Day Tripper

An Adventure Through Eight N.m. Counties

Rene Chavez
7 min read
Girl and dog
(Renée Chavez)
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Breaking News: Unearthed from beneath a pile of debris and primeval survival tools was recently found an ancient explorer’s journal full of fascinating details of primitive nomadic life. Archeologists carbon-dated the document to about two weeks ago, then used a chemical bath to clean and preserve the fibers of the text that were made fragile by time and BBQ chip-stained fingers. Weekly Alibi won the rights to print the harrowing diary entries that put the explorations of Robert Falcon Scott to shame. Read on to bear witness to the high adventure, damning failures and triumphs of the human spirit of two intrepid women and one neurotic dog who set out to experience the glorious, swollen moon floating over the shifting dunes of White Sands.

Day 1

8:30am God bless Lew Wallace, author of Ben-Hur and inventor of the snooze button.

10:00am Planned time of departure. I’m actually just running around the house in my pjs gathering the ephemera of travel such as 1 baggie of ground coffee, 4 forks, sunscreen, 4 slices of bread wrapped in plastic, 2 headlamps, 1 knife, 4 eggs, 1 jam jar of whisky, 2 pens, 1 book, 1 black bandanna, etc.

12:00pm Takeoff achieved to the roiling tunes of Flogging Molly and the beat of gray rain on the windows. Not exactly a warm open road but we’ll take it. The crew is especially heartened as we pass a motorcyclist in the rain and remember to count our blessings.

1:06pm We pass the time reading aloud the awful true crime story of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard, then discuss the chilling nightmare of being trapped in your own body and the sad state of mental health and justice in the US.

2:56pm Pick up water in Las Cruces. Debate the merits of simply going to see a movie, eating New York-style cheesecake pancakes at IHOP and heading back home to sleep in real beds. Perhaps we could carry the dog inside in a bag?

3:47pm We arrive at White Sands National Monument. I am William Herschel discovering Uranus. I am Matthew Henson discovering the North Pole. I am Percy Fawcett finding the headwaters of the Amazon. I am …

3:49pm … disappointed. All our hopes have been dashed. There will be no back country camping as there is a missile test in the morning. Why don’t they post a schedule online? [Editor’s Note: They do post alerts with a schedule of closure dates. The writer just didn’t notice.] And, no, I don’t want to pay $5 per person to play in the sand and then leave in a few hours. Damn. Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” We must soldier on into the desert to find a home for the night, refugees of our own plans.

4:05pm We consult our map and decide to head to City of Rocks, but we’ve eaten way too many Twizzlers and BBQ chips and are ready to run free. So we shed our dissatisfaction and play on a roadside overflow of White Sands, giving the bird to whatever nincompoop decided missile testing during the full moon was a good idea. The hill is steep, and Lulu (the dog) imitates the tweeting of a small baby bird, confused by the white substance that is neither snow nor dirt. She musters her courage and scrambles up. We ditch our flip-flops and grin at the sensation of warm sand between our toes.

6:43pm Driving into the hot sun and crunching on a bag of carrot sticks, we pass a blue sign for Hidden Valley Ranch. We contemplate turning in but—debating the possibility that it’s a trap—we forge ahead.

7:12pm Land ho! We ease past a wood-and-rock sign proclaiming, “Welcome to City of Rocks State Park.” The site looks so much smaller than our childhood memories recall. We cough up $10 for one night of camping. The area is empty except for a few loners. We chose the “Lupus” camp site—perfect for a pack of wandering wolves ready to bay at the lunar orb.

7:49pm Moon rise. The crew observes, “The sky is, like, really big.” We laugh until tears flow from our eyes, then feast on gourmet Spam sandwiches and neon Cheetos. Once the moon crests the towering columns of the craggy city of stone, we let loose a few obligatory howls. Trick photography is a must, resulting in pictures of us eating the heavenly body and catching it in or hands. Then we settle in the back of the 4-Runner with the windows down, cocooned in slithery sleeping bags, and stare at the sky, taking in the moon’s hypnotizing energy and alabaster light. We sip from a jam jar of Kentucky whisky. Our minds wander, dreaming of back road motorcycle trips to Cape Horn, Chile and Deadhorse, Alaska.

10:42pm We fall prey to the Sandman, Lulu curled up on our toes.

Day 2

10:00am A black bandanna over my eyes and a pair of earplugs ensured a restful slumber and kept the rays of the slow and silent sun at bay. It was the heat that eventually woke me.

10:20am I wander the rock formations in my flip-flops. I only planned to be walking barefoot in the sand, and therefore didn’t bring real shoes. Stupid? Absolutely. A boy scout I am not. Staring up at the volcanic columns and peeking through crevices, I wonder at the strange outcropping of stone in the parched Chihuahuan desert. It’s taken around 34.9 million years for the volcanic rock beneath my feet to be weathered and sculpted into its current form.

10:41am Sheltered in a cool basin of stone and shadow, we feast on three eggs (one broke), sharp white cheddar and crispy bacon. Chewing slowly, we gaze out at the pastel horizon and wish every breakfast came with such an intensely peaceful view. Lulu beadily eyes the bacon and whines.

11:12am Leaving camp. We’ve thrown everything back in the truck, tossed our trash in the bins and made one last stop at the cleanest campsite bathroom ever. Seriously, you could probably eat off the floor. Maybe.

11:28am Blasted through a rogue swarm of insects. The whole windshield as well as my left arm is speckled with vibrant yellow goo. Lovely.

11:50am This feels like the kind of desert you see in films with bovine bones half buried in dusty sands and the shadows of circling hawks and vultures brushing your face. We drive past fields of solar panels, the Nutt (aka Middle of Nowhere) Bar, gargantuan wind turbines lazily spinning. I feel like I’m in some post-apocalyptic future where the Earth is covered in silent energy machines, and the only habitation to be found is in dusty outpost bars full of electricity farmers, space cowboys and cyborg barmaids.

12:05pm We cruise through Hatch and stare at all of the giant roadside statues of dinosaurs, hamburgers, robots, chile and more. They’re entirely unexpected and fun. These are precisely the reason people should stop in small towns.

12:22pm We pass a sign for Arrey Derry.

12:24pm We pass a sign for Derry Arrey. Weird. [Editor’s Note: There are two separate towns, Arrey and Derry. The writer was confused about this her whole life and believed the towns were Arrey Derry and Derry Arrey. Weird.]

3:14pm We arrive home, triumphant despite our change in plans, knots in our wind-blown hair, dirt under our nails, dust on our feet; a breath of freedom still trapped in our lungs.
Diary of a Desert Wanderer

Girl and dog

Renée Chavez

Cock Rock

City of Rocks

Renée Chavez

Diary of a Desert Wanderer

Eating the moon

Renée Chavez

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