Borderlands. There’s a certain sort of energy conjured up by that word. I’m not sure what to expect, but it isn’t this: a day that starts with ancient petroglyphs, moves on to the World’s Largest Pistachio, and ends up with a picnic on Tatooine. Yup.
Petroglyphs are my favorite. I’ve hiked hours into dry canyons, canoed downriver for days, and climbed steep cliffs to see just one or two together. This site at Three Rivers in what is now New Mexico has 21,000 of them. Haphazard natural rocks and boulders strewn across consecutive hills along a ridgeline, and set against a distant valley, provide the medium. A myriad of shapes tapped, pecked, and carved by the Jordana Mogollon peoples 1000 years ago were everywhere, on every surface, facing every angle, and we have to place each footstep with care so as not to step on one. Swirls, circles, geometric patterns, hand prints and bear claws, rivers or snakes, turtles, human faces, bighorn sheep shot with arrows, springing and running motion indicated by curled legs. Awe-some.
We stay loose and pay attention on the road, ready for a discovery around every bend in the road. Take Pistachioland: A 40-foot tall pistachio. Two scoops of blackberry cobbler and pistachio ice cream. Lemon-lime and Hatch chili nuts. Pistachio brittle. ‘Nuf said.
White Sands National Park sits next to the US missile testing range. Access along Highway 70 is closed twice a week for public safety, roadside fencing with concertina wire make it very clear where you should, and should not, be. We thread the needle and get there late afternoon for a hike along the dunes, then decide to stay and make dinner. “Half the park is after dark!” right? Nope. Not here. Be gone by 9 PM. Ya know, missiles.
Sublime and ridiculous seem to be the continuing theme. The next day begins at the laundromat due to an unfortunate incident with our welcome mat (which serves nicely as floor-to-floor carpeting in our tiny trailer). Darn that Covid, or we would be sampling the donuts and coffee that earned this particular laundromat its four stars.
From there we head south and hang a right on I-10, 25 miles from the border with Mexico. I would love to cross over, have lunch in El Paso, tast the real McCoy of my favorite cuisine. But no passport, a dog, and a global pandemic put the kabosh on that. Another time.
New Mexico is no culinary slouch either. How to choose? Google reviews to the rescue. Colin identifies a “hidden gem” and we pull off the highway at Ramona’s Cafe. Deserted buildings and weedy sidewalks stretch on either side, but Ramona’s is hoppin’. She comes outside to take our order: chili relleños, enchiladas, and tacos ordered “Christmas” (with both red and green chili – a New Mexico thing), with a giant side of guac. I back the trailer under a tree next to the railroad lines, and we tuck into a feast as a train slowly rumbles its approach, and halts. Are they stopping for Ramona’s?
We spend the next few hours traveling westward. The March desert is spotted with saguaros, cholla cholla, and prickly pear in bloom. We play Kingston Trio’s “Desert Pete” twice, and then Pete Stewart’s “I Gave You A Desert” because we use the key words “desert” and “Pete” and inadvertently end up with both songs. Border patrol seems endemic and I try to imagine what it would feel like to safely bring my family a hundred miles through this place in hopes of a different life.
Destination: Saguaro National Park, to do one of our absolute favorite things – biking with Katie. It’s a perfect traveler hack: explore the vast spaces from outside the vehicle, but follow the rules and keep your dog on paved roads. A sunset bike ride through the blooming desert: sublime.