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?
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.
The rocks of the cliff side whistled and jeered, both mocking and celebrating our presence. The towering spires, remnants of ancient red sand dunes, looked as if an alien forest had left its eulogy in the land itself. The crushing scope was like nothing I’d ever seen; the red spikes climbing up from the valley floor towards us, the vicious gash carved by the Colorado River, the stretch of scrubby grasses and shrubs flowing out past the Six Shooter Mesa in the distance, the slow roll of the sparse clouds on an azure backdrop, all of it incredible.
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.
Though we were done courting weirdness for the day, it wasn’t done with us. West Memphis, as it turns out, is not in Tennessee at all, but rather a piss stop of a town just on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi. Understandings were reached regarding budget on this trip, and J and I had no illusions about the quality of the establishments we would be staying in, but having to slide your identification under bullet-proof glass to check-in is never a good omen. The floors were sticky, every surface chipped. The door had obviously been kicked in at some point. We had both gotten little sleep the night before, and were careful to be kind, tip-toeing around the lack of accommodations and utter despair that hung heavy in the room. After running the air conditioner for a little while, we were able to ignore the antiseptic smell. Overheated and exhausted, we laid on the bed, not wanting to pierce the silence with our hot breath. J picked up his phone then looked over. Shattering our polite pretense, he mused, “They have wifi, but I don’t want any of my devices to get VD.”
Louisville is a proper Southern town with a proper Southern drinking culture, and as two people who enjoy that kind of amusement, J and I were happy to spend the next day partaking. Bardstown Road is a sort of thoroughfare for establishments both divey and high-end, and feeling there was no better way to get a feel for the city in our limited time, we embraced the variety with gusto and our credit cards in tow.
Just up the road was an attraction Y had already primed me for, and I had been excited for the last few days to unravel the mystery of the Mystery Hole. It is certainly both of those things, and features a delightful tour that shall not be discussed, as I would never want to ruin another’s Mystery Hole.
The rain persisted as we made our way towards Wheeling, West Virginia. Our path took us past sloping hillsides dotted with coal plants, their orange lights emanating a celestial luminescence in the twilight. They reminded me of the return trips home from New York as a child, my drowsy eyes canvassing the stretch of refineries along the Jersey highway – their lights reflected off the smoke billowing from their stacks, spawning a grave haze, dimly lit against the night. J and I quietly wondered at their majesty, these urban constellations.