I always hate saying this but Anakin was right. I don’t like sand, either. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. It’s also hot, and stupid, and will find its way into every nook and cranny and crevice of your body. Sand is the great violator of the desert. And that’s most of New Mexico. The other parts are brown and covered with a solitary scrubby underbrush I came to hate on the 1,700 mile journey in the van. It’s like a bad video game backgr-
I didn’t tell you about Pappy?
Pappy van Winkle, camp van extraordinaire??
Well, well, well. Looks like I haven’t posted at all since my international travels, although I’ve done many US treks since, including several trips to Colorado, Michigan, and California to scramble around Joshua Tree and lament how much I disliked the crowds, shitty attitudes, and ugly cardigans in LA. Outside of the city proper, however, I found myself feeling considerably less claustrophobic, and one of the things I found myself falling for was the tent city/Vanagon club everywhere along Venice Beach. Also shouts out to Fulton for being pretty and stuff.
As a dumpster diving, same-clothes wearing, dry shampoo dusting, no-comb owning, sleep on the ground with a rock as a pillow, all-around comfortable being naked in the sunshine all day dirtbag lass all I want is to have my skin always coated in a fine crust of sea salt and my feet a constant, questionable shade of brown. I can still stunt on some fools though, promise.
But to back it up a notch, this year has been weird as hell, y’all. The guy I loved madly and went on all of those US adventures with told me he was gonna marry me this Spring and then broke up with me on Valentine’s Day. He left me with a dog we’d just adopted, a house I’d bought for us, absolutely zero closure (ha-haaa), and a lot of emotional baggage that I’m still slowly working through. I’m not even sure how much any of our relationship was real since he was basically in another one after two weeks or what wild untruths he told our mutual friends since a bunch of them deleted me out of their life, but c’est la vie. My one regret is him subtweeting me through God’s Plan the day before he did it and me not expecting what was next. “I only love my dogs and my dawgs man I’m sorry”? Are you fucking kidding. Why Drake has been a featured soundtrack in two of my break-ups with immature man children I’ll never know. Bless his lil Canadian heart though, it’s still a banger and my ex is balding his widows peak out hard at 25, so.
After such a grueling start to the year, I decided I wanted to quit my job, my life, my friends, and go live in a van doing nothing (or everything) for a while. Luckily those closest to me convinced me that no, I should not quit my life at 28, I should utilize my unlimited PTO and start doing small trips. After hunting Craigslist and eBay for months I came across Pappy. His title is fucked up cause his sellers tore a piece of it off, I need to get his front windows stripped of tint to pass inspection, and he’s got what I affectionately refer to as “lil baby
bitch feet” tires, but I love him inside and out. A weekend with my parents in Tomball got him reupholstered, kitchen-renovated, and ready to roll, and a Facebook post from a friend asking if anyone wanted to go with her to New Mexico’s Meow Wolf had us with an itinerary for the week of July 4th.
I love me a long road trip and was not allowed to drive any of the 22 hours to or from Michigan this winter, so I was r e a d y to jam as we packed up and left at 11:30 pm on Monday night. My partner in crime, Mims, and I rotated every couple of gas stops to pick up driving shifts and slam through energy waters as I called out how much time we had left (NINE HOURS AND THIRTY EIGHT MINUTES!!) into the dark chasm of the interior, and I eventually passed dawn blooming muted desert colors into my rear view mirrors as we passed over the Texas/New Mexico border. We slept in the parking lot of a mostly deserted ghost town with a “horse motel” sign for an hour or so and continued on our merry way. In this fashion, in almost a straight shot, we made it to White Sands around 11 am on Tuesday.
The sand/gypsum was always cool to the touch, and I immediately tore off my shoes and dug my feet deep into the unending whiteness of the desert. It was amazing that we still saw so many flowers and brush still blooming in clusters everywhere.
As neat as White Sands was, I was pouring gypsum powder out of my shoes, the insides of my clothes, and dusting it from the floor of the van the entire trip. After White Sands we popped back in the van and kept driving, getting in to Santa Fe sometime around 5 pm. We picked one happy hour place out of the four that apparently exist in Santa Fe and enjoyed margs, whiskey cokes, guac, pozole, brussels, peppers, and a nice fucking break. I made friends with a bear statue.
From there, we drove a little bit around trying to find a park to crash at for the night. We ended up at the Santa Fe Canyon Preserve, where Mims told me my butt looked bad in my jumper and I proceeded to make sure she was always in view of its full glory. We drank more whiskey, then decided to drive down to Tent Rocks and park there to sleep for the night.
After singing along to a lot of the best the 90’s and 2000s had to offer on the way and dancing in the parking lot to Kanye’s Workout Plan, we absconded further down the road to a more private drive. It was an uneventful sleep, and in the morning we headed back down the road to the rocks.
It was a hot, beautiful hike. A lady sprayed us down with water. I got pretty sunburnt on my nose. I’m glad I remembered to bring my camelback, cause I drank almost all of it. The view from the summit is pretty great.
The slot canyons are crafted by wind and pyroclastic flow- avalanches of searing hot gases from when the monument was first being formed. And the little tent spires are called “hoodoos” and are the products of volcanic eruptions 6-7 million years ago that left ash, pumice, and tuff deposits over 1,000 feet thick. Many have boulder caps on top to protect them from disintegrating, but some have lost their caps and are beginning to succumb to time and the elements. They can range from a few feet to over 90 feet tall.
