Thursday, April 13, 2006

Day 1: travel to Oliver Lee Memorial State Park

All those last-minute things got done, perishable items and Cat were loaded and we headed out at 9 a.m. Once through Albuquerque, my drive took me south in I-25, east on Hwy 280 past the Trinity Site (first atomic bomb was exploded there at 5:29 a.m. on July 16, 1945) and Valley of the Fires (so named from past volcanic activity) to Carrizozo and then south on Hwy 54 through Tularosa and Alamogordo to Dog Canyon Road and Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. This park, in the northern part of the huge Chihuahuan Desert, is a harsh landscape against the west face of the Sacramento Mountains.

Having lived in Phoenix and Tucson and spent time in the Anza Borrego portion of the Sonoran Desert, I’m familiar with the desert landscape. I did some research and found out that the Chihuahuan Desert is the largest – and the driest – of the four in North America. The others are the Sonoran, Mojave and Great Basin deserts.

The Chihuahuan Desert that at first glance is barren and lifeless is home to cactus, creosote bush, tarbush, mesquite, acacia, yucca (bloom only once in their life) and agave (can bloom once a year). When the US-Mexico border was surveyed in the 1850s, one man wrote, “It is wild and worthless.” Actually, when you get out and really look – especially in the early morning and early evening – it is full of surprises.

I arrive about 3 p.m. and I’m thankful that it is mid-April, because summers are probably very hot. There are no shade trees in the campground.

The weather is toasty-warm, and it is windy. In all there are 44 camping sites, but only 12 are electric/water sites that are not saved for reservations. Of those, only two have a cabana/windbreak. Only two water/electric sites are not taken. The park is at the mouth of Dog Canyon and sits on an alluvial fan – loosely translated that is sandy-dirt that over the years was washed down the canyon. The sites that are left are large but not very level.

I claimed site #24: the one that looked the best. The camp host came over to help me get situated. After trying several places on the spacious site and using my leveling boards, I still couldn’t get level. I was hot and now frustrated, hungry and cranky. I declared it “good enough.” I was about 40 feet from the electrical box and water faucet. I quickly hooked up the electric in order to get my refrigerator and air conditioner on. Then I went in to cool off and have a late lunch.

I cooled off, enjoyed lunch, but was still frustrated about not being level. I fussed and fumed a bit; tried to figure out what to do. I wasn’t even willing to put my slide out because I was thinking “why do I want to be here?!” I gave up for the evening, and sat down to read – a reprint of an article that Norman Vincent Peale wrote 36 years ago.

I hadn’t gone very far in the article before I read,

“Generally when people are disheartened, they can’t see the possibilities. They see only the difficulties that are involved, not the solutions. Strange thing about human nature – we have a tendency to magnify the difficulties, blow them up, and make them bigger than they actually are. The thing to do when you are disheartened is the very opposite: go hunting around in your situation for the bright possibilities that are surely there. It is a matter of attitude of mind.”

Bingo! I definitely needed a change in attitude. So I started thinking about things that I liked so far about this park: the sites are huge, and neighboring RVs are not close like they are at RV “resorts.” Look at this photo that I took on one of my hikes and you’ll see what I mean.

Also, there seem to be many different kinds of birds, the cactus are about to bloom, there are two trails to explore, a visitor’s center and there will be a guided plant hike and a tour of a restored 19th century ranch house on Saturday. There’s a lot to like about this place once I put some thought to it. I may not be as level as I would like to be, but I’ll be fine.

Cat seems to like it. She spent a lot of time watching birds from the window during the afternoon. Right now, it is dark out and she is swatting at a moth that she can see through the window screen. She’s briefly puzzled and then – because she’s so smart – realizes she can’t get it and decides to take a nap.

As I fell asleep, enjoying a cool breeze through my open windows and relishing my improved attitude, I reminded myself of something attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Finish every day and be done with it.
You’ve done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in;
Forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day;
Begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be
cumbered with your old nonsense.
This day is all that is good and fair.
It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on
the yesterdays.