new mexico

Solo Road Trip as Rite of Passage: Challenges + Reservations

Santa Fe sunrise

I hit the road late the next morning, taking the time to catch the sunrise and organize and inevitably run a little bit behind schedule. I also bled on the sheets and had to clean them although my rock star host was like, “sweetie, you’re not the first and you won’t be the last.” Rock on.

First stop was the New Mexico Public Lands Information Center to pick up a physical map I didn’t end up needing, but am glad I have. I had heard that navigation got kind of spotty in the reservations, but I no issues with it at all so take that hours of research!

KASHA KATWE TENT ROCKS

By 9:30 AM I was in the Cochiti Reservation in the eeriest fog I had seen yet. A few days away from Halloween / Samhain / Die de los Muertos, this very literal veil covering the landscape delighted me. I was en route to the  Kasha Katwe Tent Rocks and growing concerned about visibility. Maybe I should just turn around and head straight to Albuquerque, I thought as the mist thickened around me. But I was so close and it would be fun and cool regardless. I paid the $5 entrance fee and the young man at the gate assured me I’d have a cozy hike with minimal other humans. My favorite.

Equipped with my very cool person’s hiking poles, I’m off on my way. The tent rocks are these very cool rock formations formed over ancient vocation eruptions and trekking through the fog with them and these massive trees with exposed roots and ravens flying overhead felt like a weird Poe-esque western and I was about it, baby. I ran into a few families and couples on my way. There’s a really lovely greeting that happens between people at national parks. It’s like we all know we’re here to appreciate the fucking majesty of nature and so every exchange is infused with love and respect even if it’s just a simple “good morning.” I fucking love that.

Okay, so I’m moving along, climbing through little cave like bits and then up and up this steeper rock formation towards the end and the most amazing thing happens. As I get to the top, THE FUCKING FOG LIFTS to reveal a crystal clear blue sky. I lost my shit. I started singing “I See the Light” from Tangled. Like running late this morning was pushing me to get the timing on this just right. I miss that feeling. Of trusting and feeling in flow with what is outside of me. That is what I chase. It was incredible to have it that day. Like seeing all the threads of the tapestry connecting. Zooming out. Big Picture.

And what a picture it was. I mean, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Little tiny villages of big ass pointy tipped rocks. Layers and centuries and time and space interweaving and building infinitely. What a tiny speck a human life is compared to the enduring minerals entrenched here. Surprisingly, I caught some reception at the top and FaceTimed my mom who had tried reaching me earlier when I lost service. She was both puzzled, pleased and worried that I was at the top of a mountain alone.

Kasha Katwe Tent Rocks

The hike back down felt like a completely different place. The sunshine fed me, the trees and rocks spoke. I could listen. I could hear. I posted a poem about it, but a tree showed me the apocalypse. Where the humans were dead, and the mountains and trees remained. It reminded me of “All of Everything Erased.” I wondered if Kevine Devine spoke to trees, too. I realize this shit sounds crazy, and even more so since coming back and reintegrating into city life, but feeling self conscious and “othered” by these experiences and connections is fucking exhausting. In tarot, the Page of Cups calls us back to seeing the unseeable. It’s the child’s creative and connective spirit. I’m so afraid of appearing illogical, I sometime suffocate the parts of me that bring me the most joy. I’m so grateful to have found her in this place.

I stopped for tacos in Alburquerque. I didn’t have a ton of time since I wanted to make it to the last tour at Sky City at 3:30, but the few minutes I spent at the counter with my server, Annie, were delightful. How is it that every server in New Mexico made me feel so well taken care of?

ACOMA PUEBLO - SKY CITY

After a giant helping of speeding, I made it with 7 minutes to spare for the final tour of the Acoma Pueblo. The oldest continuously inhabited community in the United State (since 1150 ACE), Acoma is also know as “sky city” as it resides on the top of a 365 foot mesa. Our tour guide gave us detailed accounts of the communities history, the current supplemental residences in nearby towns, and was ever so patient when the middle aged white couple on the tour said things like, “but you don’t have to pay property taxes, right?” Responding oh so calmly, “no, we pay taxes just like every other US citizen.” 

