This being my fourth trip to New Mexico in 10 years, maybe I shouldn’t be so excited but I am.
This time I’m going to Roswell!
After landing today in El Paso, TX, this will be a two-week road trip through New Mexico and Arizona – the longest vacation I’ve had in – well, I can’t even remember.
I probably wouldn’t have spent so much vacation time in New Mexico over the years were it not for my good friend and fellow CPA, Anna (a.k.a. Jones) who has lived there twice and recently moved back, leaving behind the traffic jams and competitive energy of the Washington, DC area in favor of The Land of Enchantment. The state more than lives up to its official nickname and I can’t wait to get there.
I hate to say goodbye to my long-time boyfriend, Chris (a.k.a. My Special Dude), as he drops me off at Reagan National Airport Saturday morning for my 11:30 flight. He gives me a huge hug and tells me unequivocally to have fun. He seems genuinely happy to see me so excited – one of many things I love about him.
The stress of the workweek has not quite worn off yet but the anticipation of takeoff is quickly washing that away. Waiting for the boarding call, I remember today is my little brother’s 43rd birthday. I tag him in an Instagram post with an old photo that I’d scanned weeks before.Reminiscing about childhood leads me to take a window seat, reminding me of what it was like to be a little kid imagining the limitless possibilities that exist above the clouds. DC is a beautiful city – even more so from the air – but there is always something so liberating about heading west. For a few hours, excitement is replaced by anxiety while I’m stuck in Dallas, TX on an unexplained layover delay. We need to check into our room tonight by 10 p.m. New Mexico time and I’m cutting it close. It’s out of my control so I grab a seat at a bar to charge my phone (and myself) and I start my vacation early by enjoying a margarita.
After landing safely in El Paso at a fairly reasonable time, I meet Jones at the uncrowded baggage claim with my two weeks worth of stuff (hopefully) and in no time we are hurrying to the car for the 120 mile drive to Truth or Consequences, NM (known within the state as “T or C”) for a one-night stay at Riverbend Hot Springs.
T or C is a spa city in southern NM – population approximately 6,500 – and is noted on several lists of unusual place names. Originally named Hot Springs, the name was changed in 1950 after Ralph Edwards, the host of the radio quiz show Truth or Consequences, announced that he would air from the first town that renamed itself after the show. Hot Springs won out.
Already fatigued from 12 hours of travel, I am apprehensive about going to T or C. On one of our previous trips, Jones and I stopped at a McDonald’s there for coffee and watched nervously as a fight nearly broke out between two patrons. It’s funny how something like that can cloud your perception of a place to the point where you don’t ever want to go back.
It is sprinkling slightly and the big-sky sunset is astonishingly peaceful as we pass through a checkpoint. Having never seen this inside the US, I am surprised to learn that the United States Border Patrol operates a number of such checkpoints near the southern border of the US. We reply to the patrolman’s question of US citizenship affirmatively and he waves us through. I live in a city with constant security threats but this makes me nervous for reasons I can’t quite determine.A couple hours later – finally – we arrive in T or C. Upon driving into the “city” (more like a town, really), my anxiety increases. The place seems to be largely deserted at 9:00 p.m. – and very dark. My eyes have not adjusted from the ambient city lights of the Washington DC metro area. It looks mainly industrial and I begin to wonder if we are in the right place. Then I see the small sign and the small dimly-lit parking lot. The little spa looks somewhat charming from the outside.
Once we enter the main gates and check in I feel as if we’ve entered another dimension.
As we pass upon the stone walkway to our room, a cat sleeps soundly on a smooth, solidly-built rustic wooden chair. We dump our bags in favor of bathing suits and make the short walk to the public baths.
Projected multi-colored lights sparkle on the trees of the spa grounds and across the banks of Rio Grande, upon which the spa is built. The faerie lights and the various pools, lit from within, give everything an etherial glow and all the stresses of travel and the previous workweek float away like tiny, puffy clouds in the vast blue New Mexico sky. The air has cooled considerably. We sink into a couple of the steaming pools until 10 p.m. closing time and then turn in for the night.
I sleep like I haven’t slept in a month. I don’t remember dreaming but I’m certain I must have.Morning comes quickly but for the few hours that follow, time flows slowly in a seemingly never-ending circle of sights and sounds: sunrise over the fog-peaked mountains behind the Rio Grande; lounging on the outdoor couches in robes; mapping out the journey to come; hot coffee and snack bars (no breakfast there), which had basically been my entire diet for the previous 24 hours.
Three other guests – Kim, Karla and their dog, Chloe – join us at the outdoor couches. Now living in Las Cruces, NM, they had grown up together in Albuquerque, knew each other in high school, married other people, divorced and then reconnected. They are celebrating their 3rd anniversary and Karla’s 61st birthday. I love meeting complete strangers while on travel and learning these tidbits of information. They asked about our “story” and for a brief moment we shared a connection that all of us have but rarely think about.
At 9 a.m. Jones and I are guided to our reserved private hot springs tub overlooking the river. The pictures say more than I can describe in words.
Jones is back at the room a bit early so I have the tub to myself for the last few minutes. Despite the beauty of the morning, I feel rather melancholy, this being the one year anniversary of my dad’s tragic death. Zen-like music has been playing over the outdoor speakers all morning. I take these few solitary moments to meditate on the events of the previous year when suddenly it hits me that the Zen-like melody playing at this moment is Amazing Grace. This is the song I insisted we hire a bagpiper to play at my dad’s funeral last year.
I feel the presence of something greater than myself. Tears fueled by mixed emotions trickle down my face, mingling with the steamy water in which I soak, and I feel the circle is complete.
Nothing lasts forever. It is time to check out and start the road trip for real. Roswell and the Very Large Array are on the itinerary. I mention this to the guy at the desk and what follows is a dizzying account of how he thinks the world is run by aliens, how Earth is a mining planet that will be destroyed like Mars was, that the Illuminati are funneling money though the World Bank to fund alien operations, and that the aliens can’t kill our souls so they put them in these fragile bodies and recycle them.
Um, buzzkill. I firmly decide to believe only in friendly aliens, at least for the next two weeks.
My first 24 hours of travel has been nothing if not interesting. We are off for a two-hour drive to Mesilla, NM to stay with Jones’ mom (a.k.a. M) for one night. I look forward to an actual meal at La Posta where we are supposed to meet Jeanette (a.k.a. Jenny Clay / Clay Art), a local artist who I’ve been friends with on Facebook for at least five years but have never met. I’m unconvinced that she actually exists, as she seems to disappear every time I’m in town. I’m also baffled as to why everyone in our travel plan has an alias – I didn’t make this up – including me (a.k.a. Doofin) but it does set the stage nicely for a mysterious adventure.
As we drive off I’m grateful for giving T or C a second chance. Sometimes all we need is a second chance.