Back to Work

     Well, here I am in Albuquerque.
     I arrived late in October, and have spent the last several weeks getting settled into my new (I use the term “new” loosely) apartment.  That also explains why I haven’t updated this blog in a while.  Now it’s time to get back to work.
     I headed out from Winston-Salem in the early morning hours of October 26, going east on I-40, the rain and drizzle alternating with a few moments of drier weather, which soon disappeared as I plunged back into the wet.  Fortunately, the rain held off for the most part until I got out of the Blue Ridge Mountains and onto the plains of eastern Tennessee.  Then it let go with an alternating series of thunderstorms that accompanied me all the way to Nashville.  As I sat in a dry motel that evening, I found out from the weather reports that a heavy band of thunder showers had moved all the way across the state and into North Carolina during the day.  Not a particularly auspicious way to leave N.C.
     But the weather improved dramatically for the rest of the trip.  Sunshine and blue skies.
     Both Tennessee and Arkansas are wonderfully green states, with magnificent stands of trees and vegetation along the Interstate.  At this time, of course, many of the trees were shedding their leaves in preparation for the approaching winter, though the peak of color had passed by the time I came through.  As I drove, I was struck by the minimal number of billboards along the highway.  I can remember growing up when car travel was a trip past huge numbers of garish billboards all along the way.  Not to mention the Burma-Shave signs.  Fortunately, the largest number of those grotesque eyesores have been removed, and the right-of-way becomes visible again.  (For that, we have Lady Bird Johnson to thank.)  I much prefer to travel through green valleys and palisades of trees than of outlandish advertising.
     As I got into Oklahoma, vegetation seemed to dwindle.  Not all at once, of course, but slowly.  As I puttered along I-40, the trees seemed to get shorter and shorter, until I reached western Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle where the real desert took over.  Here is the “Llano Estacado,” the Staked Plains, where even the birds have to walk sometimes, and where much of the Texas oil and gas is pumped from the ground.  I didn’t see many oil wells (actually, none that I can remember) but I did see wind farms, with their exaggerated propeller-like arms whipping in the winds that sweep those plains almost constantly.  I could feel that same wind buffeting the car as I drove.
     Then into New Mexico.  Home at last.
     New Mexico is so different from North Carolina and the eastern half of the US, it makes comparison difficult.  The major difference is the wide-open feel to NM.  Carolina is heavily forested with thick underbrush that makes walking and getting around difficult, unless you follow an already-established trail.  But NM is open, expansive, accessible.  Trails be damned, all you have to do is put on your seven-league boots and head out.  Forests do exist in NM, of course, especially at higher elevations, yet they are more open and unrestricted, but the largest part of the state is wide open.  This wide open feel is especially apparent on I-40.  Have you seen pictures of highways in the west where the road goes straight for mile after mile, where curves are nonexistent for a hundred miles or more, where the road drifts up and down over hill after hill but doesn’t turn right or left even slightly?  That’s I-40 in New Mexico.  It’s like that almost all the way into Albuquerque.  New Mexico sits at the southern end of the Rocky Mountains, where the Sonoran Desert sweeps north to meet the foothills.  This is particularly apparent in Santa Fe, where, at 7000 feet above sea level, the city’s really in the mountains, yet the desert beckons to the south.
     Now I’m going to end this rambling excursion through the hills and valleys of the southern US before I get carried away any more than I already have.  I’ll be back next week with another entry, perhaps not so saturated with blatant admiration of the US southwest.

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