If mountains are said to loom, to appear suddenly in portentous size, no range quite so captures the sudden part as Fra Cristobal, a 17-by-7-mile massif erupting from southern New Mexico’s desert scrub and lava fields some 150 miles south of Albuquerque. Deserted but for herds of springing pronghorn and dust-bathing bison, they attest to eons past in marine-fossiled canyon walls and unearthed sauropod bones. Hiking to the top is a matter of instinct, for there are no trails other than the occasional gameway. At the summit, a rattlesnake testily guards foreign splashes of color afforded by wildflowers fertilized by the scat of endemic creatures representing the full mammalian food chain from predatory mountain lion down to forsaken ground mouse. Conquistadors trekking from Mexico City to the territorial capital of Santa Fe on the Camino Real mapped this 100-mile stretch of desert the Jornada del Muerto, or Dead Man’s Journey, as they shed chain mail in their stagger north, etching the baked earth in a weary line still visible 400 years hence.
That the present so closely resembles the past is partly eco-systemic—neither man nor beast ever stood much chance of fully taming the Jornada del Muerto—and partly the efforts of the media mogul Ted Turner, who has spent much of the last 30 years puzzling back together the broken pieces of this western landscape until it more closely resembled a pre-European-contact picture. Now, after a relatively mum decade, the man who invented cable news is back to the bullhorn, evangelizing via a fledgling ecotourism business known as Ted Turner Expeditions (TTX).