As part of the tour, local artists has their pottery on display. For tours like this, it’s part of the deal to support the local economy. They’re graciously allowing tourists into their home. The least you can do is buy something straight from the source. I felt terrible being judgey about it, but I have to say it really bothered me that the white couple checked out every counter, and asked to take pictures, but didn’t buy a single item. (And it clearly wan’t a money thing because they were talking about buying property in Colorado.) I purchased a few things, but my favorite item that I kept for myself was a bear made with a horse hair technique that gives the piece intricate lined designs. Irvin Louis, the artist, held my hand and told me he hoped it would give me strength, power and courage. It now lives on my besides altar.

Throughout the pueblo, white ladders lean against buildings, granting men entrance to the kivas, rooms used for religious purposes. (The kivas are the only property owned by men, as the Acoma are a matrilineal people). The ladders allow access to the kivas and symbolize the connection between worlds. Some of them seemed to absorb the brightness of the sun. The perfection and power of the connection lies in its simplicity. It’s a beautiful thing. 

As stunning as the ladders were, the most powerful presence for me was a single cottonwood tree beside a small water source. I walked over and placed a hand on the soft bark and instantly felt a surge of energy. Like every part of me was being filled with thought and history and feeling. Like this tree was willingly giving me the centuries of love, heartbreak, death, destruction and resilience it had witnessed. I let go and walked away feeling kind of nuts. As the feeling faded, I turned back and watched the leaves shimmer. I heard them rattle as if saying, try again if you don’t believe it. I did and the same current moved through me, opening my heart and the eye that sees beyond this plane. I walked back to join my group and met eyes with one of the artists. “That tree is… powerful,” I managed to spit out. “Mmm hmm,” she replied with a knowing look.

At the end of the tour, we were taken to the cemetery and church. I’m still reeling from the tree like a very normal fairy person, but something about the dead makes me stop in my tracks. Something about structures of worship. The things we make sacred. I don’t have words for this, only feelings. Feelings I had to sob out of me int the car before I could continue driving. As we parted, my guide assured us we were invited to join her family on the two feast days the pueblo opens to the public. That kind of open hearted generosity floored me and continues to as I type this.

In the early evening hours, I literally drove into the sunset. After darkness fell, I drove past an oil refinery and nearly screamed it so vividly reminded me of the Mako Reactors from Final Fantasy VII. Eventually, I made it to Gallup where I showered, slept and awoke before dawn to make it to a 9AM tour of Monument Valley four hours away.

NAVAJO NATION

Before I hit the highway, I wanted to pick up some things in the Walgreens, but I had been warned to keep my eyes peeled in this part of town and a car followed me into the parking lot so I got the FUCK out of there, resigning myself to waiting until I passed a gas station that was better lit. I know that I drove past Window Rock, but it was still pitch black so I didn’t get to see it. Eventually, the sun did rise, on my right as the full moon glowed on my left. In yogic traditions, the right side is the sun / masculine energy and the left is the moon / feminine and I was flipping the fuck out at this perfect beautiful coincidence.

Monument Valley

Since so many westerns and space films have been shot out here, driving into Monument Valley feels like moving through another planet. So different, but so familiar. The red sand and structures held this ancient energy. Like you could feel mama earth in every speck of dust. Using words to describe it feels so lame. It’s such a feeling. Like a coming home, because it’s impossible to hear this clearly anywhere else. It felt like the ranch in Loveland or the Tent Rocks. 

I arrived with a few minutes to spare, but had a hard time finding my crew which led to many jokes between my mom (who I was on the phone with) and the tour guide at my expense. A textbook Capricorn, but sense of humor is not always the most fun in this department, but in this head space it was easy to see the kindness behind it. And besides, my tour guide, Larson (with Navajo Spirit Tours), was a next level G. So knowledgeable and kind and just next level buena gente. In between stories and myths and movie set sites, I grabbed some fry bread and sat in the dirt soaking in sun and wind and history. We stops at a few sites, but our last location was next level. We laid against a massive slab of rock while Larson played the Navajo flute and another guide we met up with sang this song about beauty. It sounded like an invitation back home. I was in tears by the end of it. 

