Valles Caldera; NM’s gorgeous national preserve



By Caitlin Kelly

The silence!

Only broken by….the squeaks of dozens of prairie dogs, the first time I’d ever seen one.




A caldera is the bowl-like depression in the landscape after a volcanic eruption — in this case 1.25 millions years ago, 300 times larger than Mount St. Helens in 1980. Valles Caldera is one of the world’s best examples of an intact volcanic caldera.




Since then, of course, the land was inhabited by natives and later (after 1500) by Spanish settlers.




The site contains a few log cabins, from 1915 to 1963, but no one is allowed to stay in the park overnight although hiking and skiing in winter are allowed.




It’s a stunning place in its scale and also gave me my first sightings of wild iris and elk — we could only see a large herd of elk thanks to a telescope offered by the park rangers.

The caldera is about a 90 minute drive northwest of Santa Fe.



A fab week in Santa Fe, NM



By Caitlin Kelly

It had been 20 years since my last visit — a 10-day trip with my husband Jose, then a very new boyfriend eager to show off his hometown. His late father was the minister of a small downtown Baptist church and he regaled me with happy memories of riding his bike down Johnson Street, where the Georgia O’Keefe Museum now houses her artwork in the shell of that original adobe building.

Santa Fe has a low, intimate building scale, since most buildings are made of brown adobe — curved, smooth, rounded forms made from a mixture of straw and earth, a visual uniformity unique to this small and ancient city.

Santa Fe is the state capital, founded in 1610, at 7,199 feet altitude, the oldest state capital, and the highest, in the U.S. — the 2012 census puts its population at 69,204.

It draws many tourists and celebrities; Game of Thrones author, and local, George R.R. Martin donated $1 million to create the arts center Meow Wolf.

On this visit, we stayed the first four days with one of Jose’s oldest friends, then at the Hilton, whose public spaces are filled with beautiful, large-scale original art, the city center a two or three block stroll away.

One weird caveat — the city has no taxis! There is a car service but $30 (!) is a fortune to travel a few blocks. I do not use Uber or Lyft and both are available.

Also, NB: the city’s altitude and strong sun mean plenty of water and sunscreen.


Some highlights:






I love Mexican embroidery!

I love Santa Fe style — elegant bohemian — a look more difficult to find at home in New York, where the official color is black. There is a lot of tie-dye and embroidery and insane amounts of Native American jewelry on offer, but if you like ethnic textiles from places like India, Mexico, Laos and Guatemala, you will find a lot of choice.

The city attracts some very wealthy visitors and homeowners, so some prices are eye-watering, but there are more moderate offerings:

Passementrie is a treasure trove if you, like me, love textiles — cotton, silk, linen, in pillow covers, throws, scarves and clothing.



A selection of cowboy boots at Nathalie


Nathalie, on Canyon Road, has been in business since 1995, owned and run by its namesake, a former French Vogue editor, bien sur! A stylish mix of clothing, cowboy boots, antique and new home objects.


Spirit, downtown, is amazing, but spendy-y, as is Corsini, the men’s store next to it. But a great selection of floaty dresses, knitted leather handbags, basic T-shirts, wallets, jewelry. The men’s store has gorgeous cotton jeans in all those weathered Southwestern colors, $225 a pair.


Check out all the local food offerings to take home, from blue corn for pancakes to chile powder to posole.


Every day, local natives bring their handmade silver and copper jewelry for sale in front of the Palace of the Governors. Lots of choices! Many local stores also sell native jewelry, both current and vintage; Ortega’s has a huge selection.


If you’re interested in pottery and contemporary art, wander along Canyon Road, lined with galleries.


Collected Works is a fantastic 40-year-old indie bookstore with a cafe attached.


Act 2 is a consignment shop on Paseo de Peralta, with a wide selection of women’s clothes, shoes, accessories — including sizes large and extra-large. Not the Chanel-Gucci kind of store but lots of linen and cotton. I scored two handbags and a linen shirt.



Such great food!


La Choza

A classic since 1983, ever popular, in the Railyard neighborhood. We ate there twice: lots of margaritas and Southwestern food like frito pie (ground meat and trimmings), chalupas, enchiladas and served in a former adobe home.








Cafe Pasqual’s

With only 50 seats, bright green wooden chairs and Mexican tiled walls, this cafe offers a long menu and delicious food, from breakfast on.



