Solo Road Trip as Rite of Passage: Sand Dunes + the road to Santa Fe

 Sandstone on the dash, Cemetery ahead

Sandstone on the dash, Cemetery ahead

My first stop on day two, just after 9AM, was a tiny town called Villa Grove. Before I entered the town proper, the cemetery called me and I pulled off onto a short dirt road. I like to meet the dead of the places I visit. Pay my respects and my attention to what the history feels like. I’ll have you know, they were quite charming. Quiet, peaceful, serene, tender, simple. Small town cemeteries fascinate me. Instead of lavish stones and sculptures, their simple, sometimes uneven slabs and crosses make them feel uniquely cared for by an intimate community that knew each member well. Unlike the cemeteries I am most familiar with that require a vehicle to travel the length of, here, all the departed tenets remain within eyeshot. 

 After taking in the silence, I moved on to the small general store / coffee shop to use the bathroom and grab a second cup of coffee. A woman named Amber made me a cappuccino while I browsed the store and overheard a couple of old men chatting about immigration. 

Did you hear about those people from Guatemala? They’re sayin’ it’s so bad down there, they’d rather die at the border than stay. Can you imagine?

It was a relief to hear born and bred Americans speaking with empathy instead of the usual fear and anger.

Amber passed me my drink and wouldn’t let me tip her. “No, honey. You might need that on the road.” I thanked her and smiled, overcome by the kindness of strangers.

At the instructions of a friend, I stopped at the Mosca Pit Stop before turning towards the dunes to pick up quinoa, which I should probably make this week, and beef jerky, which I ate pretty much immediately. There, too, I encountered kind women happy to help and answer questions before sending me on my way. I spent so much of this trip preparing for danger, I was genuinely surprised by how easy and friendly and wonderful every human being I met had been thus far.

Then I spent a solid 10 minutes watching a raven go to town on a trash can before I pulling back onto the road.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

IMG_3796.jpeg

At the base of the dunes, I found a ton of pretty rocks and every couple of steps I just HAD to bend down to inspect them. The variety of colors and shapes and patterns could make a kaleidoscope envious. I am not ashamed to say I talk to all beings now and saying hello to every rock that called to me, granted a certain kind of playfulness and community to the whole endeavor. Maybe that’s why I never felt alone… Then again, maybe it’s because as I organized my shit in the car, a man in his 70s crowned with uniformly white hair and clad in a university sweater chatted with me for about 20 minutes after I said hello. (Or both)

 Barefoot hiking FTW

Barefoot hiking FTW

Hiking up a mountain of sand is partially Sisyphean. For every step up you take, you sink down at least a half step. The dunes also don’t form linearly. You go up one, then you have to come down a bit to make it to the next one that reaches a bit higher. This would be frustrating if it weren’t so fun. After about an hour of trekking up and careening down, I ran into a mother and her child trotting along barefoot. BINGO.

I sat down and ripped off my hiking boots and socks, tied my laces around the strap of my backpack and continued on, lighter, freer, with the familiar scratch of sand wrapping me in it’s warm blanket like embrace. I also noticed the soft padding of my feet allowed me to stay elevated on the harder patches of sand and sink a little less in the softer ones with me weight distributing more evenly. Also, I was hiking barefoot and it was dope AF.

When I finally made it to the 2nd highest dune (the highest one was much much further and not happening), I snuggled up and journaled, closing my eyes for a bit to enjoy the feeling. I watched the sand shift soft and steady in packed black layers among the tan, feeling cool shifts beneath the surface. Looking around you could see the shadows morph and change and I kept hearing Mufasa in my head saying, “everything the light touches in our kingdom.”

 “non-lesson” learned

“non-lesson” learned

Hiking back down was magic, sliding and swirling in the sand like a friggin earth bender. I found a patch of grass and a few flowers and laid beside them, asking the mountain what it was teaching me. I felt heat spread like a flower blooming between my shoulder blades. Translating the messages isn’t an exact science, but it was something like, “not everything has to be a lesson, it can just be joyful.” Which, of course, was a lesson in and of itself. 

I constantly wonder, how did I get so lucky? How do these places I’ve never been feel like coming home?

Driving to New Mexico

Cruising down CO-159 in the mid-late afternoon, felt like drifting towards a portal. Somethings about the vast valleys, the outline of the mountain ranges, the surprisingly symmetrical cloud formations, the way the blue and whites of the sky contrasted the yellow beige and grey below… sent me reeling. And then my raven friends would say hello and bring me back. And then my navigation would remind me to keep going straight. Cool.

 San Luis Peoples Ditch

San Luis Peoples Ditch

Still not bored, still digging my amazing playlist, still awestruck by every ranch and tree and abandoned hut along my path. My favorite thins to drive past were these yards littered with multicolored tractors. They looked like abandoned adult playgrounds. I stopped in San Luis, described as the oldest continuously occupied town in Colorado, to talk to another tree and stare at the San Luis Peoples Ditch, which is a small channel of water and not a ditch of people like it sounds at first. Yikes.

I stopped for gas, and a man in his 40s let me know my hood was slightly popped. I thanked him and pressed down hard, high on human kindness and the music of his Burqueño accent, so different, but reminiscent of the Miami accent back home.

I eventually made it into Taos for a very late lunch / early dinner at around 4 PM and stopped at a spot called Bella’s. My server was a delightfully polite and slightly awkward young man named Scott. I had my first taste of green Chile which can I tell you, my friends, did not disappoint. It was the most delicious plate of chiles rellenos I has ever had. As I was finishing up, older couples started to tickle in. A pair sat next to one another (instead of across) at a four top table. It looked like love.

After dinner I decided to walk around and saw a beautiful Adobe church. It warmed my heart until I saw a fake grave for all the aborted fetuses. Double yikes. I stepped into a store within the historic Taos Plaza and picked up a few locally made items like incense and soap. I talked with the woman at the counter, Sunshyne, about arrowheads and how my dad wants a viking funeral and she mentioned that Vikings was her favorite show and she was opening an Etsy store and will be selling custom obsidian arrowheads so you’re welcome, dad, I have your funeral arrow.

I also noticed the sage bundles and asked her how she felt about non-native using white sage and the de-colonization of spiritual practices. She said that people’s intentions matter, sourcing matters. There are people whose livelihood is linked to harvesting sage in safe and responsible ways. Buying from them is not a problem. Of course, this is not everyone’s opinion and this is a longer conversation and I honestly hesitated including this, but I thought I’d would be better to share it for anyone who might be interested. (I personally no longer use white sage in my practice, nor do I use the term “smudging”.) There were also bundles of non-native plants that are harmful for the environment and make great alternatives.

After a quick stroll around town, I was on my way to my final destination of the day. The sun was starting to set, and the Land of Enchantment was coming to life. Within the hour, warm oranges and pinks gave way to cool blues. Rolling throw the mountains in the dark, I could see a sliver of light though the clouds, as if the kids were holding up a flashlight. Clouds gave way to a nearly full moon, and by her light, I made it to Santa Fe.

Read part three: Celestial Surprises in the Land of Enchantment

Go back to part one: An Introduction