Friday and Saturday, November 17 and 18
The highway from Alamogordo to Las Cruces is terrifying. Not the road itself: that’s smooth, flat, not crowded and totally fine. It’s the signs. The signs say things like
- MISSILE TESTING AREA HIGHWAY MAY BE CLOSED FOR MISSILE TESTS YOU WILL BE ABLE TO RESUME TRAVEL IN ONE HOUR
- DUST STORM AREA IF IN DUST STORM PULL OVER TURN OFF LIGHTS TAKE FOOT OFF BRAKE PEDAL STAY BUCKLED IN WAIT
- DO NOT GET OUT OF CAR MISSILE RANGE AREA POSSIBLE UNEXPLODED ORDINANCE
- DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS PENAL INSTITUTION IN AREA
- PULL OVER FOR ALL ROADBLOCKS AND INSPECTIONS
- and, of course, that New Mexico favorite, DON’T FUCK WITH THE RATTLESNAKES YOU IDIOT.
The highway also boasts White Sands National Monument, which is amazing and another phenomenon that is more or less impossible to describe. I paid my $5 and drove into the sudden white sand dunes rising from the desert floor. It was crazy and disconcerting and beautiful, which is a combination I am almost getting used to, here in New Mexico. The road winds between dunes as the mountains and desert slowly vanish and you think you’re at the beach, but you’re not. I pulled over at about the second trailhead, because it said it was a Nature Trail and I like Nature Trails. They have helpful signs designed for small children, of whom I am one, and also they are usually pretty flat and not very long. In other words, just my speed. So off to the Nature Trail I went.
The RV parking lot was blocked off by several trucks. I didn’t, of course, notice this until I was already there. “Yo,” I said to the Tom Petty looking dude hanging out on the side of the truck, “Are you going to be here long?”
“Couple hours,” he said, and I, slow on the uptake, began to realize that I had stumbled onto a film set. What gave it away? I don’t know, maybe the truck ahead that said HOLLYWOOD LIGHTING or possibly it was the stars on the doors of the trailer blocking my way.
“I can’t get by you,” I said and he nodded and kindly offered, “Want me to back it up for you?”
“Hey,” I said, “I’ll have you know that I have gotten WAY better at backing up than I used to be.” He chuckled and I decided to have my hike anyway. “I’ll just hike around a little,” I said, and he nodded again.
It was a good hike. I learned a lot from Katie the Kit Fox’s helpful placards and I got to look at strange movie paraphernalia I didn’t understand, including an end table sized box made of mirrors which I immediately coveted without comprehending. There were no movie people in evidence, but there were lots of footprints. White Sands has a lot of footprints. It is beloved.
When I went to leave I found the whole movie crew heading back up the dunes. I suspect they were shooting a Latin American commercial, because White Sands is just the sort of place that you see in commercials and everyone looked sort of Latinx, but I don’t know. I smiled and said hello to several people, some of whom even smiled back. Everyone was wearing perfectly torn and faded jeans that fit like they cost more than most people’s weekly paycheck and talking on their phones. Everyone was short and pretty and beautifully tanned and young and slim. Since I am none of these things and the path was narrow, I figured I had better be extremely cheerful. They were very nice and giggled at me in a friendly manner. One man was super courtly friendly and practically swept a bow. Perhaps he was a star! I have no idea, because I am sadly terrible at recognizing even my close friends out of context, let alone somebody I might have seen in a movie once. Later, as I drove Moby and Amelia across the sand (the pavement stops and the road is made of packed sand; it’s so cool, it is like driving on another planet) I saw them all driving by and my Tom Petty truck driver friend waved at me. He was probably impressed by the way I coolly backed up by myself. I sure as hell was.
