Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sunday Papers (Weekday edition)

"My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.

--Oscar Wilde's last words

On the turntable: Velvet Underground, "1969"

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Gary and Me

(This post is an addendum to what I wrote here.)

I'm sitting in an uncomfortable folding chair, waiting for Gary Snyder to appear. And he does, moving through the door right beside me. He looks older than I'd imagined, small and somewhat stooped. He's finally come into the look of the wizard, an image cultivated more for, than by, him.

And on stage, he's suddenly much taller, his movements more dextrous and grand. The 81-year old that I just saw walk through the door is gone. His energy is astounding, outlasting my own as the reading nears the ten o'clock hour. I'm tired, the baby's asleep. We need to get her to bed, as much as I'd like to stay after for the book signing and tell him a few things.

...I'd tell him, remind him, of the first time I met him, here at Naropa in the summer of 1994. I'd mentioned that I was bound for Japan in a month, and had asked if he could recommend any temples or hikes that he found particularly interesting. And he cut me dead with a curt, "I'm not a guide book." I backpedalled, and said, no no, just a hint at something that had inspired him during his long years there. And he again fired off a "I don't even know you." I was so disappointed that I didn't even ask him to sign the copy of "No Nature" that I held in my left hand.

I sat awhile on Boulder mall, justifying it for awhile; that he'd had a busy week, that I'd overheard many requests to him, that I had been like everyone else in wanting something from the man. But then suddenly I
really got it. It was time to kill the Buddha; time to step out from behind my heroes. Gary, among others, and pointed the path out to me, but only I could walk it. And walk I did, down the darkened Boulder mall, and into my own life...

... I'd tell him of my friendship with Pachi and Yoko. The latter was my tea teacher in the 'Nog, a woman who had studied at Daitokuji while Gary had been there as a student of zen. At my first tea lesson with her, the other students had all sat quietly as Yoko Sensei and I had a long chat in English about him and their shared history...

...I'd tell him of my friendship with Uchida Bob, who I'd hosted when he played a gig in the 'Nog while US bombs were just beginning to fall on Afghanistan. The next morning, my now late son had sat in his lap. (Later, Ken never failed to recognize Bob's voice on the stereo.) Over coffee and pancakes, we talked of Gary, and of Nanao, and of the three communities they'd once created back when US bombs fell on other parts of Asia...

...I'd tell him of my friendships at Kyoto Journal, and of our mutual friends there. I'd tell him of how Iwakura Ken had commented on the blog post where I documented carrying my rusksack from Kyoto to the Sea of Japan, of a temporal crossing of paths...

...most of all, I'd introduce him to my daughter. Had he not served as a major catalyst for my moving to Japan, I'd have never met her mother, and this wonderful little girl would never have been born. Despite his claim of not knowing me, we both shared a responsibility in her creation...

On the turntable: DJ Food, "Kaleidoscope"
On the nighttable: "The Gary Snyder Reader"

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Anatomy of a Roadtrip

Late morning, and we pass through the same intersection we passed a few days before, along Highway 64, that gorgeous stretch of highway through some of New Mexico's most beautiful features. Heading north this time, toward the half buried marble dome of Mt. San Antonio, glazed this season in blue and white. A single structure is dwarfed against its massive face. What is it like to have this mountain as your backyard? (This scene will be repeated north of Crestone, with a lone ranch set against an impressive stretch of range, the earth rolling like the tideline to rise in a syncline toward peaks snow covered above 10,000 feet.)

Over the Colorado border, and it's usual dramatic change of scenery. The land looks livelier than in New Mexico, but how could it not, considering the amount of water than moves through this, the San Luis Valley. We pass the train cars of the Cumbres and Toltec railway, resting until next spring. Into Alamosa finally, eponymous Keens on my feet, worn for the irony. Stop at San Luis Valley Brewing Company for a fat burger and a sampling of nine of their brews. Sora plays with her mom on the leather sofa, thick and aged and of the kind more often seen in some wood-panelled room in 1890's London.

