HERE AND NOW
Setting out in a couple days for a two week trip to a couple of my favorite cities to visit, Santa Fe, New Mexico and Durango, Colorado.
It's a function of age. When young, we chase new experience. As we get older (and maybe I'm just speaking for myself) we begin to value more the old experiences and the old places, memories like ghosts of the past, that were dear to us before. Always in the back of our minds that each return might be the last and thus are doubly valued.
So I will do in each place what satisfies me best, sitting, smelling new air, seeing and sometimes meeting new people. I'm easy, that's all it takes for me.
I'll try to document the trip with photos and stories, probably not not new ones, for it's the downside of frequently visiting favored places. Not so much changes.
Except for necessary but boring introductory stuff like this, most of the text in this post will come from, Places and Spaces, my book of travel poems.
Beginning, as it almost always does when traveling west, the 550 miles to El Paso. We will extend that Monday by an extra 50 miles to Los Cruces, New Mexico for our first over night stop.
So many times I've written of that first long day, I'll just pick one from the book.
This story begin as a short trip to Silver City in New Mexico, Silver City being promoted on the highway as an arts city. Not so true, though was, at least, a very good coffee shop. Disappointed otherwise in Silver City, the trip ended up being a large arc across the state and home again.
A drive in the country
558 miles and one time zone -
San Antonio to El Paso
a long day's drive in the country,
to the long-stretched fingers
of pink Chihuahua Desert
blue sky, blue on blue
on deep ocean blue sky,
to jagged clouds
dark and sharply racing
And little towns along the way,
Segovia, Sonora, Saragosa,
and Van Horn,
the miles and hours
and skies and hills
and all the little towns
on the ridge,
a line of dead trees,
oak blight killing scrub oak
remind me of a picture
I once saw
of a lone tree,
bare and burned,
among the ruins of Hiroshima
these trees like that,
reaching up, grasping at the sky
in the pasture below,
a mare and her foal eat grass
generous and green
The roadway, blasted through stony hills, in the rock walls on either side layers of geologic time...
near the top,
a woman and a man passed,
and down here, by my feet
a fish struggled,
from the sea
A large buck lying half in the grass, half on the road, muscle and blood and bone and heart against metal and plastic,
old times of open graze and new times of death on black tar
He, the buck, loser in a clash of kinds...
A diversion, a small back road to Fort Lancaster ruins, a narrow two-lane, high mesas on either side
zippity-flash crosses the road
skinny little legs pumping,
thin neck and head
high and proud,
like an arrow passing,
no coyote, no can catch
A cloud billows up from the Chisos Basin like a white rose opening to the sun, cane fields afire in Mexico, black smoke billowing, trucks move in behind the fire with cutters to harvest the cane to sweeten your coffee...
Approaching El Paso...
a roots CD mix
my son made for me -
Bela Fleck, Loudon Wainwright III,
and a woman I don't know
that I could and did
listen to for hours
The city long since outgrown its little desert-slash of river green, built now on wastelands and its connecting ribbon of interstate 10 at 5 p.m. a raceway of drivers from two countries and three states hurrying be home first, before the wasteland shits and home falls between the cracks
North 30 miles to Los Cruces, west 59 miles to Demings, 54 miles north again to Silver City, an easy day's drive, two to two and a half hours, not counting the 30 minutes to find my hotel after my GPS confidently and with great precision deposits me on top of a mountain five miles from the city
green desert all the way,
a rainy year disguising the stone-hard truth
below the green
smudge of mountains against the horizon,
left and right, front and rear,
New Mexico, a state of mountains
and deserts and neither ever very far
from wherever you might be
In the city - an arts and old downtown district are well-preserved and surprisingly populated for a Tuesday afternoon, students from the university and other interesting people crowd the sidewalk and busy street, two good bookstores and the best coffeehouse since San Antonio, strong WIFI signal, coffee with a kick, all very nice,
but the main attraction to me for coming was I had never been there before, a moot issue now since I am here, so, with the new day, a decision...
The national forest and the Catwalk and the Gila Monument Indian ruins are north - should I go north then return here at the end of the day or should I take and extra day and continue further north to loop around Albuquerque, passing through along the way, not just one, but two mountain ranges and forests...