This was one of the best meals I’ve eaten anywhere, sort of Japanese tapas, with a huge choice of sake and wine. The dining room is beautiful and the deck offers fantastic views of the wooded canyon. We ate soba noodles, shrimp and oyster tempura, asparagus tempura, pork ribs and gyoza, plus a glass of red wine and one of sake; $105. This is the restaurant at Ten Thousand Waves, out of town, so you’ll need a car to get there.

The Teahouse

This lovely restaurant on Canyon Road serves food all day and has an amazingly long list of teas, hot or iced. The quiet and intimate rooms are filled with black and white photos or you can sit outside under an umbrella in the shade.

Day Trips




Ten Thousand Waves is a must! This spa, lodging, restaurant combination has been in business since 1981, Japanese in design. Private hot tubs, massages and dinner available. A few caveats: the women’s locker room is cramped, with only 2 showers and one toilet, while the place is very busy. It’s also at the top of a steep hill and I saw no access for those with mobility issues. The massages were excellent as was the private hot tub.


A 90-minute drive north into rugged countryside. Much smaller and quieter than Santa Fe. Worth it! Population 5,668.



The Santuario



There are two reasons to make the drive, the gorgeous early Mission church, the Santuario de Chimayo (built 1813 to 1816) and the 50-year-old restaurant Rancho de Chimayo, with delicious food, shaded patios and very reasonable prices. Their sopaipillas are heavenly — and don’t forget to dip them in the pot of honey on the table; they come with almost every meal.

Los Alamos

Where the atomic bomb was developed!

Santa Fe National Forest

A short drive from town, this thick forest of pine and aspen has picnic sites, campsites and hiking trails.

Valles Caldera

Gorgeous! I’m doing tbe next blog post about this National Park, a 57 mile drive northwest of Santa Fe.



The inner hippie emerges!

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA.
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever found yourself in a landscape that transforms you?

I recently returned from one amazing day spent driving through Marin County, which is across the Golden Gate bridge, north of San Francisco. I went with a friend and her tiny daughter, who turns 3 in June. It was so lovely I’m counting the minutes until I can get back on the plane for the six hour ride from my home in New York.

Marin is bathed in golden light, its velvety hills a mix of Ireland, Scotland and Vermont, dotted with black cows and brown horses. Thick groves of redwoods. A winding road that led us through Dogtown, pop. 30. (The official sign later hand-lettered, amended to 31, 32, 33…)

I felt like a chorus in a Joni Mitchell song.

We stopped in Point Reyes and bought ice cream. Four men asked me to take their photo outside the Western Saloon, which looks exactly as it sounds.

I posed them in the narrow doorway of the saloon. “You look like a rock band,” I told them, and they laughed. Until they looked at the photo on their Iphone.

“We do! Great photo!” one said, delighted.

Thick afternoon light coated the red bricks and the emerald-green California I highway sign.

The last place that had so profound an effect on me was Taos, New Mexico. Like Marin, it’s a favorite of some big name celebrities — Julia Roberts lives there, at least part-time. Taos is tiny and filled with eccentric details. (Yet, like many of these idyllic rural areas, almost a quarter of its 4,700 residents live in poverty.)

Here’s a recent essay about Taos from The New York Times:

I had come to this far-flung desert town to write a memoir about searching for traces of one of the heroes of my English adolescence, D. H. Lawrence. Taos was the only place where Lawrence had ever actually owned a house, and I suppose, as a visitor, I was hoping some of the inspiration he had drawn from the land and people might rub off on me. I had imagined the landscape would all be bare desert and mountains. The last thing I had expected was to find it reminding me of England.

But all around town there were grassy fields, tussocky, mostly flat, with patches of shorter grass where horses and cattle had grazed. They were no different from the fields back home where I had grown up, playing soccer with friends, walking the dogs, rambling, sleeping out in summer. This one near my apartment was no exception.

An unexpected sense of intense familiarity with a foreign place has been felt by other travelers in other lands, but I was surprised by how completely at home I felt in this field: the long grass, the faint scent of hay, the trees hissing softly in gusts of breeze. Of all strange things, this meadow in Taos had exactly the same rough grass stalks, feathery at their tips, as the field next door to my childhood home in the Cherwell Valley north of Oxford. And the path, beaten smooth as hide, was just like the path that ran through that field, too. And the tremendous ribbed trunks of the cottonwoods that ringed it were like the boles of old English willows.

