Monday, March 21, 2011

Dispatch from the Southwest, Part 1

Again, the scarcity of a reliable internet connection on the road is plaguing me, so I'll unfortunately have to deprive you of all the incredible photographs I’ve collected over the last week of travel… but I’ve seen so much amazing stuff, I can’t keep quiet any longer!

To answer a few lingering questions after my last post- I survived my night in the desert! I wasn’t eaten alive by coyotes, but rather fell asleep to the sounds of modern country ballads echoing from some unknown campers a half mile down the road.

The next morning I woke up, dusted myself off and headed back to the Guadalupe Mountains for some backcountry camping. This place was severe- a 2,500 climb up the side of a mountain with all my camping gear, food and nearly two gallons of water on my back. By 10am I was probably a third of the way up the mountain and utterly exhausted. But slow slow progress, a lot of breaks in the sun (no shade to be had on this side of the mountain) and consuming a good deal of that water weight eventually got me to the summit, wobbly legged a little after noon.

The views, of course, were totally staggering. They say that on a perfectly clear day, the view from Hunter’s Peak is interrupted only by the curvature of the earth. I couldn’t see quite that far, but looking down across the wilds of Texas in one direction, and far into New Mexico over the other side, was one of the most breathtaking vantages of my life. I still had several miles to camp in to my site for the night, through a pine forest hidden atop a mountain surrounded by desert on all sides. I was the only soul to camp out that far on this particular day. I went to sleep at dusk, alone for at least a mile in any direction. At that height, the wind whipped through the trees with incredible ferocity. It sounded like a freeway near at hand, or a tidal wave… just me, and the stars on the highest, loneliest, most beautiful mountain in Texas.

The next morning I made my way north through New Mexico to Albuquerque. The faded glory of the roadside attractions and the brutal simplicity of life on the Indian Reservations I passed evoked the familiar tension of fascination that others feel as they gape at Detroit’s ruins. I snapped photos of the abandoned Roaring 20’s and the long-decrepit Encino Motels, but left the Navajos and Hopis to their own devices, undocumented.

Albuquerque was an odd city, carrying much of the quirk of Austin with a lot less of its charm. On my father’s recommendation, I made my way downtown for a celebratory St. Patrick’s Day beer and encountered a brilliantly odd assortment of characters. I met a suddenly drunk fellow who spends his days installing walk-in bathtubs in the homes of elderly New Mexicans, who left the bar saying “Hey man! They cut me off!! Keep it real!” with an enthusiastic thumbs up. I met a bearded fellow who told me how to take care of myself if I were to encounter coyotes, rattlesnakes, and all other sorts of hostile desert wildlife (the takeaway: you’re pretty safe at this time of year, but just get the hell out of there). I met a firefighter with a tattoo of New Orleans over his heart, who mused to me for an hour about how much me missed his youth playing saxophone in the French Quarter after school.

The next day was a long drive through New Mexico and Arizona’s back roads to Sedona. TBC!

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