Great Sand Dunes, CO / Taos, NM

Trip Start Mar 26, 2006
Trip End Oct 20, 2006

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Flag of United States  , New Mexico
Tuesday, March 28, 2006

As I sit down to write about the beginning of our adventure, I'm self-conscious knowing that friends and family might quickly tire of a bunch of discursive blather. I'm not sure that the actual journey itself will match the expectations I have for what a two-year round-the-world trip is "supposed" to be like. My meditation instructor's words quickly come to mind, "That's just fine. Notice what you're doing - thinking - and let it go." Best to just be getting on with it.

We left Denver to many hugs and warm goodbyes from Todd's family. No sooner had we gotten just outside of town than the sign overhead said "Road Closed Ahead" due to icy weather. As we backtracked the first twenty minutes of our journey to go a different way, the irony of immediately having to take another route wasn't lost on us.

Our detour took us south on I-25, zooming past my old high school haunts, which I hadn't seen in years. The turn-off for the Renaissance Festival, the steep pitch of Monument Hill. I remember an ex-girlfriend's mother telling me that when you drove down the hill you could "just sense the depravity and darkness of the entire valley below and how much its residents needed to be saved from their wicked ways." I don't miss those days of church and judgment and black-and-white ideology. We drove past the red brick building of my high school, now updated with a gleaming, glass-walled addition. Strange how this place that holds so much of my history could hold so little emotional meaning for me.

We drive south through Colorado Springs, past a flurry of car dealerships and suddenly shoot out of the city into no-man's-land.

At Walsenburg, we leave I-25 for the Great Sand Dunes. I ask Todd how he thinks people in this sleepy town get by? What thoughts fill their heads as they do the jobs they do, if they can find work? Boarded over windows, rusty cars and signposts, and empty streets hint at better times. As we leave the city limits, I ask Todd wht he would do if he had to live here? He thought he'd work for the Forest Service, though doing what he doesn't know. I said I'd work with the local Native American and Latino populations.

The dunes rise up in the distance, at first blending into the base of the mountains that tower above. Eroded by wind and water over thousands of years, they tower over us, monuments to natures' patient force. This is the land of the Ute and Navajo peoples. An interpretive sign describes how they believe every living thing, including trees and plants, should be considered as an equal member of the Universe.

What was it like to ride these open fields on horseback, running without the limitations and restrictions of barbed wire, homesteads, and yours vs. mine? Again I find myself wondering what the families in these faraway ranches think about, what their solitude feels like to them, far away from the busy-ness of the city, the ever-present call of possibility, the many choices and alternatives. Do they gracefully settle into their lives here or do they feel the crush of what their lives could have been had they taken a different road way back when?

The sun sinks lower in the sky and we locate a site at the campground. The brisk wind bites our fingers as we eat hastily prepared spaghetti that is cold only a moment after it touches our plates. We hungrily slurp it down, not bothered by it.

The third time our air mattress deflates I notice a touch of fear, but we quickly discover that the bed is just temperamental and doesn't like to have too much weight near the seal. We finally get settled, tucked beneath the blankets as the cold begins to gather around us. At first the frostiness is noticeable, but we're so excited about this being our first night on the road we don't pay any attention. A sleepless hour passes and by now we're realizing that the surrounding cold means business - we snuggle closer. By midnight we're snuggling closer than we ever have before, desperately trying to rob heat from one another. The air mattress has become a cold front below us, instantly chilling whatever side of us it's touching. By 1am we're audibly shivering. I decide to don my winter hat and wonder if I should wear my gloves, too. But by this point we're so exhausted that we have no choice but to sleep in momentary fits, broken by seizures of shivering. By 4am we wonder if this night will ever end. At first daylight, Todd jumps up, starts the car, and cranks the heat. We bask in the sudden heat wave and dread re-emerging into the icy air outside the car.

New Mexico seems odd from nearly the moment we cross the border from Colorado. More sleepy towns, double-wide trailer homes, sleeping fields waiting for the warmth of spring.

Just north of Taos on 285, a strange looking hobbit-like dwelling suddenly pops out of the passing landscape, followed by another and another. Curious adobe-looking homes in eccentric shapes that somehow emerge from the earth like something from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. A sign reads "Earthship Visitor Center" and we swing a U-turn to pull into the parking lot.

We've happened upon an Earthship development - entirely self-sustaining and off-the-grid homes constructed from plastered over earth-packed tires and recycled materials. Each house sports a panel of solar collectors, a modern wind generator, and a roof that is angled to catch rainwater. Their weirdness makes these dwellings strangely appealing, and the earthy solidness reminds me of the organic farm B&B we stayed at in Costa Rica. Food for thought.

At the Taos Gorge Bridge we eat our sandwiches as we're serenaded by a wacky but friendly local who can't play a guitar and can't carry a tune but doesn't seem to mind and we don't either. Turns out he wants to be in the movies.

We locate the Abominable Snowmansion Hostel, a super-crunchy granola outfit. Shaggy carpets, thin walls, long-haired hippies playing guitar and singing with fine voices. The real deal. It's going to take a serious transformation for these two uppity Boulder fags to fit in here. We check in for the night - happy to be inside and warm! - grab dinner at Orlando's, a fantastic joint for authentic New Mexican fare (blue corn shrimp enchiladas Christmas style with red and green chili - thanks for the recommendation Bill!), then settle in for a good night's sleep.

Overall it's already been a string of adventures. I can still feel the discursive background hum about "What am I doing with my life?", "What are we doing in touristy Taos?", and "How exactly is this benefiting all sentient beings?"

Enough for now. Time for some sleep.
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