These are long days. These are long days. These are long days.
We let go of our idea of how life was supposed to be as our best layed plans fell apart. Faced with the long dark northern winter during a pandemic, not working and living in our isolated house, Kurt (my husband) and I, decided to return to the road.
The plan: Head due west into the setting sun into uncharted territory before heading to the Arizona desert.
The reality: We drove directly into the first major storm system of the year.
On an inauspicious frosty October morning we departed from our home peninsula set snuggly among the Great Lakes and headed west. At first the day was bright and full of hope. It ended with us colliding with a snow storm somewhere in Minnesota. That is where, after spending a night in a glorified parking lot, we decided to travel directly and quickly south.
South through Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas.
Here was our dilemma: The plains states were being hit with the winter storm front. It was sweeping down across Colorado, Oklahoma and parts of Northwest Texas. The southwest states were still getting triple digit heat. The fires were still burning in the west. And the Gulf of Mexico was being hammered by a historical hurricane season.
So… Texas Tour 2.0
Initially Texas was just going to be a place to stall for time while the weather cleared. Then Texas became ground zero for kitty search 2020. I think I’ll save that story for another day. However: cause and effect.
The one place in Texas I wanted to see was Caddo Lake. It was a challenge to get a reservation in the campground so I settled for just one night. We skipped around a few different Texas State Campgrounds before and after that.
We languished for weeks on the Gulf Coast and I’m not sorry for the experience. We discovered there were places along the Texas Gulf Coast where camping was free right on the beach. (watch those tides though). Imagine falling asleep to the rhythms of ocean waves, windows open, camper door open all night to humid breezes. Waking to red sunrises and going to bed after the sun bleeds into the night. Everything is covered in a layer of salt. Your hair, your skin, your bed, the floor… Great Blue Herons fishing in the waves next to you… Days filled with the zen of watching the tides erase your footprints.
After Texas we had to plan how to get to Arizona. We needed to trek across Texas, driving through El Paso (one of the Covid hot spots), and across southern New Mexico. Camping to out-of-state residents in New Mexico was discouraged in state parks. The Covid numbers were causing tighter restrictions and shut downs. Traveling in late 2020 required more planning. What is open, what is closed and what requires reservations in advance. Each state may be tighter or more relaxed on masking which might reflect on the data for infection rates. Who wants to risk getting seriously ill hundreds or thousands of miles away from home… and out of network. We avoided high Covid areas and areas that weren’t taking masking precautions.
Arizona. Reliably sunny. Warm days, cold desert nights filled with wide open starry skies and the singing of coyotes. Night after night of perfect sunsets. The days running together. This year we miss the restaurants and the arts. The excitement of new roads. This slow year. I squat in the desert making art. Mostly waiting for clouds. When the clouds come I’ll get to photograph something new.
I was approached on the beach by a middle age woman with the gift of gab and some painful ideas. She regurgitated ideas from memes like the virus would disappear one day and come back in ten years. I tried to keep my space and assist her in reality. My husband had his own conversation with a teacher where he learned that the local population holds beliefs about this being a part of God’s plan and the end times. There being excitement in the religious population to embrace current events and little desire to change habits.
Tuesday, March 17, 2020: Clear Lake State Park, California
The first night. We changed direction and pace to make our way home, traveling by mostly interstate instead of scenic backroads. We had to drive south to go east because a winter storm was sweeping through the Rocky Mountains, Plains and Midwest. We found this state park about an hour from where we stopped for supplies. Restaurants were starting to move to take out only by force in some places and by choice in others. It was dark and late when my phone, blue-toothed into the radio, blasted out the warning declaring a shelter-in-place order for Sonoma County. Then mid-morning a park employee accompanied by California Park Police came through to inform us they were closing the State Parks and to give us advice about where to try to stay.
Wednesday, March 18, 2020: Rabbit Island, California
Rabbit Island, a familiar camping spot for us in a National Forest, we stopped at before going to the Sequoia National Forest. Again we rolled in well after dark. And in the morning there were no cows to greet us. The news? Pennsylvania was shutting down rest stops. Someone else traveling from Florida to Michigan reported on Facebook finding hotels closing up behind and ahead of them. The Canadian/American border is closed to unnecessary travel.
