Sandia Crest was, in fact, still there when I awoke this morning. But it turns out I didn’t go over it — I went sort of around and through. There is a natural pass to the southern side of the base and the work gangs, with the help of drill bit and dynamite, were able to lay a road bed sufficient for I-40 to squeeze through.
The eastern side of the range was blanketed with heavy low clouds reducing the ceiling to about 200 feet. By the time I’d gone 30 miles, the blanket was on the ground and traffic crept along, cat-like and cautious, until it lifted. Though the fog was gone, I’d be under heavy clouds the rest of the drive to Arkansas — my first day without any sun since I left Atlanta.
Eastern New Mexico is fairly bland terrain until Tucumcari, where large flat rock formations and broken mesas form a more typical western vista. Once you get through those, it’s grassland all the way to Oklahoma City. No trees, no mountains, just rolling acre after acre of grassland. I can only imagine those involved in the great migration west leaving a jumbled, crowded trade city like New York, or Boston, or Chicago; or a narrow densely wooded holler in Appalachia; or even still, somewhere in Europe where any sizable piece of land was controlled by the aristocracy and forbidden to them; and arriving on these plains. For as far as they could see in any direction, there was land. Empty of people or commerce, rich with resource. It is perhaps a testament to our communal nature, the power of a market economy, or the fear of Indians, that most of them kept going until they ran out of room and just piled up again on the coast. Nevertheless, there is something very defining about these open lands in the western central part of our country. They feel very American as you roll through them.
I made a stop outside Amarillo at the famous Cadillac Ranch. Created in 1974 by an artist collective called “Ant Farm” it consists of various year-models of Cadillacs buried nose first in the ground about half way, and angled at the precise angle of the Pyramids of Giza. Over time, the public art installation has truly become public art — visitors are encouraged to spray paint on the cars. I didn’t, but several eastern european visitors left their mark and even offered to share their paint with me. If you forget yours, there are plenty of cans around that others have left behind. Anyway, the installation is now a piece of art by the public, rather than simply in the public.
Along with “Cadillac Ranch” (Bruce Springsteen), I checked off some other song-places. Yesterday there was Winslow, Arizona (Eagles), and today there was Palo Dura Canyon and Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River (Guy Clark), along with the Shawnee ByPass and Lake Eufala from “Choctaw Bingo” the epic tale of the eastern Oklahoma/North texas crystal methamphetamine trade by James McMurtry. These are the things that make a day roll by behind the wheel.
And mostly, that’s what today was about — rolling on. I needed to get far enough east to make home a possibility tomorrow. I’ve been gone since September 26th. One of the things that happens to me on these trips – no doubt driven by ego – is that places fall into two big, general buckets as I see them — “like home” or “not like home.” Initially, when I haven’t been gone long, the “not like home” places hold the most fascination. They are different, and often stark, and I’m captivated by them. The longer I’m gone, the more I seem to search for places in the “like home” category. I think, when I see one, “I could live here.” I don’t ever think that about the places in the “not like home” category. So today, just east of Oklahoma City, when the flora switches almost immediately from grassland to lush green hardwoods interspersed with green fields, I thought this is like home, I could live here. I don’t know anything about eastern Oklahoma, but that was my first thought. Such is the power of home in my life. And I will be at mine tomorrow.