Turkeyfoot Pipeworks

No rain fly is a whole new experience camping. Well, okay, maybe not a whole new experience, yet with a nice airy breeze and a full view of the stars, it was actually hard to fall asleep. On top of falling asleep late (past two am) I also woke up early, just a bit before six thirty. I relaxed in the tent for just a moment before donning my clothes and walking up the long road to the restrooms.

I did enjoy the morning, while it was still cool. Yet I could feel the temps starting to rise shortly after nine. Knowing that I wanted to move along today, I thought that knowing where I was going might be a good first step. Not having a specific destination both makes travel easier and harder.  Somewhere I can sleep, eat, and walk.  Just not here, I had enough of here.

Thinking of what I wanted to be better at the next site, my mind jumped to my pipe. My broken burl wood tobacco pipe that had broken the other morning after years of use.  Nothing special about it, a mass produced model by ‘Dr. Grabow”. Yet for a basic pipe it did what they do, let you smoke what on the inside of the pipe, without smoking the pipe. Until I broke it.

Yesterdays search of Alamogordo yielded three “Tobacco Shops” (air quote intended) that on the phone each said they sold tobacco pipes. Even when I clarified, no bongs or plastic, real tobacco pipes. Yep, they had them on the shelf they said. Nope, they didn’t. The last shop had three maple and cherry wood pipes, garbage.  I politely said as much, and the associate shrugged his shoulders. The manager/owner walked over quickly to defend his products.  Those ARE real tobacco pipes he insisted, not a high end product, yet made as a daily tobacco pipe.

Explaining he was the last in town with anything even close, I told him I would buy the pipe, yet it still wasn’t even close to a real tobacco pipe.  He took my money and I departed. Before I got all the way to my car I put it in my mouth and tried to dry hit it. Wouldn’t puff.  I looked down inside the bowl and saw a wad of glue. I stuck my pinky in to clear it and it pushed the glue, and the whole pipe shank and stem fell out of the hole in the side of the bowl.  I looked at the now ‘broken’/disassembled shank and saw it was completely plugged with glue.

I turned around and walked back. The manager had followed me out and was smoking a cigarette.  What is your return policy on your pipes? I asked him with a touch of playful WTF in my voice. Closing the gap I handed him the pieces of his product. With the briefest inspection he quickly offered an exchange as we walked inside. He had two more similar pipes I had not chosen.

The next one we tried wasn’t drilled.  The stem had no hole in da wood.  Now, he was selling a five dollar pipe. Yet, there is a basic expectation of a pipe.  It needs a hole (or two? how many holes are in a straw people? or a coffee cup?) in order to function and without that it’s just another genus zero. He looked at me funny. I restated, the pipe can’t work. He handed me the third, realizing he wasn’t sure he know how pipes worked. The last pipe had a crack in the shank on the stem side and had a curved stem (an option I do not prefer,) yet it worked.

It was polite and friendly and I pointed out some products names he might want to get on the shelf. I’m sure as a retailer he can get a case or two of Dr. Grabow pipes or another decent brand or two to put on his shelves and makes his markup.  Maybe even offer some quality blended tobacco’s as well. Anyhow, he mentioned he may I left with a working pipe.

Today, I wanted a real pipe before this one broke too. Not if, when. Looking at the cracked shanked, I wrapped it in a strip of duct tape just to on the safe side while I packed today.  Well, I got to packing. First, I need to know where to go, with a bit of google, I found a smoke shop   and made another phone call. First I asked if he sold tobacco pipes, he said yes. I asked, real briar burl wood tobacco pipes? “Well, ninety five percent of tobacco pipes are made of burl wood, I don’t know what else you’d be looking for.” He answered. I started to have good feeling.

A bit more chatter on the phone and I had met Jimmy Ray. He told me the price ranges and said he had one straight pipe on the wall in the range I was looking for. I told him I wasn’t sure if I would get there today, yet if not certainly tomorrow. Hanging up, glad I had found a source for a new pipe, I planned my route.  On my way out of New Mexico, I want to see dark skies. You know, the really dark dark skies out in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico. A bit of Google and I found a volcano. With a walking path to the brim. Just six hours north of Turkeyfoot Pipeworks (what a name.) Planning stop half way, I found another State Park near Santa Rosa.

Oh the day was starting to slip away a bit. It was nearly eleven before I really got moving. I had need to get one or two things out of the canvas cargo bag and into the trunk for something else, so I had to repack back there. Yet, I also found a more streamlined way to pack the load (and now also included the four six foot four inch DIY tent poles.) It really made a difference going down the road, as if it wasn’t carrying and extra five hundred pounds of cargo past the rear axle.

A break here and there of course, yet I was in no rush. At some point the camp host came by and I let him know I would be leaving. Good thing I suppose, he said he had a Boy Scout troop coming in to rent the whole primitive area, and he was going to move to a lot inside the park- and restart my fourteen days too. Yet if I was packing my tent, I was leaving. (I’ve had enough.) By three pm I had the rear done and the inside of the cab cleaned out (that part was easy as it’s hard not to keep it neat in here if I want to find anything.) One last break to evaluate the remaining task: the sleeping quarters.