Thursday, March 19, 2020: Mojave Desert Preserve, California
We stopped before dark. Finding resting spots on wild lands is too challenging after dark. Part of me was happy to see the desert again, but it wasn’t supposed to be this way. A spring rain storm swept through. In the morning President Trump announces closing the southern border and sending asylum seekers back to their countries. I weep for the cruelty.
Friday, March 20, 2020: Thirty Minutes Outside Kingman, Arizona
Supplies. We’ve carried minimum supplies. After the troubles in Death Valley I started stocking up on dry foods (that was traumatic, food deserts are real), but we still kept minimal dog food and paper supplies because of the minimal space. Now we cannot find toilet paper (three states later). Getting dog food and meds filled just over the Arizona border. Getting pet food. Errands take time, checking for toilet paper and some groceries while we wait for the scripts to fill.
Illinois under stay-at-home order beginning tomorrow at 5:00pm.
Made it about thirty minutes south of Kingman, Arizona. We originally planned to cross Arizona at Flagstaff, but that city was getting cold and snow so we are going the more southern route and swinging past Phoenix. Between Phoenix and Flagstaff are mountains and twisty roads we don’t want to get tangled in right now. I’ll get to say hello to the Saguaros for a brief moment.
Saturday, March 21, 2020: Navajo National Monument
Home is probably still snowed in. Can’t stay here. Can’t get there. One day at a time. Uncertainty rocks the world. Humanity is in crisis. May we walk through this fire and come out better for it. Here, now, communities rally together finding creative ways to support each other, while our governments make cruel decisions and we let them.
We traveled. Stopped in a small town for a couple staples, tried again for toilet paper: nope. Wanted to take a break from the road and reality by stopping at the Grand Canyon. There were more people than we anticipated and a young woman up on her soap box. She stood on a rock, all attitude in her cocked hip, yelling into her phone about the people not keeping six feet apart and everyone was going to die infecting her small village. Too much. When I realized she was filming, that’s when the panic attack set in. To be clear I was able to be there without being in anyone’s space. And it took some cognitive processing to manage it.
We headed SE on 64 (Desert View Dr.) into the Navajo Nation lands. All their roadside stands were vacant and scenic points closed.
We found a place to camp for the night just before sunset in the beautiful Navajo National Monument.
Sunday, March 22, 2020: Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
The night before we discussed staying a day or two to catch our breath, but in the morning (late morning) we both felt ready to go on. No sooner had I stepped out of the camper, then a park officer rolled up in his truck, decked out with a regular surgical mask, to inform me the park was closed and we had to leave. Not that it was closing, closed, note: there was no one to pay for the site last last night and the park was half full.
I’ve tempered my desires to stop for photographs in exchange for eating more pavement. This was harder driving through the harsh and beautiful Navajo lands of Arizona and New Mexico. Passing on Monument Valley and Shiprock. Along with local flavor like homemade signs; “I Eat Pilgrims” and “Tourist Go Home.” Also passed up (I believe) a Native mural depicting a face with respirator “Beware Covid-19.”
We thought we had found National Forest land to camp on twenty minutes outside of Taos, New Mexico. Found it gated and the road snowed in. I was tortured with the drive through Taos to get there. Knowing no matter how much I wanted to see the town, circumstances were out of my control.
New Mexico’s decision to close state parks became, clearly, more of a challenge than anticipated as the sun set. I made my husband pull over (despite his insistence the signs demanded a pass to park) to eat and stretch before we did this stretch of road in the dark (and hopefully find an easy place to stop for sleep off of I-25 or before. A rest stop, Cracker Barrel or Walmart would do.
Or… a wildlife refuge.
Monday, March 23, 2020: Stapleton, Nebraska
Morning came on slow and mild. The morning plan: north to Nebraska via Kansas to avoid the storm systems. Ever North and East.
Michigan, our destination: Stay Home, Stay Safe Order; in effect at midnight.
