Road Trip VIII, Days 14-18, Albuquerque, Oklahoma and the Ozarks: Green Chiles, Porcupines And Beavers, Oh My!

If you appreciate rodents of usual size, cute cabins, and veggies of Hispanic cuisine, this post is for you.

Fourteen years ago our little family of four spent five months in Santa Fe as part of the Mate’s last sabbatical. We love our wet, green northwest home, but we never got that red desert out of our system. We LOVE coming back to New Mexico.

Albuquerque is actually a better fit for us than artsy Santa Fe, with its twisty old streets too narrow for biking and its running trails all headed straight up mountains. And since we have a dear friend in Albuquerque it’s become a regular stop for us.

Of course we have to get our fix of the best green chiles in the country. These are from The Range in Bernalillo:

Encrusted with blue corn, served with arroz verde!

Then a hike along the flank of the gorgeous Sandia mountains.

Thanks to Desert Buddy Beth for taking this!

Usually we head into the heart of Texas after leaving the Land of Enchantment, but this year we let a ferocious tailwind zoom us across the Panhandle and right into northwestern Oklahoma.

On past trips OK has been a mess of blizzard or tornado, but this year it’s been downright lamblike. We spent a night each at two different state parks, Boiling Springs in the west and Greenleaf in the east, with a bike ride in Tulsa along the Arkansas River in between. We now have a much cosier relationship with the Sooner state.

Boiling Springs is an oasis on the prairie, featuring enormous cottonwoods. The joys of off-season: we had the whole place to ourselves, and the cabin cost less than a nice motel room.

But the highlight was this porcupine, asleep in the high, sunlit branches with only a tubby half-moon for company.

Wait a minute…that’s not a bird’s nest!

By the end of the following day, no more coyotes howling at night, and cottonwoods had switched to oaks as we entered Ozark country in eastern OK: Greenleaf State Park. The hiking was only ok (appropriately), but oh, those CCC cabins!

Doesn’t it look like it’s melting? I guess those CCC boys found a way to build quickly on a slope.

Because the weather gods were being so sweet, we decided to take advantage and visit another state that’s usually “under the weather” in February: Missouri. (Also, we just couldn’t resist staying off I-40 one more day! No offense, I-40…we’re just a tad sick of you.)

And in the Missouri section of the Ozarks is where we met not only this beaver

Hey, what are you doing awake in the middle of the day?

but also a spring which makes Oklahoma’s “Boiling Spring” seem like a joke. Notice I didn’t take a picture of Boiling Spring? Now check out Missouri’s Big Spring:

288 MILLION gallons per day bursts out from the base of this cliff!

The Show Me State is right! Here are a couple more views:

The limestone cliff wall, leading to the spring

Closeup of that incredible upwelling of water:

I have Spring Fever!

Oh, and lest you’re wondering about those Traveling Avocados of ours…#4 topped a delicious plate of pasta containing capers and sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan and greens, but we snarfed it before I remembered to take a picture. And #s 5 and 6 are apparently holding off ripening till we arrive in North Carolina. I feel ya, avocados!

Road Trip VII, Days 1-4: Los Angeles to Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

Wait–Day 1 is Los Angeles? Gretchen, did you move?

No, I cheated. Starting from my home in Washington State, I flew down to San Diego for a first-ever reunion with my sisters, while the Mate followed, at the wheel of our faithful Red Rover. We met in LA and started Road Trip VII from there.

beautiful anemone in tidepool at Point Loma in San Diego

beautiful anemone in tidepool at Point Loma in San Diego

The theme of the trip so far? It’s the raison d’etre of our road trips: the joy of moving through beauty.

Our favorite way is to feel the air on our skin. So Day 1, we hiked in the steep canyons of Hollywood, startlingly green from all that recent rain, ignoring the Oscars-related bustle going on just below.

Ah, air. Even LA air. If it’s sunny in February, my skin’s not picky about pollution.

Day 2, we rode our bikes through the cactus gardens of Saguaro National Park in Tucson, marveling at the variety of the plant forms.

Make your own caption for this one

Make your own caption for this one

Can we not find a better word than “desert” to describe such arid Edens? 

dsc02176img_2210But sometimes the air-on-skin model is too rough for our tender epidermes. Day 3, approaching Albuquerque from the south, we were looking forward to biking through the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, glorying in the thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese and other migratory fowl who vacation there. But the wind had other ideas–or rather, the wind-blown dust did.

Scenery? What scenery?

Scenery? What scenery?

With poor little Red Rover getting sandblasted along I-25, we decided we wouldn’t fare too well. Boo. Sadness.

When tumbleweed meets bike. Seriously, the size of some of those things!

When tumbleweed meets bike. Seriously, the size of some of those things!

So we pushed on to Albuquerque, where, thanks to our buddy Beth, I was able to take two long power-walks through the wonderful neighborhoods of Northwest (backyard chickens, horses, goats–even an emu!) as the wind gradually relaxed to less-than-lethal levels.

Plus Beth took us to this REALLY COOL restaurant! This is the ceiling.

Plus Beth took us to this REALLY COOL restaurant! This is the ceiling.

Mmm…and chiles rellenos with fresh, deeply-green New Mexican chiles….whoops, sorry. Not today’s theme.

On Day 4, we finally got to experience air-on-skin, moving-through-beauty in the blessed slo-mo that is camping. In Palo Duro Canyon State Park, this red, rocky wonderland astonishing close to Amarillo–really!–we rode our bikes around in the last of the afternoon sun.

Only safe way to take a bike-selfie

Only safe way to take a bike-selfie

Then in the morning we went for a hike.

