Where: California, Arizona, New Mexico
When: Sunday, August 3, 2014
We leave the house at little after 4:00 AM, squished in my parent's Prius. My long-legged dad drives. I, the shorter sibling, sit behind him. My sister, Jaime, sits behind my mom. Jaime has brought her white fluffy toy poodle Lincoln, and his carrier is taking up the entire middle seat. I lean against it, and try to go back to sleep. Not easy. My bulky black purse, computer, and writing materials are jammed against my legs. I can't stretch an inch.
I doze anyway.
The sun rises, and the mountains take on a misty, purplish hue. We're in the Mojave Desert. The land is flat and brown and crowded with spiny bushes and clumps of yellow grass. No Joshua Trees. No cactus, either. Jaime says we can't be in Arizona yet, because there are no cactus. It's overcast. A light rain spits droplets over the window.
Rain patters and pours. It quickly ends. Mist wraps the mountains like a white smoke so that only their dim outlines are visible.
I fall asleep.
When I pry my lids open, nothing's much changed. Still desert. Still no cactus. Land's a bit greener. Do I detect willow trees? Lincoln licks my fingers through the cage. Think I'll nod off again.
Now it's really raining. The rain blasts the car like a dust storm and makes silvery streaks upon the black asphalt. We're high in the mountains, surrounded by dark green conifer forests. Have I missed the cactus entirely?
|Where are the cactus?|
More mountains, more forests.
Suddenly, the trees end. Short yellow wildflowers cover a long field, like a patch of sunshine fallen to earth.
The ground starts turning red. We must be getting close to Flagstaff.
We fill up for gas. Mom suggests we make sandwiches and eat in the car. The rain dashes hard around us. We huddle around the gas station canopy. Dad works the pump. I try to make a ham sandwich in the trunk, balancing pieces of bread on the luggage. Mustard spills out in a blob. This isn't working. We get back in the car and search for a rest stop.
What luck. The rain lets up right as we find one.
|Puddles at a Rest Stop|
Red rocks surround our picnic table, made all the brighter and more beautiful because of the rain. Pebbles crunch underfoot. Mom sets down the ice chest, and Jaime walks Lincoln. I climb the rocks. Shallow puddles on the rocks look like mirrors.
Around 2:00 PM, we enter "the land of enchantment." Window Rock offers us our first view of New Mexico. It's a red mesa with green bushes in a horizontal stripe pattern. "Like a rainbow," Dad says, albeit one with only 2 colors. Across the way, a sign advertises "Cliff Dwellings." Fake-looking teepees have been set up on top of the red rocks.
|Land of Enchantment|
The round, red-bricked visitor's center houses a video of hot air balloon festivals, Navajo paintings, a cut out of Billy the Kid, an Area 51 alien, and a miniature pueblo--but mostly it houses rows and rows of glossy brochures. As I come out of the bathroom, a lady at a desk hands me a booklet of New Mexico attractions. A minute later, Jaime receives a second copy.
Back in the car, I become engrossed in a book.
I think I see a flash of lightning.
|What do Californians know about storms?|
We reach our hotel in Albuquerque around 4:00. The rain torments us one last time as we bring in our luggage. Lincoln runs around our hotel room. He's happy we're all in one place, so he can protect us. Silly dog doesn't know he weighs 14 pounds and has teeth the size of rice grains.