Rolled through the Kansas plains while the news cascaded on by the minute. What inevitable choices would our leaders make? I worry for us more now than I did after 9/11. As much as I’d dreamed of seeing this country and then maybe the world, now I want to curl up in the forgotten forests of the southern shores of Lake Superior. Where our winters are harsh, but the people are strong. Where the world can forget to send it’s problems and we can carry on.
Tuesday, March 24, 2020: Blue Mounds State Park, Minnesota
Home was closer, but still too far away. Woke up to a cloud of starlings filling the air and spring fields with sound. Word came that the road to our home was narrowly plowed with tall crusty snow banks. Two hard days of travel or linger and hope for a melt? Linger and what new developments would occur in the country? Linger and be subjected to unknown tides. Or go on?
Thank you Nebraska gas station, finally scavenged a roll of toilet paper. Situation critical. By this measure, Tuesday was a good day. By others, I don’t know. On this day the United States President switched his rhetoric from being a war time president to seeing churches packed for Easter and reopening the economy while we crossed the American heartland.
Drove by a rural bar in South Dakota with a full parking lot. What will history sound like?
We had made reservations for a campground in Minnesota. I was stoked upon arrival to check out the showers. I practically skipped over to the building, to find each door locked.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020: Blue Mounds State Park, Minnesota
A great long deep breath and stood still while the world turned.
Hoped to shower. Dashed.
Hoped to do laundry. Failed to rally the effort and energy.
My husband went to procure supplies from the nearby town while I could barely keep my eyes open. The other camper left. We saw many campers and RV’s on the road this week, more than we had seen moving before.
News: Wisconsin: “Safer at Home” went into effect for 30 days. Waiting for news on the governments passing the relief bill. India locked down.
Thursday, March 26, 2020: Home, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
We left the campground before sunrise. Drove through fog and drizzle, I reflected on the desert. A place still relatively wild and free because of its harsh climate, like home.
News: Minnesota “Stay at Home Order” ordered and in effect Friday, March 27. We passed a huddle of smokers outside a pretzel factory and saw people sitting down to eat at a gas station diner. News about New York grows worse daily. New Orleans. Georgia. Washington state. Florida. San Francisco.
Home. I know these roads and trees. For hours now I’ve known these roads. We are going to pass near where we bought the camper soon. (It is coming apart again). The snow banks are still high. The trees are small and grow densely together. Boreal Forest. 35 degrees. No cactus. No Border Patrol. No surreal landscapes. No starfish. No whale plumes. To reach a big metropolitan area one has to drive at least six hours. To reach a major city, eight to nine hours.
News: the United States has surpassed Italy and China in Covid-19 cases.
Update: after crawling across the snow bank with a cat in my arm and sliding down into the dark recesses of my cold dark home, I waited while my husband hit the switches on the circuit breaker. Heat and hot water would be mine soon. My cat wandered the dark rooms calling. Light! Glorious light. Which dimmed… and flicked and died away. We are back in the camper for the night. Dreams of long hot showers without pressing buttons every thirty seconds will have to wait on the power company.
A driveway stay for a little over a week. Long enough to completely scatter our things across the camper. A breath of stability and exploration of the coast.
There were challenges finding the correct location of the tide pools. Challenges, I say.
Attempt no. 1 brought us to this beautiful bay we could park right next to and waltz up to the shoreline. We arrived just before sunset at low tide.
Attempt no. 2 “I think it’s this way.” We parked and had a few choices on trails to take through the low shoreline scrub brush leading into the cascading dunes. I followed, blindly, my husband up and down the coastal dunes (sand mountains?) to a dead end with rubber legs. And back up I slogged through the sand. We tried another trail. Up and down the dunes to the tide pools.
Attempt no. 3, with new directions, we tried again following a reasonable trail down through the shore vegetation to the tide pools.
I can’t forget visiting Morro Bay and Otters…
Elephant Seal Rookery, San Simeon
Near Hearst Castle the Elephant Seals gather for the breeding season. Thousands. Hundreds were on the beach and so many more were in the water. Mostly they lay on the sand barely moving, flipping sand across their backs on occasion. We followed the sounds down the beach to where an older male was chasing away an interloper and the yearlings and pups were playing.