As a creature subject to the allure of tasty food,
it will probably depend on how good breakfast is
here this morning
three horses crossing a green pasture,
grass high, up to their knees,
crossing single file, one after the other,
like carousel horses with somewhere to go
Chasing down a dirt road, pulling a cloud of grey dust behind, looking for a red iron bridge I saw from the highway
Never found it, instead of the bridge, a rabbit on the side of the road
not one of your cute little bunnies,
but a big, male hare, three feet tall, two feet,
not counting his ears standing proud and pink
and scissor sharp, starts to run when I drive up,
but stops as I stop, watches as I ease the car forward,
reaching for my camera, poses as I snap off a couple of pictures
Dissatisfied so far with my drive, not having found the mountains and forest experience I came for, I decide to take a loop that will lead me right through the middle of the Gila Mountains and National Forest
Hwy 159 off 180 - a twisty-turnsy , upsy-downsy road, but well maintained, a two-lane black top
But after three miles it turns to one-lane and becomes
ever more twisty-turnsy, upsy-downsy
Eight miles in I come to the lost little village of Mogollon - originally a mining town, now I think it must be, the boarded up entrance to the mine visible on the side of the road
Federal Witness Protection's prime hide out it seems, for persons wanted by the "Mob" and other forces of evil
10 to 12 structures
including an old rock museum
and several well-maintained houses lining the road,
nice rustic houses, beautiful gardens
A very strange place, a nice place if you want to get away from it all
A one-lane bridge seperates Mogollon from the National Forest.
The paved road and a Forest Service dirt and rock road begins, very rough. Unsure as to how far the dirt road goes before returning to asphalt, for none of this is on my map, I have to decide, should I go forward or should I turn back. Should I see what comes next, which might be worth the whole trip or should I avoid what might be not so good.
Disinclined by nature to ever back up, I press forward.
The road travels along the bottom of a deep canyon alongside a dry creek. And it is about that time that it begins to rain and I become aware of a large, very black cloud hovering overhead.
I know from experience what happens when hillsides and dry creeks and heavy rain come together, I am relieved when the road starts to rise, leaving the canyon and the dry creek behind.
The higher I climb, the heavier the rain falls, and the slushier and slipperier the road becomes. Finally after an hour of twisting and turning and climbing and sloshing and slipping, the rain stops and the sun comes out and I can see the great gush of muddy water rushing down the hillside, building new channels as it races from the top to the dry creek below that I am no longer driving alongside. Thoughts of mudslides intrude for a moment, until I decide that I'm high enough to slide down the mountain on top of the mud and not beneath it.
Setting aside mudslides and all other hesitations - it is not further back than forward - I come to a break in the trees and look out and see that I am on a high ridge, above the clouds, churning white and billowy below.
Going down now, still on the dirt-rocky-rough road, a herd of deer cross the road in front of me.
a very large buck
and 25 to 30 doe and fawns,
fluty white and brown stub-tails flicking as they run,
all together, as a group coming down the mountain
in great bounds, then back up the other side of the road,
like winged creatures
who through fate or folly lost their wings
but still try to fly,
almost succeeding with each great leap
passing trough a burned out portion of the forest,
pine and aspen, tall and limbless, black as the coal
they have become, while they reach for the sky
I stop and listen to the wind, all around deep-forest quiet
but for the wind through these poor, standing-dead
Writing today from Santa Fe, I update current journey to yesterday.
Our original plan was to do over six hundred miles on the first day of travel. After five hours of driving, we decided our initial plan was too ambitious, so, instead of going on to Los Cruces as planned we spent the night in Van Horn, a couple hundred miles from our original plan.
But it was an enjoyable stop, spending the night at a hotel where we have stayed often in the past, the El Capitan, one of a number of hotels an architect rescued from ruin and restored to their former glory in the 1930's. There are three in Texas. We have stayed at two, the El Capitan. an old cattle and oil baron hangout, and the Gage in Marathon, a traditional railroad hotel. The third is in Marfa, the largest, where we have not stayed.
Up early yester day and did the four hundred and something miles to Santa Fe where it's 33 degrees and sunny with a fierce north wind. Today will be spend walking around the plaza and watching other tourists discover the city.
