I arrived in California on October 28, 2008. Its always a day I will remember for many reasons primarily being that I know five people whose birthday is on this day. I like knowing people's birthdays and usually tend to remember them as well. So, as the October 28 birthdays started piling up it became pretty obvious to me that this was a day I should remember. Then arriving in California on this day in the autumn of 2008 solidified the date in my mind.
Was is not appropriate then that I leave California on this same day exactly one year later. I was not supposed to leave on this day, in fact I was supposed to leave on the 29th of October, but fate had it that this was the day that I was to leave for my long ride back home.
It was a clear cool morning in sunny southern California. A storm had just rolled through the day before, a wind storm that is, and there were palm fronds everywhere. The street was littered with fronds that had been sitting up there for months, through the long hot summer, just waiting for an event like this to send them on their way to their final resting spot.
I guess their real final resting spot will be the next step after someone picks them up and puts them in a dumpster somewhere, but for now as I slowly meandered my way down Del Mar towards Caltech, I was avoiding them on the side walk. The air was cool and crisp, it was one of the colder autumn mornings we had experienced so far this season and it seemed rather appropriate that I leave on this day.
I was clearly feeling nostalgic. After all I had been in southern Ca. for one full year, I was feeling good and even a bit sad to be leaving my new home. But I had been planning this journey for quite some time, and very much looking forward to it none the less.
So, my daily ritual of walking to my office at school was being fulfilled for the 365th time. One side note about this daily journey is that it is two miles from my house to school, and then home again makes four miles per day. If you do the math, I have walked about half way across the United States in this past year. So, I had walked back to New Mexico, just spread out over one year.
The ride to Blythe was uneventful. Driving into and out of the LA Basin is always very surrealistic to me. Since I hardly ever drive my car, I am always blown away by the size and magnitude of this vast urban wilderness. I call it my urban wilderness because back home in New Mexico I actually walked through the wilderness on a daily basis, and so I took LA on as my urban wilderness. Walking the streets of LA, riding the bus to "new" trail heads that were actually neighborhoods or streets around the south land.
I arrived in Blythe in the early afternoon, it was around 2pm and I had never been to Blythe before. In fact I had never been on I10 east of Palm Springs. When I drove to southern Ca last year I came across Interstate 8 and then up the road passing the Salton sea and into Palm Springs. So, I was getting another road, in storm parlance this is called "road bagging".
Blythe is surprisingly a lovely town, I am not sure how many people would refer to Blythe as lovely, but for me it is. Having spent quite a bit of time living in Las Cruces, Blythe and all of these small desert towns in the southwest have the same feeling. Blythe has the Colorado and Las Cruces has the Rio Grande. Both towns have something I truly love, and that is the agriculture, water, and ditches. The key is the ditch, which allows for beautiful walks, the harsh desert in which I find immense beauty, and the water flowing in the ditch which takes you back to the soft natural womb of life.
And so the ditch is my friend. I love the ditch, I love the paths along the ditch, the wide open vistas, the smell of the water, and the site of the crops growing out in the field. Blythe sits smack on the Colorado River which is the dividing line between California and Arizona. If you cross over the Colorado you are in Arizona, and thats where the cheap gas is. The gas price differential was remarkable, and so I drove over to Arizona to buy some gas and then came back over to California to spend the night.
I stayed at the Willow Inn, right smack on I10, not the ideal location but the place I stayed came recommended by the older gentleman I met in another hotel in Blythe who recommended I stay at the Willow Inn. And so that was where I hung my hat for the evening.
The following day at the ripe hour of about 4am I awoke and continued on my journey. Driving in the early morning hours is very peaceful, and its the time when I tend to do my best driving. By that I mean the most productive driving in many ways. And so the dark eastern skys slowly woke up into a magenta of low light and over time the orchestra became louder and more pronounced. The first light of day is very seductive. Its the time in life when all new beginnings happen and it holds a special place in my heart as I was born around this time.
I cruised into Wickenburg after passing through many smaller towns along the way. The turn off to Wickenburg is about 30 miles or so east of the Colorado, and then 60 heads slightly north east into the foothills of Arizona. I had never been to Wickenburg before and so I had breakfast at the Country Inn. It was a fine breakfast except for the fact that three much older men were sitting two tables behind me making racial slurs about an earlier time in their life, and it took me quite a bit to hold my self back from saying any thing to them about their very inappropriate use of the English language in public.
After breakfast it was on to Prescott. This is one of the most amazing drives I have ever done in my life and if you know me that says something. I have done a lot of driving in my life, especially around the south west. I know almost every road in New Mexico and have been on every road west of the Rio Grande in the Land of Enchantment. You may wonder why this drive to Prescott was so spectacular.
