Saturday, December 13, 2008

What To Do In The Desert

If you thought the desert was just a big old flat chunk of dry desolate land that had nothing going for it.....Then think again. The desert is alive in many ways and this day we packed a little bit of just about everything into the agenda. Desert diversity was the order of the day.

For starters we headed out from Alamogordo through Tularosa to the Three Rivers Petroglyph site. Here one can find somewhere upwards of 20,000 petroglyphs, 600 year old rock drawings made by Native Americans by removing the outer layer of the rock to expose the differently colored inside layers and create an image. Some have faded and been damaged by the onslaughts of time and the extreme weather of the desert, but most are remarkably well preserved. While no one knows the full story of these marvelous mysteries of the desert, most accept that some were made to show life in the area- plants, animals, hunting, and sun. Others may have been religious and spiritually inspired. The Indian explanation for heaven and earth and life and death is a simple one that stands the test of time. In order to sustain life, it is necessary to preserve life and to respect life. That is obvious in the images we saw here. But I also could not get over how many of the images suggested present day matters -a peace sign or a cartoon character or a state emblem or an alien from outer space or something that surely no one would have been thinking about or known anything about at the time these were created. Meaning no disrespect, I put a few light hearted captions on a few of the images just to share what some of the images made me think of in the modern era. Have we drawn this heavily on our native American roots? Or is all this just coincidence? The wind howled across the desert and threatened to blow us off the very rocks we were there to explore. But there was a silence that accompanied the roar of the wind. There was a presence remaining from the past. And we felt rather spiritually wind-whipped as we took in the magic of the moment.

Petroglyphs of Three Rivers

If there was peace and quiet so called at the petroglyph site, it was certainly missing at our next desert stop. We pulled into the White Sands Speedway and Tulie Motocross. Dirt bikes and quads (4 wheeler ATV's) were running on the off road track. If you like the sound of a bike engines, motorcycles, and dirt flying everywhere, you'd love it here. Vroom. Vroom. Smaller and less imposing than say, a NASCAR race, these hotrodders get together for racing on Saturday Night. I am a guy who loves a good bike ride and riding the Honda Rincon ATV we carry in the back of the Quig is a real joy. But I prefer to have my wheels in contact with the ground below me - which puts me in sharp contrast with the likes of these riders, who prefer to fly. As you will see! It's a great activity to hold in the desert, the noise doesn't really bother anyone. If you think it probably drives the local animal inhabitants crazy, you may be right but you may be wrong, as this speedway is on the fringe of the White Sands Monument National Park- and there is plenty of life going on right there! I know it's not everybody's cup of tea. But the space allocated to the motor sports is extremely limited...and desert preservation goes on full throttle even right adjacent to the speedway.

If Indian history and culture and motor sports are not for you, how about a bit of farming? The desert, yes, the desert, is where those tasty little pistachios you love so much are grown. We stopped at Eagle Pistachio Ranch for a look around. No tours on Saturday, but samples in the gift shop and store were , well, full of the taste of the South West. Believe it or not, there are vineyards here as well. I guess you could say that in the desert they make a really goo DRY wine. It sells under the name Heart of the Desert.

History, Racing, farming - all in the desert and all within 20 miles of each other...and even along the same road. Along the way, we found a most beautiful church...

And a deserted old homestead with an outdoor stone cistern and a cool old tower still standing against the wind. Behind it in the distance, but not really visible in this photo, the White Sands were showing off a mega white sand storm. Some of what looked like white fluffy clouds? NOT!

A set of active train tracks ran beside the road. The passes over the gully washes were much more photogenic than the modern piggyback train cars that passed us several times during the day.

Regional influence. Red hot chile peppers- in bottles of oil in all the fancy stores all over the country. Strings of red chile pepper Christmas lights on trees and camper awnings. Red chile dish towels. Red chile grilling aprons. Even a national fast food franchise called Chiles. I guess we could give Mexico credit for that. But you could also make the case that this popular food icon grew to its status in the south western United States as well. And since I am in New Mexico, as opposed to Old Mexico - New Mexico wins! (Please note the bags of Florida Oranges being sold alongside the hot peppers!)

But what of unique shopping in the desert! Sure, they have that too. Ever seen those hot babe decals on the back of pickup trucks and mud flaps? Or a team logo on a rear windshield? What about that sinister looking little white stick figure guy who always seems to be "taking a leak" on somethings? Or a favorite animal? Or a fish? Well, sir, there is an RV perched on the edge of the desert that sell each and every one of them (displayed on the vehicle itself) and every one of them is guaranteed to be in stock. I was so overwhelmed by the choice that I just couldn't make up my mind and left empty handed. Oh, except for the photos that is!

So life in the desert is very diverse. But what will keep all this activity healthy and prospering into the future? Ahhhhhhh. SEX! Yes, there is sex in the desert, and today, intrepid wildlife photographer that I am, I have captured it on film (well, digital image anyway) for my readers. WARNING: This may not be suitable for young children and people who don't like big black bugs! (And yes, dad, I do know they are actually beetles.)

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