Thursday, February 5

the hills have eyes, and undercover cops

For anyone who thought I was joking about actually quiting, noticed I haven't posted in three days and might have, just a little, worried I was serious, I apologize. After leaving Memphis, I drove for thirteen hours and over 1,000 miles to Santa Fe, New Mexico. After a day in the wilderness outside of Los Alamos followed by a day at the Grand Canyon, I am now sitting in a hotel room at the Venetian in Las Vegas. But before I continue, let's get to the details.

When you embark on a thirteen hour drive, there is a certain adrenaline rush because you are really on the road now, no more amateurish six or nine hour drives. That rush lasts about twenty seconds when you realize you are really on the road. In retrospect, such a long drive from Tennessee to New Mexico was worth it because, honestly, what is there to see in Arkansas, northern Texas, or any of Oklahoma?

The first hour passed uneventfully because my mind was preoccupied with the frustration of going to both Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum only to find they were closed on Tuesdays. In no time at all, the rolling Arkansas landscape morphed into the pancake flat Oklahoma and then the even more flat Texas panhandle, and I desperately struggled to find ways to avoid, what seemed at the time, to be imminent insanity.

I stared at the clouds and tried to describe them using similes. I picked out constellations among the splattered insects on my windshield. I realized the girls at the gas station in Arkansas had accents that made them sound like Goofy: "Uhuh golly mister, here's yer receipt!" I considered whether the agony involved in continuing my drive would be worse than the aftermath of speeding up to 100 mph and letting go of the wheel. It was close.

Somewhere in the middle of Texas, I was pulled over for doing well over the speed limit. My first thought was not, "Crap, I just got pulled over." Instead an episode of Seinfeld came to mind, only I didn't have a beautiful woman with me to sweet talk the officer. When the officer asked me the requisite, "Do you know how fast you were going?" I replied, "Pretty darn fast!" He asked me where was I going in such a hurry and I told him I just wanted to get to Santa Fe as fast as possible. Apparently, the officer valued honesty and he let me off with a warning. I got lucky. Rest assured I've been driving [close] to the speed limit ever since.

When I crossed the border into New Mexico the sun had set, but the moon and millions of stars illuminated the landscape. The last time I had seen New Mexico was in the movie The Hills Have Eyes. If you haven't seen it and you like gratuitous violence and radiated mutants living in the New Mexico desert, I strongly recommend it. After turning off the interstate onto a state route that would take me to Santa Fe, all my mind could do was conjure images from the movie. I kept looking for a shadowy figure to roll tire spikes onto the road causing me to careen into a ditch whereupon a cadre of mutants would drag me into a nearby cave. Much to my relief nothing of interest occurred, though I swear I saw a UFO.

The next morning I drove to Bandelier National Monument. Near the base of the Jemez Mountains, the Frijoles Canyon hides the remnants of a pre-Columbian Pueblo settlement. The park is a real gem that most people have never heard of and apparently receives less than 300,000 visitors a year, according to the park ranger. Carlsbad Caverns, which is the only "National Park" in New Mexico, garners infinitely more attention--a sore spot among many in the Park Service.

I spent the morning wandering among the cliff dwellings in awe at what the ancestral Pueblos had accomplished. The Spanish never found this settlement because many years before, a combination of drought and the depletion of resources forced the Pueblo to abandon the canyon and settle along the nearby Rio Grande River. The Spanish then found and proceeded to slaughter and enslave the Pueblo until the U.S. Government forced them onto reservations.

Ladders provided by the Park Service made several of the dwellings accessible and, unlike at Jamestown, I definitely could have lived in those caves. Tucked away in a small canyon, surrounded by pine trees and a small river, it was a picture perfect setting. The canyon itself was fascinating. One side was a steep slope covered in brush and melting snow. On the other, a sheer cliff with holes that looked like a very large man had lost his temper and began driving his fist through the dusty red rock.

On the way back to Santa Fe, I stopped in Los Alamos, the birthplace of the atomic bomb. Formally the mysterious P.O. Box 1663, Los Alamos is now open to the public and has a number of museums detailing the history of the town.

Santa Fe was beyond disappointing. People always describe Santa Fe as a charming little dream come true for starving artists and Georgia O'Keeffe fanatics. The city sprawls across the New Mexico desert and I failed to find any charm. The historic downtown area is a poor, Americanized attempt at the Spanish Plaza de Armas. The adobe buildings were tacky and the city's "cathedral" was covered in scaffolding. On one side of the plaza, a group of Pueblo Indians were huddled in a open market trying to sell homemade goods to their white overlords, retired New Yorkers with cowboy hats and other gaudy accessories worn by rich easterners trying to connect with their--nonexistent--western roots. At that moment, I felt so thrilled to be an American, I longed to complete the experience by chowing down on some authentic American food. Unfortunately, McDonald's wasn't an option so I settled for Subway. I promptly left for Arizona and the Grand Canyon.

Pictures to come later.

No comments:

Post a Comment