Miki takes the wheel as my head swims with beer. After a pair of U-turns, (I had left my phone plugged into the brewery's wall), we take a long thin straight road that doglegs left just before ramming into the Sangres, passing in front of the Great Dunes that look ready to break across our road, repeating the water metaphor once again. Shadows are thrown by the wrinkles carved out by the wind across their faces. These dark spots contrast dramatically with the snow sitting a thousand feet higher atop their granite progenitors. Against the perfect blue sky, the range looks like it is a paper cutout done by a child, albeit one who has poor scissoring skills. I myself was a child when I first saw this scenery in a book on National Parks, read in my New Jersey home where what I saw out the window looked nothing like this. Now to finally arrive many decades later, fighting a strong wind that keeps us down on the flat of a dried riverbed. The baby cries due to the wind, so our visit will have to remain brief. From inside the car, I console myself with the sight of a lone figure standing atop the highest dune, a mere flea against its mass.

North again along the Cosmic Highway (man). The Sangres finally rise to meet us after shadowing us all day. Wriggling through a narrow canyon to land in Salida along the Arkansas River. Miki and the baby stay at our rented cabin, but I make a five minute drive into town to investigate more beers at Amica's. There's an IPA there that is one of the best brews I've ever had, a seasonal that the staff knows nothing about. But I appreciate the mystery. It's like the smile of a passing beauty, a smile that launches the fantasy of an entire love affair, a lifetime lived out in mere seconds. This beer piggy-backs those I drank at lunch a few hours earlier, maybe the cumulative total of what I normally drink in a month. I'm far too drunk to drive. So I walk the town awhile, and finding a Chinese place, I grab some take-out for Miki. While I await its preparation, I stand in the doorway, catching up with an old Denver friend on my phone. I must appear suspicious to the waiter at the restaurant, who, when handing me my food, says a curt," Thank You. Goodbye." The cold and clear mountain air has helped clear the alcohol from my brain, and I make my way back to my car, driving slowly and cautiously back to the cabin...

...a quick stop in town in the morning for a coffee. The owner is a ramblin' man ready to ramble again. After a few years in town, he sold his cafe a few days before. Our own road takes us along the Arkansas heading east, in and out of canyons and through dozens of small towns. I've recently been reading about this river and its history, it having once served as the boundary between the US and Mexico until 1847. Now the river is a popular place for rafting, operators strung along the banks for many miles. The roads eventually lifts high above the waters, and we weave through the lessor Rockies toward Denver. We drive up to the Royal Gorge Bridge, but balk at paying 30 bucks to cross. The road north takes us through broad valleys many with ranches at their navel. As we drop into the trough of one hill, we scare up a murder of raven and magpie, startled temporarily off some carrion. Amidst them is a wolf, that eyes us warily as we speed past. Miki and I are of course thrilled, having never seen one in the wild.

We make a stop now at Florrisant National Monument. There isn't much here, but it is a pleasant walk out on the valley floor, slaloming between fossilized tree stumps. This had been a major tourist stop a hundred years ago, but today it belongs only to the three of us.

Heading northeast, the home stretch. A ranger had told us of a beautiful drive along some backroads into the Denver suburbs. We follow her directions, the road narrowing more and more the deeper into the canyons we go. We're only a few feet above the Platte River, which roars past at a speed far greater than our own. The ranger had told us that the road was paved, but the asphalt ends eventually. It stays well groomed, but would be a brutal trip in the snow. We pass the odd house, the occasional settlement. Most welcome are the signs saying that this is indeed the direction of Denver, up ahead somewhere. We need to get to the Japanese Consulate by four, and have plenty of time, but it seems we're somewhat conspired against, especially when we're forced to drive behind a road grader at 5 mph for awhile. Where the road widens slightly, I pull the car around it, and before long we reach the highway again, with the glass towers of Denver glittering on the plains below us...

...we pass a few days in Boulder at my brother's place. My niece is sick, so we rarely leave the house, our time consumed with books and food. On the last day, my brother flies off to NYC for a wedding, and we watch his daughter. Better now, she takes us out into the open space below the foothills, where prairie dogs have built a massive colony. The residents are active in the warmth of the final hour before the sun drops below the hills and the shadows bring the chill. The call of the prairie dog is wonderful to hear, as they stand on their hind legs and raise a banzai to one another. Our presence is what causes this, of course, as they signal across the grass about the approach of the two legs, who laugh at their earnestness. For me, this will be the highlight of the trip, along with the Gary Snyder reading later that night. (I wrote something on that here.)