The day we arrived in Taos I ran out and bought a tie-dyed tank top, astonishing Jose, then my boyfriend of only three months, (now my husband, 12 years later.) In New York, he’d been dating a woman who appeared buttoned-up and conservative, a WASP — me — who showed up on dates wearing turtlenecks.

Who, suddenly, was this hippie chick?

Blame it on coming of age in the 1970s, but I’m often deeply happiest in a place where I can ride horses, pick up fossils from ancient riverbeds and let my eyes roam across empty miles. Where the air smells of dry earth, old stone and sagebrush and eucalyptus. Where the light is so exquisite I’m torn between my camera, sketchbook — and simply letting it soak into memory.

I found the same qualities of Taos and Marin — of light, rugged landscape and timelessness — in Corsica. I wept when I left, in June 1996, and dream of returning to explore it much more.

How about you?

Have you been somewhere that so moves and touches you?

It’s My Birthday! Now What?

Birthday Cake
Image by chidorian via Flickr

A 22-year-old from New York City gave birth to me in Vancouver on June 6, 1957.

Today, I live near her birthplace and she, in Victoria, BC, lives near mine. We each married a man from across the 49th parallel.

It’s a gorgeous sunny day here in New York and, thanks to Facebook, birthday wishes have already arrived from Bhutan, London, Paris, Cracow, New Mexico, Tuscany and San Francisco — I have, literally, a world of friends, whose love and support are the greatest gift I could have. Being a career journalist/author partnered with a career photographer/editor means we share global tribes of fun, talented, adventurous people passionate about ideas, people and connection.

It’s day filled with a mixture of joy and sadness.

I’m a little terrified of being this age, although — yes — better than the alternative. I read the personal obits in the New York Times and yesterday read one of a woman, 45, who had made partner in one of the city’s top law firms but was cut down by cancer.

I know how incredibly fortunate I to have a birthday at all.

I normally get a card from my mother, and am her only child, but she is too angry with me for applying to become her legal guardian (she now has dementia) and instead is clinging to a weird and controlling woman who loathes me — and who shares power of attorney with me. So, today, I get silence from my own mother.

My father, thankfully, is a hale 81 — and hopes to be here this weekend, driving down from Ontario visiting friends, to share his 82d with us with dinner in Manhattan and maybe tickets to the ballet. We fought bitterly for years and in the past four (since the death of his wife, a woman I never made peace with) have become closer than I ever thought possible. That’s a gift.

My sweetie, Jose, plans to take me on a silent Buddhist retreat, mid-July. You can imagine my mixed feelings! But I’m exhausted (happily) from promoting my new book “Malled” non-stop for two months and can really use some quiet time in the country. Not sure how much meditating or chanting I’ll do, but we’ll see.

Tonight, I’m making pork roast and we’ll eat on the balcony and enjoy our river view. There’s a cheesecake in the freezer and I’ll make a mango-strawberry coulis.

I’ve been thinking about some of my best past birthdays:

10…My mother throws a terrific pool party at the first-ever Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Toronto. (My new book has a blurb from the chain’s founder, Issy Sharp. Small world?)

12…We’re living in Montreal that year, but several good friends come the five hours by train from Toronto, and we have a pajama party on the living room floor. I have photos of me with a cake covered with sparklers, happily cringing.

16…After arriving in my super-cliquey Toronto high school halfway through Grade 10, I’ve finally made some really good friends. Joyce organizes and throws a surprise party for me. Yay!

20…Both my parents are traveling, far away and out of touch, my Mom in Latin America somewhere and my Dad and his wife on his boat in the Med. My uncle Bernie, a well-known actor from London, is doing a show in Toronto and takes me out for dinner.

21…I’ve been traveling alone for months in Europe and want to wake up somewhere amazing for my 21st. I blow insane money and stay, one night, at the Gritti Palace in Venice. So worth it.

26…Paris! I’m at the end of the best year of my life, on a journalism fellowship with 27 others from 19 countries. My gal pals take me out for dinner there.

30…My mom hosts a party for me in her Toronto house. I still treasure two gorgeous art glass vases I received that day.

What was your happiest birthday?

