Tuesday morning I awake to the sounds of a rumbling diesel engine and iced over windows. Condensation is an itinerant problem with car sleep, instead of fighting it mopping it up in the morning with a chamois has proved to be the most expedient. Except this morning the condensation has iced over all of the windows from the inside.
While I had parked at a gas station in the height of the storm there was no build up on the outside. Had I been more reckless I could have kept going.
While in the process of transforming the bedroom into a vehicle I hear a crashing sound as I'm doing a slow methodical turn about all fours in the drivers seat. I immediately suspect I'd knocked the car out of gear and bumped the emergency break and the car had careened into something.
Instead it was the attendant sheepishly asking if we were leaving soon. We'd slept in. It was already 9 AM and out car was taking up six parking spots, surrounded by more carefully placed trucks.
Leaving Monticello, Utah and heading for the Four Corners region I begrudgingly encouraged the state sign ritual Ashley and I established early on. We had missed the Utah sign and decided to pick it up while we exited into Colorado (an incredibly brief sojourn). With hellish winds and a cold to freeze even the most recalcitrant teat I stepped out into the Martian landscape preparing to pose for a picture when my careless approach was upended.
I heard the sharp cracking of ice and found my foot to be newly whetted with near frozen mud water. The shock. It was actually just a little chilly.
Blasting through the landscape and heading, errantly towards Chama, passing the curious Shiprock in the distance, I was once again immersed in snow. Instead of taking the easier southern route we had pulled into the town of Chama at 7400 feet.
With hunger pangs setting a quick grocery stop resolved most. I drove on toward dreams of Santa Fe. There was another highway from Shiprock that was more expedient, but scenic routes are expected. All major travel has been done by paper maps and led to more discoveries than robotically inputting information into a routing program to optimize. A more erudite person would extend that to a commentary on travel but it's almost certainly derivative and faux intellectual like this sentence.
With communication flowing briskly between Ashley and her friend, Addie. We arrive in Santa Fe only to discover she actually lives in Albuquerque.
It's cold but not snowing. The first shop we wander into sports $2000 leather jackets. In many ways this ends up describing Sante Fe. I geek out on new-old pueblo revival architecture and pick up a post card for my grandmother. A bookstore jaunt yields perusing of A Roadside Geology of New Mexico and my geology bug is bought. On a suggestion we go to a gastropub for dinner. It's hip, eclectic, well-served, and has tasty food. It speaks to my cynicism when I say it was like most everywhere in Portland that wasn't bad.
The drive to Albuquerque is momentarily intense.
Snow starts and it becomes hard to see and the car is slipping. Ashley is driving so I am doubly worried; not because she is a bad driver, but because I am woefully neurotic and fear death not meted out by my own hand. Calmly looking away into the black black New Mexico darkness there are thousands more stars then I can see at home even with the rapid introduction of light from cars going the other direction into my corneas. I lean my head against the window support and nod off.
We make it but Addie is not home yet. We agree to stop at a Barnes and Noble. It's been a length 48 hours and a ragged, edginess is beginning to set in. I double up on the geology binge and commit to learning more over the coming weeks. I get lears and occasional askance glances. Only a quarter of an hour later do I realize I'm casually reading a geology book in the Adult Manga section.
We leave after what felt like too long.
After refusing to use logic read the house numbers there lies the house. I brace for social contact playing out all the greeting scenarios through my head that can most quickly lead to me with my eyes closed.
And it gives way to wine, card games, and a general fuzziness. I sleep content some hours later.
Awake and slightly hungover, Addie makes breakfast, something we promised to do. Fed with clean laundry goodbyes are had as Addie and her roommates depart for work. Their household also has an overly kitschy instant camera. I question my curmudgeonliness.
And we're off by 10 AM on Wednesday slightly refreshed. Until this point the pace has been breakneck and not the leisurely travel I expected. Prodded on by the well-labeled, large-format paper atlas I saw that the Very Large Array was within striking distance something I thought would be out of reach on this trip. With very little convincing and an unnecessary fudging of numbers to Ashley we were on our way. Soon we were of the main highway transiting a desert scrub landscape, passing through old mission towns.
The Very Large Array, if it needs any introduction that it's name can't fulfill, is an arrangement of Very Large dish antennas, that are in a mobile configuration that allows them to receive radio waves and combine them using interferometry to produce high-resolution images. I've had some failed attempts at trying to compose a DIY radio telescope which makes this feat of mass engineering both impressive and inspiring.
On arriving the admissions and gift shop attendants were leaving for lunch. After a short video narrated by Jodie Foster and a creeping, self-guided walking tour about the barren landscape.
A couple obligatory, gratuitous shots of my house and self in front of scientific equipment and it was time to move on.