Tomorrow we will be off to Durango, Colorado, where we will spend three days before heading home, with a night on the way in Albuquerque and another night in Van Horn.
Folllowing a very busy day in Santa Fe...
I return to the past and a trip we made to Denver, Colorado.
My wife and I have different travel preferences. I like to drive, she prefers to fly. So I usually head out a couple of days before her and we meet at our agreed destination.
My dog, Reba, and I traveled 35 states together before she died, and she was with me on this one, riding along in the back, or, if she thought I needed help, alongside me in the front seat. She was a good travel companion
Since the first day of any trip west involves the many miles need to get out of the state, I start, from the book, on the second day.
A quiet Sunday morning, just like in the movies. Another 500 miles and I'm getting started a little later than I'd like.
But there's plenty of time.
after about 40 miles
I look behind,
a long straight road, gradually rising
The wind is blowing hard again and, like most of yesterday, it's blowing hard against me.
little twisters cross brown fields
on both sides of the highway,
throwing up clouds of dust that move with the wind,
but one, a smaller one, forms a perfect funnel
about 5 feet across, keeping its shape
for a hunded feet or more above the ground
a tumbleweed the size of a beach ball
blows in front of me, seems to pace the car
for several seconds, then crosses the road
Green fields, perfect circles, planted to fit the path of the irrigation sprinklers that circle, circle, circle, spraying their water like a merry-go-round whose horses spit as they past
The perfect circles of irrigated green are laid across the landscape of dry and dusty brown, the part that lives or dies dependinhg on the rain.
Passing through the little derelict towns that break the tedium of grey highway behind and ahead, with brown fields on either side.
The fate off small rural towns in America, death and decay as agriculture becomes too big for little family farmers and ranchers and the little towns that sustained them.
One little wide spot in the road, I don't remember the name, had fifteen structures visible from the highway. All were abandoned, collapsing hulks. Nothing left of the town but the sign on the highway.
As I pass through Las Vegas, New Mexico, I see the first snow-topped mountains making the bowl that holds Santa Fe to the west.
further north, as we cross into Colorado,
the winter grass is almost white, the almost white
of sand on gulf beaches, the white broken here and there
by red barns like red umbrellas on a vast beach
that has no sea
Just past Pueblo, I turn on the radio and hear my first news of the severe winter storm that's on the way
as I approach Colorado Springs, I see black storm clouds
pouring over the mountain crests
I enter the front of the storm,
rain, sleet, snow, and fog, all at once
in alternating bursts
traffic slows down and I fall in line,
an inexperienced driver in snow,
I am pleased with the slow-down
Traffic conditions improve slightly and I begin the long, slow crawl through Denver, find my hotel, register, walk Reba in the rain.
I abandoned this post about half way through our most recent journey, after days of driving 500 to 600 miles a day, too exhausted to even take my laptop out of it's bag.
Home now, I'm tying to get back in the flow, having learned a couple of lessons.
First, travel is much easier for the young than for the old.
Second, going back too often to those places once held dear, means that those places become as worn and uninteresting as those who held them dear. This is our last trip, we decided, is our last to Santa Fe and Durango. Next time, we go north and east.
Third, COVID has been a disaster for for service industries, especially for hotels and restaurants.
Hotels are bad, but worse for me was restaurants. I am a traveler who enjoys new eating places and new food.
We discovered in the last week and a half that restaurants, when you can find one open is understaffed, with limited menus, the food haphazardly prepared. This disappointment applied to several place where we dined often in the past and were looking forward to dining again.
The exception was a Mexican restaurant in Cuba, New Mexico. El Bruno's easy to miss and not promising from the highway, but offering friendly and eager servers and the best Mexican food I remember ever eating, including both New Mexican style and TexMex. We had stopped there before and made a point of taking the route through Cuba that would give us a chance to stop again. El Bruno's was the sole exception to disappointment elsewhere.
Setting aside our most recent, mostly disappointing, journey, this next story from Places and Spaces is about a trip East, aiming for a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was a long drive for me and my dog, Reba, with a side stop in Columbus, Ohio to pick up Dee at the airport there before continuing on together.