After leaving the main beach we stopped at another roadside pullout. My husband thought it was a regular beach (signage was in not apparent) and just before reaching the beach I stopped him from coming face to face with a young male elephant seal.
Los Padres National Forest
Big Sur. We stayed on the south side for two nights and it rained in California. For a brief moment the sun shined and we took a walk to the ocean cliffs. Where I was quickly about the abundance of poison oak in the state of California. I made it out of California unscathed.
We left the campground in Los Padres National Forest and followed 1 up the coast to Monterey. We camped at Laguna Seca with it’s epic green views and racetrack. Racetrack. Yes we camped to the sounds of race cars zooming all day.
250 years old with a literary and canning past, Monterey sits by the ocean with its gem the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I’ve never been to one so I have no comparison. All I can say is it was spectacular and inspiring. When we arrived the octopus was active and moving around it’s tank. Swelling and swirling his arms. In addition to the real Octopi there was another beautiful multimedia exhibit dedicated to how octopi and squid were historically depicted. There were schools of fish swimming in current tanks, jellyfish dancing. rescued shore birds, touch tanks, sharks, a green sea turtle, and art exhibited by artists dedicated to bringing awareness to the problem of plastics in the ocean.
Unfortunately for me I was the recipient of an ignorant and hostile public policing effort at the Octopus tank. A young mother, with a brood of homeschool kids, took it upon herself to attack me for my camera’s meter light because the sign said no flash. Then there was a mob reaction. Another woman chimed in with: “haven’t you taken enough photographs, you can stop so the rest of us can enjoy the exhibit.”
I was so frustrated and angry. Not one of those women felt the need to say a single word to my husband who was also photographing. And a guy next to me flashed the octopus with his iPhone, but he just “made a mistake.”
It took a male staff member to step in and set the mob straight. And as an artist I’ve been singled out more than once in my life for not following the rules as other people, and often, women see them. And more than once I’ve had to stand my ground, hold my breath and carry on knowing that I’m on a different path they don’t understand, I’M NOT WRONG I AM AN ARTIST.
We made a stop an hour outside of San Francisco so I could attempt to make contact with someone in the city. We crossed over the Golden Gate for fun (not fun) and later the Bay Bridge for me to search a six story public library with no luck on finding this person. My heart breaks for this country of haves and have nots. I wish others understood, or tried, a little, to understand how fragile mental and financial stability are.
Northern California & Touching Oregon
Its sort of a blur now. I’m writing this and it is still recent history. That wasn’t even days ago I was in San Francisco and now its under a Shelter in Place order. The thing about the old truck was we didn’t have a radio. We couldn’t listen to any news in the truck and we were often places with poor service. History is now catching up so fast now that we have the news available in the new truck. When we were driving up the California Coast to Oregon the Covid-19 troubles seemed distant. By the time we landed in Brookings, Oregon it was obvious that we needed to head home. Now California is shutting down state parks. New Mexico already shut them down.
With great sadness, my feet kissed the Pacific Northwest and turned tail. We are heading south to head east because it is still winter in the Rocky Mountains. It is time to go home. The world is out of our control and it’s time to go home to the roads we know.
The rest of this tale will hopefully be of the long road home.
We left Arizona ready for a short drive. We didn’t have that long of a drive to get where we were going. Then I had an inspiration. Hoover Dam was only an hour away? Why not? What could go wrong.
First off. Hoover Dam was more than an hour out of our way.
Second. We needed to stop to eat before we saw the main event. Then pick up something from the store. Then stop to check out something. Then, well, nature called.
Then we had to have our truck and camper searched while the dogs went mad. Ok. That wasn’t so bad? The Hoover Dam was a lot. More than I expected. I also had no idea what a people magnet it was.
While stopped at the turn around point (because you aren’t allowed to go into Arizona) for the Dam, I saw it. A critical repair on the camper didn’t hold.
Now we were trying to find a place to camp for the night. And my husband vetoed the campgrounds for camping on BLM land instead. We drove along Lake Mead thinking we had it all figured out.
