Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Climb to Colorado

Much of this drive was desert prairie along old route 66
After a week-long delay for weather we left Tempe, Arizona and instead of hopping back on I-10 West we headed north for Flagstaff and began the long, slow journey home. It had been dangerously windy and snowing in northern Arizona and western New Mexico so we held out in sunny Tempe until Monday April 11.

Lookout after rising out of Phoenix
This part of the trip was the reverse of how we started…when we left New Jersey, we fast forwarded the seasons to what felt like spring in Florida. Now it feels as though we rewound from summer back to spring again! Climbing out of the Phoenix area was refreshing to say the least. We left behind the city sprawl and at the peak of the climb we leveled out on high grassland. I never would have guessed that just above the cactus-filled desert would be mountain prairie! We saw our first snowcapped mountains on the approach to Flagstaff and actually saw some roadside snow and runoff which was uplifting after seeing so little natural water for so long.
Lily enjoying Daddy's drawstring for breakfast
Our Flagstaff campground was thick with pine trees and there were iris greens working their way up from the dirt. The campground sat at the base of an incredibly steep mountain covered in coniferous trees and huge rock faces with a meadow at the base. I’m continually shocked to see elements of our current energy system at work and Flagstaff was no exception. Seemingly right in the middle of town was a small mountain being mined (or ripped apart as it appeared). It made me wonder who decided it was a good idea to flatten one of the most beautiful elements of the town. The answer that keeps coming to me when I ask these kinds of questions is more often than not: people who want to make money. We saw power plants in the middle of the desert with water being piped in from who knows where, coal trains with fifty or more cars, and endless miles of power lines and high tension wires crisscrossing the landscape. It is sad to me to hear on NPR that we have been pumping carcinogenic liquid into the earth in order to extract natural gas…again, who ever thought that would be a good idea?
Approaching Flagstaff...snow!
Chris and I are implicit in the use of fossil fuels, especially during these few months of travel. But, we have been lit up with a renewed gratitude for the ability and desire to really do it differently. We are grateful that New Jersey doesn’t have the water rights issues that Santa Fe and Denver have. People can’t even set up a rainwater collection system in their own yard because they don’t “own” the water. We are grateful we can probably afford to use solar on our future home. We are grateful for the incredibly fertile soil in Hunterdon County that allows us to garden and compost so readily. We are grateful for the tall trees that shelter us from the winds and the smoothed over hills that provide great runoff to streams and rivers. These things don’t exist everywhere and it’s so easy to take them for granted.
Flagstaff campground scenery
We spent one night each in Flagstaff, AZ and Gallup, NM (didn’t see much there but the wind) and settled in for four nights just eight miles east of Santa Fe, NM. Here we stayed in a woodsy hillside campground shaded by junipers and other evergreens. The roads were dust though which made it hard to walk around if it was windy. Chris took the truck to a local place for service and learned that Santa Fe is really a progressive little city in many ways. There was no question when he asked the mechanic about restaurants that serve local and organic. He shared a few options and we learned about a co-op grocery where Chris picked up some necessities and was enlivened by the sincere efforts of the people to value local business, food and sustainable practices. There is no “downtown” Santa Fe with high-rises and a business district…which was also refreshing. We ended up having lunch at Vinaigrette and two dinners at Real Food Nation. We took a short walk around the historic district and its narrow streets and center plaza area. Native Americans from nearby reservations (I assume) had their jewelry and trinkets laid out for sale on blankets along the sidewalk of the Palace of the Governors.
A Painted Desert rock formation
We drove through a few reservations on our way to Colorado and were so struck by the apparent poverty and sadness in those areas. They are peppered with trailer homes and broken down cars along with roadside trading posts touting ‘free petrified wood’ and ‘authentic Indian blankets and pottery’.  I was also so struck by the landscape of the Painted Desert and the Rocky Mountains. There are endless awesome rock formations ranging from choppy black ground level rock deposits to enormous liquid-like red mountain rocks with pits carved out by the wind and natural caves below where native people lived at one time. How incredible that people could survive with “so little” and now we feel we need so much (myself included). Emerging from Raton Pass at 7, 800 feet we got our first glimpse of the Rockies and it was breathtaking. We chose two state parks for our time in Colorado and the first was Lathrop. We got a campsite and arranged the camper so our bedroom window faced the two Spanish Peaks which rise to twelve and thirteen thousand feet. It’s been a month since Catalina so the moon is rounding out again and we enjoyed a night with our blinds up because we had no nearby neighbors! We would have enjoyed exploring the park more but planned on one night so headed north toward Denver and its impressive mountains. More on that in the next entry!
The Spanish Peaks from Lathrop SP

Another beautiful full moon rise...this time at Lathrop

Especially with Easter approaching and given our usual family celebration of the holy day, we are feeling ready to be home: still enjoying all we see and learn, of course, but missing family and east coast springtime. All the best of Holy Week to all of you.

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