The trip, going and coming back in late autumn, is mainly through the southern states, so I titled the story, On the Cusp of Confederate Winter.
The first day is 545 miles through Dallas and East Texas to Little Rock, Arkansas, A lot of traffic on I-35, the first shovel of asphalt "Ike we Like" laid out in 1950-someting, but otherwise mostly boring.
a pick-up puling a horse trailer,
alone in the back, one horse,
golden mane and tail and eyelashes flaring
in the wind
a hawk slips slowly from the air
to land on a fence post,
sees all with yellow eyes that view
all that moves as potential prey
Through Dallas where snotty right-wingers go to get even snottier, whiter and even more right wing.
exurbs follow I-30 to the northeast,
a paved-over world,
the only grass that survives
struggles in the cracks in the concrete
I like Waxahachie because the name makes my mouth feel good and the only reason to say it is when you're passing through it..
orange sky like mist
through a forest of orange leaves
Then Texarkana, where a line down the the middle of the downtown street divides one state from the other.
lakes and small ponds and waterfowl,
a crane passes over the road,
low, long neck outstretched,
wings spread like a dark shadow
against a nearly dark sky
red sky in my rearview,
the road like a tunnel
through the dark,
tall thick forest on either side
Unlike a previous night in Little Rock years ago, in the only hotel I could find, a dark and dingy, a sleazy, rundown dump in a slummy-looking neighborhood where, if I was the kind to carry a handgun, I would have slept with it under my pillow. This night, a clear, bug-free night in a well-lit neighborhood.
Reba quickly asleep on her little bed in the corner. Eleven hours on the road, I would join her but for the woman singing badly in the next room over.
The second day, Nashville, bringing the trip's total so far to 940 miles.
I wanted to write about the forest,
the colors, yellow and gold, and the red-brown color
the Crayola people used to call Indian Red or Indian Brown
and in the middle of all that gold and yellow and red-brown Indian whatever, some low bush that's scattered among the trees like little fires burning in the woods
and I wanted to write about the flock of ducks
that flew over in perfect V formation,
near enough to the ground that each duck could be seen
and counted as an individual, close enough to the ground
that I could hear the flapping of their wings
and the mutter-quacks among the rank
and I wanted to write about the hills,
reminding me of the hill country at home,
but soft hills, none of the hard face of caliche and cactus
and mesquite, just soft, soft forested hills,
trunks climbing close together
and I wanted to write about the sun in the morning
and how it lit the colors of the trees
and covered the sky from mid-afternoon,
bring shadow and mystery and darker colors of the night
But for two days, through two states, I have been unable to find a national newspaper.
Leaving Nashville behind...
the colors now
are mostly shades of red and brown
on a hill surrounded on four sides by forest
a horse enjoys a pasture all his own
in a dell, green as spring,
a small church,
white clapboard with a white, wooden steeple
rising twice the church's height
on a hill behind the church,
rows of tombstones in rank and file,
climbing he hillside like steps to an afterlife that,
if we are all lucky, will look exactly like this little green dell
with its little white church
Losing an hour and running an hour behind...
I stop at a park just across the state line
so Reba can walk and pee
just across the highway
three cows line a ridge, dark cutouts
against the sky
the road rises in front of me
bordered, as always, by red and brown forests
at the top.
a silver-dollar moon on a pale blue sky
Skipping ahead, we enter Virginia.
a white house on a hill,
surrounded by leaf-bare trees,
and behind them, mountains
showing bits and pieces through the fog
on the road, short, thick-foliaged pines stand
crowded side by side, like spectators
standing shoulder to shoulder watching
a passing parade
or, I think of the hundred of clay soldiers
lined in rank after rank
buried with their Chinese emperor
and on the road, fog drifts between the trees,
and in the shifting fog, the soldiers seem to move,
gray-coated soldiers coming alive while their rebel cause
lies in bloody dust
This post is already too long and would be even much longer if I continue with the last half of this story which took us down the Blue Ridge Parkway and several Southern states as we drove home.
And, in the end, well done
there is pleasure in travel
in routine and the everyday
second table from the rear,
by the window, back to the river,
looking out on the corner of Martin and Soledad,
San Antonio, Texas
in the slow lane,
looking for a poem
in all the old familiar places