Then dark descended on us like a curse. We didn’t find anywhere. We drove through the desert night sure the next rise would yield a little BLM camping gold nugget. It did not. The last rise gave way to the vast lit spread of Sin City herself (huge and sprawling), and there was no where for us to go but through it (turning a 30 ft camper around is a challenge). After the subtleness of Arizona the lights of Las Vegas hit like a planetary object. Also, you can smoke and gamble in gas stations. Pro-tip pay outside so you don’t come out smelling like an ashtray from that 60 seconds.
It took some convincing… but I got my human to agree to drive over that line. I don’t believe he regrets it yet. (Also since when did google maps welcome users to a new state? I’m sure California is the only state that it has done that with).
There’s both more here and less here than I expected. There are little pockets of civilization to get gas, food (food is a relative term) and camp. Great stretches of empty desert. But, where is the grocery store? We went to the nearest town and nope nothing there. Why did we drive there? Because the wind storm knocked out the power and internet and we couldn’t get fuel within Death Valley. Might as well get some supplies too… nope.
Yes the wind storm. Days of wind. Though the first night it hit, it came on like an angry bull. We watched the dust storm gather at the base of the mountains. In the night the gusts reached as high as 70 mph. It has been a few days and it is still windy. There is a fine coating of dust on everything including the cat.
Despite that this place is magical. In every direction a new texture, a new color, a vista, a canyon… We explored the roads leading to the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns, the Artist’s Palette, the Devil’s Golf Course and then the Racetrack Playa. After the Racetrack everything changed.
It was 60 miles to the washboard gravel backroad that takes you to the Racetrack Playa, then it is another 26 miles of rough riding up, yes up to the valley it resides. Plus the extra miles when we attempted to take a different route out and found that no we do not have a 4×4 with high clearance. It was dark by the time we reached the blacktop.
Then the check engine light came on with 60 miles to go back to camp.
The doldrums. We were marooned in Death Valley with low supplies and waiting on an alternator to be shipped. I focused on art. I scanned my polaroid collection. Started editing them. Worked on my 100 day project. We tried to keep shopping at the store to a minimum because of the premium prices. Then we ran out of dog food. The store had a cute little bag. We ran out again. Crossed our fingers that the store restocked, and it did.
When the alternator arrived, it did not work. Nothing worked. (More about the truck situation here)
Death Valley to Pahrump to Lake Mead to Las Vegas to Lake Mead to Valley of Fire to Death Valley
Here in my tale we start driving in circles. We sever ties with the old truck and finally make the commitment to a new one. With a lot of mixed feelings. I write from Death Valley where the troubles began, sitting in a new-to-us truck, and I’d be hard pressed to unravel our journey between leaving and returning with the exception of a few notable experiences.
We drove through North Vegas, which I was told, was the “hood.” Twice we did that. The first time was the night we drove through when we were looking for a place to stay for the night before we ever reached Death Valley. Then we drove through during the day. The same road from the desert that opens up to the city. I the daylight it is littered with trash. (Other routes into Vegas are not). I saw a man laying in a parking lot at ten am. his shirt was pulled up over his torso. His torso twisted in one direction and his legs in the other. I could not say for sure if he was alive or not. There was a woman with bright blue afro styled hair wearing a surgical mask hitting a small man approaching her on the sidewalk. Near an intersection an older man in a wheelchair with no legs was nearly in the road, slumped over, sleeping, I hope. Later in another area of the city I saw a tall thin man holding his dirty blanket around his shoulders trying to get into the dumpster pen at a fast food joint. He gave up and slumped against the side of the building. His head hanging between his knees. I tried to go back when I could to get him something, but he was gone. Implored my husband, said look, he isn’t begging (referring to the professional beggars that are around) , I must. But I failed at that kindness, and it will be one of those moments I regret.
And then we were able to finally leave Las Vegas. We tried for the Valley of Fire to the north, but it was unbelievably crawling with people. We drove around a couple scenic roads before heading back to the campground in Death Valley for a night.
Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park
In the winter you can still see the world’s biggest tree. As long as you are prepared with winter tires, 4×4, chains and ok with the idea of being snowed in while they clear the critical roads. On February 20th it didn’t seem likely. The mountain looked like early spring. By the afternoon of the 21st though, everyone, including us, evacuated the campground for lower ground. Storm was coming. And we weren’t staying to experience it. Nope.