...southbound, and a quick stop at the consulate again. Despite their promise, they've forgotten to make Sora's visa. Apologetic, they do it in 20 minutes. We are happy of course, but puzzled. Their policy is that this process takes 10 days, and usually requires two trips. Yet they've just proven that it can be done on the spot. Very Japanese, this. Rules over reality.

We move along through wealthy Denver suburbs and out into the prairie, a drive uneventful but for the tall cottonwoods that occasionally rise above the road. We make La Junta by lunch, eaten out before the massive Bent's Fort, standing proudly beside the Arkansas. We spend the next hour wandering in and out of the fort's many rooms, the thick adobe walls holding the chill. I imagine that this would be a fantastic posting for a ranger, living on the spot that was the center of so much western history, and hosted some of its biggest names. It is peaceful here, standing by the fire and looking through at the trees bare for winter. This whole region intrigues. I hope to come back and explore more.

Hills roll us toward Trinidad. It is near dark when we arrive, so we skip the looked-forward-to stroll. We compromise on a meal at an old hotel, but it is a pricey, meat-heavy menu, so I reward myself with a single pint and peanuts and get back on the road quickly. Over Raton Pass into New Mexico again, moving toward home, under the crisp and star-filled sky...

On the turntable: Tedeschi Trucks Band, "Revelator"
On the nighttable: S.C. Gwynn, "Empire of the Summer Moon"

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Papers: Reg Saner

"Mountains are time we can see."

--'The Dawn Collector'

On the turntable: Ditry Dozen Brass Band, "Medicated Magic"
On the nighttable: Douglas Preston, "Cities of Gold"

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


The curve of the road is pulling my car northbound. Above the jagged Jemez is the moon, full and proud symbol of autumn. A jet is sluggishly rising as if to pierce it. The movement of the plane is agonizingly slow; it is the height of anticipation to watch it ascend. It's the ultimate battle of physics, gravity giving it all in pushing down on the machine. The metallic body, born of earth, pulling upward the desert, the peaks, the whole of the landscape. Then suddenly, my road levels out, the wings of the plane stabilize, and it accelerates toward the south, gone in seconds.

On the turntable: Toku, "Chemistry of Love"
On the nighttable: David Lavender, "Bent's Fort"

Friday, November 11, 2011

De Los Muertos

In this season of Halloween, I find myself not quite done with ghosts. On the dark morning of Day of the Dead, the girls and I headed back toward the north and east, to visit a handful of towns in various stages of abandon. Snow falling thickly as we drop to the bottom of the valley of San Geronimo. The winds swirls the flurries around me as I walk around the old adobe church, its color a profound red against the frosted grass. The creek beyond flows fast despite the falling temperature. A gunshot sounds up in the forest, somebody hunting perhaps a rabbit for stew. A quick stop at the cemetery back on the mesatop, to walk the juniper and look at the wildflowers growing pale as they die. Weeds rise sturdy from dried cow paddies. The sky is beginning to open up, revealing the nearness of mountains just west, peaks socked in higher up.

Driving down the razor cut road down toward La Liendre, thankful for the blacktop, but eying warily the long drop to the left down into Canon de Agua. Where the road bottoms out, a well-groomed dirt road takes us to a stream crossing, which makes for a good picnic spot. The Gallina river is flowing fast today, its tall cottonwoods bright with color. Cows graze on the other bank, between the junipers. The beauty of his place doesn't seem real, having the perfection of a film set. We feel lucky as not many make the trek out here. But the wind is cold and strong, so we eat quickly, then go up to the town site. There is little left, just a few structures crumbling back into piles of brick. In other places, raised platforms of dirt hint where other homes once stood. It is amazing how fast this town is turning back into desert. There had been a post office here as recently as the 1950s, but in a decade or two, there will be nothing to suggest that dozens of families once lived here. There is a certain pathos to this. When we think of the history of a place, it is usually a collection of events detailing what occurred there. But each of these stone foundations represents the history of a person, the history of a family, each with its own story of hope and eventual despair.

