I grew up in Texas. But mom and dad’s family lived in Utah and Arizona. If we’re driving, that means one way or another we have to go through New Mexico. So New Mexico is kind of a home to me, since it’s in between the different places I’ve called home in my life.
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The most frequent route that my family takes to get to Snowflake, Arizona is to go up Interstate 25 to Socorro and then turn off at US 60. We go through Truth or Consequences, which I think is the raddest town name ever, and the Valley of the Fires. On a Christmas trip we once stopped for an afternoon at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Reserve. That was my first time actually seeing ponds frozen over with ice in winter. There were lots of migratory birds, of course, but I mostly remember the bald eagles, probably because they hooked my interest more than the geese.
Sometimes going back east we’ll take a shortcut through Roswell, Ruidoso, and Carlsbad, or sometimes heading up to Utah we will go through Lubbock and cut through the plains of eastern New Mexico to head for Albuquerque. My siblings and I grew up watching Bugs Bunny, so of course we enjoy taking “that left turn at Albuquerque”.
When I’d finished my freshman year of high school, Dad took Mary Lynne and I out to Arizona to spend a couple of weeks with extended family. On the way we stopped in Ruidoso. Dad was in charge of a boy scout High Adventure camp later in the summer and he wanted to test out some of the trails on the Sierra Blanca. Luckily that year I was in really good shape.
About a year later, on our way to Utah my family had to drive on a Sunday for part of the trip. Trying to do something a little more appropriate for the Sabbath, we camped out at the bottom of a canyon on the Pecos river. My parents’ logic is that we’re not making people work by checking out a hotel room, and we’re in nature enjoying God’s creations. My best memory of that campout was Monday morning when the sun came over the rim of the canyon and bathed everything in golden light.
Bugs Bunny jokes aside, I really do love Albuquerque. It’s a pleasant city to drive through. I like how it’s kind of right in the middle of New Mexico and in the middle of where these different parts of New Mexico come together--the high country, the mountains, the deserts, the plains. I have recently been reading Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn and Chee mysteries, and my interest in those led me to find a book of Hillerman’s essays about New Mexico. Hillerman writes that part of New Mexico’s attraction for him is that it is a meeting place for different human cultures as well as geographic regions--several different groups of Native Americans, the Spanish colonies, and American settlers. These cultures met in New Mexico, part of movements on their way to or from somewhere else, and yet they (relatively) benignly met and mixed without destroying each other. That notion perfectly fits with my idea of what New Mexico is, a meeting place, or a place that more powerful entities just pass through. Probably because I have passed through there so much.
Going west from Socorro to get to Snowflake, my family drives past the Very Large Array, a radio telescope you may have heard of. We’d past those radio telescopes looking up at the sky and I’d think about space and the stars. And then we’d stop at the little corner store in Datil and continue through the little patch of wooded mountains until we got to the juniper-scattered plains on the other side.
Heading to Utah, my family goes west up I-40 from Albuquerque and turns north at Gallup. Then we go up through Shiprock to cut through the southwest corner of Colorado and enter Utah by Monticello. Hillerman’s murder mystery protagonist Jim Chee keeps a trailer down in Shiprock, and he and Joe Leaphorn frequent such locales as Farmington and Gallup in their cases. Talking God even makes reference to Fort Wingate, an abandoned US Army post in western New Mexico--there’s a song about it that the Jennings band plays every Fourth of July.
I started reaching Hillerman’s books in effect because I was a little homesick. The numerous times I have driven through the Navajo reservation have been either going to or from visiting family. And making those same trips over and over again have made me familiar with some of the towns and landmarks along the way. And I love it a lot simply because driving through there meant I wasn’t stuck in Texas, it meant that I was on my way somewhere, on an adventure.
Since I am a Marvel fan, it bears mentioning that part of the reason I fell in love with the first Thor movie was because the god of thunder landed in New Mexico. Puente Antiguo was actually filmed on location on Galisteo which is just a little bit south of Santa Fe. But it kind of reminded me of the desert south of Socorro, or or maybe southern New Mexico by I-10 west. I felt right at home. Really. The Land of Enchantment was a perfect place for Thor to have his first visit to Midgard, because, like I said, it is a crossroads for many forces--physical, cultural, and spiritual.