New Mexico - Good for Nothin'

White Sands National Monument (plus one horse)


You may remember a while back I wrote a post about my trip to Arizona (read about it here). I left the reader at the point where we were crossing the state line into New Mexico and were ‘greeted’ by Border Control…

When you get close to Mexico the US Border Patrols pop up all over the place. The first one we sailed through, mariachi music blaring from the car, 70 mph, “Hasta la vista, baby”. The second one was a whole different ball game. The ‘dude-with-a-gun’ (his facebook name) slowly waves us on while scrutinising us. The hand goes up “Stop your vehicle please”, <gulp>, “You are American citizens, right?”.... As I am a try-hard go-with-the-flow people pleaser I had to desperately fight an instinct to lie and say ‘Why, yes, yes, I am” in some affected southern drawl. I don’t know why we paused for so long, I guess I was practising different American accents in my head. Next thing I know, faces become sterner, guns are gripped tighter, and the huge dogs were turned to face us. We were instructed to pull our car over and documentation was demanded.

Documentation?! I felt like someone in 1940s war torn Europe being asked for their ‘papers’. As I hadn’t left the US on this trip I didn’t have my passport at hand. I kept hopping in and out of the car, I ransacked my handbag, checked the boot (ya, never know), “Just one minute…. I have it here somewhere… beautiful day we’re having officer…. what do we have here… ah ha, my Noah’s Bagels loyalty card, I think you’ll find everything is in order, make mine a poppyseed…. no?”. Thankfully, Dom had found my passport on the passenger seat (yes, I had been sitting on it all along). He had passed it to the other official, ‘dude-with-a-dog’, all present and correct, they were patiently waiting for me to finish my frantic scrambling around so we could be on our way.

The landscape doesn’t noticeably change when you drive from Arizona to New Mexico, flat plains for miles and miles, dust bowls, mountains lurking in the background, very similar to Utah. It has an arresting effect on your soul, it makes your troubles and woes seem very insignificant. I can’t imagine it has changed much since the wild west days. 

Giddy up!

We deliberately drove to a town called Truth Or Consequences -with a name like that, how could you resist. The town is named after a radio show. The show ran, what I imagine was a gag, ‘name your town after us’ competition and we’ll broadcast one show from there. So, this small town in New Mexico did just that!

When you get there you can see why they might have gone to such lengths to put their name on the map. There is nothing in the town, nothing, we killed 2 minutes watching a tumbleweed dance across the road in front of us (it was actually quite cool, I’d never seen a tumbleweed in action before).

The only reason I can work out why tourists come to “T or C” (as the locals called it) is for the spas. Despite my initial apprehension about ‘Nowhereville’ I softened my opinion as I slipped into the hotel’s hot springs. Relaxing in the waters from the Rio Grande which flowed through tunnels beneath the hotel, heated by magma, I decided doing nothing in ‘Ballygobackwards’ wasn’t too bad after all. The friendly hotel lady made a point of saying that the springs were loaded with minerals, have legendary healing powers, and in the 1880s soldiers and cowboys would come to the springs and bathe their aching bodies. Alrighty, good to know!

With all that talk of aching bodies I felt obliged to have a massage, manicure, pedicure… when in doubt, pamper.

I like to eat every few hours (call me crazy), I’m not one of those people who can go the whole day on cigarettes and coffee and announce at the end of the day “Gosh, I forgot to eat today, silly me”. Never gonna happen. Dom was back from his run, I was back from my professional laziness, dinner was top of the agenda. It was 7pm, still early, we leisurely strolled to the front desk to ask for a few restaurant suggestions. Her eyes widened, concern swept across her face “There’s only one late restuarant in town, it closes at 8pm sharp, go go go!”. WHAT?! You know you’re in a party town when the ‘late’ night hangout closes promptly at your grandmothers bedtime. Do they hand you a cup of Ovaltine with your doggy bag?!

If I don’t eat, I die (I’m funny like that) we’d barely let the hotelier finish her sentence, before pegging it up the road to the one buzzing neon sign. I had a feeling the dinner would be a fiasco, and it was. It took our waiter 45 minutes to take our order in a half full restaurant. Dom kept whispering to me “Catch the waiter’s eye, catch his eye, catch his eye, catch his eye!”. “Dude, I’m not a friggin fishing rod”! Eye was caught, eventually, I had gestational diabetes at the time and tried to explain to the waiter this meant food as soon as possible would be great.

He didn’t seem remotely interested in me, my impending diabetic coma, our order, the concept of time or manners, he just drifted around limply placing glasses of water on tables. At long last our food arrived, most people had left so the staff hung out beside us waiting for us to finish up. No pressure.

The next day we explored some of the surrounds. New Mexico is a very chilled out state, a lot of easy going hippies, old fashioned ranchers, eccentrics setting up cults, and people with a penchant for turquoise jewellery. We drove to Elephant Butte Dam, I liked it for the name, Dom liked it because it was the world’s largest irrigation reservoir when first built. My reason is cooler.

I got talking to a local lady, she was a vision of bluey -green, a turquoise ring on every finger, turquoise necklace, earrings, and as she proudly pointed out turquoise nail varnish. She told me T or C is a hub for retirees and veterans (and I’m willing to bet turquoise mining magnates).

"Ground control to Major Tom"
The town does have a cool factor, rockets appear on the town signs. Why? because it is based right beside a rocket launch site. About 30 miles outside of town you see signs for the spaceship port. This is where the first commercial trip into space will blast off from. I got goosebumps as we drove by, it’s the closest I’ll ever come to space travel, I tip my hat to those future lucky few, imagine a blog post from space, ooohhh, the stories I’ll never tell, the sights I’ll never see.

At our next stop I did get to see something quite space like that became the highlight of the trip, White Sands National Monument. The Parks Dept describes it "Like no place else on earth", I couldn't agree more, this is where Martians go on vacation. It's called a monument, I'd call it a park. Before you reach the park you pass through White Sands Missile range, it’s spooky and scary. Then BOOM you see the white of the park, it completely caught me by surprise. The stunning white of the sand looks like a a recent powdery dump of fresh snow. The sand was created from rocks that eroded away. It’s a truly spectacular sight.

"Can you hear me Major Tom"
In the 1980s a US space shuttle crashed in White Sands and before NASA hauled the shuttle away they allowed people to take photos. How impressive would that look on your mantlepiece (if I ever created a social media photo app I would call it ‘Mantlepiece’... the tag line would be “What’s on your Mantlepiece?”). The down side to the shuttle landing in sand is that the cost of removing the grains was astronomical.

Our flight back to San Francisco was from El Paso which happens to be across the border in Texas. This meant one last hurrah with the Border Patrol gentlemen. This time I had my passport clutched eagerly in my hands. We were stopped and asked for documentation, I was delighted. However, as Dom has more than one passport (he’s a secret agent) he handed over the passport that didn’t contain his visa. He was asked to step outside of the car.

While Dom was taken away for a beating (he wasn’t beaten) I had a patrol dude lean in for a chat. I held out my passport with a big ‘Yay, I have a passport’ smile, he saw I was Irish and didn’t take the passport, instead he wanted to hear all about the country of his grandmother. We laughed and joked as a black and blue Dom (he wasn’t black and blue) got back in the car. I joke, but in fairness the patrol dudes were perfectly nice to us (don’t deport me!).

If you want to do a lot of nothing, and sometimes that’s all I want to do, then a trip to New Mexico might be just the thing.

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