The next place adds a piece to my own history. After a long 50 mile drive toward Tucumcari, I found that the town of Trementia to be barred behind a locked fence. This is supposedly one of the nicest ghost towns in New Mexico, but new owners must have acquired the site, something not mentioned in my 2003 guidebook. There is a older set of ruins a mile away by the river, but they're fenced in too, barring our welcome. I would have no qualms about climbing through the barbed wire, but for the baby. We satisfy ourselves with a mere glimpse, then drive the 50 miles back to Las Vegas. It is not a whole loss, as the drive takes us through some lovely canyons, the taller buttes crowned with exposed rock like bathtub rings, proud reminder of when all this was under the sea.

And finally, up to the hot springs below the Montezuma Castle ruins. The highest 'tub' is the hottest, and here I bob awhile, my tingling feet barely connecting with the bottom. The tubs are mere circular shapes cut from concrete into the hillside, overlooking a stream and the woods beyond. It is the perfect way to cut the chill from the day, an act that recognizes the fast approach of winter.

On the turntable: The Kinks, "One for the Road"

On the nighttable: Raymond Otis, "Miguel of the Bright Mountain"

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Like in an old western,
Fallen leaves race up the street
before the encroaching storm

On the turntable: Asleep at the Wheel, "Live from Austin, TX"
On the nighttable: Frank Waters, "People of the Valley"

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Papers: Oliver La Farge

"A child's world is a strange one. It is full of conflicts and incongruities that would terrify an adult, and the child accepts them calmly, with extraordinary elasticity of mind."

On the turntable: Om, "Variations on a Theme"

Friday, November 4, 2011

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

...This morning, my clothes still smell of smoke. Last night, I'd kept the fire low, since the speed in which the kindling lit was a hint at the lack of recent rain. It had been dark when I'd arrived, but I was able to set up camp quickly, eating dinner before the cold came. When I'd pulled in, a man and his son stood beside their RV, the senior pointing his rifle into the desert. Elk hunters. I'd seen many during yesterday's drive. I was disappointed to find others here, had hoped for solitude. But I'd placed a tree between them and me during the night, and despite it still being early, they were already gone. I eat my breakfast alone but for the lowing of cows a few bends downstream.

Stomach teased but not satisfied, I drop down to Carrizo Creek, and follow her waters a mile or so upstream. The morning is rich with birdsong, the trail flecked with the trident footprints of an opossum or raccoon. The trail leads me through the high reeds that give this place it name. Some of the cliff faces have fallen into the water, witnessed perhaps by the cottonwoods that look centuries old.

Back up into the Comanche grasslands again, these straight roads beginning to tire due to the monotony of landscape. The only features are the occasional grove of high trees, marking a town or a homestead. In most cases, the trees are alive, but the homesteads are dead. The trees of the greatest height reveal the age of some of these places. Many are near the Santa Fe Trail, to which I'm still running parallel. What I've driven in a day and a half took weeks for the wagons. It is little wonder their excitement to see the mound of Rabbit Ears near Clayton, the first of the hills that would multiply into the eventual heights of the Sangre de Cristos. At one point along the road, I find a small settlement, abandoned. Painted on one house are the words, "Andrix Community. Gone but not forgotten." It seems it hasn't happened too long ago. A reasonably new bicycle leans against one wall. Others don't want to go so willingly. Farm after farm have the signs, "Not for sale to the Army." The military is looking to expand an existing base which if implemented, would do away with both the Grassland and the private ranches, effectively displacing 17, 000 people. An interesting parallel with how the Army drove William Bent away from his own trading post 15o years and 85 miles away.

Mid-morning I pull into the general store at Kim. I wonder at this town's namesake, most likely a woman known to its founder, whoever that was. But I can find no history on it, so in my mind there is no reason that it couldn't have been named for a Korean. I stop for a cup of coffee, and am disheartened slightly that I could've had pancakes for less than I'd paid for the lousy camp breakfast I'd had. A couple of the diners here wear fatigues, making me mistake them for military, perhaps scouting some of the ranches. A second glance reveals them to be elk hunters.

