Tuesday, January 27, 2009

on more of the southwest

This weekend, Charles and I took a much needed road trip with barely a plan. I had read about White Sands National Monument in the field guide my brother gave me for my birthday, and the pictures I'd googled were breathtaking. So, our only goal for the weekend was to see it for ourselves. We ended up seeing a lot more.

We set out Friday night after work, and drove through an amazing double rainbow (I've seen more rainbows in the year I've been in Tucson than in the rest of my entire life). It was rather unusual, actually, the rain storm that had persisted for 2 or 3 days- a droning drizzle, in fact. But these vibrant, full arc, rainbows were so magical... and so unable to be captured on camera. Anyway, we drove east through the rain and saw some of the lovely landscape before sunset. Right around Deming, NM, we decided to stop. We were just over an hour from White Sands. We found a wicked cheap hotel, and watched TV for the first time since... wow I have no idea.

The sun was out the next morning, though it was a little chilly. Driving through Las Cruces and into White Sands the fog was curling around the mountains, and hovering above the towns. It reminded me of the T.S. Eliot line from 'Prufrock,' when he describes the fog as curling once about the house and falling asleep. Like a cat.

The landscape throughout the Southwest U.S. is ALL like that- some beautiful line from a poem. It is so vast and visible. You can see where the mountains begin to rise from the flats. You can see their every wrinkle and ripple and shadow. I don't think I could live anywhere else without feeling claustrophobic.

So we got to White Sands and it was better than all those pictures. We drove through, hiked a bit, and played on the dunes. There were lots of people sledding down, but it didn't look fast enough to be fun. I made a sand angel, though. The sand there is so white because it is made of gypsum unlike most other sand. It is actually the world's largest area of gypsum dunes, taking up 275 square miles! This area is adjacent to the White Sands missile range which is used for testing. There are actually several ranges in the vicinity because it's so large and flat, with a good climate, and far enough from civilization.

In addition to missile testing, New Mexico has a rich history in space. After leaving the dunes, we headed up to the New Mexico Museum of History: a low budget but definitely interesting place with a killer view. From 50 miles away, you can see a white layer on the horizon, that in sunlight resembles a fog layer, but is actually White Sands. It's unlike anything I've ever seen.

After the museum we took a scenic detour into Texas, along Hwy 54. These little highways that cut through the middle of nowhere are my absolute favorite! We skirted through just north of El Paso into the Franklin Mountains, along this gorgeous mountain pass. We then took more little highways back to New Mexico, and began the return westward.

Saturday night we spent in Lordsburg, which is home of this neat little ghost town called Shakespeare that we toured on a previous trip.

Sunday we headed back into Arizona and down to Katchner Caverns, near Benson. This took us through the San Pedro River Valley, where we decided we want to move. It is far from populated, and if you wonder where the phrase, "purple mountains majesty" came from, this is the answer.

The caverns are very new as far as caves are concerned as they were just discovered in 1974. They are very wet as well. No photography was allowed on our hour and a half tour, but it was certainly beautiful (how many times can I say beautiful in one blog?). Picknicking in the sunny scape of the state park surrounding the caves, we got ready to head back to Tucson and daily life.

These little trips are what keeps me sane. The vast expanses of the desert are sweetness to my soul.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

on the border

Buenos dias mis amigos!! I know it's been a minute since my last entry, but things have been wicked busy, and then my computer was defeated by the Greeks (a trojan horse virus). I have stories to tell and pictures to post, though!

The end of December (my birthday and Jesus') found me in margarita-ville... err, I mean Puerto Peñasco. Though the two are similar.

Puerto Peñasco is also known as Rocky Point (by English speakers), a mistranslation of course. It's a fishing town in Sonora, Mexico, located on the Sea of Cortés. It is about 2 hours from the Arizona/ Mexico border (Lukeville/ Sonoyta). Though the town is (obviously) full of marine life, the state itself is named after the same desert in which Tucson lies: the Sonoran. I recently realized that the word "sonora" means "resounding" (duh! just like the english word sonorous). But isn't that the most beautiful concept ever?? I live in the resounding desert! And that it is, folks. That it is.

But, back to the ocean. My mom flew into Tucson so that we (she, I, and Charles) could head down into Mexico for the festivities. We actually took a shuttle so that I wouldn't have to drive (plus I didn't really care to deal with getting Mexican car insurance or deciding whether or not to believe all the rumors about border violence). Mom was super excited about crossing the border, and even got her new passport stamped (though it wasn't neccessary). The landscape was pretty much exactly what I expected. Not dissimilar, naturally, from what I see everyday, though organ pipe cacti start to show up in abundance that far south. The border city did seem as shady as its reputation, but not so for the towns past the border.

We arrived at our hotel around 5 or 6 p.m., and were greeted by the most incredible scarlet and gold sunset ever, right off our balcony. Oh, the ocean! After taking pictures and soaking it in for a while, we went in search of our first authentic Mexican meal. Well, the food was authentic but the restaurant looked like the Mexican version of Cracker Barrel. Maybe decorated as such to make us tourists feel at home. Anyway, the chiles rellenos and the Mexican shrimp cocktail (very different from the American one) and the free birthday drink (yay me!) were the highlights of that dinner. We even made friends with Luis, our server, who gave us some good tips.

