thernshoulder of the road between two protectingrnmotor homes decorated with bannersrnreading “BORDER TO BORDERrnRUN”—Canada to Mexico, presumably.rn(The purposive purposelessness of modernrnAmerican life.)rnSalida, Colorado, in the Arkansas Riverrnvalley with a view upstream to thernSphinx-like Collegiate Peaks, only 15 orrn20 ears ago was a relaxed Western townrnof the sort where, if your dog dug up arnflowerbed next door, the neighborrndropped by to remark over coffee that thernlocal hardware store was holding a clearancernsale on nylon rope. Nowadays,rnsince the Californians have arrived, yournget a letter from his attorney in your mailboxrninstead. And much of the coffeedrinkingrnappears to get done in latternshops in the gentrified downtown district.rnI drove through it to the Budget Motel,rnregistered, and phoned the Checks byrnprearrangement at the Tudor Rose Inn.rnDiane and Paul Check, in raising uprnone son to the Church of Rome and anotherrnto The Rockford Institute, haverncontributed more than any other couplernI know to the defense of Western civilization.rnTaking a well-desened break fromrnthe battle, on vacation in Colorado, theyrnhad offered to treat me to dinner in Salidarn—the last civilized meal I expected tornenjoy before plunging into the dark heartrnof the San Juan Mountains. The TudorrnRose in appearance is as unlikely as itsrnname: a stucco-and-timber structurernstanding on a desert hill among bristleconernpines. The Checks had the ElizabethanrnSuite downstairs, with slidingrndoors opening on a patio where we satrndrinking The Dalmore Paul producedrnand congratulating ourselves on havingrnbeen born into interesting times. Whenrnself-congratulahon showed signs of endingrnin depression and the single-malt wasrnsignificantly diminished in the botde, werndrove back to Highway 285 and the CafernAntero, which Paul had discovered onrnthe Web before leaving Dallas-EortrnWorth. Barely off the shoulder of thernroad. Cafe Antero is a roadside diner withrnworld-class cuisine. We started with arntrout pastry and went on to the mixedgamerngrille and a bottle of red wine; thernconversation had largely to do with AndrearnMarcovieci, whom the Checks hadrnheard at Bass Hall in Dallas last winterrnperforming her “Love Songs of WorldrnWar Two” show. We finished thernevening with midnight cigars and cognacrnat the Tudor Rose—and then I was backrnat the Budget Motel, viewing my assembledrncamp gear spread around the tinyrnroom through a pleasant haze of nicotinernand alcohol fumes. Time to return to realityrnin the pursuit of the allegedly (indeed,rnquite possibly) unreal.rnAcross Poncha Pass, flat as a rule as farrnsouth as Alamosa, the San Luis valley is arngreen irrigated plain dominated by therntowering blue bulk of Sierre Blanca,rnovershadowed this morning by isolatedrncumulus clouds and lapped at its base byrnmassive sand dunes. At Alamosa, 285rncrosses the Rio Grande swinging downrnfrom the northwest and continues on 28rnmiles to Antonito —the launching padrnfor the Third Annual Sasquatch RecoveryrnExpedition and Presidendal Search,rnoff to a regrettably late start this politicalrnseason. From here on, the cultural feel isrndefinitely Spanish: adobe churches withrnstatues of the Virgin surrounded byrnflowerbeds out front; dark-skinned ranchersrnwith flowing black mustaches andrnwhite straw hats behind the wheel of passingrnpickup trucks. At a few minutes pastrnnoon, I parked in front of Dos Hermanasrnon the main drag and went into thernrestaurant where a dark, pretty girl whorndidn’t look old enough to be servingrndrinks was on the floor, waiting for customersrnto serve lunch to. Happv to be inrnthe Southwest again, I ordered menudorn(soup made with posole, small chunks ofrnpork, and beef tripe), and drank a bottlernof beer with the chips and salsa while Irnwaited for the order to come up. Antonitorndoesn’t change much from year tornyear: The mural across the street showingrnthe antique steam engine pulling touristsrnthrough the mountains to Chama, NewrnMexico, hadn’t been painted over afterrnthree or four seasons, and the skinny,rnbent, whitebearded viejo passing outsidernthe plate-glass window definiteh’ lookedrnfamiliar. The menudo was excellent;rnwhen I mentioned to the waitress it wasrnthe best I could remember eating, shernlooked confused, seeming not to knowrnwhat to make of the compliment. Ratherrnthan lick the bowl I ordered anotherrnbeer, and was halfway through it whenrnDick McCuistion appeared in the door,rnwearing a white polo shirt and camouflagernMarine cap. Having moved fromrnDenver to Sheridan, Wyoming, twornmonths before, instead of an easy fivehourrndrive he’d had a 685-mile trek last-rnNOVEMBER 2000/49rnrnrn