That’s all that remained, to pack the tent and bed stuffs, load into cab, and leave. So I timed it. Forty minutes. I can get quicker than that I think. It’s the folding and rolling, pillow, blanket, pads, mummy bag.. I should find a quicker way to roll it all up into one bundle.. (hmm…) Anyway the timing was perfect, I went through Alamogordo one last time to fill up the gas tank, and was on my way (time lapse tomorrow.)

Driving through the Indian reservation was anticlimactic, though I noticed the casinos, and will likely stop tomorrow for some black jack. Arriving at his shop, I walked in to meet in person the by hand creator of the pipes he sells in his retirement- a pipe and tobacco shop nestled in the mountains of Ruidoso, New Mexico, just north of the Mescalero Reservation (and its casinos.) On the outside of his store there are several signs. One welcomes you and your gun, while asking you to keep it holstered unless needed. Another states that he doesn’t sell cannabis, only tobacco.

Forty years smoking a pipe, he is the first pipe smoker I’ve actually met in the just over a decade that I’ve been smoking a pipe. And, as I’ve said, he not just a pipe smoker, yet a blender of his whole line of custom tobacco’s (the cherry that I’m smoking right now is partially flavored with red wine soaked burl wood cubes,) the owner of the last traditional tobacco shop on this side of New Mexico, and the personal hand crafter of his own dual lines of burl wood pipes. A basic line for seventyish dollars and the nice ones. Those starts at about one sixty and go up from there.

Each piece is a unique artwork. The upper end pipes were breathtaking. Only having the time to make about one hundred and twenty per year, each one is numbered. Pipes number twelve thirty three and twelve thirty four were just listed on his Facebook page. I was able to listen and absorb so much, from the wood grade and selection process for the two separate lines. The premade acrylic stems on the basic line versus the handmade and sometimes exotic materials (bone, hoof, stone) in the stems of his high end pipes- and the justification for the doubling in price- he has to spend double the time hand crafting both parts of the pipe.

His bowls and shanks are all one piece as they should be, with the breathing hole perfectly at the bottom of the deep bowl. This is a pipe you can pack in the morning and keep smoking all day. Light it for a puff or two here and there, mostly just holding in my jaw while it smolders out without me even noticing. The mass produced pipe I had before lasted this long and Billy Ray gave me some tips on how to make this one last even longer by far. (And he introduced me to rubber tips! Little rubber bumpers for the tip of your pipe- perfect for a person like me that clench their teeth on the stem.)

Even the basic pipes he said will last a hundred years or more if used correctly, kept clean and are stored properly. One issue I have is over use. Billy told me that pipes are often sold in seven day sets, so that each pipe can be allowed to dry for a week before being used again. Else, the wood eventually begins to absorb and hold the moisture from the rich (and oh so smooth) pipe tobacco and builds tension inside of the wood.  Until… it’s liable to snap and break with a bit of pressure (like a drop onto concrete.) Hmm.. seems this is a new aspect for me to consider.  Smoking too much isn’t good for my pipe.

After nearly an hour, we parted ways with a photograph- and by all means consider this post a five star review for Billy Ray and Turkeyfoot Pipeworks. (He does sell on Facebook and is happy to ship his products where ever you may be.)

Sitting in my car afterward I opened my On-X Trails App to find some public land to bed down for the night. I spotted a trailhead that sounded just right. And it was. It is. It is perfect here. Oh, if the temps weather holds (I am at seven thousand and twenty seven feet, per my radio’s GPS) I may well stay here a few days to explore their trails. Yes, trails – paths. With dirt. And level. And trees. TREES!! And grass, and a creek. Cedar Creek.

With a day of loading and packing, plus how I’d felt the last few days, I wasn’t expecting much today. Yet once I got to this spot and parked, listening to the burbling creek just twenty feet from my car, I was so relaxed. Of course a nice delicious smoke out of my new bowl certainly helped. And if that didn’t, a nice little bowl of pot certainly didn’t hurt either. Packed my tp/wipes/shovel/water/radio/camera into my backpack and set of to explore the creek.

I had actually missed the park I was aiming for and the trail I had seen on the App and had pulled off at the next roadside wide spot, just at the edge of the public land before some private homes. Just past my car, a couple sat with their dog on the other side of the creek. It’s not a large creek, and rocks and boulders make it look passable almost anywhere (for anyone but me.) Some quick chatter and I asked about crossings. They suggested I head just a bit further down to pair of two by twelve boards forming a makeshift bridge.

Without my trek poles, I would not have crossed. To walk four feet within a twenty two inch width, at risk of water. Nope, not without something to hold onto. With the poles, slow and carefully, I crossed and made it onto the trails. There is a whole network of them here, at least three or four that I saw the signs to as I walked. I ending up finding the loop I had found on the App: The Beginners loop T one twenty C. The loop took me all the way south to before the campground I had been looking for, then I had to walk back up through that campground, to the road, then up ahead to my road sign parking spot for the night (on the way far side from the dumpster, thank you very much.)

These trails seem just right. Like, literally a goldilocks zone of what I was looking for (almost..) I’m looking forward to the morning. Other than, well.. my only number two bathroom option is to walk back into the woods with my shovel, or to wake and drive back into town (town, now being Ruidoso at the moment.) So.. ahh, crossing my fingers for a good morning, however it works out.

Okay, that’s enough, good day. More than I might should have spent on this pipe, yet so very glad to now have the perfect pipe for as long as I can keep my hands from dropping this one.

Time to rest.