Canyon de Chelly

Afterwards, I drove down towards Canyon de Chelly stopped at a grocery store to disinfect a cut and grab lunch, split a sandwich with a man asking for food, stopped to use the bathroom at Burger King and acquired some chicken tenders in the process (these would prove useful later, like acquiring key items in a video game). This was the first time driving started to feel difficult. I wandered into this out of body trance while listening to Led Zeppelin and had to switch to hardcore dubstep to keep myself focused and awake. Yeesh. One of my new friends in Santa Fe had recommended I book a horseback ride in Canyon de Chelly so I made my way to the stables by the Cottonwood Canyon more tired than I wanted to be, but hey, it’s a road trip and it’s still daylight. 

My guide was running behind, but here is where the tenders came in handy. I met the cutest, most adorable little pup and he went nuts for some morsels of chicken. He was so skinny and sweet and we snuggled until my guide, who was a very thin Navajo teen who very casually told me about his hobbies of riding bareback and bucking broncos. He had a very nonchalant attitude about his several concussions and broken bones and tons of stories about scaling the rocks along the canyon since his family has lived on either side of the canyon. We then got into his personal life and I did my best to crack his lone wolf attitude to little avail, but I did get him to smile a bit. Teenagers are awesome and weird. I do not miss being one.

Outside of Many Farms

That night I stayed in a hogon, a ceremonial hut that folks rent out when the structures aren’t being used for ritual, off an unnamed dirt road just north of Many Farms. My host had to leave town last minute so I stayed in the middle of nowhere alone. Very gracefully. Not freaking out at all. It was an adventure and I had peace, quiet, 360 sunset and sunrise, two lovely guard dogs to keep me company, some horses and I even saw a coyote. Every moment of fear was worth it to feel all that. I tell this part of the story really well in detail in person. Ask me about it ;)

Antelope Canyon

The next morning, I hit Antelope Canyon which was a really jarring contrast to everything so far. The two and a half hour drive included one stop to pee at the side of the road which I was very proud of myself for accomplishing without incident. You know you are truly alive and in a higher state of consciousness when going for a pee is exciting. After a gas station hot dog, (my options were limited and honestly it was way better than I expected) I met my guide and the most touristy group of tourist I had encountered so far. 

The Antelope Canyon tour is essentially a photography tour, which made it less magical than a lot of my experiences so far, until I started bonding with Oscar, my guide. I the only solo traveler in our group and comparatively extremely chill about getting these pictures taken despite whipping out the DSLR for the occasion. So, we got to chatting and brought up the rear on the way back to the truck. The canyon itself was gorgeous, and other worldly, but hanging with Oscar and learning to pronounce a few Navajo words properly was my favorite part of the trip. 

On the way back we exchanged info and he suggested a lunch spot so after picking up my companion for the rest of the trip at the the Paige airport, we popped on over for some bar food before continuing on for a long afternoon drive.

Check out part 5: Get Your Kicks, Grand Canyon + Route 66

Go back to part 3: Celestial Surprises in the Land of Enchantment

Solo Road Trip as Rite of Passage: Celestial Surprises in the Land of Enchantment

I pulled up to an adobe house that I couldn’t quite see in the dark night. Julie, my host for the next three nights, came out to greet me and show me into the homiest, cozy, eclectic, perfect abode she called home. At the dinner table sat a few of her friends, who invited me to join them at the wooden dinner table. I sat at the head with Julie to my right and Frank to my left. Everyone at this table was some sort of magical, but Frank was an astrologer who immediately took an interest in my chart. With my permission he started stating insights he gleaned from my planetary placements and the angles they met. When everyone realized how tired I was after a night of no sleep and a day of hiking and driving, he declared he needed time with the chart and that we would pick up the following evening.

