Even in harsh conditions, we thrive

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White Sands National Park

Sometimes living in the desert I am struck by how harsh the living conditions are. Just a few miles up the Sandia Mountains on the outskirts of Albuquerque, the landscape is dry and hot, filled with cacti and rattlers. It is not a hike for the faint at heart, or those without water, especially on a hot summer’s day. I’ve also felt this oppressiveness at the Sand Dunes National Monument or at White Sands and even on the mesa near my house. And yet, plants and wildlife thrive in these environments. They have learned how to live and grow in beauty and be strong with the sun and earth conditions.

I’ve been thinking about this recently in terms of humans, and how we also thrive in harsh conditions, and sometimes we struggle to figure out how. A lot has recently been written on how children need grit in order to make it in the world these days. And by grit, researchers mean tenacity or toughness to make it through harsh situations. Other researchers call it resilience. And still others have said that to shelter children from harsh environments means that they will be unequipped to navigate them once they face them as adults.

Sometimes I feel like I shelter my son too much, and other times I worry that he’s so much in the world that he’s completely unsafe. But then, I remember . . . he is part of the world. He is connected to this world, and he interacts with it on his own terms, as a complete human being, whatever his age. I can help him interpret, but I cannot change that fact that he is a complete human and part of this world, a world that is harsh and beautiful. And I try to remember the beautiful part when I help in interpret. But heck, I need help interpreting too, and so I reach to others in the same way. It is always a matter of learning, seeking support and speaking to beauty, not just to harshness. Maybe it is just about always carrying enough water.

I think about the lizards at White Sands, and their feet, shaped to be able to race over the hot sand like tiny potholders protecting their bodies. Most certainly, this is a resilience adaptation for survival in their harsh conditions, a normal way of living for this little reptilian creature. Maybe the thing with humans is, we can’t figure out what’s normal — is it normal to need to live in a diverse community peacefully? or is it a threat? is it normal to  need tenacity in order to navigate unknown? Or maybe it is both? and holding opposites simultaneously in our thinking minds confuses us?

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Lizard hanging out at home in White Sands

If we look around us, the answer seems to inevitably appear. Diversity exists. Opposites exist together in the world all over. Every day and night, again and again. And again and again. Maybe navigating the world means venturing into this diversity, and whether that requires grit, resilience or just plain and simple loving, it has to be.

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Finding a Good Hike for a Good Old Pair of Boots

1Today I went for a mountain hike with my almost sixteen year old son, and our exuberant and lovely dog. We were alone on the trail, and we both spent time reminiscing about all the time we’ve spent on the beautiful Italianos Trail. It was delightful to listen to my son remember his stories — that when he crossed the creek as a child the stones seemed impossibly big and scary to reach across. He remembered feeling sure that he would tumble into the cold water. But today his legs are so much longer, and the stones felt so small. Today, the crossing was so easy. Oh yes, the perspective that age brings.

We also commented on how much he has changed in that last thirteen years, and how the trail has changed so little. The caves are all still intact, the special trees, swimming spots. Yes, so much changes, and so much stays the same. Life is so much that way, and the older we get the more we notice the little things, and the big things. And truly all of it is so much sweeter. If we let it be.

Italianos Trail is familiar. It is like home in the mountains for us. We used to come here when he and his cousin were toddlers. We would bring friends here. I helped him learn how to hike, how to maneuver through the rocks and identify plants, bugs, and learn how to be in the mountains safely on this trail. Noitalianos2w as a teenager, my son is my hiking partner, my equal, stronger than me, with more endurance and strength, but still innocent in so many ways. I so appreciate this transition. He remembers the spot where his cousin fell into the creek, and the place where our friends got stuck in the creek when they were attempting to be adventurous.