After braving the rocks for a few hours we made lunch in the van. Mims made incredible avocado toasts for us every day and there is nothing like some cerise limon La Croix and avocado toast with pea shoots to make you feel like a lost Austinite in the desert. But damn does it hit the spot. I also fixed a gnarly grey water back up in the sink- so glad I was able to pick up all my tools while back in Tomball the weekend before!
After lunch, we trekked on down to Atomic Town (Los Alamos, a secret city built as part of the Manhattan Project) to wander around the Bandelier National Monument.
This was by far my favorite part of the trip. The towering ponderosas, pinons, and junipers were a welcome sight after so much brown, endless desert that I could literally feel a weight lifting off of my chest from being back in the woods. There’s just something about trees that you know are hundreds of years old, that have seen generations of people pass between them, that have stood the test of all of the desert’s elements and still carry on. Plus, all of the sap smelled like butterscotch! Not even kidding. Thanks, lil stranger kid, for cluing us in. I spent the next ten minutes incredulously sniffing down all the trees around us. All of the squirrels here were also oddly.. elegant. We started giving them names like Eleanor and Margaret and Theodore, and they didn’t seem bothered by humans being there at all.
There was an awesome free guide book at the front that went over all of the information for the sites. Bandelier is absolutely a “must not miss” place if you’re able to get there. Some info if you’re curious:
The cavates (cave-eights, those little holes you see) there were carved by the Ancestral Pueblo people of the Frijoles Canyon (bean canyon, stop it!) around 1550. Inside, the soft volcanic tuff roofs are blackened with soot to harden them and keep the structure strong for 400+ years. Generation after generation lived in these dwellings.
Petroglyphs of faces, spirals, and animals can be seen carved high up on the rutted canyon walls and holes in the ground where looms for weaving were set up have been reconstructed in several of the caves. Below is a petroglyph of a horse we found.
A lot of the cavates are reconstructed. Those structures, built during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps, constitute the largest assembly of CCC-built structures in a National Park area that has not been altered by new structures in the district.
During WWII he monument area was closed to the public for several years since the lodge was being used to house personnel working on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos to develop an atom bomb.
After Bandelier, we drove around trying to find anywhere local that was open for dinner. We had our hearts set on a place across the street from the tram called Pig & Fig but no luck on July 4th, so we drove back to Santa Fe and posted back up at Agave, our happy hour haunt from the day before. After wine, sangria, sliders, nachos, and more brussels and pozole (hiking girls get hella hungry), we drove down to the exquisite Santa Fe Mall parking lot where the 4th of July fireworks show was set to go off. With a wind advisory in effect it took some time to get started, so we drained a bunch of the Bota box (some of it on the roof, sorry Pappy) while we waited and I caught up on my reading. The show was one of the better ones I’ve seen, second only to the insane rich person dick showing contest that was Lake Charlevoix, MI, last year, and it was really cool to experience it from the roof. But also, fuck you America. You don’t deserve a party right now with your behavior.
We slept in the lot and left in the morning when my body told me I had to rid myself of the copious amount of brussels from the night before. It was also… MEOW WOLF DAY.
I feel like Meow Wolf is the main reason most people come to Santa Fe and man is it worth the trip, even if you have to go to New Mexico to get there and the mainly Catholic town thinks they exhibit is just a bunch of devil-worshiping degenerates come to foul things up. I wish there hadn’t been so many people utilizing the narrative because I would have loved to follow the story to the end, but most of the time there was a line to access the necessary books, papers, and clues. It’s still a stellar installation to investigate without knowing anything about the plot.
After Meow Wolf we ended up going to Kakawa Chocolate House and splurging on some fancy chocolates to take home, though many did not make it back. Then we headed out past many areas of nada to the Ojo Caliente Spa. We simmered in every arsenic bath they had, covered ourselves in mud several times, and at the very end sprung for some unfortunate wraps, which ended up being some dry, scratchy towels cocooned tightly around us for half an hour. I was into it cause I like being George Costanza’d, the two other girls were not so much and we spent most of the half hour laughing and cracking jokes until they finally came to free us from our bonds.
After showering off for the first time this trip, we headed back to Meow Wolf for their “adults only” night. No kids from 8-10! There were some amazing drinks had at the bar, a band playing, my keys got lost and then un-lost, and we ended up staying the night at a friend’s house with their amazing dog Tripod and cat Whiskey. Damn did I miss petting pets.
The next morning I dragged the van and Mims to a nearby flea market to pick up some fun shiny rocks and learn all about the fluorescent crystals that only occur in the New Mexican desert. So what do you know, there is something interesting about it after all. Past that, all we had was an entire day of driving. I made one pit stop in Roswell to pick up some tchotchkes for my outer space loving grandmother but other than that we did it in another straight shot.
As we neared the Texas border there were some amazing purple lightning storms and a few big rain patches we passed through, and finally rolling through the “Welcome To Texas!” made my heart eternally happy. It felt like the sky itself had gotten bigger as we passed all the tiny West Texas towns and the big windmills twisting away in the billowing sunset clouds. New Mexico, you’re a shitty state except for the cool parts. But I imagine we’ll see each other again on my way out of Texas to someplace better.