Commentary: We love New Mexico, but seeing home through a new visitor's eyes is always invigorating.
Our 17-year-old niece visited recently from New England. She landed in El Paso marveling at the unfamiliar landscape she'd seen as the plane descended. Transmountain Drive yielded a satisfying mix of cell-phone-camera clicking and exclamations of “Incredible!” Plus, questions about whether people hiked in the Franklins. It was a particularly showy day, with late-afternoon sunlight striking peaks wearing bright white cloud-caps. The road itself felt like a roller coaster.
We had to go to Albuquerque for the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Dixon Awards luncheon and some meetings Wednesday morning. We transformed the trip into an adventure, driving up Tuesday by way of White Sands National Monument, Casa de Sueños Restaurant in Tularosa, Three Rivers Petroglyphs, and the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.
We don't always brag to visitors about what we're going to see. The strange, stark beauty of White Sands can only be enhanced by surprise. “Oh, we're gonna stop at a monument? OK.” Then suddenly that vast expanse of brilliant whiteness, the sand's cool feel on bare feet, and a bleached earless lizard posing for a few pictures under a bit of vegetation.
“We'll get some Mexican food then look at some old graffiti.” After her vegan calabacitas enchiladas, sopapillas are a new treat. Gary, the volunteer host at Three Rivers, is a genial gent with a big smile, a friendly dog, and a lot of new knowledge to share. His introduction enhances our niece's experience. She walks a good ways up the trail, contemplating images someone chipped into volcanic rock long ago and feeling a new connection with a long-dead civilization.
Wednesday's NMFOG luncheon is reassuring, a roomful of people, including some heavy hitters, focused on transparency in government in New Mexico.
Then we're on the road again. We reach the Bosque visitors' center just before closing, disappointed by the absence of water in two ponds where snow geese and sandhill cranes spend their nights, using the water as a protective moat between them and hungry coyotes. From late October to January, they land at sunset, sometimes struggling in high winds, and awaken at dawn to fly off to forage in nearby fields.
It's a bit early for the cranes. But there's water at the Boardwalk, so we take a look.
Our brief stop becomes one of those afternoons that take control of you. Lines of turtles are sunning themselves on floating logs. More than a dozen white pelicans perch in a straggly line on a sand bar, along with ducks and geese. The pelicans, passing through, are a rare sight. The light catches them just right, accentuating their whiteness against the dark blue water, the golden reeds, and the mix of clouds and blue sky. We're captivated. We watch and photograph for what I'd call “a very long time” if I even remembered time existed. Through the long lens, the pelicans' postures, and the varied shapes their beaks assume during a yawn, are goofy, but oddly beautiful.
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Then we hear the unmistakable purr of sandhill cranes. Eleven circle high overhead, then fly further south.
Our guest is . . . uhh . . enchanted. The sun sets, and the full moon watches over us as we hurtle south toward Las Cruces. Watching our niece come to appreciate our desert home is like introducing beloved friends to each other and watching them share laughter and secrets.
Before dawn Thursday morning, as we drive to the airport, New Mexico bids her farewell with a magnificent lightning show.