Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The trail to Santa Fe

Somewhere out across this New Mexican desert is "Trinity Site", where the first atomic bomb was detonated

The temperature dropped into the 20s last night, uncomfortably cold even tucked inside a sleeping bag in a tent. I kept moving throughout the night, just to generate a little warmth. Consequently, I rested poorly. At least a dozen trains passed through the night.

Sunrise around 6:30. By daylight, I saw the trains carried mainly cars, SUVs and pick-up trucks in "autoracks". These end-loading rail cars have screen-like walls which help protect the vehicles from weather, flying objects and vandalism. Most, if not all, the trains were southbound. But to where?

It took an hour and a half to warm up, get my hands functioning in the cold and break camp. My altimeter shows this desert valley to be over 5,000 feet in elevation. I didn't anticipate the cold. Clear skies and high altitude equal cold nights!

I was happy to have my campsite remain undiscovered. No sign of any other people, other than those on the distant highway and the train engineers to whom I waved. The dirt trail was easier to negotiate this morning. (Again, I was reminded about the different attitude towards challenges at different times of the day.) Continued north to the crossroads town of Carrizozo, then turned west, passing through the Malpais, the Bad Earth. In the "Valley of the Fires", it derives its name from a huge lava flow that dominates the landscape. The flow left behind a “ropey” lava called "pahoehoe”.

I wanted to get as near as possible to the “Trinity Site”, where in 1945 the first atomic bomb blast heralded the nuclear age. In this “god-forsaken” land, what an awesome spectacle that must have been. The site is still contained within the Army's White Sands Missile Range, and access roads are gated and clearly marked with threatening "no trespassing" signs. Near the range's northern Stallion Gate, there is an official historic marker. I would have to be satisfied with that.

Actually the site is opened to the public twice a year: the first Saturdays in April and October. Radiation at the site is "low", only ten times the area's natural background radiation.

In Soccoro, I stopped at Denny's for breakfast. The morning was finally warming up. Hopped on Interstate 25 to take me up to Santa Fe, skirting around a sprawling, and unrecognizable Albuquerque. The thirty years since I've been here have brought enormous growth to the region. A new casino dominates the flank of a mountain on the east side.

While I recognize a casino's ability to restore a Native American community's economic viability, the sheer number of new casinos I've seen in this jaunt across the U.S. is mind-boggling. They're not yet as plentiful as Wal-Marts, but at the rate they're sprouting, in a few years it may be a close race!

President Bush recently admitted Americans are addicted to oil. (Rather than address the cause, he proposes we keep feeding it, while we search for a replacement substance to fuel the addiction.) America has a culture of addiction. Oil is but one. And we are universally encouraged to indulge. Casinos, state lotteries, sports betting, designer homes, ever-bigger and more powerful vehicles, recreational equipment, entertainment, shopping, "super-sizing", fats, sweets, soft drinks, cigarettes, alcohol, and on and on. We market to all the addictions. "Just say yes!" To hell with consequences. Our economic model demands accelerating consumption. And "there's the rub."


I had visited Santa Fe many years ago, but have little recollection of the city. Nothing looked familiar now. I just headed for the old Plaza, figuring it would be a good area to stay.

Before coming to the Plaza, I passed the Santa Fe Motel. A sign out front mentioned reasonable rates and "walk to the plaza". The renovated motel has a charm to it. Didn't bother looking any further. "Make it easy on yourself."

$85.00 plus taxes, includes breakfast. Viewed a room before deciding. They are comfortable and all the fixtures and furnishings convey a personal touch and sense of quality. A far cry from a Hampton Inn. I was surprised the rooms aren't $150 a night. Still, the cost is an extravagance. Better appreciate it!

On the staff's recommendation, I walked to Tomasito's restaurant, housed in the old train station. Hugely popular, there was at least half an hour wait for a table. The host told groups that, before being seated, their entire party must be present. Maybe that's not such an uncommon practice after all.

Sipped a strawberry margarita, standing at the bar, while I waited for the vibrating and flashing pager to summon me. Fairly expensive for Mexican food ($24 for food and drink), but it certainly satisfied the craving. Tomasito's is noted for its hot salsa. Painfully hot, I might add!

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