Hearts and Bones: a leisurely meander along the Sangre de Cristos

20160518_173259_resizedOh, sweet desert rain. That smell of water evaporating off of sagebrush is intoxicating. They say that scent can evoke deeply ingrained emotional memories and, standing at the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge, the sweet mist swirls around me in the stillness and silence, conjuring what I can only describe as love. I know this response is nostalgic; some of the best times of my life have been spent in the high deserts of this country with the people I love most in this world. Central Oregon, Eastern Utah, Northern New Mexico… desert rain on sagebrush brings it all back.

Rio Grande Gorge
Rio Grande Gorge

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, like many New Mexico destinations, is a hidden gem. The Rio Grande, here still wild and relatively unrestricted, cuts a deep gorge through basalt and the desert plateau, plunging almost a thousand feet below the rim. The Red River joins its flow in this gorge, creating a peninsula-like mesa above. We were fortunate to have the place to ourselves this week, with no other campers in the entire campground, and only one group of hikers and llamas on the Arsenic Springs trail for a couple hours. Other than that, our two days in the monument were still and silent, with dramatic storm clouds racing across an expansive sky.

Between intermittent thunderstorms, we hiked down into the gorge and to the Rio itself. The Rio Grande holds some sort of sacred place in my heart that I cannot describe; plunging my hands into her milky chocolate-colored spring flow felt like a pilgrimage. I pressed the red clay beneath my feet, closed my eyes as the sun came out, and listened to the lonely calls of ravens and desert songbirds. And there was that smell again. Just like that, I was home.

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Solitude in wild places: Trinity Alps

The mountains are calling and I must go.

– John Muir

A quiet trail through the woods, Trinity Alps.
A quiet trail through the woods, Trinity Alps.

There is something about the high country that calls to me, pulling me from the road or the city or the coast, and into the jagged peaks and brooding valleys of the Rockies, the Sangre de Cristos, the Sierras or the Cascades. This time it was the Trinity Alps Wilderness in northern California calling to me.

One of the magazines I contribute to was in need of some photos from this area, which provided a convenient excuse for a hike. After several days spent socializing in San Francisco and Chico, I was well ready to escape to the woods with my dog. Although I am exceptionally extroverted, I also require a good amount of alone time to maintain my equanimity. I need solitude to escape the distractions of our modern lives, to quiet my mind and remember those things that are really important. Despite an unwavering attachment to certain people and my deep, meaningful and fulfilling connections to those I love, my own company is that which I thrive most on. Reconciling these two opposing forces is a continual balancing act. Hence, the solo road trips and the solitary walks in the woods. Continue reading

Siren song: San Diego to Big Sur

In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.
-Buddha

Big Sur, Calif.
Big Sur, Calif.

The towering cities of the East inspire in me a melancholy contemplation of humanity. The organized chaos of urban density forces me, hesitantly, to confront the relentlessness of time and cultural experience in a way few other places can.

But it is in the deep skies and open lands of the West that I find solace.

I left San Diego on Saturday after a week of good food, dog beaches, tennis in Balboa Park, and runs along the marina with Ben and Bridger. I dropped Ben at the airport on Saturday afternoon for his flight back to New Mexico, and set off north with my dog.

I made a slight detour to Nuevo to pick up a puppy that needed delivering to the Bay area, which routed me around Los Angeles the long way, skirting the metropolis to the east and the north. I always try to avoid L.A. whenever I can. Unlike the condensed vertical landscape of New York, Los Angeles casts a wide net, sprawling across an enormous stretch of terrain. Its labyrinth of congested freeways tangle together like a massive web, millions of cars shining in the sun like drops of dew along each strand. I sped though as best I could, knowing that if I stopped I would surely be caught in the sticky suburban web. Surely if I stopped I would be devoured. Continue reading