The next day we set out to explore the Malecon, which is in the center of town, where all the trashy tourist souvenirs and the delicious seafood are sold. Also, it's full of many delicious restaurants. I'm not going to give you a day to day or minute by minute account, but there are certainly some highlights.

For starters, the food. Bueno!! Me gusto!!! I thought it would be tricky for 3 vegetarians to eat like royalty in Mexico (home of the taco and the burrito- burro meaning donkey, yes), but it was easy. Enchiladas, chiles rellenos, quesidillas, chips and salsa, arroz y frijoles, huevos y frijoles, etc. And most of the restaurants had these AMAZING views of the ocean, one was actually on stilts OVER the ocean, and another atop a hill overlooking the entire town. Not to mention how reasonably priced everything was. At one restaurant, a mariachi band offered to play as we watched the sunset. Of course I accepted. I ADORE mariachi bands. I want one to play at my wedding. I was accustomed to the mariachi bands in Tucson, where you just tip them a couple bucks for a song. So the band plays, and silly me, I ask for another- Uno mas? Romantica?!? So they play again, and it's beautiful. I give them the tip. THey count the money and then inform me that it is five dollars per song. WHAT! FIVE DOLLARS? I am shocked and outraged and feel incredibly taken advantage of. It wasn't THAT GOOD. But, alas, I pay up, and feel that the evening is ruined. Never again will I let a mariachi band in a tourist town serenade me at sunset.

Also, walking was very doable, as everything was relatively close. We were the only tourists walking, it seemed, but cabs were cheap when we needed them. Actually, we were the only tourists in the whole town for the first three or four days. It was deserted (Christmas is not busy season down there).

My favorite place was the 'Mud Mall' or 'Shacks Fifth Avenue.' Okay, so we should have taken a cab here, and the walk there was not my favorite. Imagine a little town in Mexico where tourism is the major industry besides shrimp. So of course there is 'tourist area' where everyone works and naive Americans pay 38 dollars for everything because it's such a 'special price' for them. Well so of course then there's a 'non-tourist' area where everyone lives and shops and doesn't have to speak English. Okay so we walk ten miles through this part of town. Obviously we are American. But I try to be discreet. Mind my business. I try not to be annoying or loud or draw too much attention to us. This is how I am through the whole trip- I just want to try my best to respect culture- language- etc. However, I ended up pissed off, and later in stitches many times when my wonderful mom would decide to wear hot pink velour jump suits, wear her hair in high ponytails, do lunges in the streets, point, make a huge scene when she stepped in dog poop, refused to speak Spanish, etc, etc. While it was happening, we would be getting dirty looks, and I would be raving- why couldn't she just act like a normal person? Then later I would find myself in hysterics thinking about it. Oh my mom is SUCH a character!! She doesn't care what other people think about her!!! If she wants to prance into a spanish speaking farmacia in bright white sneakers, and some crazy outfit, and refuse to say 'gracias' instead of 'thank you,' then by golly she will. And I love her for it. It was hilarious walking ten miles through town to the mud mall with all eyes on us. I might as well give up trying to blend in. Of course I don't want to get knifed either, but helas. So anyway, the mud mall is this dirt street lined with shops. The goods are way more interesting than what's being sold in the Malecon. They are unique, hand-crafted, and the people are more likely to let you haggle a GREAT price. Of course I bought jewelry. Mom and I got good at negotiating. We used these well learned skills to haggle later on at teh Malecon.

At one point I had one man laughing so hard at me because he didn't expect a little white girl to be such a stickler. He wanted 48 dollars for a blanket. I said 20. He said, '(Gasp) Mi Amiga, noooooo.' How could I insult his goods so? 40, he says. 20, I say. 40, he says. I start to walk away. 35, amiga!! 20, head over the shoulders. 30, he retorts!! No, gracias, says me. He grabs my arm, laughs aloud, amiga, amiga, ok!!! 20!! He pats my arm and wishes me Feliz Navidad and Bueno Ano Nuevo about five million times and he can't stop patting my arm... "amiga, amiga... hahaha." He didn't expect it, but it was awesome. That blanket went to my brother. :D

Anywho, being tourists in this town means you get harrassed a lot. Every person you pass has something to sell you. And if you don't want that, well they've got something else. Jewelry? Necklace? Bracelet? No gracias. Sunglasses? Blanket? Pottery? No gracias. Turtle? No gracias. Rent a horse? No gracias. Marijauna, cocaine? No gracias. Mexican massage? No gracias. I'll keep you warm. I'll be your honey? (this offered to mi madre) No, gracias!!!! So you get used to saying no.

We made friends with a couple people, one seller from Baja California- Rosalillita, helped me with my Spanish while asking me the English word for this or that. It was pretty awesome. Another time I had a full out conversation with one of our cab drivers, and it was exciting that he could actually understand my limited language skills.

Everynight, the sunset was breathtaking. We took many walks on the beach, many lounging afternoons, many treks into town, and even more delicious meals.

On the 2nd day there, my camera broke. We have no idea how. But mom had her camera, so all was well. I'd love to post pictures, but the files are too large to load here, so either I'll have to resize them all, or post separately. This will come later.

In the meantime, we're planning a trip to New Mexico, and also to the Arizona Renaissance Faire. I'll try to keep this updated. Thanks for reading, and hasta luego!