The stereotypes I grew up with and held during my early adult life, were that bad guys always wore black hats, dark shirts, with unshaven jaws that looked scratchier than rough sandpaper. The women who hung out with these gangsters were known as gun molls, and most of them were downright pretty. In sharp contrast the good guys wore white hats, bola ties and were clean shaven in an All American style, while their women were silly and frilly, but not necessarily pretty. Too many Saturday matinee features were probably the influence.

My first visit to the Rio GrandeValley back in the 1950’s was a real surprise. I found myself in a cultural milieu for which I was unprepared. Black shirts! Mustaches! Scruffy beard stubble! And tattoos-the kind I used to see in pool halls and other places of low self esteem. Was I in the land of the bad guys?

And the women-all beautiful with long black hair, soft brown eyes that invited forbidden delights, but that I dared touch not. Then I remembered-“gun molls!”

For the longest time I would not venture outside by myself, especially after dark. When I did. it was always with at least one companion, preferably with a gang.

And wouldn’t you know it, one day I married a “gun moll” and my perception changed. I soon found myself immersed in the Valley’s culture, learned it’s history and had a fun time meeting the “mustaches” and “scruffy beards” who were quick to share with me their favorite fishing holes, or who jumped at the opportunity to guide me around what was still Old Mexico. The tattoos were mostly a throwback to an ancient Native American cultural practice. I even learned some flea market Spanish, which always provided a good natured laugh when my faulty grammar was politely corrected.

Nowadays, I see a plethora of mobile home and trailer parks, which cater the Valley’s Winter Visitors. Behind the high fences and locked gates, these rather clannish groups arrange their own potluck suppers, square dances and other self contained amusements. About the only time a resident leaves the park is to shop, go to church, dine out or visit Old Mexico-usually as a group activity.

I wonder if this exclusive behavior is due to the same “bad guys” stereotype that I labored under so long. Or maybe they’re here for such while, why get involved before returning home?

My answer is, if one plans to return to the Valley each year, it makes sense to get involved and come out from behind that gate. Where else can one find such a rich experience blend with both cultures? Eventually the Valley will seem more like home than someplace up North, as evidenced by the number of Winter Visitors who ultimately retire here.

From my own experience, I can truthfully say, the “bad guys” aren’t so bad after all. And when a day goes by that I don’t fall in love with a beautiful “gun moll,” it’s probably because I’m dead.

Author: Don Clifford

Don Clifford is an armchair historian and archaeologist who has traveled through many of the countries that provide locales for the story’s main character, Abel ben Solomon. He is also, a retired USAF officer who trained as a navigator. While researching ancient navigation techniques, which are featured in the story, he learned the old ways are still practical with an added boost from Crichton E.M. Miller’s book, “The Golden Thread of Time.”

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