A beautiful day in the neighborhood #1: desert Christmas

This is a thing here in Tucson–Santa hats for cacti.

One of my goals for the new year is to post more consistently on here. Another one of my goals is to notice the beautiful and/or quirky in my everyday surroundings. Last April, I wrote a post, N is for Now, about how our worlds had shrunk to the size of our houses and neighborhoods and about looking at our surroundings through a macro lens, noticing the beauty in the often-overlooked details of our everyday lives. I’ve been thinking about that idea a lot as I’ve moved to a new city, and many of us, at least here in the USA, are back on lockdown (or should be–stay home, ya plague rats!).

So, I’m starting a new series on the blog: A beautiful day in the neighborhood. I hope to post a picture a week of something interesting or cool in my home or neighborhood. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to join me in this venture. It might be a fun topic for a blog hop–I’d love to see y’all’s neighborhoods!

Winter break road trip episode 5 (the final chapter): Albuquerque and Grants, NM

2019-12-30 11.22.12.jpgWe last left our intrepid blogger in a snowy desert just outside Carrizozo, New Mexico, looking for a post-apocalyptic Denzel Washington. Spoiler alert: we didn’t find him. So we drove on, passing through Albuquerque on our way to Grants. While in Albuquerque, we had to feed the husband’s other cinematic obsession, Breaking Bad, with a stop at Walter White’s house:


Apparently the owner of the house is not fond of its TV-generated fame. According to various reviews (including on Trip Advisor), she sits on a folding chair in her garage and yells at people who take pictures. The chair in the garage was empty when we visited, and we stayed a respectful distance away while taking pictures, so we managed to avoid any confrontations.

After that brief detour, we decided to drive on to Grants. Grants is a small town on I40 near the Arizona border. There are quite a few things to do in Grants, but even after a good night’s sleep, we were too tired and too ready to go home to do very much. So, we limited ourselves to one attraction: El Malpais National Monument. El Malpais is best known for volcanic features–a lava flow, lava tubes, and a cinder cone–but we spent most of our time on the sandstone bluffs right off the main road through the park. The ranger I chatted with told me it’s usually windy on the bluffs, but the morning we visited was almost perfectly still.

We spent quite a bit of time out on the rocks, taking in the view, the colors, the textures, and the stillness. 2019-12-30 11.30.52.jpg

Pools of ice in the rocks made for an almost eerie effect:

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This is one of my favorites: wind-sculpted rock, ice pools… just so perfect.

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Who let these two weirdos in?

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I have no idea how a tree can grow in nothing more than a crevice in a rock. Junipers are tough!

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And finally: a USGS marker from 1949, hammered into the rock.

US Geological Survey marker, 1949

For me, travel is all about serendipity and surprise: discovering the small town I never knew existed (because a snow storm stranded us there), sitting on a sandstone bluff on a cool, still winter morning, talking with a ranger whose life has taken him all over the Western US, or maybe watching the sun set over a moonscape in a missile range. Whether you travel ten minutes on foot or ten hours on a plane, stop and experience the details and the ambiance. Notice the USGS marker hammered into the rock. Sit on the bluff on a still morning and listen to the sounds of the desert. Smell the smells, touch the textures, taste the food and the air. Let the sense of a place fill you. If you can do those things, even a walk around the block can be magical.

We returned to Flagstaff later that day, December 30, tired but refreshed. 2019 was a hard year for us, and 2020 will have (and has already had) its challenges. Those few days wandering in the desert helped fill the well, helped restore our strength and perspective to face each new challenge and to live each new moment to the fullest.

A very belated Happy New Year! May you find rest and restoration wherever you can.

Winter Break road trip episode 4: Serendipity in Carrizozo

2019-12-29 10.10.13.jpgAt the end of the last episode, Winter Break road trip episode 3: Roswell, NM, your intrepid blogger had spent the day getting her picture taken with little green men and stuffing her face with Mexican food (note: your intrepid blogger spends lots of time stuffing her face with Mexican food).

We left Roswell about an hour before dark, a fact which shall become important momentarily, headed in the general direction of Albuquerque. Let’s drive awhile, we said. We aren’t tired, we don’t have reservations, let’s see how far we get. Note: if someone says this to you when you’re in the middle of the desert at dusk, kill them, take the wheel, and spend the night at the nearest motel. If you don’t, you might just find yourself sliding down a two-lane highway, in the dark, in a freak snowstorm, in a car without snow tires or chains, in a remote section of New Mexico populated by little more than oryx and buzzards. Note: ask not for whom the buzzard circles; it circles for thee.

But I digress.

We slid into Carrizozo–literally–and got the last room in what appeared to be the only motel in town. It was dark and cold and snowy, so we huddled up for warmth and contemplated being stranded in a tiny New Mexican town for who-knew-how-long until the snow melted. I’m pretty sure the phrase, “zombie apocalypse,” entered the conversation at least twice. But–spoiler alert–we were not eaten by zombies. We weren’t even snowed in. Instead, my husband got to experience the wonderful serendipity that sometimes happens when you end up somewhere unexpected.

