from "Paint Your Wagon"
As we breezed through the cool desert the first four days, there was a wonderful view of what the place can look like when it has been watered more often than it is supposed to be in one winter and how pleasant it is with a light breeze wafting through the Saguaro and the other brands of Cacti I see but cannot name. All look as if they had an extended blooming season this year as the “blossoms” are just now brown and beginning to fall.
I see by the log of previous trips, am a bit earlier than last year. That may be why there are so many people still here and the weather so pleasant. Arizona, the land of the abandoned Rest Area and State Parks, was one long Interstate highway and a talking book. The only break from the unrelenting views of mesquite and cacti was a short visit at lunch to Dateland, a town I have written of before. Patton’s Army trained there and it still serves as a base for some Marine “desert activities” about which little is known, since they come and go by helicopter. The delightful date palm trees and the trinity of a store, restaurant, and gas station remain at the exit ramp. It has unfortunately been rebuilt, and not in a good way. The restaurant where one gave your order to a middle aged waitress with the leather skin of a desert native as late as last year is gone, as is the separate gift shop and the gas station across the road. In place of this walk back into history, one now finds a combined building housing all three functions and the food available is a Quiznos sandwich shop, run by young women in a hurry to move you from the “order” window to the “pay here” window. The date shakes are sold in the same fast food fashion near the door. The gift shop now specializes in double entendre T-shirt, hats, and other such paraphernalia one would not have found in the old place. This is progress of course, but sad to see still, since there was a quaintness to the old places, remembered so fondly by the World War II soldiers that trained there and who considered the day pretty exciting if they got to sit on the porch at the store and count the cars on the 4:30 PM train. The only thing that remains the same is that the place still has no name and the RV park spaces are sold in the gift shop. The town itself is about a half mile from the highway to the north. There have been a few desultory attempts to make Dateland a place to winter for the snow birds, but its remoteness, while charming in its way, lacks the amenities of Casa Grande and Yuma for those who do such things. So it is remembered now a just another possible fuel stop as one rushes down I-8 to join I- 10.
The pleasant first night at Picacho Peak State park, a stop some 430 miles from home is longer than I like to drive the van in one day. It is the place I stay most often however because it means in the morning I will leave the state behind and soon climb into New Mexico’s mountains and be greeted by green things that do not have spines as foliage.
Unless Arizona can figure out how finance its future, it will close this park in June, so it may well be my last visit. Most of the state parks in the northern part of the state are already closed. There is talk of having the Indian tribes take them over, or lease them in some way. It may work out but, like Dateland, it is not likely to be a transparent change, and these pleasant rural places will become commercial and that offends some sensibility of mine. But, while they are at it, I surely hope they can get someone interested in running the rest stops. The desert is a flat place, cars pulled to the side of the road are suspicious, and very little suitable foliage. Spontaneous voiding of bodily fluids along a roadside can be a chancy thing. For now, be prepared if you plan a long drive there.
By the next night Rockhound State Park near Deming was home. It was my first visit there and it is indeed populated by people who seem to be fascinated by rocks. When they aren’t climbing to the top of the peaks nearby on well worn paths, they are collecting samples. It was nearly full, and when I expressed my surprise that it would be this time of year to one of the maintenance crew, he assured me it usually was until July and not as overnight guests but there for a week or more. There was much walking up and down hills capped by a sunset run up to the top and back by what looked like a local football team who then clambered back into three cars and left us. I was camped at the top of the hill in the campground and could see Deming in the distance and the Interstate as well. It was a pleasant evening to be out as it had the night before.
In the morning the wind came early, before first light. There was a slight rocking and some things blowing about but it was a breeze, nothing more until the second hour on the road when I found that either the wind was blowing hard in gusts, or my wheels were rushing in and out of alignment. I left the Interstate about then for what I hope will be the next 1,000 or more miles and was climbing the mountain near Alamogordo to a height of 8,250 feet give or take a foot or so and found it most disconcerting. It gathered force as it will in the mountains and when I reached Artesia on the other side and turned south it was a gale so far as this city boy was concerned. NOAA weather began issuing warnings about blowing dust and even more ominous threats for the mountain passes. I reached Lake Brantley just north of Carlsbad and spent the evening trying to decide if it was really as cold as I thought it was or whether it was just a combination of the wind and 5 per cent humidity. Scrubbing the windshield before sunset became a laughing matter as the water dried as fast as I could apply it. After scraping the true adult bodies off the driver’s side I gave up and found other pursuits.
The next day for me is not always a planned endeavor as many of you know, but this day I was in Carlsbad to see the Caverns. The wind was down early so I went off to climb the mountain in which the caverns are located south of town. They are remarkable, and there formation is mind boggling. They are also cool and there is never a wind. The rocks and pools are extraordinary and on a warm day like today the nearly constant temperature and real humidity was a welcome change and worth the trip. On the way out, a Ranger I spoke to upped the ante on the coming wind, suggested I get off the mountain by three and that gust of 60 to 70 knots were expected by midnight in the Guadalupe Mountains. Heading back north seemed the best idea, so this comes to you form Brantley Lake. There are fewer here tonight, most overnighters who have sought a stationary place until the wind figures it out. Two 17 foot "Scamp" trailers came in as dark came on. They are, besides small, made mostly of fiberglass which makes them delightful to pull with the family mini-van, but the story one of the driver’s told me was all I needed to know about the aerodynamics.
We will huddle here then, perhaps only tonight, but if the wind is bad, again tomorrow and then push north through Portales and on to Logan and into Kansas where wind is a way of life, but perhaps it may be gentler. Even in good weather it is a long warm and very straight ride through to I-40. Logan is just above there on U.S. 54 which angles like the hypotenuse of a triangle across a slice of both Texas and Oklahoma, emerging in Liberal. By then it will be the weekend and time to take a break. Somewhere.