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Archive for the ‘New Mexico’ Category

East of the Pecos

The good thing about driving across Texas is that you have plenty of time to think. The roads are as straight as arrows, there is no traffic and there’s nothing to look at. You can steer with one knee, so basically you’re just sitting in a box all day while the scene shifters pack away Carlsbad, New Mexico, and replace it with Junction, Texas.

The other great thing about driving across Texas is… No, wait. Don’t tell me. I had something. It’s… Oh yes, the fact that you have plenty of time to think. Although maybe I already mentioned that.

360 degrees of nothing

360 degrees of nothing

I’m kidding – there were also some mesas with some really nice rock strata. I sat in a road cutting for a while and read the story from the rocks. I’ll precis it for you.

As far as I could make out, nothing much would happen for two or three thousand years, just the gradual accumulation of wind-blown dust. Then a small creek, which fed a warm inland sea to the East and had until that moment been writhing away invisibly to one side, would suddenly decide to snake across the area, cutting a channel and leaving small mudbanks on its edges. And then nothing would continue to happen for another millennium or two.

At one point there was great excitement, as a local earthquake tilted up the ground surface and caused subsequent seasons’ winds to wear it all down again at a slightly different angle. But then the sea moved in and life got a bit dull. If there were intelligent life-forms around at the time and a great, enlightened and long-lasting civilisation had grown up nearby, then there would have been a small brown smudge in the rocks to commemorate it. I didn’t see any, so that probably didn’t happen.

Oh, I was lucky enough to pass through Loving County this morning. According to a pop-up in Google Earth, the seat of local government there is a village called Mentone, on account of it being the only settlement in the entire county. The population of Mentone is a healthy fifteen, presumably making council meetings a rather boistrous affair.

This was definitely ghost town country. Even the living towns I passed through were obviously moribund. Whatever brought people to this area clearly doesn’t cut it any more. Few modern humans can stray far from the oasis that is Walmart.

And it rained today for the first time on this trip. For almost seven seconds. Flooding is not thought likely.

30°30’34.54″N, 99°46’29.87″W

Today’s sensations: I went on this trip to find myself and I haven’t. But it suddenly occurred to me overnight that it’s because I’ve been looking in the wrong place – part of me is in Wells and the other part is in Saint Francisville.

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Well that was six dollars well spent.

Today I went to Carlsbad Caverns, which I’ve wanted to see ever since I first took up caving at the age of eleven. I still have the dog-eared book mum and dad bought me that revealed its existence. It seems like an awful long way to come just to see a cave, but boy was it worth it. Just the entrance passage alone was worth far more than six dollars.

cavern2There are two parts to the cave that you can visit unmolested by tour guides: the natural entrance route is supposed to take about an hour and wandering round the main chamber another hour (although there’s a shortcut in case you’re stupid). Over four hours after I entered I was still gasping out loud as I rounded every corner.

Most people go down a 750-foot elevator, straight from the visitor center to the in-cave restaurant and gift shop, presumably so as to avoid any sensation that they’ve actually descended deep into the bowels of the earth. But I chose to go down the natural entrance route, which is a mile of passages. Just the entrance alone is far bigger than any cave I’ve visited. It was so big I got the feeling  it ought to be in Texas.

cavern3There were very few people going down this way so it was virtually silent, apart from the swifts reeling in the entrance. At one point I found myself stuck alongside a group from Mississippi, who (and I’m not kidding) insisted on saying things like “How d’yall think rock grows upwards like that? Don’t make no sense. Is that a tree inside it?”, but mercifully they took the shortcut to save themselves the mental torture of it all. Most of the time I could just sit and listen to the drips from the stalactites and the blood pounding round my arteries. There was absolutely no-one for half a mile in each direction. It was utterly serene.

cavern 6The main chamber is like being in the middle of a Roger Dean painting. It’s impossible to get across the size of the place in a photograph, especially as my tripod is in Louisiana and nobody would stay still to act as scale. I thought it would be one large oval chamber and we’d have to shuffle round the edges oohing and ahing at twee little stal formations, but no Siree! The place is roughly cross-shaped, and at least a dozen times I rounded a corner expecting to be back where I started, only to discover that I’d hardly even begun to encompass it and there was a stalagmite the size of a small moonrocket staring back at me. To give you some idea, one of the rocks that had fallen from the roof, not of the main chamber but merely the entrance passage, weighed 22,000 tons. You could easily fit Wells Cathedral in the main chamber ten times over and still have room for the marketplace. It was BIG, I tell you.

cavern 14

I almost went out and started the whole tour again, but it was too late. So eventually I dived among the fat people who hadn’t dared to wander very far from the nearest burger and waited for the elevator, which has a display which counts in feet, not floors.

cavern 7

And finally, four hours and 380 photographs later, I emerged blinking into the 98-degree desert sunlight. I’d planned to go on the scenic loop road and do some hiking next, but after that anything else would have seemed an anticlimax, so I rushed straight back here to tell you all about it. Wish you were here.

cavern 13

Location: same as last night

Today’s sensations: Wow! Coo! Jeez! Complete serenity.

