New Mexico Road, Day 1

There is nothing that suits me more than a full tank of gas on an open road. December 21, 2012, was our tenth wedding anniversary, and to celebrate, we ditched family (no offense) and headed for New Mexico and a Christmas on the lam. This is the third time we’ve done this since we got married (our honeymoon in the Southeast, of course, and my “research trip” to the UK), and these getaways never fail to deliver. We even got to reprise our honeymoon Christmas breakfast at the Waffle House (romance is, after all, as romance does…).

Now, beginning at the beginning, people who say West Texas is a waste of space must be looking in the wrong direction. I have been convinced for some time now that beauty is NOT in the eye of the beholder, but instead is to be found in the essence of a place…and it’s always there if you know how to see it. To borrow a term from a colleague at the library, beauty lies in the “aboutness” of a place. So, the three or so hours we spent crawling our way through blinding clouds of flying dust were not a hindrance. Rather, they are part and parcel of the place, and as such are to be appreciated and respectfully admired. (Not to mention that they serve as a reminder that the Dust Bowl taught us little or nothing.)

Before leaving West Texas behind, one recommendation, perhaps out of left field: Someday, drive west down I-20 from Abilene and take a north at US-84. For maximum effect, do it at night. You will find yourself in the midst of acres of wind farm, surrounded by countless turbines pumping steadily away into the distance. In daylight, this view is impressive enough. At night (especially for the first-timer), it is truly beautifully bizarre. All that is visible in the darkness are the blinking red lights on the machines, scores and scores of them, and for a brief moment one feels as if Close Encounters has kicked in and Richard Dreyfuss is waiting somewhere in the dark, model in hand and tune in head…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

View from La Bajada, south of Santa Fe.

The moment when mountain springs from nowhere and looms majestically over the lowland is one of pure magic. Driving west through New Mexico, it is a moment anticipated anxiously by all but the most indifferent commuter types. As proven by the photo, it really doesn’t seem to matter what an image shows in the foreground, as long as there are mountains in the background. Four-lane highway or municipal landfill, the rearing rockiness always seems to shed a whole new light on things…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Don Quixote’s ass (I presume…)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Native American street vendors on the Plaza, a.k.a., the Look But Don’t Even Think About It Marketplace. One decent-sized turquoise item here, and the vacation’s pretty much over (including the part where you had gas money for the trip home…).

We spent the bulk of Christmas Eve wandering the streets of Santa Fe. First meal of the trip (and this is, if I’m honest, the real reason I travel anywhere) at Tia Sophia’s. First instance of the state question: Red or green? With the added option, Christmas, in honor of the season. (For those who can’t guess, “Christmas” is a mixture of red AND green chile.) It behooves anyone who visits New Mexico to make a decision in this regard–Are you red or green?–at some point during their trip, just to save time. I am most definitely a red. Caveat: Telling people you are a “green” in some parts of the state (namely, Roswell) may have unforeseen consequences…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The magical mystery staircase at the Loretto Chapel, reputedly built in 1878 by St. Joseph himself. It includes two 360-degree turns and no visible means of support (at least until they bolted it to the wall in the 20th century to prevent slippage–which kind of takes away from the whole “miracle” thing). Good story, though…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Welcome to New Mexico, the Land of Random Sculpture…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in New Mexico.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Presumably, the oldest raven in New Mexico…

Around dusk, along with everyone else, we headed for Canyon Road and the Luminarias walk. (This is, by the way, totally free, so feel free to skip the Farolitos Tour in Albuquerque.) After a brief stop for beer and tamales (with red chile, of course), we spent the evening hours strolling through art galleries and mingling with an amorphous mass of humanity and dog-ity in a space far narrower than any self-respecting Risk Management department would approve. And it was enormous fun, bumping and jostling complete strangers with no other consequence than a quick smile and hurried season’s greeting as we all made for the next warm wall of watercolors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The early stages of the walk…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Dr. Jekyll…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

…and Mr. Hyde.

Suddenly, snow began to fall. Heavily. A thick coat of white fluff quickly formed on the exterior of my overcoat; soon it was coming so thick and fast that it was difficult to see where we were going. But that didn’t matter at all. It was, quite simply, stunning. People around us straightened their collars, bent their heads, and kept right on going, on to more Christmas Eve celebration. If I could choose any setting, under any part of the great Earth sky, I do not think I could have dreamt up a more perfect experience. And I’m fairly confident that I’ll never see anything like it again.

And so, Day 1 draws to a close, as Tammy and I stumble blindly through the door of a small Italian bistro called Mangiamo Pronto! (could there BE a better name than that?), looking like a pair of abominable snowmen who took a wrong turn at the Pole, and calling for a well-deserved cup of espresso. And, you know what? No one yelled at us as we dripped melting snow all over the table, floor, and proximate patrons. Not even close. An elderly gentlemen glanced up warmly and remarked, “Looks like snow.” And before we knew it, we were deep in conversation, having discovered that he and my grandparents hailed from the same Central Texas town…

Arrivederci, my friends!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s