Brush with fame over, I got back on the highway and decided to go to the missile range. Yeah, because sometime buddhist, sometime quaker, all time pacifist me just loves her some missiles. I don’t know. I thought perhaps there would be photo ops. A rusting missile, tilted, in the desert! The metaphors, they write themselves! There was supposed to be a Missile Museum on the Missile Range and I am a sucker for a weird museum. I followed the museum signs and found myself instead heading posthaste into the check point for the missile base. The signs got more and more alarming as they moved from EMERGENCY LINKUP SITE to DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES LEAVE YOUR VEHICLE to PHOTOGRAPHY PROHIBITED to AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY and that was the point where I chickened out completely and turned around, fully expecting to be disappeared by the men in black at any moment. Nobody, however, paid me any mind, which was good but also insulting because HEY, I might have had a bucket of pig blood in my camper! I might! Or even a CLEVER SIGN. I kind of wish I had.
Ignored by the military industrial complex, I was soon granted another chance to be arrested when I came to an Immigration Checkpoint. This country is getting weirder by the day. The road was blocked off and everyone was being shuffled to what looked like it used to be a truck weigh station, which, as we all know, are mostly closed nowadays because nobody cares anymore how much trucks weigh. Which is stupid as hell, but, anyway, better check instead that everyone has their papers, please. Actually, though, they didn’t check anyone’s papers that I saw. There were two lines, one for cars and one for trucks. In an RV you never know what do do in these circumstances, so I went with cars which was evidently the right choice. I had no idea what to do: should I roll my window down? Pull out my license? Smile, nod? Do nothing? I chose to roll down the window while smiling and nodding, which is all more difficult to do at once than you might think. I wanted to take pictures but we were rather close to the missile range and its NO PHOTOGRAPHY signs and also, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m completely chickenshit. The immigration cop glanced at me in my terrible and glaring whiteness and said Thank you Ma’am, drive on and drive on I did.
I drove on through a couple of mountain passes and Las Cruces and eventually I came to an RV park somewhere outside Deming, New Mexico. It was basically a gravel parking lot by the highway, but the camp hostess was super nice and we chatted for some time. It was also ridiculously cheap, so, yay. I liked it but I hadn’t gotten far enough the day before so I left this morning, or, well, noonish, and drove the fifty or so miles to Silver City that I had been planning to make last night. I stopped for a couple of hours to hike around City of Rocks State Park. CITY OF ROCKS! It is more or less what it says on the box! Amazing looking campsites nestled in among the OMG giant rocks of strangeness! And they had a star watch party going on tonight!
I would have stayed there but I need to be available by wifi and cell and all the other accoutrements of post modern communications right now and, well, City of Rocks is not wired. So instead of gorgeous and cheap City of Rocks I am in a very expensive large RV park next to a graveyard. The host was very nice but the site is not at all level and Amelia nearly went into the arroyo behind us when I was trying to level her. It was actually terrifying and yo, if you haven’t had a trailer try to run away from you, I would keep it that way. Disaster was averted, pretty much, but, damn. It was a bad few minutes. The electric connector to the truck also broke again, so I am here until Monday when I can get that fixed. Oh well. The wifi is not all that and the price is wrong, but my phone is working beautifully. And I might get eaten! The host warned me that there is a rogue mountain lion in the vicinity. There were two but they – unspecified they, presumably the Lion Authorities of Silver City – had to shoot one as it was such a problem. Now there’s just one, bent no doubt on revenge. Also, there are javelinas who are also dangerous and fearless. And yet it looks so tame outside, with the dead and the arroyo and the pawn yer gun shop on the corner.
PS There is a family crisis going on back home in Asheville. I don’t really want to talk about it but yesterday and today I have not been sure if I shouldn’t just turn my little caravan around and head back to North Carolina. Or get myself to a city, put Moby and Amelia in storage and hop on a plane. I am not sure what I think I could accomplish when I got there, but perhaps I should go and I might yet have to. I don’t know. I am trusting that I will know when and if the moment comes. But in the meanwhile I’m more distracted than before and unsure of what I’m doing, where I’m going. I have changed my route a bit as a result. I was going to head south and see Bisbee, which my friend Carol recommended highly, and Tombstone, because the name, but instead I am heading northish. I don’t know why, really. It’s not super helpful, but it will get me to LA, its postmodern communications network and its giant airport perhaps a little faster than I was planning.