The aforementioned husband is a big Denzel Washington fan, and one of his favorite Denzel movies is The Book of Eli. In fact, he’d just watched it the night before our impromptu stop in Carrizozo. I, good librarian that I am, decided to read the Wikipedia entry for Carrizozo while we were stuck there. Wanna guess what movie was filmed in Carrizozo? If you said, The Book of Eli… ding ding ding! We have a winner.

So the next morning, we drove just about every street in town, while the husband took pictures and exclaimed over each place that appears in the movie. Not having seen The Book of Eli, I just took pictures:

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Looks like a good setting for a zombie apocalypse, no?

Just outside of town, we got to enjoy the contrast inherent in a snow-covered desert:

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I hope you’ll join me once more for the last leg of our journey, in which the husband gets to visit another entertainment landmark–Walter White’s house–and I sit on a cliffside on a cold winter morning.

Winter Break road trip episode 2: Alamogordo to Carlsbad Caverns

2019-12-27 17.06.52.jpgAt the end of the first episode, Winter Break road trip 1: Flagstaff to Phoenix to White Sands, your intrepid blogger had survived a minor dust storm, depressing country music (is there any other kind?), and a drive across a missile range. Yeah, your intrepid blogger knows how to take a vacation.

After spending an uneventful night in Alamogordo (is there such a thing as an eventful night in Alamogordo? Well, maybe – depending on what’s being tested at the missile range), we drove over the mountains and through the desert to grandma’s house Carlsbad Caverns.

Cloudcroft, NM: Cloudcroft is a cute mountain village at over 8000′ elevation. It was also a convenient bathroom stop after we’d overcaffeinated in Alamogordo. We stopped at the Dusty Boots Cafe, where we were “welcomed” by the following:

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I have a snarky sense of humor, and I’m not easily deterred when my bladder is full, so in we went. Inside we found clean bathrooms, friendly staff–and the owner’s collection of mammy jars. My husband and I are as white as the snow currently piled up on my driveway, and we were cringing. Pro tip for restaurant owners: décor is for making *all* of your customers feel welcome, not for advertising your racism.

Carlsbad Caverns: If you haven’t been to Carlsbad Caverns, go. Go now. Seriously, go. It is the most spectacular cave I’ve ever visited, and I’ve visited quite a few. I’ve included a few pictures below, but as a rule, pictures taken inside caves really don’t do justice to the formations or to the overall experience of being 800 feet underground.

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Underground pool

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Formation reflected in another underground pool

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Your intrepid (and blurry) blogger on a trail 800 feet underground

We got to the cavern later than planned and managed to snag tickets on the last tour of the day. We emerged from the magical underworld at sunset.

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Join me later this week for episode 3, in which your intrepid blogger goes alien hunting in Roswell. Spoiler alert: the only thing that got probed was my wallet.

Winter Break road trip 1: Flagstaff to Phoenix to White Sands

White Sands, New Mexico, at sunset

It’s Winter Break for most of us academics in the US. Work is quiet, lots of holidays, so it’s the perfect time to:

  1. Get caught up on work.
  2. Get lots of writing done.
  3. Catch up on house chores, maybe clean some closets.
  4. Cook and freeze some meals for next semester.
  5. Say to hell with responsibilities and take a road trip!

Guess which option the hubs and I chose?

I’m writing this on Sunday morning from an old motel in the booming metropolis of Carrizozo, New Mexico (population 996 according to this Wikipedia article). I don’t have any pictures of Carrizozo yet, because we skidded into town (almost literally) in the middle of a snowstorm after dark last night.

What I do have are pictures from the previous days of our adventures, which I’ll break up into multiple posts.

Day 1: Flagstaff to Phoenix

Our first order of business was to drop our son in Phoenix to catch a flight for his Winter Break trip. I don’t have pictures from this leg, because this is a trip we make about 6 times per year for various reasons, so it’s not very interesting to us anymore. What made it interesting this time was 1) some dicey driving leaving Flagstaff on a slick, snowy freeway, and 2) some dude who decided it would be a good idea to drive north on the southbound side of I17. I’d lay you very good odds alcohol was involved in that decision.

Day 2: Phoenix to White Sands

Thursday we drove—and drove, and drove, and drove–across what felt like an endless expanse of desert. Rocks! Cactus! Dust storms! It was a thrill, I tell ya.

Lordsburg, NM: We drove through a mild dust storm just over the New Mexico border and decided to stop in Lordsburg for a late breakfast. All was well except for the incredibly depressing old school country music playing on the speakers… in the women’s restroom. Like, I’m sorry your wife left you with hungry children and crops to harvest, but I’m just trying to pee. I don’t have any pictures of Lordsburg, because the musical tales of woe sapped my will to live.

Rockhound State Park, NM: We were lured here with the promise of finding jasper and thundereggs. No such luck, but we had a nice hike on a rocky, cactus-studded hillside.

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Our primary destination was White Sands National Monument, a collection of gypsum dunes inside the White Sands Missile Range. Yes, children, we went on vacation in a missile range, because we know how to party.

We arrived just before sunset, which made for some lovely conditions for picture-taking.

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We spent the night in Alamogordo before heading south through more endless desert to Carlsbad Caverns. But that’s a topic for my next post.

Is anyone else celebrating the holidays by wandering around in the desert like the Old Testament Israelites? Just hubs and me then? OK.

Feel free to share your own wanderings (or holiday dramas or whatever else is on your mind this time of year) in the comments.