“I am glad I will not be young in a future without wilderness.”
I went to New Mexico to wander the dunes of White Sands National Monument and savor the crystal blue skies and perfect geometric shapes of the desert. The afternoon I arrived a wild wind whipped the sands into swirls of murkiness and visual frustration. I camped twenty miles away because the military was conducting missile testing next door to the monument at the military base. In the morning, dawn rose calm and clear and I went back to White Sands, entered the park for free – it was National Parks Week – removed my flip flops and climbed the cool white dunes of sand looking for the best angles on this other-worldy landscape.
I went to New Mexico to hike fourteen miles in the Gila Wilderness. (With strong advocacy by Aldo Leopold, the Gila was the first designated wilderness area in 1924.) I waded across the Middle Fork of the Gila River fifteen times to reach the warm waters of the Jordan Hot Springs. In twenty four hours I saw only five hikers. At the springs I saw nobody, except the two bright yellow eyes of an animal – reflected by my headlamp – as I was hoisting my food bag for the night. There aren’t too many places left where you can go and experience nature unaffected by humans.
I went to New Mexico to drive endless roads and give the one finger wave to three cowboys in three pickup trucks in three hours. I went to New Mexico to eat green chile stew and fresh tortillas at breakfast. I went to New Mexico to have a beer at the classic Buckhorn Saloon in Pinos Altos. I went to New Mexico to arrive in remote Reserve at twilight and check in by telephone to the Frisco Motel, the only place in town.
I went to New Mexico because I lived there before in Gallup in 1999, working at a newspaper, covering the gritty town and surrounding Navajo Reservation. But because the state is so big, I never made it to White Sands or the Gila Wilderness. My brother Roger also lived in New Mexico in Las Vegas, attending United World College in the 1980s. I have strong memories of soaking in hot springs there, inhaling the cold crisp air and fragrance of Ponderosa pines all around.