After a quick shower, I shoved in my ear plugs and passed the fuck out. I awoke the next morning to cloudy skies and my period. That may sound like a bummer, but getting my period 3 days early, when I had running water, a bed and a laundry machine, was just another surprise that made this trip feel totally magical. The clouds made me feel alright about taking it slow. I didn’t have a ton of plans for Santa Fe, and now I knew why. My body needed rest after the week I had put it through. Amazing, transformative, life changing, but three hikes a day in Loveland, watching every sunrise, and the mountain of sand the day before left a deficit I needed to pay. And so, I curled up with some tea, dealt with some emails and nursed my cramps with the hot water bottle I made sure to pack. 

marias santa fe.jpeg

Eventually, I felt recovered and hungry enough to venture out making my way to Maria’s, a homey and casual little spot that was totally decked out for Dia de los Muertos. When my server, a Mexican man named Miguel who could have been in his 40s with a medium build came to take my order I told him I was deciding between the pose and the flautas. Without waiting for me to confirm, he replied that I would be having the flautas and walked away. I sat back surprised, but absolutely loving that perfect display of masculine / emperor / structural energy. It was like “decision made, I will take care of you and you will not regret it.” 

I did not. Those flautas were so friggin bomb it was like I catapulted into another dimension and that was a crispy cheesy dimension full of tasty green chile. For dessert I ordered natilla, a Spanish custard topped with cinnamon and I swear it tasted just like my great-grandmother’s used to. Another unexpected magical moment. How could I be so lucky?

Love at first sight

After my meal, I saw a cemetery near by on the map and decided to walk over, but hit an antique store on my way. Inside I saw the most insane collection of items big and small from statues that belonged in churches to animal heads to this WWII jumpsuit that I would have bought were it not made for a man twice my hight.

Eventually, I found my item — an old school hand fan from a funeral home with the words “licensed lady embalmer” written across the center. Thrilled and waving my fan despite the 60 degree weather and light rain, I sauntered over to the tiny cemetery next door and greeted its residents. Another quiet homey resting place, this time in the middle of a city.

There were two other cemeteries a short drive away. I parked in the Rosario Cemetery and meditated in the car since as the rain drummed all around. It felt cheery in there. So close to Dia de los Muertos, you could feel the festivity brewing along the veil. With a smile, I departed to see the Santa Fe National Cemetery before closing time. The contrast jarred my nervous system as I pulled up beside rows and rows of uniform white crosses. Everything felt heavier. 

Like the pain of a thousand souls ripped from life as we know it too soon hanging from the branches of every tree, resting over every blade of grass and rising from the decaying bodies below, their process slowed by embalming and coffins.

I stayed as long as I could, and then ran off to make a Trader Joe’s stop before returning to Julie’s house. I had dinner with her, Frank and some other friends. Later that evening Frank came to my room to talk astrology and after two hours of deep soul cutting truths, we called it a night.

alessandra sunset.jpeg

The next morning was as gloomy as the last so ya girl decided to treat herself to a spa day. On this day I sustained my only injury of the journey by tripping up the stairs in the plastic spa sandals and cutting my big toe. Great job, me. 

After some soaks and meditation, I enjoyed a bowl of ramen while naked underneath my robe (by far my favorite feature of this place) and a new friend who was also enjoying a solo day. Then it was time to pick up hiking poles and a first aid kit and socks at REI and I managed to find the only comic book store in Santa Fe like a true nerd.

When I got back, the haze lifted I finally experienced a true Santa Fe sunset. I’m talking 360 degrees of pink and orange cotton candy surrounding me. It was the perfect reward for getting laundry done like a responsible traveler who definitely was out of clean yoga pants and socks.

meow wolf.jpeg
meow wolf candles.jpeg

That night, I drove to Meow Wolf, an interactive art installation with a weird Stranger Things like story attached to it. I made my way to the rooms that morphed into psychedelic, dreamlike and magical landscapes like an adult playground. 

At one point, I decided to lay down in this empty treehouse looking thing to connect to myself and the energy around me when a group of friends who I later found out were all on a legal version of LSD stomped in and semi-adopted me into their crew. After an evening of exploring, conversation and music, I drove back to Julie’s for the last time. Standing in the light of the full moon, she shined so bright I cast a shadow.

For so long I thought, “my people are in New York.” With every encounter, it became clearer that “my people” are everywhere.

Check out part 4: Challenges + Reservations

Go back to part 2: Sand Dunes and the road to Santa Fe

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

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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 3: Celestial Surprises in the Land of Enchantment

Go back to part 1: An Introduction