Dawn's early light from our campsite

Dawn’s early light from our campsite

This was very welcome as a warmer-upper, as the blessedly still air pushed the temp down to 20 overnight. And we weren’t allowed to use our stove because of extreme fire danger. Brrr.

C'mon, Texas sun, do your thing!

C’mon, Texas sun, do your thing!

Did I mention this place is right outside of Amarillo?!

Did I mention this place is right outside of Amarillo?!

Lest you think The Mate and I are too precipitous in our appreciation of nature’s gifts, just let me add: I could easily have written a post about the joys of being outdoors while holding still. But with a whole continent to cross, basketball games to watch and a bakery waiting for me to come back and work at…my skin and I choose to celebrate our happy reality: moving air.

Almost...warm! (Sometimes air on skin is more of a concept than a reality...)

Almost…warm! (Sometimes air on skin is more of a concept than a reality…)

Road Trip V, Days 9-11, Albuquerque-Memphis: New Mexico Has a State Question; What’s Yours?

Red or green?” That’s it. That’s the New Mexico State Question. Simple as it is, it tells volumes about the culture of this mini-nation-within-a-nation. It’s different.

Forget the Republic of Texas, which prides itself on being the only state with the right to fly its flag at the same height as the US flag. Forget “Don’t Tread On Me” California. Both those states are as quintessentially American as you can get. Even if you’ve never been to either, you know them–from movies, TV, ads. They’re what foreigners think of when they think of us.

New Mexico? Here, an American from any other state feels like the foreigner, but in a good way. New Mexico is different. Although The Mate and I only spent two nights here on this trip, our family lived in Santa Fe for five months in 2004, and all those memories of first impressions now jump to the fore.

Think you know multicultural society? How about a state where the dominant culture is not only “minority” (Hispanic), but also older than the rest of the US? (Santa Fe is, arguably, the longest continually-inhabited town in the US, competing only with St. Augustine, Florida for this honor.) I remember seeing campaign signs for some local election in 2004; every single name was Spanish. That’s who runs the place, and they are NOT immigrants.

Think you understand the relationship of Indian reservations with surrounding towns and states? New Mexico’s pueblos are more numerous, vibrant, and front-and-center than anything I’ve seen from Arizona to South Dakota to Washington. This is NOT to say they don’t struggle with dire poverty and all its issues; they certainly do. But in New Mexico the pueblos are right there, not tucked away. It’s no accident that the annual Gathering of Nations, the largest powwow in the US, is held in Albuquerque.

Fancy-dancing at UNM's Pit (courtesy Nic McPhee, Flikr Creative Commons)

Fancy-dancing at UNM’s Pit (courtesy Nic McPhee, Flikr Creative Commons)

Architecture is New Mexico’s most striking feature. Between Pueblo Style, with its adobe (or, today, stucco) in the brown spectrum from beige to rust, its gorgeous curved lines, its ladders and vegas and juniper-post fences, its ristras of red chiles hanging at every porch, and Territorial Style, with its Spanish colonial Zorro-esque balconies, New Mexican towns can feel like movie sets. (In Santa Fe, where this look is coded into city rules, even Burger Kings are humbly brown and curvy.)

The Loretta Hotel in Santa Fe (courtesy Wikimedia)

The Loretta Hotel in Santa Fe (courtesy Wikimedia)

Now that I think about it, the curve is a fitting symbol for New Mexico. The adobe walls, the higgledy-piggledy streets, the mountains and dormant volcanoes; the white sand dunes and cottonwoods and piñons and chiles. Ah, the chiles…

Ristras for sake (courtesy wikimedia)

Ristras for sake (courtesy wikimedia)

which brings me me back to the State Question: Red or Green? It refers to your choice of chile sauce on your dinner. Can’t decide? There’s a third choice: “Christmas,” which means–duh–both!

Mmmmm...Christmas! (Courtesy Wikimedia)

Mmmmm…Christmas! (Courtesy Wikimedia)

If my current home state had a State Question, I think it might be, “Salmon or apples?” or perhaps, “REI or Cabela’s?” (Washinfton’s pretty polarized, east-west, but we’re all outdoorsy!) My native state, North Carolina, would probably ask, “Biscuits or cornbread?” Most states in the Lower 48 aren’t distinctive enough, in my opinion, to have a State Question. But if they did–what would they be? Use your imaginations, and let us hear! I’ll feature the most creative in my next post.

Road Trip V, Days 6-8, Bishop to Albuquerque: A Desert Buffet

Foodies, sorry–that’s “desert” with one “s.” You’ll have to try someone else’s blog for the caloric kind. I’m writing about dirt today.

We just spent a day and a night in Death Valley, where the dirt looks like this:

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

and this:

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

We were hoping for wildflowers, but a heat wave a couple of weeks ago seems to have sped them through their cycle too fast. We enjoyed a few glimpses of yellow and purple, but most of the color came from…dirt.

The cool thing about America’s deserts, though, is that they come in infinite variety. You may be familiar with the red-rock areas like Arches and Grand Canyon; we are, which is one reason we didn’t route ourselves that way this year.

Sorry, Zion, not this year!

Sorry, Zion, not this year!

 

Instead we found ourselves discovering little patches of Amazing, like the tiny tip of Nevada where we saw Joshua Trees and wild burros,

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

or the western edge of New Mexico, where the earth seems to have neglected to clean up the results of a brief spell of vomit:

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

Of course, this being the weirdest US weather year in recent history, everything we saw while pulling into Albuquerque was covered in snow, and I was too chilled to stop and take pictures. But I think I’ve made my point for now, which is that we Americans are SO lucky!! We don’t have our just deserts–we have a whole glorious smorgasbord of sand and dirt and rock to choose from.

So the next time you feel deserted? Think about it–is that really such a bad thing to be?