I woke up late that morning, as though my body was in on my mind's conspiracy to postpone decision-making. With Guadalupe climbed, I was now past the planned portion of my journey, but on the opposite end of the country from its destination. All the remaining high points were over 10,000 feet high and thus unreachable, but where else was I to stop on my way north to Seattle? The most direct route was 1700 miles long, 25 hours of driving--I'd need to split that over at least three days.
I glanced over at the clock: there was an hour left until I had to leave. An hour to figure out where I was leaving for. I turned on my laptop and pulled up the maps.
Back home, I'd contacted some friends in Albuquerque about stopping by. Skipping Elbert and Wheeler had put me a few days ahead of schedule, but they could probably still have me with a day's notice. The ABQ was half a day's drive north of here on I-25, which fit perfectly into the half-day I'd have left once I got going. I could camp for the night in the Sandia Mountains east of town, then drive down and visit the next day. After that... I'd see.
And thus the plan was made. I showered, packed up (just in time), and drove off, heading back to the Land of Enchantment.
Just past Las Cruces, I hit a roadblock diverting all the cars on the interstate into a Border Patrol station beside the road. I followed them in with some trepidation, wondering what they'd ask of me. My driver's license was within reach, but all my other forms of ID were buried I-don’t-even-know-where in the boxes filling my backseat. When my time came, though, the agent only looked in my car, asked if anyone else was in there (no, I replied, conveniently forgetting to mention my extralegally-imported Pokemon buddies), and waved me on. As I continued up the road, I wondered if that checkpoint was business as usual for this stretch of highway--or if they'd set it up in search of something specific. Someone?
From there, I-25 was two fast empty lanes all the way north to Albuquerque, following the Rio Grande through central New Mexico’s range-lined basins. Until now I hadn’t known quite how many ranges there were; a new one appeared along each side of the valley every fifty miles or so. All was arid in between, a dusty desert of sagebrush and rocks. I passed signs for a town called Radium Springs, some touristed-up relic of the nuclear age--perhaps not the best place to visit, since someday I intend to bear children with exactly two eyes and ten fingers. I stopped instead at Truth or Consequences for gas--though I was made to face neither:
|They list it as TorC on the highway signs to save space.|
|Which these two snarfed like Pixie Stix.|
Easier said than done, as always. The first access point I tried, in a narrow valley north of Carnuel, didn't even allow overnight parking, let alone camping.
|A shame, since there were nice boulders nearby.|
That "quick summer storm," of course, turned into an hours-long deluge that lingered well into the night. Carbound, I had no choice but to shift around my boxes and make a nest for myself in the backseat. Oh well, I thought as I waited for sleep. At least I hadn't set up the tent yet.
I woke with the sun the next morning--hard not to, when you’re sleeping in a car--and wandered up the trail again to find a nice spot to sit and catch up on my notes. Here on the windward side of the Sandias, the forests were lush and thick, a world apart from the scrubby foothills on the dry side:
|You'd never have guessed this was New Mexico, would you?|
A half-mile up the trail I passed a small waterfall called Travertine Falls, named for the white stone that formed a cave beneath it:
|Don't worry, you won't see any bears in that cave... it's where the invisible ones live.|
|There's water somewhere in this picture, I promise.|
This spot would do just fine. I settled down on a nearby boulder and pulled out my notebook.
But just as I'd set pen to paper, I heard a low rumbling noise behind me like some large animal breathing. Oh no. I knew I should have made more noise coming up--what with the trees, caves, and ample undergrowth, this place is ideal habitat for black bears:
|Guess who made those marks?|
When I was all caught up, I returned to my car and drove back downhill to Albuquerque proper. This being a Monday, my hosts were busy at work, but they took me out to lunch on their break, then let me into their house so I could get situated. I spent the afternoon playing with their two German shepherds (lovely dogs, in appearance and personality), dined with them again in the evening, and retired early with a plan for the next day.
While discussing my travels at the office, one of their employees had mentioned a trail called La Luz that climbed from the Sandia foothills to the range's highest point, 10,678-foot Sandia Crest. It was a long trail--eight miles and 4300 vertical feet to the summit--but nontechnical enough for trail runners to race up it. I'd wanted to climb the steep west face of the Sandias ever since I first saw them as a kid, and here I was in mountain-climbing shape with nothing better to do. And so I figured I might as well try that trail, despite the elevation, and see how high my lungs would let me go.
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