First of all, as I said earlier this was my first time doing this drive, so firsts in life are always memorable, but when you get aroused in the moment of utter beauty and awe that is something to write home about.
If you haven't heard of the Colorado plateau, that is OK, most people probably haven't. Its a vast land formation centered around of all things the Grand Canyon. Millions of years ago, the Grand Canyon cut a swath out of mother earth and through mainly wind and water erosion left a new imprint in the planet. From space the Grand Canyon and the Colorado plateau are very well distinguished and so this vast high table top extends across Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona and the average elevation of the plateau in New Mexico and Arizona is around 5000 feet. But we are hanging out in Blythe somewhere around 1000 feet or less. Phoenix is at around 1000 feet as well. But we have to get up to 5000 feet to get on to the plateau. How the heck do we get up there. That is a lot of elevation gain in a very short period of time. Imagine looking up 3000 feet wondering how the heck am I going to climb up the side of that cliff. In the old days, less than 100 years ago it was clearly no easy feat but today with bulldozers and modern machines called cars one can NOT appreciate what it must have been like for the first settlers going to Prescott from the west coast climbing up that vast forest of ponderosa pines onto the mesa.
If you have ever been to Monument Valley in Utah you know what this view from the top of the plateau is all about. I have been there and it is just at this moment of writing that I recall once again the beauty of the planet in that time of my life when I was there. So, you are up on the plateau now looking back towards California and the Colorado river in complete and utter fascination with the power of millions of year of erosion. As far as the eye can see is the desert and the rocky mountain crags way off in the distance and there you are looking at a Ponderosa Pine right next to you.
Its the largest stand of Ponderosa pines in the world. It extends from Prescott area all the way to the Rio Grande with the Grand canyon area of Flagstaff being the center of the trees. Unfortunately, the trees are having
a bit of a hard time right now with the drought and bark beetle and other environmental impacts, but lots of the trees look pretty healthy as well.
Prescott is a very nice town on the western edge of the Plateau. At the time of this writing Yavapai county has slightly over 200 thousand people and includes the towns of Prescott, Sedona, Cottonwood, Jerome and other various and sundry places. But these are the places in the county I am most familiar.
Prescott is the home of Prescott College, a world famous academic institution in certain bastions of liberal undergraduate education. I would compare Prescott College to Hampshire College on the east coast. I enjoyed my time in Prescott and especially my time in the cafe at the college. I had been to Prescott once before many years earlier, but I got to Prescott via the north coming from Sedona.
The highlight of my stay in Prescott, I was there for four nights and five days was my ride over the mountain to Jerome. It was here that I met a very special person who told me the purpose of life. After a very intense hour conversation, we were closing on our vast array of topics covered from stem cell research to more esoteric realms of reality that I posed the question to him. I have asked this question to many people in the past and most folks don't have an answer, so I usually ask the question not expecting something I can either relate to or undestand but this answer was it.
The purpose of life is "the experience and all of the possibilities." Later with the help of a good friend of mine we modified it slightly to the purpose of life is "to learn from the experience". Now these definitions are always a slippery slope and for most people the purpose of life is a very personal quest or journey, but for me, this is what spoke to me. It works for me, and so I thought I would share it with others as yet another angle on life.
Back to my time in Jerome. If you have never been here, I would highly recommend you add this place to the list of places to go before you die. Its just a small mountain "ghost" town that has been resurrected from the dead over the past forty years. The man I met there told me he moved to Jerome in the early 70's and at that time it was just starting to be resurrected. The mines closed in the early 50's.
Prior to that time, these south western mining towns were company towns. Examples of them include Hurley, New Mexico and Clarkdale, Arizona just down the road from Jerome. The company would buy the land and literally create a town and all of the amenities needed for the miners or employees. Jerome was adjacent to Clarkdale and in the early 1900's had that mentality. When the mines closed in the 50's the town closed as well. And without the shear laser focus of a group of new settlers in the early 70's the town would have gone the way of many other old mining western towns. Today Jerome is thriving beyond belief buts its not an Aspen or Telluride, but rather a humble abode without the glitz and glamour of the previously mentioned places.
Finally, after many days in Prescott I pushed on to Silver City, New Mexico. Its only appropriate that I come back to Silver City, my home away from home. I have spent many weeks in Silver City and it was the early morning of October 28, 2008 that I left Silver City for a twelve hour drive to Palm Springs California. I left Silver City at 2:30am on October 28, 2008 and blew through Tucson on that cold morning before sunset.
Now I was back in Silver City. New Mexico is my home, I was not born here, but it is my spiritual home and a place I have lived for over twenty years of my adult life. In fact I moved to New Mexico in my mid twenties and now as I approach fifty I can only say that this place is truly the "Land of Enchantment". More on this topic at another time.