My New Mom, At 76

The Macchu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Sit...
Machu Picchu, Peru, where Mom and I climbed and once saw the sunrise together...Image via Wikipedia

Today is going to be a difficult day, as I’ll say goodbye to my mother — who I’ve typically been seeing only once a year for years, living a six-hour flight away from her.

Two weeks ago, I and a friend of hers moved her into a nursing home, her car and apartment sold, her Japanese prints and engravings and rugs sent to auction, some of her linens and antique textiles given to me and shipped back to New York, where I live.

I’m her only child.

She’s a new person, now, in a totally new environment, a loner surrounded by people she has just met and whose care and attention (or lack of same) will profoundly affect her every day and night. I’d be terrified. But she’s doing well. I burst into tears of relief yesterday at a pub lunch with her when she told me that her three windows, which overlook a private garden, were like three television sets, all view, all the time. She’s happy and healthy, and she had been neither for a long time.

I have been told — and see glimpses of it — she has some dementia. Yet we talked last night, in detail, about family and friends for four hours. I feel as though her intelligence is sands in an hourglass, and I have to grab it and savor it as often as I can.

Which is very difficult over the phone and from an enormous physical distance. Yet I am rooted to my adopted town and country — a half hour drive from her birthplace — as she is in hers, a 20-minute flight from mine.

We did not get along for many years. We’re stubborn, headstrong, feisty, private. I haven’t lived with her since I was 14 and we have always lived a continent or an ocean apart: she in Lima, I in Toronto; she in New Mexico, I in Montreal.

The closest we ever lived, when I was 26, was when she lived in Bath, England and I in Paris. I remember saying to her that year “I’ll meet you at the plane station”, a direct/weird translation of “aerogare”, aka an airport. That’s what happens when you think and dream in French!

Now, after 3.5 months in the hospital and a hip surgery and a bowel surgery, adjusting to the discomfort and indignity of a colostomy bag, she looks healthy and happy again. She uses a walker, but does so with an energy I hadn’t seen in a while.

Being my Mom, she told me to lose weight and asked me to buy her some tweezers — as a former model and actress, such details still matter!

So it’s with a heavy heart I peck out these letters in my hotel room, counting the minutes until I have to say goodbye.

It was never this hard before.

How Pancho Villa Brought Me A Boyfriend

Ahi viene Pancho Villa!
Image by OliverAlex via Flickr

His grandfather, Pedro Aguilar, was not a Pancho Villa supporter. After the Mexican revolution — and three assassination attempts — he left the northern Mexico city of Torreon and moved in 1907 to Topeka, Kansas where he went to work on the railroad. Worried someone might track him down, he changed his surname to Lopez. There he founded the Lopez Chile Powder Company and had nine children; my sweetie’s Dad, Miguel, was the second oldest.

Pedro helped to establish Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish on November 4, 1914, a still-thriving church created to serve the Mexican community in Topeka.

My partner’s Dad, a Baptist minister, raised his family in New Mexico, and my partner eventually moved to New York City, to work in journalism, as did I, moving from my native Canada first to rural New Hampshire then to a suburb of New York. He and I met, of course, when I was writing a story about on-line dating and I had to post my profile on a site I didn’t know or use, where he found me — two workaholic journos, lovers of French food and skiing and travel.

On April 16, 1945, Pedro became a U.S. citizen. His chile company, which also made taco sauce, chorizo, Mexican chocolate and peppers in brine, was long ago sold, but we have, and cherish, some of his gold and red and turquoise food labels and a photo of him.

Gracias, Pedro!

Here’s a funny story about Pancho Villa’s trigger finger — for sale — from this week’s Wall Street Journal.

Women Shut Out Of STEM Jobs (Science, Technology, Math and Engineering) — While This Year's Intel Winner Is A Girl

German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at a tes...
Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

The report released this week, “Why So Few?” says it all — women remain under-represented in the STEM fields, filled — no coincidence — with growing opportunities and good salaries.

Reported The New York Times:

The report found ample evidence of continuing cultural bias. One study of postdoctoral applicants, for example, found that women had to publish 3 more papers in prestigious journals, or 20 more in less-known publications, to be judged as productive as male applicants.

Making judgments about an individual’s abilities based on his or her sex is a classic form of discrimination, said Nancy Hopkins, an M.I.T. biology professor who created an academic stir in the 1990s by documenting pervasive, but largely unintentional, discrimination against women at the university.

