The Phoenix One Journals Stories from the dawn of RoadTrip America
February 28, 1995
ADVENTURES IN ENCHANTED LAND
The Phoenix One adventurers came out of hibernation in February. While our water lines had survived freezing temperatures for weeks, the thaw we met in Grand Junction, Colorado didn't agree with them, and two burst. Thanks to Kirby Harris, we were soon on our way to Utah and Arches National Park. We had the place to ourselves in all its glory, an unbelievable landscape in form and color.
From Arches, our route took us near the "Four Corners" point where New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona all meet. We took the detour to the monument, which is operated as a tourist attraction by the Navajo Nation. Again we had the place to ourselves, and we could assume the one-extremity-in-each-state position without too much embarrassment. As we drove on, we tuned in a local radio station and enjoyed hearing the remarkable cadences and tones of the Navajo language.
Our tour of New Mexico took us northward to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, where we enjoyed meeting and brunching with Dee and Sam Brown. Their suggestions about what to see in New Mexico, the "Land of Enchantment," were invaluable.
On our way to Taos we stopped at Chimayó, an ancient healing sanctuary in the mountains with a beautiful old adobe church. In Taos itself we toured several restored adobe buildings, including Kit Carson's home and a fort on the Rio Grande. Climbing higher into the mountains, we arrived at a tiny town aptly named Eagle Nest, which is near the ski resort of Angel Fire. On one ridge, we noticed a sail-like structure and a sign identifying it as the Disabled American Veterans Vietnam Memorial. The sail turned out to be a small chapel, built by the family of a young man who died in Vietnam in 1968. Since then, a visitors' center has also been constructed, and the memorial is operated by the DAV. Its location on a windswept slope in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, combined with its peaceful chapel and evocative displays in the visitors' center make it another kind of healing sanctuary.
From Angel Fire, we took a dirt logging road through the Sangre de Cristos to Interstate 25. We spent the night at Villanueva State Park on the Pecos River, enjoying the brilliant rock formations along a trail that wound up the side of the river canyon past the ruins of an Indian settlement. Spanish conquistadors came here 400 years ago, and we marveled at New Mexico's long and colorful history.
Our next stop was Socorro, another town with a 400-year history. Dee and Sam Brown had told us about the Bosque del Apache, a national wildlife preserve nearby, where migratory birds spend the winter. At sunset, we drove to the Bosque and saw thousands of cranes, snow geese, Canadian geese and ducks fly overhead. The sunset flight was so spectacular that we got up before dawn and returned to see the birds leave their roosting places and head for the open fields to feed. The beat of ten thousand wings, the crane calls... we can't begin to describe it, and we know the many photographs we took can't do it either. Remember the Bosque del Apache between November and March. It's definitely worth a detour.
Still heading south, we stopped next at Las Cruces, where we stayed near the old village of La Mesilla, picturesque with its town square, church, and adobe shops. We spent a night in Alamogordo and drove by White Sands National Monument on our way to Carlsbad Caverns. The large African ibex we caught sight of on the road may have been a mirage, but it looked real enough. A wild ibex? In New Mexico? Hmmm.
At the Caverns, we took the two self-guided walking tours through the cave and joined a ranger for a third, marvelling all the way at the spectacular formations. The extensive asphalt paths, elaborate lighting system, high-speed elevator and underground lunchroom give the impression that, though huge and home to bats, Carlsbad Caverns is really very civilized.
This illusion was shattered when we joined another ranger for an "off-trail" tour of the lower cavern. Donning hard hats with lights, we descended 200 feet by slithering down rocks and climbing down 80 feet of vertical ladders. 950 feet below ground, we jumped from stone to stone across subterranean streams and crawled through narrow tunnels studded with stalactites. We turned off our helmets for a while just to see how dark real darkness is. Carlsbad Caverns may seem tame to many visitors, but even with all its modern amenities, it's the final frontier when the lights go off. Even bats get lost in there, and we saw many tiny skeletons to prove it. We don't think we'll become spelunkers, but this small introduction to caving was a memorable experience. We'll never go into a cavern again, even a "civilized" one, without three sources of light.
We entered Texas and swung through Guadalupe Mountains National Park, enjoying its isolated grandeur before heading east. At Pecos we turned south and visited Fort Davis, a well-preserved military outpost at the mouth of the spectacular Hospital Canyon. We stayed overnight at Alpine, Texas, which isn't very alpine in appearance but is the gateway to Big Bend country.
The Big Bend region of Texas, where we have spent about a week, is a place apart. Last night, the proprietors of the Desert Opry Gallery, Jack and Alice Knight, put it this way: "We're south of Texas and north of the border." Nonetheless, their address is Terlingua, Texas, and if you ever get anywhere close, which means within a couple hundred miles, stop by their gallery-restaurant-coffee house-bar. Maybe you will be as lucky as we were and spend an evening listening to live music, written and performed by Alice, accompanied by Jack and Arjuna, Alice's son.
The Starlight Theatre in Terlingua Ghost Town is another watering hole with terrific atmosphere and food. We spent an evening there listening to the music of cowboy Doug Davis and talking to a movie crew from LA who were filming "Streets of Laredo."
Big Bend National Park offers everything from mountain views to herds of javelinas trampling through the underbrush. We hiked around the Basin, a small, high valley surrounded by the Chisos range, ending our walk at the Window, a narrow gap in the rocks where all the water in the Basin makes its exit to the plain hundreds of feet below. If you get too close, you can join the water in its descent. Along the Rio Grande, we went to Boquillas Canyon and visited the intriguing remnants of a resort built in 1909. We soaked in the foundations of the bathhouse, where geothermal activity keeps the water at a constant 105 .
Marvin has had a fabulous month. He met a zebra in Pecos, where the city zoo was contiguous to our campground, and he found the vast flocks of birds in Bosque del Apache amazing. He loved the pygmy deer we met in Big Bend Basin, joined a few coyote choruses at night, and of course made lots of new canine friends. His greatest delight, however, was the stench of wild peccaries, which, to his nose, was rare perfume.
We're back in Terlingua right now, and tonight we'll stop by the Starlight Theatre again to hear local musicians and eat tortilla soup and pork chalupas with chipotle sauce. Big Bend agrees with us. It'll be hard to leave. The open road beckons, though, and tomorrow we'll be on it.
People we meet often ask us where home is. Home is wherever we are, wherever the Phoenix pauses to rest. This month our numerous homecomings have been enriched by many new friends, and we've also heard from old ones. Among them are Tom & Carol Tucker, George Deshler, Margaret Stevens, Sam & Lois Dickerson, Laura & Richard Spears, Mike & Serena Roberts, Angie & her crew at the Starlight Theatre, Larry McElwee, David Douglas (& "Mark"), Dewayne Lener, Susan Lee & Gordon Reetz, George & Bette Thompson, and John & Karen Lewis.