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Dangling Mexicans

Back in New Mexico again. I don’t like Texas – as soon as you cross the border it’s all God and guns.

Boo!

BOO!

I’ve relocated to Carlsbad, ready to go see the caverns tomorrow. Boy, you’ve got to remember to fill up with gas around here. I looked at the map and thought there might not be that many gas stations, so I filled up. In the event there weren’t any at all for 200 miles. Practically the only thing I came across was a security checkpoint, where they made sure I didn’t have any Mexicans clinging to the underside of my car.

I had a short hike in the Guadeloupe Mountains but I didn’t have water or food so I couldn’t stay long. The mountains are a Permian coral reef, and it still blows my mind to sit on rocks like that and visualise them underwater, with the corals and crinoids waving their tendrils in the current, and then think that when they actually did that, humans were not going to exist for another 250 million years.

I went straight past the unpreposessing entrance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park because I want a whole day there tomorrow, and drove into Carlsbad itself. I wasn’t terribly impressed until I stumbled upon Lake Carlsbad, close to the middle of town, which is a beautiful turquoise colour. I’ve no idea why – the only times I’ve seen water that colour it has been caused by rock flour ground down by glaciers, and there ain’t no glaciers in New Mexico!

Lake Carlsbad

Lake Carlsbad

32° 8’14.65″N, 104°29’6.24″W

Today’s sensations: I started out feeling serene, as if things were finally getting sorted out. Then my mood bounced around for the rest of the day, trying to dodge a bunch of thoughts that kept throwing themselves against my brain.

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Today I had breakfast in Arizona, lunch in New Mexico and dinner in Texas. And if it wasn’t such a hassle with passports I could pop over the Rio Grande this evening for a Margharita in Mexico.

Tonight I’m in El Paso, which is just inside the Texas Panhandle. It’s continuous with the city of Ciudad Juarez, which is in Mexico. 80% of the population here is “Hispanic or Latino”, as they say in the Census Bureau (which I couldn’t help pronouncing as Thensoos Bureau, after trying to get my tongue around Ciudad Juarez).

It's been a day for mirages

It's been a day for mirages

I almost took a detour to Silver City in New Mexico, to spend a day or two camping, looking at the cliff dwellings, and generally hanging out in the hot springs, but after a few miles I realised I’ve been here three weeks now and I really should be heading back, so I turned round. I want to see Carlsbad Cavern while I’m down here, so I shouldn’t take any more side trips.

I’m in the Wild, Wild West right now. This morning I passed over a granite intrusion, not far from Tombstone, Arizona, the site of the famous bun-fight at the OK Corral gift shoppe and tea rooms, so here’s a photo of the granite for Ann, to remind her of Joshua Tree.

granite2

31°50’24.38″N, 106°34’22.04″W

Today’s sensations: Complete mistrust of my memory of the past. Disappointment that I couldn’t follow my nose to Silver City. Oddly intrigued by all the fanous wild west stuff I’m passing, since I was never at all  interested in cowboys and injuns.

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Sedona is the place for vortexes (sic). They’re New Age mystical spots in the landscape that are apparently good for healing, so since I desperately needed some healing and I have a passion for self-organising structures like vortices I went to one and gave it a really good try. Sadly I felt no better this morning, but perhaps these things take time. I do have a very strong sense of place and I’m all for a bit of meditation, but some guy insisted on drumming at me, which I felt detracted from the serenity of it all. And the only vortex I saw was a dust devil (fascinating though they are). Maybe I wasn’t entering into the spirit of it enough. Or my pain is too great. Or just conceivably it’s all complete hokum.

Irritatingly I was also going to visit a myofascial release therapist who happens to practise nearby (no New Age wishful thinking here – it’s perfectly real biology). It might have helped with my headaches. But I was already half way to Flagstaff before I remembered. Oh well, next time.

Store, downtown Flagstaff

Store, downtown Flagstaff

Today I’m back in happy Flagstaff, to regroup. I’ve treated myself to the comparative luxury of a Super8 motel so that I have access to an ironing board and a jaccuzi. Camping is great, but it doesn’t take long before I look like Robinson Crusoe, especially when the only facility is a hole in the ground. Plus sun oil and red dust really don’t go well together, so I plan on taking at least six showers before morning. In my sneakers.

So, I’ve nothing exciting to report today. I’ve just spent my time watching children in the park and thinking about life (like an old grandad). I also watched a bunch of people playing Disk Golf, which is something I’d never heard of. It’s golf with a frisbee (and a bigger hole, obviously). They play it in Thorpe Park among the pine trees and it looks like fun. But you can’t play it on your own and since everyone was 22 and muscular I didn’t try to join in.

