The Land of Enchantment

“The truck turned onto the highway for the very last day. When Quincy looked out, he saw a beautiful sight. Quincy saw sky that was blue and cliffs that were red. He saw rocks that were white and trees that were green. There was a trail stretching across the desert as far as he could see.”

From QUINCY MOVES TO THE DESERT

I have to admit that this description of Quincy’s first sighting of the landscape of New Mexico was my impression as well. This illustration of the desert is based on a photograph taken along Highway 550 not too far north of Albuquerque. It is truly a unique place. I have an oil painting of the same general area done by artist Barbara Zaring, who paints New Mexico landscapes in collaboration with fellow artist, Alyce Frank.

http://www.cla.purdue.edu/WAAW/ONeill/ONeillgal.html

I first saw the terrain of New Mexico from a small airplane because the first 6 months that my family lived there, I was still commuting back and forth from Upstate New York. I am not one for small airplanes but with these sights to see, I actually looked forward to it. When I made the final move I drove with a friend and fully loaded vehicle. We came up Cumbres Pass from Southwestern Colorado and crossed the border just above Chama. There was a road sign complete with wood rail trim that read:   Welcome to New Mexico – The Land of Enchantment. I was hooked! This valley is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

I could not get over how striking the surroundings were. Even trips to the grocery or the post office, my main destinations the first month while settling in, revealed vistas that were like nothing I had ever seen. It did not seem that I would ever need to go on a vacation again because I lived somewhere where people came on vacation. One time when walking in the area, my husband and I looked at each other and said, “This is like living on a movie set.”

Speaking of movie sets, one of our first expeditions was to Monument Valley, the filming location of all the old John Ford Westerns many of which starred John Wayne. It was only about 3 hours west of where we lived in the Four Corners. Monument Valley became one of our favorite places. It is remote and part of the Navajo Nation lands and, though there are sometimes a number of cars, it is relatively untouched and peaceful compared to some places of immense and unique beauty.

It is the real thing. It cannot be replicated at Disney World or Universal Studios. John Ford really went there. His movies are not computer generated. There is a great old hotel in nearby Gallup, NM called the El Rancho where Ford, Wayne and the crew stayed in transit to Monument Valley. During the first year we lived in the Four Corners, we drove to Monument Valley five or six times. Here is a sample of the view.

http://www.astronomynotes.com/nature/pic18f.htm

Of course after a month of unpacking we started work and over time, the Four Corners became home. I never got tired of the mesas and the San Juan Mountains to the north in Colorado just 30 miles up the road, but with the stresses and strains of normal life I did not take so much time to just be awestruck. Fall was the best season. Spring was too windy. Fall in the West is all about yellow. The main trees in our area were cottonwoods in New Mexico and aspens in Colorado and they are all yellow.

Sometimes over the years, I began to find life in the desert more than a bit harsh.  In four or five of the last years I lived there we had major forest fires that were too close for comfort. The smoke would make going outside very difficult. There are serious problems with drought and water that make people feel on edge and not sure of what the future will hold. Many long time ranchers have sold off their stock and as the younger generations come along they sell off the family land to developers, especially in Colorado.

I think the best way to describe living in the West and especially in proximity to the amazing landscapes- high desert and Rocky Mountains – is that is a humbling experience.  At various times one feels exhilarated, spiritually moved, intimidated and often at twilight viewing the startling sunsets, very peaceful. But one thing is always the same. The landscape takes center stage and people seem tiny and almost inconsequential. No matter what you do there is an awareness that at the end of the story, any footsteps you have left in the desert sand will be wiped away by the wind.

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About Pathfinder Pursuits

Camille is a licensed clinical social worker and writer. She is the author of the Quincy the Horse children's books.
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