We rose early yesterday morning, as has become our habit on driving days, and pulled away from our charming Alpine retreat at about 5am. Coming down off the side of the hill where our camp had been we found ourselves completely alone on the wide road at the base of the valley which would take us out of town and back to Route 10. Alone, quiet, and quite beautiful, as the sun started to rise and the valley floor and surrounding hills slowly morphed from brown to beige to tan to yellow to orange. By the time we reached the interstate the sky was cobalt blue and the earth returned to its familiar burnt red. Before we reached the interstate, though, came a nice Texas moment. A UFO, or what appeared to be one, floated up ahead of us. With no one else around and a completely empty skyline, this white roundish oval object just seemed to be suspended, not moving, not apparently attached to anything, it looked like a giant balloon that had escaped a child’s grasp. Pen took several photos and was for all the world convinced that we were in the company of extra terrestrials. My best guess was some kind of weather balloon. Time to get out of hill country!
As the day warmed up the scenery became duller – on the interstate with only lorries for company, thundering towards El Paso, which we were to skirt diagonally right of, taking the road north about 20 miles short of the border town, which would lead us up into New Mexico. Nothing particularly eventful. The nearer we got to El Paso the busier the road. An ill advised breakfast stop at a truly horrible retail park and then we were heading north, crossing the state border at about 9am. Seemed to have taken a very long time and still only about half way through. Still, a new state and a new horizon. The earth seemed to change colour almost immediately – which I realise now might have reflected nothing more than our changing position relative to the sun – now losing the angry red and brown replaced by an almost mustard yellow earth and pastel pink rock. The road too was considerably more interesting; what seemed like an endless series of quite large rolling peaks and troughs, on the way down I would have to break to keep the RV below 80 on momentum alone, then crawl up the opposite side, sometimes doing as little as 40 by the next summit. It was surprisingly extreme, and when the wind started to gust, a little unnerving.
We stopped for lunch in the car park of a Millies or Mollies or some such, and Pen cooked Mexican, which she is becoming pretty bloody good at, armed with an array of spices we’ve been buying en route. Although there had been a down to go with every up of the road we definitely felt like we were gaining elevation and this would continue after lunch. We stopped again briefly for gas, while I was filling the car Pen was inspecting one of numerous chilli stands and came back to the RV with a huge hanging bunch of dried chilli. They were quite sweet, almost chocolatey, with a slightly burnt, tobacco-like aftertaste. Really good.
An hour or so later and we found ourselves up on a kind of ridge with desert valleys on either side and almost no settlement at all, apart from the ubiquitous roadside service trade of diners, motels, and Dunkin Donuts. Then the sprawl of Albuquerque, looked pretty unpleasant from the road, all flashing neon and the road became a sea of lane-changing impatient drivers – so stark the contrast between rural and urban traffic moods. We continued climbing past Albuquerque and with quite strong wind gusting was actually pretty alarming at times, the RV lurching from side to side with each gust, and what felt like a higher, narrower ridge to stay on.
Not long after though we came over what felt like the ‘top’, and there were the suburbs of Santa Fe. Having read so much about the old fashioned beauty of the place I was a bit miffed to find the ‘burbs like any other – big roads, smelly, noisy, characterless. We soon found our new campsite to be all these things as well – though perfectly friendly and functional for it. Now past 3pm and I was pretty knackered, but, there we were in a new city and pretty restless with it, so we jumped on a bus to town and set about exploring.
Santa Fe – once you get into the city proper – is as everyone describes; an arty little piece of the past preserved through strict building regulations requiring everything to be built in the traditional adobe style. Although the newer stuff is not actually made out of mud and leftovers, but it still looks the part, and the untrained eye will not be able tell palace from car park. Perhaps it was our tiredness, but we couldn’t quite make sense of it at first, it felt a little contrived, though fascinating at the same time and with endless little boutiques and crafty places to explore the next day. In the end we plumped for a very nice early evening meal, contemporary Tex-Mex, and a couple of beers, and then headed back to the RV for well earned sleep.
Woke pretty early next morning and headed straight for town – spotted Wholefoods on the way and did a stock up on way back out, lots of new local beer to try – yummy. We had brunch in town – Huevos Rancheros – eggs in spicy tomato sauce with various kinds of beans, really really good, then we went on the tourist trail – cathedral, Native American Art Gallery, and the Palace of the Ambassadors, where we learnt a little of the area’s turbulent history – though, in all honesty, the guide was pretty crap. Still, I discovered that the version of the Lincoln cattle war that I had got via the first Young Guns film was surprisingly accurate – or at least it matched the version given in the museum. Unfortunately the Native American Art gallery was closed, real shame, had been looking forward to it. However, outside the Ambassadors were a troupe of street sellers with handmade Native American jewellery, wraps, charms and rugs. According to all the guidebooks this was the place to buy in Santa Fe, and on the spur of the moment we decided to buy our wedding rings here, after much deliberation, choosing matching silver rings with inscriptions which symbolised life, truth, and eternity – seemed pretty appropriate – and we were much happier with them than the ones we had chosen in rather a hurry before leaving England.
So, I’m now sitting back in the RV, enjoying a refreshing local pale ale, writing my journal and planning tomorrow’s route. I keep changing my mind over it. The destination is Grand Canyon (very exciting!) and it is only about 5 hours away, so I figure a little detour is in order, but can’t decide between Sedona, Arizona, which was recommended by our scootering friends in New Orleans, or, a country route through some of the villages around Santa Fe, taking a quieter route through more unknown territory than the interstate. There’s a cheesy bonus with the latter, which is the four state monument, where you can simultaneously stand in Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Corny but might just swing it! The utter beauty of this trip is that we can just pick and choose as we feel and be pretty sure of something magical around the corner.
Whenever I’ve not been exploring or map consulting I’ve been flying through ‘On the Road’, it’s fantastic, the ultimate narrative for this kind of journey, and seems to be reinforcing the sense that we can just do as we please and go entirely on impulse.
So, back into town tonight for a much talked about restaurant – the food here is fab – then back to the RV for a relatively early night before back on the road tomorrow.
Life is pretty damn beautiful.