In a bid to save time and not double back I notice a route that takes us from the VLA back to the highway with a large amount of southern movement. This should save some time.
The first notion that this was a bad idea was a mere 500 feet into the route was an over-sized semi pulling a log cabin taking up the entirety of the road. The driver motioned for me to take an off-road route around him. Not one to display hesitation I took my excellent off-road vehicle for drive around and quickly realized the clearance was just as bad as I expected.
Hurtling down the gravel road and far too fast a speed to the point the tires start to give I'm met with my archenemies: snow. The curves become tight, cattle block my way unexpectedly, and the immense size of the landscape takes reality. No services for 60 miles. Barren but bountiful.
After 30 miles ranches start to appear separated out every 5 miles or 15 minutes of driving. The signs say the town of Dust is quick approaching. And then I am apparently through it without even noticing for the signs say nothing of the sort.
Into the town of Winston, New Mexico the gravel turns to pavement and the tight curves turn to motion sickness for both Ashley and I.
And we meet the highway and a stop in Truth and Consequences, New Mexico. Dennys for sustenance and we are off to find a place to sleep.
A drive through pitch blackness 30 miles east of the White Sands National Monument, our next stop nets no obvious places to setup car camp. I direct Ashley down a forest road in Lincoln National Forest which ends up being a long driveway. Thirty minutes into the drive it ends in a wall of snow. Our progress impeded. I saw a little pull off a bit back so we setup and sleep there.
The next morning when we wake up and in the light of the day we see we are parked right in front of someone's house. Well rested, we convert the vehicle and set out.
The road provides.
We make out way to the White Sands after I make a short directional detour due to my inability to read maps. We pull into the White Sands and I immerse myself in trying to understand the geology of the area. Imagine facts that excite you and it was something like that.
Not wanting to pay for a sled, Ashley and I decided to use the patriotic window cover to sled down the dunes. Fun, tumbling, and exhausting climbs ensure. It's serene, beautiful, and stark offset by unexpected mountains in all directions.
Drive, drive, drive. Through the artillery range we pass dozens of tanks along the freeway. And we are in El Paso, Texas. We park.
Almost immediately this well-spoken hombre is explaining to us the difficulties of life in Mexico and how he feels vilified when he works so hard. He walks away. We ponder the normalcy of the interaction and if such knowledge bombs are part and parcel with El Paso.
In the first shop we walk into after stepping away from her for perhaps six minutes Ashley befriends the manager and has a place for us to park our car for the night along with suggestions on where to eat.
We get tacos and a belligerent, unsure footed white guy walked in swaying and spurting bad Spanish. "Key-arrow LAY-CHA." He asks for the specials and the insults sling back and forth. Lucky for him the food is made in front of him. I find out the man has a Mexican fiance (a word he continually asks for the Spanish word after repeatedly being told it's a cognate).
He leaves for a doctor appointment. El Paso is diverse.
The food is great.
Ashley and I go to the library to get an internet an book fix. The plan is to go to the Democratic Debate at a nearby bar and potentially an art show we were invited to prior to heading out.
I internet it up. Catch up on communications that I've been absent from. Oh the freedom from all things electric!
Not be outdone by the taco man a verbal duel breaks out loudly in the library.
"I don't care what you say pedophile"
"Just let me know and I'll help you with your homework for your GED"
"Shut up pedophile"
This rendition goes on for a while before they are removed by a octogenarian security guard.
At a bar we order drinks and settle in for the debate. Some new friends are had and the delirium of Bernie Sanders support is felt around the crowd. I remain unmoved and overly cynical. Zoos are fun.
With our parking spot for the night not responding we decided to drive on.
I get coffee and hit maximum caffeine euphoria and drive almost the whole way to Marfa, Texas and our hotel El Cosmico where I sit writing this up on a Saturday morning.
I pass a shoe store in the middle of a field lit up with the words Prada. I drive on assuming I am hallucinating, but instead I am just unaware.
Deciding there is no better nowhere to park I stop at a rest stop and we convert. I fall into the most comfortable perfect sleep of the night.
In the morning Ashley and I compose a complete breakfast and take our time, trying to slow down the frenetic pace.
We pull into Marfa earlier than expected. A stop at the visitor center results in an excited interaction with the host. We're deluged with maps, history, and the paranormal. We try to check in early. They're fine with it. I am somewhere between delighted and overwhelmed with the aesthetic (Southwestern Twee?) but settle in.
Exploring the town I meet an odd assortment of characters you wouldn't expect to find in a Texas town of 2000 people:
A slow dinner and a grumpy hunger attack later and sleep ensues. We are in a safari tent that isn't heated expect for a heat pad on the mattress.
I wake up in the morning to a frozen water bottle. Next stop: Big Bend National Park.