Even if male math geniuses outnumbered female geniuses 3 to 1, Dr. Hopkins said, it would be reasonable to expect one female math professor for every three male professors at places like Harvard and M.I.T. “But in fact, Harvard just tenured its first female, after 375 years,” said Dr. Hopkins.

Tom Friedman attended the banquet celebrating this year’s 40 Intel science contest winners.

The contest identifies and honors the top math and science high school students in America.

Wrote Friedman:

Seriously, ESPN or MTV should broadcast the Intel finals live. All of the 40 finalists are introduced, with little stories about their lives and aspirations. Then the winners of the nine best projects are announced. And finally, with great drama, the overall winner of the $100,000 award for the best project of the 40 is identified. This year it was Erika Alden DeBenedictis of New Mexico for developing a software navigation system that would enable spacecraft to more efficiently “travel through the solar system.” After her name was called, she was swarmed by her fellow competitor-geeks.

Gotta say, it was the most inspiring evening I’ve had in D.C. in 20 years.

Erika, 18, from Albuquerque, already has her own homepage. Here’s the Intel description of her work.

I loved the video on Intel’s site, in which the female competitors enthuse about their work: “It’s just a completely different way of thinking about the contribution I can make to the world”; “I fell in love with science when I realized how many unanswered questions have yet to be answered”; “I like being on the edge of things.”

If you’re not encouraged — by books, films, mentors, parents, friends, teachers, neighbors, let alone the culture at large — how can we succeed? In my recent post about sexism in journalism, a young college student studying computer science commented on the hostile and sexist climate she faces in the classroom from male students. Even the smartest, toughest, most creative and determined among us can shrivel in the face of such glacial, threatened behavior.

Teachers and professors, take note!

I adored biology and wanted to study it in university and my teacher in senior year discouraged me. I would only have taken one class, from the pure love of it, but he warned me it would be too hard. I regret not doing it and I regret listening to him.

My youngest half-brother won such a prestigious prize in high school — in 1999 — for his work on MRSA. The international reception he received was quite extraordinary: a world-famous scientist took him under her wing; he was flown all over the U.S. to lecture and speak, a major Toronto hospital wanted to patent his work. Doors swung wide open, fast, to some of the most powerful and accomplished contacts imaginable. He had not even started college.

He doesn’t work in science, and left it behind to focus on peace and conflict studies.

Talented, hardworking girls and women in STEM fields need — and deserve — this sort of welcome and encouragement.

I’m in awe of women studying, and working, in STEM. They’re our future.

A Record 5,704 Marched Today In The New Mexico Desert, Honoring WWII Veterans

Route taken during the w:Bataan Death March. S...
Image via Wikipedia

Those who know their WWII history know about the Bataan Death March, one of the most brutal events in the Pacific. Every year for 22 years, walking a marathon 26 miles through the White Sands Missile Range, thousands have come to honor their memory and sacrifice, including the dwindling number of survivors.

Today’s march had a record 5,704 people registered — one-third of them women — from every state, Canada, Britain, even Cuba.

I learned about it when I interviewed Boy Scouts who did this grueling march, and wrote about it for Boys’ Life.

From the El Paso Times:

• Among the marchers will be 29 “Wounded Warriors,” military personnel who have been seriously injured in combat. Although many of them have lost limbs, they will use prosthetics to complete the 26.2- or 15.2-mile memorial marches.

• Twenty-three survivors of the Bataan Death March will attend today’s event. Of those, 11 are from New Mexico.

• About 1,800 Americans who were surrendered to Japanese forces on April 9, 1942, were from New Mexico. They were forced marched to prison camps or to awaiting “Hell Ships,” which took some of the prisoners to Japan to work as slave laborers.

• The Army ROTC Department at New Mexico State University began sponsoring the memorial march in 1989. In 1992, WSMR and the New Mexico National Guard became co-sponsors of the event and it was moved WSMR, where it’s been every year since – except 2003.

From the Las Cruces Sun-News, which interviewed a few marchers:

SSG Higgs, Jonathan

I am a native of Las Cruces, and have been in the Army for 7 years. I have recently moved to Ft Bliss this January and am happy to be back “home”. I have always wanted to do the Bataan Memorial March, as i grew up realizing the history behind it. This year I am honored to finally be a part of the tradition.
Angela Tolliver

We have a group participating but we are only doing the short march. Next year we will do the long march (not all of us are fit enough this year to do the long one.)

