NATIONAL PARKS GUIDES: WHITE SANDS

This was one of our favorite campsites. The star gazing was some of the best ever, and because of the valley's alignment, you get a fantastic view of both sunset and sunrise. The cost of access is almost ludicrously low, and we were more than happy to spring for a sled and some wax at the gift shop and spend a few hours careening down the dunes.

END OF A ROAD; UNRAVELING THE MYTH

With so many highs it was difficult to choose favorites. On a different day we might name another place. How does one judge descending into the New River Gorge against wading in the Colorado's frigid waters on a Glen Canyon beach? What makes learning about the one-armed, explorer, cartographer and general badass John Wesley Powell any less intriguing then witnessing Native American dance? Is the culture of the Puebloan people preserved at Bandelier National Monument any less important than the sculpture gardens at the Nasher Center? Is anything more beautiful than stumbling upon the expansive crater of Valles Caldera at sunset, or watching J look upon the Pacific Ocean for the first time, or having a cool lake to ourselves on a sweltering Texas day?

END OF A ROAD; UPPING THE ANTE

The first time I saw Pittsburgh I knew I would leave her. She could be cold, nebby, and casually racist, but really, it was me. With so much out there to see in this world, I've never entertained the idea of being tied down to any one city. I've never had a car note, a mortgage, or a desire to settle down. While I appreciate the homes others have fashioned for themselves, I'm not quite ready for a long-term commitment. I have an ongoing joke of a New Year's resolution: all new mistakes. It's a way to remind myself to take chances, explore new territory, learn to dig deeper. It's a call to say yes to opportunities and have a sense of humor when things go awry.

END OF A ROAD; PARTNERS IN FUNEMPLOYMENT

As a young girl, I remember sitting in a dark theater watching Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. I wanted to be just like Indy. I was captivated by the sight of Petra, a city carved into the mountainside; enchanted by the canals and footbridges of Venice. I wanted to explore ancient catacombs, ride a motorcycle through the countryside. I also hate Nazis (but I'm not afraid of snakes).

DESERT VIBRATIONS

A glance toward the fuel gauge interrupted my enchantment. After our scare in West Texas, we had agreed to stay above 1/4 tank, and I alerted J that I'd be stopping at the next gas station to be safe. Cell reception was nonexistent in this remote stretch, but GPS alerted us to a number of nearing towns. We reverted back to taking in the breathtaking scene surrounding us. A closed general store situated at a crossroads made up the entirety of the town of Cima. Elora was a modest industrial plant of some sort. With the needle moving rapidly lower we came upon the railroad crossing that was the town of Hayden. Our humor was evaporating in time with our gas fumes.

FROM THE SANDY BANKS OF THE COLORADO

The theme of Marble Canyon was to be one of relaxation. We rose before the heat, eating well and taking some time to write. Two ravens scuttled and kabitzed in the shade, watching the slow proceedings of the campgroud. We had a light snack, then drove off to see the Navajo Crossing Bridge. Again, the lush tapestry of history spreads over the entire journey, and we learned of the area's humble beginnings as a river fording site to Mormon waystation and crossing to its modern role of the gateway into Arizona. The original bridge remains as a footbridge, its successor mirroring both its style and route over the Colorado. Glancing down, we could clearly see the whirling eddies and clouds of silt, layered in shades of emerald, moving swiftly.

DUNE IT WELL

As we bombed down the highway towards White Sands, we could eventually see a thick, white ribbon slicing across the ruddy leather-colored floor of the valley that opened up before us. The mountains at the far end were so far away they sat on a flat plane, a deep blue silhouette. The scenery was stark and stirring. With everything so visible for miles all around, your eyes tend to play tricks, and with the speed limit so high, the distances seem to melt like candy in the sun. We stopped in Alamogordo for some sandwiches, then headed off past the airbase and the missile testing range before finally arriving at White Sands.