West of town, a sign tells me that I'm officially leaving the Grasslands, and within a mile, the land begins to roll then get carved up into canyons. The reddish-brown of junipers begin to pop out of what had formerly been merely a dull green. To my immediate left are the cubist hills of New Mexico; fifty miles further on, the jagged snow-capped peaks of the Colorado Rockies. I turn south toward the former. There's a dramatic change at the state line. One mountain rises striated with green fields like the world's most challenging golf course.

The road takes me through a lovely series of canyons, then plops me square into Folsom. It's a quaint little town on the edge of the prairie, with good running water and plentiful trees. The Post Office sees the only activity, the remainder of the buildings on the main street mere facades, long abandoned. One small shop is a museum. I try to ring the curator, but our poor phone connection prevents me from asking her to come down and let me in. I'm growing hungry, and not finding any place to eat, I give up, and begin the long climb up to Johnson Mesa.

It is a beautiful drive, winding up the hills, the road lined with juniper and oak. Somewhere in the riverbed below me lies the spot where Folsom Man was found in 1908. Atop the Mesa itself are a few homesteads, usually abandoned in winter due to the heavy snows up here. The north side of the mesa is framed by low mountains, and glimpses between them reveal long drops into Colorado. I stop awhile at the small church up here, then drop quickly down toward Yankee, then Sugarite. The old Ensign Mansion lies in ruin amidst the scrub. It won't be long before only the chimneys remain. Sugarite too is disappearing into the brush. There are ample ruins here, but they consist of little more than squared foundations of brick. The signs are plentiful and informative, and it isn't hard to imagine a what had been a sizable community until the dawn of WWII. There had been many Japanese here, clustered up on what is called Jap Hill, and when the coal mines closed in 1941, it isn't hard to imagine where they went. I climb above their part of town to the mines themselves, now a mere arch of brick around the tunnel mouths. There isn't much to see, and numerous mountain lion prints makes me nervous, so I descend quickly. I spend close to an hour talking to the Ranger, who had done a Masters at Naropa. I'm disappointed to find that the Soda Pocket Campground, supposedly one of the nicest in New Mexico, is closed due to the fires of this summer. It is a slight relief though, as the campground is known to host at least 5 resident bears, who would by now be in the last stages of pre-hibernation feeding, made even more aggressive due to a habitat shrunken by fire damage. Plus, the sky is turning ugly, with snow on the way. After a quick visit to a small lake up on the Colorado border, I turn toward Raton.

I don't spend much time here. I take a very late lunch in town, alone but for a woman at the next booth, attractive in her 50's, and provoking the weather in her tight T-shirt and shorts the length most often worn in junior high school gym class. She's midway into her second Corona, which gives her the nerve to flirt with me. I'm flattered, but more interested in my book on ghost towns. She leaves her beer half full, then wanders out to walk up the road toward the off-highway motels. She's obviously trying to hold at bay the loneliness that I am personally trying to explore. And I find it in its full expression at my next stop, the cemetery of Dawson. The hillside below the mesas here is pockmarked by graves, the greatest collection of which are rows of identical white crosses ringed by a low fence. Dawson was of the largest of New Mexico's mining towns, and one of the unluckiest with two terrible disasters that killed the more than 400 men who lie under those white crosses. Their number is staggering. I walk above them, amongst the older graves. There must be over a thousand here, from a town that saw 9000 residents at its peak. Now the town too is a ghost. Later I'll be surprised by photos I'll find on the internet. This was a huge town, with broad streets, a bowling alley, a movie house. Today there isn't a single hint of anything but for these graves. One plot stops me completely. It bears the grave of an infant. Next to it is the mother, who died 58 years later, and was buried here long after Dawson itself was gone. The marker before the grave says, "Reunited." I too carry grief for my own lost child, and can feel the grief of this mother, who held her child in her heart for 58 long years, wanting to meet again in heaven. Surely, she must've had other children, and lived out an entire life in that 58 years. But she never forgot her lost baby. With tears in my eyes, I look toward the river below this cemetery and the trees in their full majesty of color, as they too move toward their deathlike state for winter. I talk to the dead. "Can you all see the Cottonwoods down there? Aren't they beautiful?" This road trip had been a seeking out of lonely places, yet it wasn't until I got here that I was finally alone, despite being amongst perhaps 1000 people in eternal repose beneath my feet...