But I saw them and a few days before it didn’t seem likely I would. We tried to enter from the south, a direction that was closed for the winter and the locals weren’t giving up the correct information about how to go about seeing the giant trees. Google? Cell reception was hard to come by.
Once set on the right road we climbed into the rolling green back country. Followed a winding mountain road through early spring oak forests and cow pastures. Then we climbed up and up a winding mountain road. The trees changed from hardwood to pines and then we saw the first monumental sequoia just before the entrance gate.
The things I learned about these trees that are going to stick with me the most:
They have no taproot. You cannot walk up to and touch the biggest trees. Well, you shouldn’t, if you don’t want to love them to death. They are being protected from all the tourist traffic by foot paths and a little wood fence. Unfortunately, while breathing in the General Sherman Tree, I witness two different groups of people ignore the fence. A young man speaking French from one group and a few individuals from a group speaking a language that sounded Russian/Eastern European. Another individual with a middle eastern accent chastised the second group. Declaring they “educate themselves,” well said stranger and thank you for using your voice.
The air quality is horrible. For us, for them. They are under assault. I didn’t expect the smoky haze, the locals are aware, but it has not saturated into the public sphere. This air is trapped here. Saturated. From below you can barely make out that there are any mountains. From above the land disappears into the haze. My clothes smell smokey and there were no campfires. There were no active wildfires in the area. I’m searching for the explanation of why there was so much smoke in the air. I’m told it is just the bowl effect of the mountains and the prevailing winds trapping everything in.
Joshua Tree National Park
I almost forgot that we visited Joshua Tree! We were unable to secure a camping spot and camped on nearby BLM land then drove through the park on our way south. I since learned that Joshua Tree, like many natural wonders, is threatened by climate change. Experts believe the future holds a time when there will no Joshua Trees in the park.
Did I know there was an inland sea in Southern California? Maybe once I looked on a map and since long forgot it. We drove along the western shore admiring the deep blue sparkles against the distant blue haze mountains. So we stopped to check it out.
The beach sand was made of minuscule shell particles. The closer to the water the sharper and larger.
Then you are assaulted by the aroma of the Salton Sea. The posted warnings were to not eat the shell fish, but swimming was fine. My ocean drinking dogs weren’t interested in these waters. The Salton Sea is a beautiful manmade mistake (yes, man accidentally filled an ancient lake/sea bed). And if cared for she’d be the bell of the desert again.
Forty-five miles of sand dunes cresting in light and and shadow. Changing color with the light. Pure form. Hundreds if not thousands of people come every week to these BLM managed dunes to play in the sand with their toys, but I came for the light.
And I got to see part of the Sonoran Desert bloom in white, violet, pink and orange.
New Mexico merges with Texas’s plains on the east. As you enter from the Texas Panhandle the grasses grow sparser and so do the people. Whatever road we were on, once we left the border town there were miles of ranch fences, but no houses and no other signs of habitation other than a few steer munching on the scant vegetation. In the distance some mesas popped up and disappeared.
We were greeted by an abandoned church in Taiban, New Mexico. A local landmark well documented on instagram by photographers and travelers. Inside people left prayers and messages on the walls alongside graffiti.
Bottomless Lakes State Park & Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge
Outside of the alien mecca of Roswell, New Mexico the landscape rolls into wetlands. Wetlands? New Mexico is full of wonderful surprises hidden in the crevasses of the treeless vistas. We drove into the park along lake littered roads on one side and grassy cliffs on the other. During our stay we walked the wetland boardwalk at sunset. We admired the hundreds of birds on the scenic of drive at the Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Unknown to us we would have to kennel our dogs at the park and provide proof of rabbies. As consolation prize we drove the scenic one-way gravel road (and had it all to ourselves). Maybe not the main event, but still breathtakingly beautiful.
Cloudcroft, New Mexico
One of New Mexico’s great surprises for us. We drove to Artesia and cut across New Mexico west on 82 (pro tip: fuel up first). First the land was desert and then it rose into swelling hills with spare vegetation. As we climbed in elevation the hills grew sharper and the vegetation turned to scrubby bushes and then spare trees. Then suddenly we were in full on pine forested mountains in the middle of southern New Mexico with snow. Complete with snowplow warnings, elk warnings, a ski hill, and an old west style town named Cloudcroft with stunning mountain vistas as you left town on the west end.
