I call a couple of highways leading out of my Village of Los Lunas, New Mexico, my “mental hygiene drives.”
Today I loaded up the pups and set out for a drive in order to clear the mind and spirit. I decided to take New Mexico Highway 6 northwest from Los Lunas up to the Laguna Pueblo and enjoy the vistas.
21st Century America falls away pretty fast out here. I crossed Interstate 25 and its magnetic call to things like Walmart, KFC and Starbucks, and soon I bade farewell to the huge Facebook Data Center with its imposing fortress-like presence.
My Vet’s Cowboy Church sits on the very edge of town. The view from the tiny metal building is pretty much unobstructed looking westward. In a matter of a couple of minutes a vista of the great American West presented itself.
Highway 6 is a black and white ribbon of a road that connects I-25 with westbound I-40 in a matter of 29 miles. I would say that of those 29 miles, 20 are completely uninhabited, although I know there are New Mexicans who live out in the desert and pride themselves by “living off the grid,” as they say.
There was nobody in front of me today and nobody in my rear view mirror. Punkin’, the female of the two dogs, claimed her seat on the center console and dutifully kept eyes forward. Roshi, the male brother, alternates between my lap and a side view and curling up in the passenger seat. I think he likes the rhythm of the road and its hypnotic sleepy feeling.
The ancient Ladron Mountains, many miles to the south, announce themselves by their formidable gray presence in the distance, but the geographic “hello” on this drive is a giant mesa that seems to announce, “Welcome West.”
The mesa, colored amber by the afternoon sun, could easily appear on a canvas by Georgia O’Keefe had she lived south of Albuquerque instead of her beloved Abiquiu.
I cross a number of small bridges that span arroyos cut by years of flash-flooding, and these creases in the landscape always draw my attention. What animals live down there? Are there families of coyotes who use the arroyos as their own private highways as they search for food? Do rattlesnakes burrow into the sides of the large ditches awaiting desert mice for an evening meal?
The geologic zigs and zags of this area’s erosion give me an aesthetic pleasure jolt.
To the south of Highway 6 and in consistent parallel configuration is a ribbon or rail that stretches all the way west to Los Angeles. As the road lengthens out, one often spies trains from the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe that unfold over a mile. Unlike Georgia, the extended vistas allow one to see the entire train, engine to end. It’s a romantic sight and if you roll down the window you can hear the train horn echo through the canyons to the north and south.
I drive for over 15 miles without seeing another vehicle. This is a goodly portion of my “mental hygiene” drive. The vast landscape and the sense of aloneness somehow fuels my imagination and my creative drive. The warmth of Roshi’s body next to my chest is comforting in a loving way.
As the mesas build in height and formation there is no shortage of visual splendor to appreciate. I had a couple of musician friends from Knoxville here a bit ago, and they were overwhelmed by the dramatic western landscape. My conductor friend in the backseat blurted, “This sure ain’t Tennessee, y’all!”
They call New Mexico The Land of Enchantment, but after a while we locals knowingly call it The Land of Entrapment. This phrase is always accompanied by a chuckle. We all know what the phrase means.
Even in a state with so many social and economic challenges, the landscape, the colors in the sky and earth, and the ability to simply shed society in a matter of minutes allows one to connect with this strange place called New Mexico.
I am back writing here at Ranchero Musselwhite now, but my spirit remains out there on Highway 6, the sun at my back and the beauty of the world before me.
I hope all my readers find their own Highway 6.