“It’s on the way, which means we have to go,” I told him. By that point, he’d grown used to my map-scouring and park visit-plotting ways, and while he cared little for history, he was a good sport about it, especially if there were comfy benches for him to sit on while I chattered about random pieces of history or artifacts in a display case.
It’s been four months since I went to New Mexico. It was the first solo trip I’d ever taken and I can’t stop thinking about it, especially lately as I put together my next adventure, this time to Arizona for my birthday in March. I keep coming back to the way I felt while I was there, to these specific moments that seem suspended in my memory. They’re glowy, like an old television flashback, with a certain amount of sparkle around the edges.
We broke up six months ago, but there we were, driving south from Richmond to Gatlinburg, Tennesse, toward the Great Smoky Mountains. It was an unintentional farewell tour, a trip hatched months ago, planned and booked right before things broke again and executed defiantly and stubbornly because that’s who we are, defiant and stubborn humans with an excessive amount of love for one another and hopelessly divergent viewpoints.
Work sent me to Iowa and after sending a text to my friend who lives there, I looked up the National Park situation. Iowa has just two National Park units, Effigy Mounds National Monument and Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. With limited time and an already-packed schedule, I decided to aim for the closest park and on my last day in Iowa I woke up well before dawn and headed to the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, located in West Branch, Iowa.
Visiting Alcatraz Island is maybe my most favorite thing to do in San Francisco. To me – a true crime lover, a National Park nerd and a history buff – the place is fascinating. I love the access visitors get to the notorious former prison, the views of San Francisco from the island, the self-guided audio tour and the intensely spooky vibe of the place.
When 2017 started, I was in Kuwait. It was the end of my deployment though and by the middle of January I was back in America. I’d spent most of the National Park Service’s centennial year (2016) in foreign lands and I came home determined to make up for my absence.
Two days after being released from the clawed paws of the U.S. Army, I visited my first National Park unit of the year, in New York City, and then spent the rest of the year dreaming of future park visits, driving across Virginia to visit close-to-home parks and generally annoying nearly everyone with my incessant National Park chatter.
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in America’s one and only national park dedicated to the performing arts. It’s located in Vienna, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., and is super close to where my grandmother used to live. I grew up knowing about Wolf Trap, but for some reason I never realized it was a national park.
When the park ranger at Fort Union National Monument asked me what I thought about the site, I told him it was creepy. He said that was an unusual response, one he didn’t get regularly, but that I was the second person that day to call the place creepy. I tried to qualify the statement. I told him creepy wasn’t exactly the right word. The place felt eerie, maybe, sort of ghostly and maybe even haunted.
In going to New Mexico, I wanted to experience two things: National Parks and really good food. So, upon my arrival in New Mexico, I went straight for the tacos, at Kelly’s Brew Pub, where I met a bartender who shared my name. I took meeting her as a good omen since she was only the second Terra I’d ever met and then I scampered to Petroglyph National Monument, to get my first taste of New Mexico’s national park scene.
On April 9, 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the small village of Appomattox Court House. While the official end of the American Civil War would come later, Lee’s surrender marked the effective end to a war that had raged for four years and claimed more than 620,000 lives.
My trip to New Mexico was my first-ever solo trip and I launched into planning mode before I even booked the tickets. I ordered a travel guide, started a Pinterest board, perused the National Park Service website and flipped through some of my favorite travel blogs to see if they had any suggestions on what I should be doing with my time in New Mexico.
I danced in the middle of the road at Valles Caldera National Preserve. And when I say, “I danced,” I mean I fucking danced.
I don’t even know why I did it, not really, just that I needed to do it.
Maybe I was overtaken by the beauty of the place, by the trees and the air and the grass and the streams and the brilliant blue birds that kept jetting in front of my bright red Ford Focus and especially by the perfect loneliness of that road. I’d passed one car by that point, about two hours prior, and had spent the morning bumping over and around potholes in complete solitude. Maybe I didn’t want to leave without expressing how happy I was to be there. Maybe I just needed a middle of the road dance-a-thon to express to nature, the world and myself the incredible joy those battered roads and that beautiful place gave me.