My sister is currently in the 515th in Iraq, her unit will be doing a march of their own in Iraq to honor the people who were in the Bataan Death March. We are participating for all the soldiers Past, Present and Future in the 515th. They have always been there and will continue to be there for us, this is just one way that we can show our appreciation.

Silence. Stars. Wind. Dust. Rock — Desert Notebook

City of Las Cruces
Las Cruces, NM; these are outside our windows. Image via Wikipedi

We’re showering off a lot of dust after five days in the desert, on 26,000 acres of silent, creature-claimed land. It has reminded me how much I miss being outdoors, around animals and far away from frenzy.

Some notes:

—   A BMW Z-4, robin’s egg blue, barreling along I-10 between Tucson and Deming, NM, two cats loose inside its minuscule cockpit, plus a middle-aged female driver.

—  An outcropping of smooth, red boulders an hour east of Tucson that looked like the surface of another planet or the set for a George Lucas film.

—     The sun gleaming off the sands at White Sands National Monument so brightly that, without sunglasses, my eyes were blinded.

—     Seeing cactus, and the white sands, ringed by snow.

—     The “white” sands are more of a creamy pale beige, the color of a palomino horse or a latte or a camel-hair coat. Wet, they were cool to the touch, with the consistency of pastry dough.

—     Silence so thick you can hear yourself digesting.

—     There are two ways to see the landscape – in awe, staring across 30 or 60 or 100 miles of it to a distant ring of mountains, their spires often softened by a scrim of  rain or a snowstorm. Or on your knees or bent over like some ancient crone, marveling at the tracks of the lizards, rats, pocket mice, roadrunners and others whose presence is often only visible in their tiny markings in the dust and sand. Bring binoculars.

—     Mountain lions are real and all around us. At the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, which attracts birders from around the world for its eagles, hawks, sandhill cranes and herons – among others – there were signs posted at every viewing site warning visitors of a lion in the vicinity. “Do not run, bend down, turn away,” it warned. “Try to make yourself appear bigger than the lion.” Given that the lion recently seen near our ranch house is about eight feet in length, I wasn’t entirely sure how to do that. “Here,” suggested our host, throwing her jacket up high above her shoulders and spreading out her arms.

—     Realizing that a mountain lion nearby is frightening to several species at once. We had planned to spend one day in the saddle, and at 10:00 a.m., Cyndi, the ranch manager’s wife and I were ready to go. I had packed a lunch and she brought her .22 revolver in a fanny pack, ready to fire a warning shot if necessary.

While we were ready, the horses were decidedly not; Beau bucked her off several times and made clear she was simply not going anywhere. My horse, Ziggy, was almost as skittish, turning in endless tight circles and clearly spooked. Then my sweetie mentioned the low yowling noise he’d heard about 100 yards from the house the previous night, about an hour after sunset. Dennis, the ranch manager, rode to the end of the corral – where the horses had spent the previous night. “There’s tons of fresh scat. It’s definitely a mountain lion,” he said. The scat was about three times the size of that of a domestic cat. That was enough for me. There went a safe hike, or a ride. We toured in the truck instead.

—     The dual presence of ancient history – arrowheads and potsherds 1,000 years old buried in this former Apache nation – and 21st. century speed. Sonic booms are normal here as F-117 Stealth Fighters seam the sky. Every day, the local radio station announces if I-70 is clear for traffic or temporarily closed due to activity at the White Sands Missile Range. Near Cutter, NM, billionaire Richard Branson plans to build his Spaceport, from which he’ll launch fellow plutocrats into space for joyrides.

—     Chloride, NM used to be Bromide and once was Pyetown, named for a British prospector.

—     Sheer, massive, unimaginable scope. The ranch where our friends have their home is 26,000 acres, shared with a small group of others. Reaching the house, down by a creek, means opening three separate gates and rattling over gravel roads around steep hairpin turns. You make sure your gas tank is filled, that you’ve got water, that your flashlight batteries are fresh.

—     Three hungry horses that see you coming with a full grain bucket put Grand Central at rush hour into perspective.

—     Incredible wealth and severe poverty cheek by jowl. The Armendaris Ranch, whose gates you pass on the way to the Bosque, belongs to Ted Turner, whose three ranches here are said to encompass one million acres of New Mexico. Along the roads, everywhere, are clusters of battered trailers, the last, cheapest form of housing.