Tomorrow is the Grand Canyon. Carlos has suggested I go to the Havasu Falls and they look absolutely fantastic (waterfalls and pools of blue-green water from a hot spring) so I’ll try. But I gather a big flood in 2008 has destroyed some of it and it’s a 10-mile hike each way with a 3,000ft vertical range, so I’d have to backpack and camp in the Indian village (or pay for a helicopter ride). Sadly I’m not equipped for serious hiking, so I may not be able to do it this trip. I’ll look into it this evening and see what my options are.

P.S. at 9pm: I just checked and the village has been closed because of floods and was due to open tomorrow, but as I was reading this the tribe updated the website to say it is remaining closed to the outside world until June, to prevent a Swine Flu outbreak. So no Havasu Falls on this trip.

 35°11’36.28″N, 111°37’15.33″W

Today’s sensations: Singing the lyric of a mid-life crisis, courtesy of Pink Floyd, who really shouldn’t be allowed to write lyrics without attaching a health warning:

And then one day you find
ten years have got behind you
no-one told you when to run
you missed the starting gun

Hanging on in quiet desperation
is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over
thought I’d something more to say

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Well, that was boring

First of all, a big hello to any friends who, like Pius, have popped in via Sara’s link on Grandroids. Sara did a great job on that site and was building up a really friendly community, so I hope you’ll all continue to support her new blog. I’m sure you will. 

No new photos today, so here's another of the dunes

No new photos today, so here's another one of the dunes

A texture for Chris

A texture for Chris

Not much to report today, because I’ve been retracing my steps. I’m now just a little West of where I was a couple of days ago before I lost my nerve. I’m in a town called Gallup, where I’m holed up for the rest of the day because it’s blowing a gale outside. But I’m getting close to the national parks I wanted to visit, so soon I’ll be able to stay in one place for a while.

The only excitement of the day was passing the Continental Divide. So, whereas this morning when I relieved myself it flowed off to pollute the Atlantic, this afternoon it’ll pollute the Pacific. Ain’t that neat?

 35°30’28.54″N, 108°49’2.19″W

Today’s sensations: I did have a bit of an epiphany this morning but it’s too sensitive and far too sad to talk about in public. It helps me see what I need to find a way to do in order to get my own head straight, though. All I’ll say here is that, whenever you read about me doing something silly on this trip, like jumping off dunes, or screaming out loud at the sheer beauty of the Rockies, that’ll be the frustrated artist inside of me speaking. And he’ll be doing it in loving memory of a girl who once used to dance in supermarkets.

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The Trinity Site marker (for Norm)

The Trinity Site marker (for Norm)

Yesterday was an awful day. I lost my confidence because of it and turned for home. So now I’ve gone some distance in the wrong direction for the places I wanted to see. Nevertheless, I’m going to turn around tomorrow and head back North. I’ll finish this trip, just like my family and friends have urged me to do.

Anyway, where I ended up turned out to be the nicest town I’ve stayed in so far. Yesterday I went South from Albuquerque, past the Trinity site, where the first atom bomb was detonated (nothing to see – it was gated because it’s a missile range), and down to Alamogordo, close to the border with Mexico. Alamogordo describes itself as the friendliest town in the world, and nothing that I’ve seen so far contradicts it. It’s a typical desert town – very spaced out – but it is clean and tidy and all the people seem nice.

This morning I went hiking at 9,000 feet in the nearby mountains, in a place called Cloudcroft, where I was surprised to find a sizeable high school and elementary school – the kids running in the playground must have plenty of red blood cells. At that altitude just a few miles of steep walking was an effort, but the air was warm and clear and the sun was strong and it was good for my soul. I did as you said, Trace, and spent time looking for the beauty in things. I haven’t done enough of that lately. I walked around singing Louis Armstrong’s “What a wonderful world” to myself, and that helped quite a bit. I also met a nice cricket called Gerald, who sat on my knee while we mused together on life, the universe and everything.

In the afternoon I drove down to the White Sands basin. “White sands” pretty much describes it – there’s a huge dune system made from pure white gypsum crystals (hence the Plaster of Paris reference) and it was really rather beautiful. It was hard to take a bad photo (although I managed to get pretty close). I put on some shorts, took off my shoes and ran up and down the dunes like a giggly child for a while. Shame I had no-one to share it with.

Tonight I’m staying in Alamogordo again, and tomorrow I’ll strike North. Probably.

White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument

 32°52’39.06″N, 105°57’37.60″W

Today’s sensations: Not many today, I’m still a bit numb, but I recall the pleasure of high altitude sun on my face, the sensuous joy of sinking my feet into pure, dry sand as I threw myself off dunes, and the vivid greenness of plants after my eyesight had adapted to an environment that was entirely white and blue.

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