It’s been four months since I went to New Mexico. It was the first solo trip I’d ever taken and I can’t stop thinking about it, especially lately as I put together my next adventure, this time to Arizona for my birthday in March. I keep coming back to the way I felt while I was there, to these specific moments that seem suspended in my memory. They’re glowy, like an old television flashback, with a certain amount of sparkle around the edges.
When the park ranger at Fort Union National Monument asked me what I thought about the site, I told him it was creepy. He said that was an unusual response, one he didn’t get regularly, but that I was the second person that day to call the place creepy. I tried to qualify the statement. I told him creepy wasn’t exactly the right word. The place felt eerie, maybe, sort of ghostly and maybe even haunted.
In going to New Mexico, I wanted to experience two things: National Parks and really good food. So, upon my arrival in New Mexico, I went straight for the tacos, at Kelly’s Brew Pub, where I met a bartender who shared my name. I took meeting her as a good omen since she was only the second Terra I’d ever met and then I scampered to Petroglyph National Monument, to get my first taste of New Mexico’s national park scene.
My trip to New Mexico was my first-ever solo trip and I launched into planning mode before I even booked the tickets. I ordered a travel guide, started a Pinterest board, perused the National Park Service website and flipped through some of my favorite travel blogs to see if they had any suggestions on what I should be doing with my time in New Mexico.
I danced in the middle of the road at Valles Caldera National Preserve. And when I say, “I danced,” I mean I fucking danced.
I don’t even know why I did it, not really, just that I needed to do it.
Maybe I was overtaken by the beauty of the place, by the trees and the air and the grass and the streams and the brilliant blue birds that kept jetting in front of my bright red Ford Focus and especially by the perfect loneliness of that road. I’d passed one car by that point, about two hours prior, and had spent the morning bumping over and around potholes in complete solitude. Maybe I didn’t want to leave without expressing how happy I was to be there. Maybe I just needed a middle of the road dance-a-thon to express to nature, the world and myself the incredible joy those battered roads and that beautiful place gave me.
One of the things that attracted me to New Mexico, aside from the sunsets, the National Parks, the mountains, the food and a Buzzfeed quiz, was the opportunity to learn more about the history of the southwestern part of the United States. I can rattle off all sorts of history about Virginia. I can still name the original 13 colonies, know all about the native inhabitants of my home state and the states that surround it and can give a pretty solid account of the colonization of the entire eastern side of the United States. When it comes to the rest of the country though, I don’t know much, or at least not much detail.
In my line of work, summers tend to be pretty much off limits for personal travel. It’s our busy season, so while everyone else goes to the beach or jets off to faraway lands, I’m in Virginia, working more weekends than not and dreaming of fall-time travel adventures.
By the end of August I was tired but itchy for a new adventure. I hadn’t traveled anywhere since Italy, back in the spring, and my wanderlusting bones were aching. Bored and alone on a Sunday night, I poked around on Buzzfeed and found this quiz. After more than 20 years of using the internet I still can’t pass up a good internet quiz. Especially when it promises to tell me where to go for fall travel if I only plan my perfect day.