...there was more to my trip, but it peaked there on that hill outside Dawson. I spent the night in Cimarron, in the Wyatt Earp room of the haunted St. James hotel. I had a meal, a beer, a bath. I passed a restful sleep just across the hall from a locked, scratched up door to a room reserved only for a resident ghost. In the morning I saw a photo that I am glad I hadn't seem before retiring, of a spooky mist floating a few feet above the bed where I lay. This morning, the sky had its own mist. The snow had kept to the higher peaks but rain accompanied me on my walk through town. I drove out, into a landscape of great variety with its trees and valleys and hills, but the clouds kept a low ceiling, flattening the impact as if I were in the grasslands again. There were a few brief stops. A museum at Philmont. Buying soup mix at La Cueva. Lunch at Sugar Nymphs in Penasco. Coffee in Dixon. And the sun finally came out, finally warming the body in its unheated 4-wheel drive casing, and the thawing of the heart coming only with the embrace of wife and daughter, and the return home.

On the turntable: Om, "God is Good"
On the nighttable: Frank Applegate, "Indian Stories from the Pueblos"

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Who's Gonna Know Your Grass?

Wake before the light and drive off into the dark. Even in the pre-dawn, I can just make out the smoke-filled valley behind Atalaya, the site of recent controlled burns. The mountain is backlit slightly, as if there is a city beyond the ridgeline. Below the high mesas of Glorietta, the sky turning gold to the east. Not far now to Las Vegas, the true gateway to the grasslands. To the right, the horizon flattens out. To the left, my shadow begins to appear, then lengthens. The sun on my face is a welcome relief, for the heater in my truck isn't working and does nothing against the chill of the morning. The higher peaks of Wheeler are already snow covered. Though lower in height, Hermit Peak stands as true sentinel. Near the cottonwood oases near Watrous, I pass a convoy of trucks carrying the massive fang-like blades of wind turbines. This march of progress passes a empty homestead just off the road. It looks recently abandoned, the cattle pens, water trough, and wind mill still intact. In the distance, the tell-tale shape of the mesas gives the town of Wagon Mound its name. I wonder what the Comanche once called it. The town is hazy, as the ground is heated by a sun now directly in my eyes. Not long after, I'm through the Canadian River valley, and arrive at the true grasslands.

I slow as I pass through Roy. Bob Willis once cut hair here before he became famous for other things. I take a second lap through town until a couple of songs of his play out on my speakers. I have a couple choices of roads from here, and I take the one that looks most remote. It is a zig-zag route to the northeast, the paved surface narrowing and bisecting fenced-in land of such a scale that I can see no homes or structures but for the town of Yates, empty and rotting on the prairie. As I drive on, hundreds of locusts jump into the air, many of them into the path of my truck. I think of fate, and the fact that my choice of roads has contributed to this genocide. I slow some, but it doesn't help. Finally, I come to a complete stop in order to pee. Standing beside the road, I take in the emptiness, and how small I've become amidst it.

Late morning, and I arrive in Clayton. The town has long broad streets, and its heart is still in the 50s, with an old hardware store, a movie theater, and a hotel of an even older vintage. I walk around a little, popping into a thrift shop whose door plays "Dixie" as it opens. The books are all on sale for a dollar or two, most of them religious texts. In front of the town bank a flag flutters bearing the likeness of Black Jack Ketchum, notorious train robber who died on the gallows here. He may have once eaten in the saloon of the hotel, whose menu and selection of microbrews on tap is pretty progressive for such a remote town. The bartendress brings my filet, the meat tender from years of walking the prairie not far away. As I eat, I overhear the bartendress telling one of the staff about how just last night she broke the heart of a regular customer, one who wanted to keep her and build her a house. Such are the trials of being an attractive single woman in a lonely country town. As is dealing with the flirtations of a couple of cowboys who come to sit at the table next to mine. As she deftly fends off their attention, I notice the broadening of her accent. Much as mine does when I later order a coffee, in the attempt to ward off sleepiness brought on by the beer.

