It is a shock to the system: leaving the warm surf and sands of the Sea of Cortez and heading north a darkened sky and falling temperatures. I top up my sweatshirt with a wind-breaker. I slip off my sandals and sit on my cold feet to warm them. Heading north from Truth or Consequences, the mountains are bridal veiled in moisture – not rain, not snow, not yet. Just a portent of weather on its way.
This morning I woke up to a foot of very wet and heavy snow in Westcliffe, Colorado. Yippee! It is a happy snow – we need the moisture badly. Last year our ranchers were lucky to harvest 30 percent of their annual hay yield. I was beginning to think that this year’s harvest would be even worse. Maybe not.
I can’t tell you how hard it is to live without my camera which was done-in by salt water. I’m more discerning when I carry a camera. Always looking for a picture, I look with intent and see more than I would if I were merely passing through.
As it was, driving home from Mexico, I had to make do with notes on scenes that I would have photographed had I carried a camera.
These notes are the only pictures that I have.
- We leave San Carlos at 5:30 a.m. Sunday. It is dark. An hour out, the sun tops the mountains to the east. It is an enormous blinding spotlight. The corona is three times larger than the spotlight itself. Parallel lines of high tension towers lift their arms in supplication. Are they praying to the sun-god? It feels like a scene out of a science fiction movie.
- South of Hermosillo, we pass a Volkswagen Beetle that is now a roadside sculpture. The car’s wheels have been removed, and long legs have been welded on to the car body. The beetle appears ready to scuttle off.
- We pass two billboards, one before the second. The first, “Antes”; the second, “Despues.” Before and After. The before billboard is a picture of Federal Highway 15 before improvements undertaken in 2010. The second billboard shows drivers their tax dollars at work: improvements include shoulders, reflectors, and lane markings. Also, and this is amazing…the brown dirt in the first photo is green in the second!
- Passing a roadside descanso (memorial), I see two crosses. Each cross has a wreath. Each wreath is encased in plastic wrap. Plastic flowers… plastic wrap… No one likes to recognize the transitory nature of life.
- More descansos. These are on the median strip of a four-lane highway. Apparently gully washers are frequent because civil engineers have designed large culverts to run beneath the highway surface. The concave nature of the median strip will handle the run-off. Despite the earthwork, the men have been very careful to work around the descansos. It is nice to see the reverence paid.
- Near Nogales Cota, someone has painted the Virgin of Guadalupe high on a cliff-face. How exactly did they do that? Certainly not ladders… scaffolding?
- We pass a people’s clothing market along a long stretch of the highway. Cars are lined up to sell and buy. Used clothing hangs from a chain link fence and lies on makeshift tables.
- East of the cut-off around Mexican Nogales, we pass shanty town. Dwellings are catch-as-catch-can: salvaged cardboard, plywood, tin, tarps, and sheets of plastic. And every so often amongst the haphazard cluster of ramshackle shelters, I see a more standard cinderblock house with windows. In Peruvian city slums, you will often see something similar. In Peru we were told that people like to build a house in the slums because the taxes are less. Is this also true in Mexico?
- While waiting to pass through U.S. Customs, we are besieged by people of all ages selling goods. Jewelry and serapes of course. Religious icons: statuary for your garden or a triptych of The Last Supper to hang on your wall or praying hands open to receive. If you aren’t religious, perhaps you would like a large plastic turtle or six shot glasses and a tequila decanter. How about a mop and broom package-deal? I saw a wheeled ice cream cart but no vendor. I am impressed. Entrepreneurship is alive and well.
- The McDonald’s in Cochise has a model of a velociraptor outside. I’m reminded of the Red-throated herons that we watched in the San Carlos estuary. Head thrust forward, sprinting towards their prey, the herons looked like something out of Jurassic Park. The link between dinosaurs and birds could not have been more clear.
- We begin to see big yellow billboards along Interstate-10 urging us to take exit 322 and see THE THING. 16 billboards are too many. What is THE THING? A two-headed newt… a five-legged frog… the biggest scorpion ever? How many kids drive their parents nuts begging, “Please, Daddy, please… we want to see THE THING!
- East of Benson we come to enormous boulders. Sandstone, I think. Rock upon rock. Cairns placed by Paul Bunyan’s big brother.
- Deming. A truly desolate landscape – the far horizon is hazy – masked by a film of blowing sand. And in the distance – a small ranch house sheltered from the sun and dust by a surround of green, hundred-year-old trees. Did the hardscrabble homesteader plant them of his own free will? Or did the wife have to plead and beg for each tree and the water needed to sustain it? The trees did not come cheap. The man who built this small homestead must have really loved his woman.
Tomorrow I buy a replacement camera and I can be myself again.