—     Fire in the woodstove, fresh coffee, wind through the cottonwoods. Bliss.

—     The velvet muzzle and whooshing exhalation of a happy horse eating from your hand. The late afternoon sun through their mane and whiskers makes a halo.

—     Stars that touch the very outer edges of the horizon, constellations you’ve never seen in a blackness only possible far from light and air pollution.

—     Gates keep the animals safe, the predators out. They have to stay closed. Stupidity or carelessness can, and will, kill you.

—     Glistening with grease, filled with meat and re-fried beans, accompanied by a very cold Coke, freshly-made frybread may kill you, but you’ll die with a smile.

—     Mismanagement of the best property can offer wealth re-distribution, sometimes into the hands of those who actually know what to do with it. The naïve and over-eager man whose nearby dude ranch, with its 12,000 square foot house, went bankrupt right before Christmas meant that Ziggy, Dude and Beau cost this ranch’s manager $500 each, sold by the bank, instead of their regular price of $3,500 apiece. Assets can come with hooves.

—     Water is more valuable than land here. If you abuse your carefully and hard-won water rights, they can, and will, be taken from you by the government.

—     Vanity seems, blessedly, pointless. The best beauty tip? Moisturize, every hour. You can feel the moisture being sucked from your skin.

—     Best purchase? A jacket the color of mesquite, lined with fleece, with big pockets and long sleeves, bought at the truck stop in Lordsburg, NM for $14.99.

—     When you’re riding in the flatbed and the driver stops abruptly, it will be a pile-up of cartoon-ish proportions.

—     An afternoon sky filled with low, gray lenticular clouds explains many Georgia O’Keefe paintings.

—     When you get up in the morning, best to shake out your shoes. Two little lizards, each the length of my middle finger, skitter across the floors of the ranch house. That rustling in the night was one of them traversing the pages of The Sunday New York Times. He especially enjoyed the Arts and Leisure section.

—     You can hear and see people long before they arrive – thanks to their dust clouds and gravel crunching audibly for miles.

—     Seven Gambel’s quails, squeaking beneath a tree.

—     Crushing a juniper bush and sniffing its tart, resiny smell on your fingers.

—     A roadrunner, standing still, keeps fluffing up the feathers on his head and raising his long, narrow tailfeathers, as if preparing for liftoff.

—     Being reminded you’re a brief flyspeck on this, or any, landscape, one species among many competing for limited resources.

Turk's Heads, Japanese Hipsters, And Billy The Kid

View of Organ Needle, the highest of the Organ...
The Organ Mountains, N.M. Image via Wikipedia

There is something profoundly healing in gazing across endless miles of desert to a distant set of mountains, your eye unimpeded by buildings, billboards or cellphone towers — the visual detritus of everyday urban life.

Here in southern Arizona and New Mexico, where I’m traveling for two weeks, it’s a welcome respite from the high-speed, ultra-competitive insanity of New York and its suburbs, our usual orbit.

Driving from Tucson, AZ to Las Cruces, NM, we ate lunch at a truck stop filled with Japanese kids wearing those fake Peruvian hats and hoodies, the next table crammed with four very large bikers wearing  black leather. At each table was a quaint artifact — a pay telephone — from which, a decal on the handle suggested, we could call Mexico collect.

Mexico lies only an hour’s drive south and I really wanted to visit, but journalist friends here agree that the border towns are far too dangerous right now.

You feel history here. I visited an 18th-century mission near Tucson, considered one of the world’s finest, and tried to imagine the journey undertaken by Father Eusebio Kino (for whom a major Tucson street is now named) who crossed an ocean and a continent to this dry, dusty landscape and founded 24 missions, one of them the exquisite St. Xavier del Bac.

Last night we ate in Mesilla, a town just west of Las Cruces, where Billy the Kid was, in April 1881, tried in the local courthouse and sentenced to death.

The Organ Mountains loom nearby, so named for their jagged narrow peaks that resemble an organ’s pipes. We hiked them today, for only three hours, starting at 5,500 feet. The path kept switching from dry red dust to packed snow and ice, left over from last night’s storm, the one we saw at sunset. We saw no animals — but piles of scat on the trail. The silence was thick and absolute, like a blanket, broken occasionally by a bird or squirrel or the wind in the cedars.

Tomorrow we’ll hike the dunes of the White Sands National Monument.