Monday, August 8, 2011

The Land of Enchantment

I have begun my trek back to the east coast and despite my pledge to blog daily I found myself too much under New Mexico's spell to sit down and write each night. New Mexico touts itself as The Land of Enchantment and I admit when I read the slogan as I passed under the gateway that welcomes visitors into New Mexico, I thought it was a huge claim to make. I visited Las Vegas several years ago and though I loved it, I was not impressed at all with the surrounding landscape. Coming from an area of the country that has a great diversity in its landscape I found the arid, desolate landscape of the west a bit depressing really. The mountains looked, to me at least, lifeless and hostile. I expected to feel the same way about the landscape of New Mexico with its red rock and a nearly barren horizon that seemed to stretch out infinitely in front of me.

The first two days we were in New Mexico were the sort of days that Robert Frost's famous poem "The Road Less Traveled" talks about. The poem's main assertion about how much difference the path we choose can make in our lives became very clear to me as Carolyn and I ventured into the hills of New Mexico. For most of this trip the GPS has been my best friend, when I wasn't sure where I was going the voice inside that little box offered me the security that no matter how many wrong turns I made, someone (or something) knew how to save me from myself. So when, on our first full day, we met a friendly local man at the gas station I was a bit nervous to take his advice and stray from the path the GPS had laid out for me but if this trip has been about anything it's been about exploration and so we decided to follow his advice and take a back-road through the mountains to see an old ghost town and a few locales where movies like Young Guns, Wild Hogs, and Cowboys versus Aliens were filmed.

One thing James (the local's name) didn't mention to us was that 8 miles of that road was unpaved and often steep. Though at first I was having a hard time turning off my cynicism,  I even turned to Carolyn and said "Bet he's calling his friend right now telling him he sent two 'victims' out to the old ghost town and that he should meet and (insert a variety of bad things here) the two of us", eventually we laughed and kept right on driving that mountain road. What a difference that made.

The road, lined by cattle and barbed wire was surrounded by rocks that rose up dwarfing us. As a rule I am terrified of heights and I am not known for being outdoorsy but Carolyn and I stopped on that road and climbed up those rocks. I walked at first tentatively then slowly gained a sureness of foot. Some rocks crumbled beneath my feet but most held steady and allowed me passage. I was, however, always aware that nature was in the driver's seat as I made my way down the road. I suppose this is when I first found myself genuinely enchanted with the land because as I stood there I realized the land exists despite us and the harshness of the terrain reminds me that I borrow my sustenance from the land but the relationship is not reciprocal. If anything, the earth would be better off without us. To become acutely aware of your own position in nature is truly mystifying. 

The unpaved road ended in a small town called Cerrillos, when we rounded the corner I felt sure we'd reached a long-abandoned town. The roads, unpaved, were unpopulated but when we parked the car suddenly there stood a local shop owner, Lori. Lori was an invaluable historian for her town and she was quick to inform us of its place on The Turquoise Trail and how the land and the people suffered as a result of industry and its exploitation of the land. In addition to explaining the impact of mining she was excited to tell us about her experience when she witnessed the first Young Guns movie shooting several scenes in town. Lori, like most of the people we've met here, was a kind and talkative soul who worked both as a shop keeper and as a visual artist. I have been surprised by how openly and eagerly New Mexico embraces art of all kinds. The place seems to pulse with creative energy and I began quickly to see why it provided so much inspiration for DH Lawrence, Georgia O'Keefe, and countless other artists. 

After leaving Cerillos, we drove on to Madrid (pronounced Mad Rid) an abandoned mining town that was reestablished by hippies in the 60's who began squatting in the abandoned mine housing. The town is now a haven for artists and full of funky little shops and strange characters wandering the streets selling homemade jewelry. The town's newest claim to fame is that the movie Wild Hogs was shot there and the 'diner' (really a biker shop) featured in the movie is right on its main street. We met some interesting locals while dining at The Hollar. Saul, a self-described flower child, lived in a local hotel and paid his rent by selling earth watches.  I admit I have no idea what an earth watch is and though Saul tried to explain it to me, it looked to me like a rock wrapped in leather. Though what he was selling was lost on me his enthusiasm for living with the encumbrance of a job or a wealth of material goods was something I admired (but could not emulate).  
The creativity that abounds in New Mexico combined with the generous spirit of the people I met that first day cast the initial spell on me, a spell that would only be strengthened by the events of the next few days. I wanted, as I said, to write daily but I find myself needed time to 'digest' the events of each day and I suppose that slowly, as I speed across the stern spine of each American highway I will have the time I need to explain each of the enchantments New Mexico had to offer me. 

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