After Big Bend, I headed northbound to Las Cruces, NM. There I stayed with a kind woman who was a former resident of my old hometown in Sonoma County. After being away from home for 3+ months, just being around somebody from Sonoma County did a little bit to help my homesickness. She made me her signature “welcome soup” and we talked about traveling and her gravitation to the southwest.
On my way through New Mexico, I marveled at the Guadalupe mountains, and I stopped at White Sands National Monument. At White Sands, there are miles of snowy white sand dunes edged up against a jagged mountain range. It is quite unique, I highly recommend paying the park a visit. The downside was the wind, which blew sand everywhere. Sand needs no help finding crevices to embed itself. I gave into the mess when I fully immersed myself by rolling down a dune. Carol is still in need of a vacuum.
My first night camping in the Corolla was cold and cramped (no surprise), I was near a town called Snowflake parked off a forest road. I did my best to prepare a sleep-able space in the backseat. I hung scarves over the windows and set up some festive battery-powered twinkle lights. My tiredness outweighed my claustrophobia and I was able to fall asleep. I woke up in the morning with glassy bloodshot eyes, indicating my sleep had not been very restful.
Thankfully headed to warmer temps in Sedona, AZ the next day. It was great to be back in Sedona, a place close to my heart. On my way into town, I stopped at Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park. After my sister Natalie died, our family decided to dedicate a brick near the Stupa in her honor.
My Mom took Natalie and me to the Stupa on a trip when we were 16. That was the same trip I got the word “sister” tattooed on me in Tibetan, it matches my sister already had. Amitabha Stupa a spiritual oasis, deemed special by the native people. It is tucked between a neighborhood and enormous red rock formations. The land around the Stupa is covered in cacti, juniper, and wandering quail. People come from far and wide to pray, meditate, and stare in awe at the beauty of this site. A higher level of consciousness is palpable there, and the atmosphere is imbued with compassion and peace. For this reason, I left some of Natalie’s ashes at the foot of the large Buddha statue. I wanted to give her back to the land she loved, and now it is a place anyone can visit when they want to be close to her essence.
Afterward, I met up with my sweet cousin Maggie, her friend Lauren, and their pup Vernon (aka Wiggle Butt aka Boss Man). Maggie and Lauren have been vagabonds in their camper for the past few months. A lifestyle choice I can respect given the state of the world. I was excited for our wandering paths to cross and in time for Thanksgiving no less!
Our Sedona edition holiday was one for the books. It was simple, fun, and yummy. The three of us whipped up a table full of veggie dishes, mashed potatoes, and roasted vegan ham. Cooking and eating were done outside under the sun. We ate until we were stuffed, then ate some more – in true Thanksgiving fashion. We shared a pint of oat milk ice cream for dessert and watched Netflix before falling asleep in the warmth of the camper.
The next day we went for a hike at Soldiers pass, where we walked over the red rock to a trail that snaked through peeling Madrone, Manzanita, and cacti. Vernon- was beyond excited to be hiking. He is still a puppy, so beyond excited is the default state. Afterward, we went thrifting, I scored some quality clothes for cheap and Maggie and Lauren got some items for resin art projects.
I left the next afternoon and headed to Zion National Park. Zion has been on my bucket list for years, and for good reason. It has some of the most magnificent red rocks I have ever seen. The mountains are multicolored hues of orange and have natural waves or checkerboard patterns that cover them. I drove through in one day, so my visit was limited. I am definitely going back to Zion for a longer trip.
The next day I drove from St.George, UT through Valley of Fire NV, to Tecopa, CA. I came to Tecopa for the hot springs but got much more than I bargained for. The place came as a recommendation from my Dad, a true hot spring connoisseur. The first night the moon was full and bright over the steamy hot spring pools. I felt giddy and at ease to be in the comforting water. Unfortunately, I was awoken by a drunk young man who made it clear he wanted to spend the night with me. This was rather annoying and slightly scary. I keep a knife close by, even so, traveling alone comes with vulnerabilities. For me, the encounter affirmed my intentional alertness. When I am with my partner I feel much less anxious about security, the pair of us is enough to deter most creeps and criminals. In Sedona with Maggie and Lauren, we had a camping neighbor who was gifting us with incense, alcohol, and candy daily. He was at least twice our age and encouraging us to get drunk with him every night. Being a traveler and a young woman has made me become more skeptical of strangers, self-sufficient, and self-aware.
My first day in Tecopa I decided to venture out and explore Mojave National. I drove past the Kelso Dunes, Hole in the Wall, and into the Cima Dome where a fire in August devastated the densest Joshua tree forest in the world.
There is little natural resource in the desert, so the infrastructure is limited. This means fewer people and more nature. I call that blessed! Nature is able to thrive here undisturbed. Hiking the desert reminds me of taking acid. The colors are bright underneath the persistent sun. The combination of vast, flat land and towering rock formations make distance hard to calculate. Some of the mountain ranges are jagged, others are smooth and they appear layered against the sky. There is a persistent hum of aliveness in the emptiness. I hiked to the top of Teutonia Peak in Mojave Preserve, the view gave me the feeling of heart-bursting gratitude.
I stumbled upon a beautifully simple war memorial military, It gave me pause and I thought of the many people who risked their lives to make America the country it is today.
Unfortunately, that spiritual desert feeling got derailed when Carol the Corolla broke down on my way back to town. more on that in my next installment!
As I explore the southwest from the comfortable front seat of Carol, I think of the many pioneers who came through this land before me. Their wagons often broke down or died of thirst in the hot summer. They must have roughed it in the roaring winds and shivered through cold nights. A saw a plaque mining pioneer is quoted calling the Mojave desert “A Godforsaken botany bay of a place, the meanest I ever saw”. But as I traverse the dirt roads of Mojave National Preserve, I feel God is most alive here. I can see majesty at work in the raw beauty of nature in the desert. In the desert, I feel closer to God, source, the universe- whatever you want to call it.