– J.R.R. Tolkein
New Mexico bound! (Again.)
With Tammy beside me in the darkened cabin of the Dustmobile, we turn north off of I-20 onto US-84 at Roscoe. Suddenly we are in outer space, lost in a world of blinking alien lights, red, on-off-on-off, second to second. I’ve been this way enough now that the pragmatist in me knows what they are: the nearly 630 turbines of the Roscoe Wind Farm, one of the largest in the world. But the first time I took this road, also at night, I remember a strange mixture of terror and awe, not sure what I was driving into, a little wary of being blown to smithereens in a military ballistics test gone horribly wrong, and fascinated by the beauty of a never-ending sea of lights. In the dark, they seem to be everywhere, infinite. The fact that I know what they are will never quite eradicate the elation of floating through the stars, seeing the shadow of the turbines passing through the dull, red glow, invisible otherwise, keeping a mute but steady beat against the void of night. I am a space age Quixote, and these are my windmills.
* * * * *
Another intersection: this time, we turn west off of US-285 onto I-25. We have been moving toward cloud-shrouded mountains, expecting rain with each turn in the road, for a while now. And then, not rain, but snow–suddenly, out of nowhere, giant, fluffy flakes falling faster and faster, until we can hardly see past the dashboard. Other drivers slow out of respect for the elements; we cannot beat it; we have no choice but to join it. It is a brief interlude, but amazing: soon the clouds recede, the sun shines forth again, and Santa Fe stretches out before us in its glare.
* * * * *
We find ourselves at Ghost Ranch, outside Abiquiu. The weather could not be more user-friendly: bright, clear blue sky, chill but warm enough for short sleeves. Chimney Rock calls.
Before heading back to Santa Fe for the evening, we head into the wilderness to find a place called Plaza Blanca, a small box canyon remarkable for its pale white, ribboned rock formations. This is a place you have to really want to find: it is off even the unbeaten track, let alone the beaten one. The entrance is not marked; the road gives gravel a bad name. Tammy is tired, so I grab the camera and head off into the desert hills. Before long, I find myself in Aladdin’s palace.
If you’ve done any amount of spelunking, you’ll know what I mean when I say that this place feels like it ought to be underground. Open-air stalagmites and elephant ears loom all around; Plaza Blanca is a cave that doesn’t know its place.
And, then, it just ends…
Monday is Santa Fe day. We head to the town center, to have some food and do some shopping. Some memories intrude: we breakfast at a little Italian bistro called Mangiamo Pronto, across the street from the Loretto Chapel, home of the miracle staircase. A little over a year ago, we burst through the doors of this place, very covered in very wet snow, fresh from the Christmas Eve Farolito Walk on Canyon Road. And no one batted an eyelid. They just made room for two abominable snowmen, and went on with their evening.
Then, on to Kakawa Chocolate House, where Tammy’s professed love for their products, and her unofficial, voluntary role as the joint’s spokesperson net us a little special treatment. Plus, they like my Floyd T-shirt, so I feel right at home. The truffles’re Tammy’s thing, but I could eat about fifty of their chocolate chip cookies. Easy.
* * * * *
The road to the Ski Basin, through Hyde Memorial State Park (New Mexico’s first), winds up and out of the city at a steep angle, past entire neighborhoods whose adobe architecture renders them almost invisible, as natural an intrusion as humans are capable of perpetrating on their environment. Farther up, bare aspens spring from the dawdling snow as if flinging themselves into the sky in search of summer: rank upon rank of ivory soldiers marching up and down the mountainside, ramrod straight. At first I kick myself for having left the camera back at the hotel, but then I settle into the view. If a picture says a thousand words, a memory speaks a million.
* * * * *
NM-503: a perfect little highway into the heart of the lunar surface. It is, in part, the first leg of the High Road to Taos, but the real fun starts after that splits off and heads north to Chimayo. Right about the time you get to a little place called Cundiyo, things really take off. The road narrows and becomes little more than a village street, twisting its way around cliff faces, beyond blind. It is a true back-roader’s dream. Don’t let the desert deter you!
* * * * *
I’m standing in the Santuario de Chimayo, staring into the pocito, a small hole in the floor in a room off the main chapel. One wall of the antechamber is lined with rows of crutches, symbols of the people who have come here seeking holy dirt from the little well, out of which a friar long ago pulled a miraculous crucifix, Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas. Legend has it that the crucifix, when removed from the area, would promptly disappear, only to be found once again in the little well. Now, people seek healing here; the lady in the gift shop tells stories of the faithful, of those who came seeking a miracle and, in faith, found one. Alone in the tiny chamber, I stoop and take a handful of the soil from the pozo; I hold it quietly in my hand, and then let it run through my fingers back into the hole. Do I believe? In the healing properties of the dirt, no. But in the people whose beliefs have built this place, yes. Very much. That which is sacred to others must be sacred to me, if only because it is sacred to them. I may not share their beliefs, but I do share their need to believe, in something beyond myself, perhaps not up in the sky or out in the ether, but greater, ongoing. Infinite. Like the lights outside of Roscoe, tiny, individual points that, together, fill up the night and become a thing of beauty.