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The Jumping Devils of Glorieta Pass

Of the monotone speech of a U.S. National Park volunteer, in a green shirt that evoked boy scouts’, I only caught a few words. But he was probably in his seventies, and it was painful to see him struggling to prevail over the noise and the indifference of the passengers on the observation car. Yet for all his efforts, the clatter of the iron wheels against the iron rails drowned his feeble voice.

We were crossing the lunar topography of New Mexico. As the train rolled onto a smoother stretch, his discourse became more distinct. He was talking about the Battle of Glorieta Pass. In 1862, Union forces tried to check the western advance of the Confederates here. Therefore, some authors called this battle “the Gettysburg of the West.” It was an unusual cardinal point in the Civil War narrative. In a historiography dominated by the North-South divide, the West hardly had any place in the collective imagination.

What the windows of the observation car showed was a rugged land, run by cliffs and gorges. On one such arid mountain at Glorieta Pass, Confederate troops had burned a wooden bridge to curtail the offensive of Union cavalry forces. Yet the precipices had not deterred the Union soldiers, who came to be remembered by their rivals as “the Jumping Devils.”

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This is the eighteenth part of 
The Trans-American Railroad: New York to Los Angeles at the Speed of Iron, a travel diary. Please see the previous stories below:

The Trans-American Railroad: New York to Los Angeles at the Speed of Iron
The Trans-American Railroad (Part II)
Penn Station: The Journey Begins
Suburbia and the Ruins Outside Philadelphia
The Flies, the Blue Whale, and the Boatman on the Potomac
Descent into West Virginia
The Grain Express: How Tomorrow Moves
The Amish Travelers of the Old Order
The Color-Blind Passenger
To the Sides of the Railways
Away from Cincinnati, and the Sun
Chicago: Four Blocks Around Union Station
The Southwest Chief
The Crossing of the Mississippi
“Next Official Smoke Break: The Paris of the Prairies”
“On the Road”
Where Trains and Cars Come To Die