Grants to Amarillo

Before we got back on the interstate, we drove to El Malpais National Monument, parked at the visitor center, and hiked for about an hour on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. We didn’t see much of the badlands for which El Malpais is best known, but we did see a meadow and a dike that was all that was left of a failed 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps project to attempt to dam up a seasonal stream to create a reliable water source, and we did see some beautiful pinyon pine woodlands.

The badlands are actually old lava flows that crept out across the red dirt and sandstone so characteristic of this part of New Mexico. The trail was marked by cairns made up of a mixture of volcanic rock and red sandstone.


Above: Continental Divide Trail, El Malpais National Monument

In ancient Greece, cairns were inhabited by Hermes, god of travelers, and of thieves and tricksters. Hermes, it was said, got into trouble with Hera for killing her servant Argus. A trial was held, with the other gods and goddesses acting as jurors. Each god or goddess had a stone which represented their vote, and Hermes argued so skilfully in his own defense that all the gods and goddesses cast their stones at his feet, until there was a pile of stones with Hermes inside. Ever since then, Hermes resides, as it were, inside the piles of stones that are cairns, helping travelers find their way.

In New England, I always thought that there was a remote whiff of Hermes inside the cairns that I saw on mountain trails; New England is close enough to Europe that perhaps the old gods and goddesses immigrated with the white Europeans who came to North America; so every New England house I ever lived in had its household gods, our version of the Roman Laertes. But these Western cairns had nothing of the Old World gods and goddesses about them. They did, however, have a presence; I felt there was something partly alive about them; but it was more of a sense of animism than of Olympian divinities.

When we left El Malpais National Monument, I went into the small visitor center to use the bathroom. I tried to avoid the books, but a children’s book titled Eco Trackers caught my eye. Ah, that would be perfect for the ecojustice camp were going to do! That was the third book I bought on this trip; I had gotten an Agatha Christie mystery and another book yesterday in Starrlights Books in Flagstaff.

As we drove towards Albuquerque, I called my dad. “What was that restaurant that you liked so much in downtown Albuquerque?” I asked him. He couldn’t remember the name, but reminded me that is was on the main drag right across from one of the main entrances to the University of New Mexico. We drove down old Route 66, and there it was: Frontier Restaurant, Tony Hillerman’s favorite restaurant. Carol had pozole, flour tortillas, and a peach smoothie; I had breakfast.


Above: Albuquerque, N.M. (Photo courtesy Carol Steinfeld)

The food was excellent, and the restaurant was a good place for Carol to hang out and watch people while I ran across the street to the University of New Mexico bookstore — where I bought three more books.

We drove on. The red rock country of New Mexico began to flatten out, and turn into the southern end of the Great Plains. We could see dark thunderclouds all around us, and rain coming down in the distance. I was reading the Agatha Christie novel aloud to Carol, when I stopped and said, “Look! there’s standing water on that field!” Coming from drought-stricken California, where it doesn’t rain all summer anyway, that was an amazing sight.

We stopped in Adrian, Texas, at nine o’clock to see if we could get me some dinner. The cafe was closed.


Above: Adrian, Tex.

But right across the interstate, there was a gas station with a mini-mart. The kind woman at the counter — I’d guess she owned the place — sold me her last two hot dogs. “And I’m glad to sell them both to you,” she said. “So you don’t have any left over to go to waste,” I said. She chuckled and said that was it. They were pretty good hot dogs. I ate them standing by the car looking out at the darkening sky over the wide open, and very green fields, of Adrian.


Above: Adrian, Tex.