After lunch, I drive out to the lake to see the dinosaur prints. At least eight different animals passed across the mud flats at the lake's east end. A sign tells me that one of them had been a baby, pursued by two larger carnivores. Considering I've got a newborn at home, I find myself worrying about the little guy. As I walk around the flats, a lizard runs across, then scurries into a nearby hole. I wonder if it feels an sort of connection with this place. I stop, and look at the sky. The wind is picking up dramatically, but there is not yet a hint of the storm that is due to come in, not a cloud up there.

Keeping up the dinosaur theme, I fill my tank at Sinclair. Moments later, I'm forced to stop at the only stoplight in all of Union County. Ten minutes down the road, I'm in Texas. Despite having many friends from here, I have a bit of a thing about this state. Being a New Mexican, I'm all too aware of the poor behavior of my neighbors. But I'm strangely drawn to it, find myself wanting to like it. As I drive away from the only Texan town I'll see today--Texline-- I turn on a special mix I've prepared for this part of the drive. I sing along. "Deep in the Heart of." "Yellow Rose of." But my own yellow rose is back in Santa Fe. I pass many old abandoned farms with their rotting cars and trucks that shined new in the '40s. I pull into a grove of cottonwoods standing tall amidst all the grass. Thompson Grove. I sit and drink my by now cold coffee, admiring the bulletholes blasted through the trash can that has obviously been a threat to somebody. Turning my head I read a sign that warns me that rodents here may be carriers of plague. Plague! Within seconds, Thompson Grove is in my rearview mirror. In about ten minutes I cross the state line.

Oklahoma, what's the deal with your roads? I bump and shake my way north across the panhandle. The corn alongside the road is rotting on the vine, nowhere as high as an elephant's eye. The town of Boise City is a mere roundabout, with an old brick building at it's center. The signs confuse, so I pull over and become a spoke radiating from its center. As I attempt to pull up a map on my cell phone, a farmer pulls in beside me and asks if I need something. After he points me the right way, he tells me that my truck is in a dangerous spot. What I'd assumed was assistance was more a rebuke. The drive east is amidst industrial farms and small oil production facilities. The land is nearly destroyed, some the worst desertification I've ever seen. I'd heard that the recent drought rivals that of the Dust Bowl, into whose heart I am now heading. Due to that event, these National Grasslands were created, as means of encouraging a more sustainable means of prairie management. But the state of the land makes me question whether any lessons have been learned. And coupled with the current economic disaster...

I'm in Kansas, crossing the Cimarron River, dry but with tall and healthy cottonwoods, their color a gold that rivals the sunrise of the morning. I make a couple stops at Middle Spring and Point of Rocks, stops kept brief due to the wind that is now roaring. At the former, I can barely spot the wagon ruts of the Santa Fe trail, leading to this sheltering grove, this nourishing stream. From Point of Rocks, I look over the gold ribbon of cottonwoods stretching away in both directions. My vantage point is the third highest elevation in Kansas, yet a fall from here is enough to injure but not enough to kill. As I drive out on a bad road, I notice a rattler stretched out across the dirt. The wind won't be the only thing I'll need to mind at the camp tonight.

I'm fed onto yet another lone highway, one that surprises me in being paved. At the Colorado border it ceases to be. The gravel is well groomed enough that I can keep up a decent speed. But the uncertain surface brings stress into the body, one that doesn't cease until the following morning when tire once again touches tar. Dust streams behind me as I make my way, arrow straight. Finally, I find the turnoff to Picture Canyon, and drop down amidst the mesatops. I'm disappointed to find an RV here, then I'm heartbroken to find the campsite closed. I talk with two workmen who are paving a walkway to the toilets. I'm further annoyed at this, frustrated at this attempt to cater to the pampered type of tourist who'd probably never come to this remote spot in the first place. I am told I can camp beside the now barred gate, but the winds are too strong to camp in the open. A better choice would be below these cliffs which offer the ultimate windbreak. Luckily, there's another camping area is not too far away. The day is late so I hurry over the trail out to the pictographs. In the fading light, I can only make out one. It is of a recent vintage, less the stick figures of the Ancient Puebloans, but fuller and in multiple colors. This was probably done by a latter day tribe, Comanche maybe. Due to the light, I'm unable to find more, so I head back to the truck and race the sun to Carrizo Creek...

On the turntable: Stone Temple Pilots, "Core"
On the nighttable: Raymond Otis, "Little Valley"