In Cloudcroft we found a small gallery just off of the main street. In the gallery Off the Beaten Path I met Rafferty, a silver classic long haired tabby they rescued from the streets (not for petting only greetings). At the time they were working on finding homes for fifteen other street cats. Because of course, I found the artists in town with a passion for not just saving cats, but breaking the cycle by spaying and neutering the cats. Check out the gallery web site.
White Sands National Monument
From Cloudcroft you can see White Sands in the distance, and to the unbeknownst traveler you think you are seeing clouds. White Sands is a people catcher like the Bean of Chicago is. Everywhere people lined up on the dunes to watch the sunset against the mountain backdrop. Sets of photographers with tripods. Couples on dune tops. Lone figures sitting atop crests. The great beauty of White sands defies words and will haunt my memory for all time as the Painted Desert does. As we left the sun set slowly in a notably colorful display. Setting off against the grey purple mountains in reds, oranges, yellows, plums and peaches. Just when I thought the show was over we crested a mountain and found the colors even more overwhelming. They lingered in deep hues of crimson and plum before succumbing to the horizon while the moon rose gold and moody among the wisps of clouds to the east.
Truth or Consequences
With little expectations or plans we headed into the town of Truth or Consequences for supplies. Shortly after hitting downtown I could tell that this town had a different vibe to it. Everywhere adobe buildings in southwestern colors. Murals (60+). Vibrant details. And a thriving art scene. We were able to stop into a few galleries, sadly not all that T or C had to offer! And we were lucky enough to show up on their Second Saturday Art Hop. The galleries we saw had quality art works at a broad range of price points, friendly to all art admirers. One artist (Sun Gallery) was hand painting stickers for just a few dollars each and said she “wanted art to be accessible to everyone.”
Gila National Forest
Outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico we headed west across highway 152 into the Gila National Forest. The land crested from gentle desert hills to magnificent up-swelled rock formations. Sometime in the not too distant past a wildfire swept through this area. Distant enough for the mountaintop forest to be well into stages of healing. I was enchanted by the scrappy trees. Tenacious species of oak, juniper, and ponderosa pines hugging the steep rocky mountain roadsides.
Poncho Villa State Park, Columbus, New Mexico & and The Border
Within three miles of the border the Poncho Villa State Park sits alongside the highway. Historical ruins from the 1916 raid by Poncho Villa reside within the park and throughout the small town of Columbus.
The other story is of a town divided by politics. During George W. Bush’s presidency the border went up there and divided a community. That’s not from newspaper reports, that’s from casual conversations with local people. People who visit their American friends that live across the border for economic reasons. People who shop across the border in Mexico for their medical needs and groceries because it is all more affordable. Mexican children and children with American citizenship cross the border every school day for their education.
My husband and I crossed the Border by foot. The wait by car was much longer and we were told its just easier. First we were diverted into a building by a man pointing, across the way I could see a Mexican official with a nasty gun set against the backdrop of the border fence and reals of extra razor wire. The officials just asked if we were visiting the Pink Store. The local tourist trap “with everything.” Then we walked out the other side into Mexico. There were people walking about everywhere. A man selling hats out of his van. And the giant complex Pink Store with a mature Indian woman opening the door for us, later she’ll hold her hand out for a tip when we leave.
City of Rocks
Enormous. Vertical. Sculptural. Texture. Why would people create Stonehenge? This is why. The stones may be inanimate objects of nature brought to by time, volcanic action and erosion, but they still converse with the human spirit.
While there we climbed the neighboring Table Mountain. And this human felt mighty small under the open sky of New Mexico on top of a little mountain looking down at her little home on wheels dwarfed by rocks. It isn’t like the hikes back home where the trees obscure the journey and you just keep going until you get to the top. On this one you can see just what sort of madness your in for and all you can do is put one foot in front of the other while fighting for breath at the extra elevation you’re not accustomed to.