I’m 45. I can still hang with most 20 year-olds. I can endure discomfort and pain. I can sleep on the ground and…
But I hate sleeping on the ground! I hate sleeping in a tent when it’s 30 degrees. I hate the act of merely setting up or taking down a tent. I can do these things, but, I don’t enjoy them.
And you know what? I no longer feel I have to prove my manhood by putting myself through discomfort like a 25 year-old I once knew. That crap thinking is gone.
Thus, more than anything, on this Wednesday the 9th of February in the year of our Lord 2022, I was looking forward to sleeping in a bed in some motel in Silver City, New Mexico. I was looking forward to going to the bathroom without having to bundle up. I was even looking forward to the novelty of television playing in the background because I only have a TV that plays DVD’s.
However, there was more. The drive from my campsite at Oliver Lee State Park outside Alamogordo to Silver City would be sweet. I’d drive many miles across sunny, desert landscapes, and then ascend into western New Mexican mountains. New highways I’d explore. New mountains I’d see. I had a notion of a dark canyon with a ponderosa-lined stream at the bottom…
Thus, I was chipper at 7:30 am when getting up to make my beloved coffee. The sun had risen over the mountains, and was warming the air. (In the dry climate of New Mexican deserts, direct sunlight can be quite warming.) From my elevated position at Oliver Lee, I could see light advancing upon the desert. Alamogordo was waking up. Minutes later the buzz of coffee and George Strait’s Amarillo by Morning made the golden-brown vista sweeter and reminded me why I moved out West in the first place.
Of course I still had to pack up my crap and fit it all into a dinky Toyota Yaris (that gets 45 mpg on the highway by the way). Oh well. The wind wasn’t blowing; the day was get warmer by the minute; and YouTube’s algorithm was selecting good country songs from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s to perpetuate the buzz. Louisiana Saturday Night, Ocean Front Property, My Maria made bending over to pick up tent stakes less aggravating.
By 9am, it was time to go. My traveling companion in his nifty traveling van was too. However, we were not to immediately embark upon this route. First, we’d go to the White Sands National Park and, more importantly, get a photo of billboard outside the park that is pictured below. As someone who knew that the evil ones would be forcing vaxxing on us Americans after forcing masks on us, I appreciated those who put up the money for this sign. I knew many on Facebook would appreciate it.
We got to White Sands at 10. I’m not going to describe it too much. Essentially it’s a part of New Mexico within an endoheric basin, that is, a part of New Mexico not drained by a stream that flows into the the Gulf of Mexico or Gulf of California. All rain that falls into this endoheric basin stays there, and can create ephemeral lakes. And, of course, the terrain itself is comprised of rolling dunes of sand as white as snow covering 227 square miles of desert with distant mountains bordering to the east and west, all usually under a bright sun.
It’s neat, I guess. I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to visit White Sands National Park. However, if you’re passing by, stop. Walk in the sand with your shoes and socks off. Do some “earthing.” Maybe you can get a decent photo, which is hard because the omnipresent white washes out the composition, making most photos seem like mere blobs of white and blue.
A shoe-less and sock-less 45-minute walk through the cold sand was sufficient. It was time to get the photo of the billboard. After pulling over on the shoulder of US 70 to take it, and stopping at a grocery store not requiring me to wear a mask, in spite of the fact that New Mexico still had a state-wide mask mandate then, we were off.
Now, I don’t want to get into all details of the drive. That would be boring.
My destination, again, was Silver City. The route we’d take is below (if you give a damn). I took the longer route because the shorter one through Las Cruces would have forced me through a border patrol checkpoint. I hate those EXPLETIVE things. Those bastards have given me hell before. I avoid them. The 4th Amendment means nothing to them. NOTHING.
But I won’t get wound up now…
Now, this drive wasn’t breathtaking. It’s brown desert with brown desert mountains unfolding in all directions. After a thirty minutes it all looks the same. And, I’d been on US 54 and US 380 just two days before. This wasn’t new.
But, the sun was shining mightily. It’s warmth balanced perfectly with cold air. The anticipation of exploring new highways in western New Mexico was elevating my mood. Then, the song Happy Trails with Roy Rogers and Dale Evens played from my YouTube algorithm right when I was looking at the land that hosted the first atomic bomb ever detonated. This version I’d never heard before, and I loved it. (The link is right here.)
Some listen to music for the image it projects about themselves. Think of gangster rap. Think of heavy metal. Think of country music for those with all hat and no cattle.
However, I couldn’t care less about such vain projections. Music is for happiness. Music is the perfect manifestation of emotion put to sound, and I want to listen to happy sounds when I want to increase my happiness.
And this version of Happy Trails is one helluva happy song – for me. I get that those born after the 30’s and 40’s may think this song’s “cheesy” or “gay”. Once upon a time I’d have thought similarly, and it would have prevented me from singing along. But screw that. You damn right I sang along. When the song’s energy – and there may be a more technical term for this in musicology – increased at 1:16, and you can hear a soft steal guitar in the background, wow. I loved it.
You never know how your mind’s going to remember moments. I had no idea this moment was going to be the happiest memory of this small New Mexico trip. But it was. Unexpected emotions derived from the sounds and words of this song were icing on the cake. I listened to it five times.
The highest beauty of music is that it frees your soul. It takes you away from emotions of standard moments, and conjures within you new ones unexpectedly. It creates sweetness and joy. It creates romance – a rose colored look at the world – and this song coincided perfectly with this part of New Mexico. Perfectly.
Before I knew it, I was at a craphole of a New Mexican town called San Antonio, where I bought gas, coffee and a little fudge for Mr. Tummy.
Now it was close to 3 o’clock. I still had a couple of hours to go. Frankly, those western mountains I knew wouldn’t be as fun as discovering this song.
Nonetheless, the setting sun made Creation golden. Ascending higher and higher from the Rio Grand valley as I traveled westward through those new mountains, views became grander and grander. First junipers began to grow. Then pinion pines. Then ponderosa pines. Emory Pass embodied this description of the Land of Enchantment.
However, by 5pm cold shadows enveloped the road, and I was ready to get to a motel.
After about an hour of nauseating curves, I made Silver City at sunset. Got a motel. Turned on the TV, and watched some of 1987’s Lethal Weapon. I scrolled on Facebook to check on how many likes my billboard photo got. It was a perfectly comfortable experience compared to the cold on hard ground the previous two nights.
On the morrow I’d be visiting Gila Cliffs National Monument. I’d be refreshed and enthused to see more new mountains along the way.
Only time will reveal how powerful the impression of this drive and song on this day will be. But, remembering it a mere month later has brought more smiles than I would have ever expected.