Along the way, I realize that while he’s changed, I’m still hiking in the same boots that carried him on my back when he was a baby. He changes at such a fast pace, and I’m slower, in so many ways. He still can kick my butt on the trail. But in terms of self awareness, and shifting perspectives and adapting the changing world, youthfulness simply takes the fast 2lane easier. It is beautiful to watch, and to remember when I was more nimble, my body more flexible, requiring less thought to more through the world.

So I wear the same worn out, comfortable boots that taught him to jump across the creeks. The boots have taken me from my college days, to my son’s birth to his teen years. They have helped me forge new paths, and stay on well beaten ones. They are like good friends.

And as life transitions, we certainly need things that we depend on, even if it is just good old hiking boots.

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Why Dirt Road?

Ric at the summit of Imogene Pass. Telluride, CO
Ric at the summit of Imogene Pass. Telluride, CO

Why Dirt Road Journal?

The short answer is because my family loves to get off road and have an adventure. But there’s a lot more to it too. We are adventurous souls. Being on the road of life pushes boundaries and comfort zones, and adventure makes new rules and breaks old ones. That is is where real living is.

And sometimes, we have no choice, adventure finds us. Life is that way.  It happens, and how we respond to it is our choice. We can engage with courage and a sense of curiosity and self-reliance, or we can sit at the bottom of the mountain and cry at the steepness of the summit. Life is in the climb. Traveling gives us practice climbing. Traveling off road gives us tools and stories, experiences and love for tackling new and unknown life.

Sometimes off road is a new cafe, or a practicing a foreign language, or trying new food. It could be taking a hike for the first time, visiting a world heritage site or sitting in meditation.

Being in those places is sometimes like scare-your-socks-off, and sometimes it is pure and simple beauty that makes you cry. Life is funny and scary and when you’re on off-road, it is also pure. It is the place where my husband is truly himself, and where we work together in pure fun. It is the place where anything pretentious dissipates and where presence is profoundly cultivated. Of course, the 1,000 foot drop on the passenger side is a friendly reminder to stay present.

In the last decade, my family has driven hundreds of back country roads in New Mexico and Colorado. These photos and video (forgive my video-editing skills or lack thereof) give you a small glimpse into one way we cultivate presence and find ourselves through adventure. Most often my husband drives, my son navigates, and I document. We’ve driven the highest roads in the country, and they are magnificent! And we all look at roads like Devil’s Punch Bowl and think, “holy moly, how will we navigate that doozy?”

Yes. Hell yes, we’ve gotten stuck, many times. We’ve had to turn around, and a couple of times we’ve had to ask people for help. But I always think, “well, it is only a days walk to the closest town. That’s do-able if anything were to happen.” And really nothing does. Nothing we haven’t handled at least. One time the car died. One time we flooded the engine driving through water too deep. One time we were stuck in a mud bog. But we’ve always gotten through it, and in the end we have a great story and a satisfying day. Even if my finger nails are gone at the end of it.

Life in general is much the same. Sometimes it can be nail-biting. Sometimes we get stuck, really stuck, and need to ask for help. Sometimes we can recognize that it is a short trip back to “normal” and just go for it.

So this blog…not so much about dragging your truck through the mountains, as expanding your mind and body by traveling to places off your beaten path. Finding your own off-road adventures to open your hearts and mind.

That’s why this is the Dirt Road Journal.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

 

 

 

 

Tent Rocks: someplace you gotta go, and my family thought they looked a little like something else . . .

Yes, they’re called tent rocks, but as you wander through the trail to the top of the mesa, it feels like you’re wandering through another world.  A bit like Star Wars or a bit phallus depending on your state of mind, but in either case, it is magnificent. The monument is about an hour north of Albuquerque and definitely off the beaten path, but so worth the adventure of finding it.  Truly, not much else could be said about it. Find it! Tent Rocks National Monument.

Tent Rocks National Monument
Tent Rocks National Monument

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Hidden spots in Bandelier

It has been warming up around here, and it makes me yearn for summer and weekend hikes. This weekend I’ve been daydreaming about places we’ve been and places I’d like to be if it were warm. So my next few posts will be my summer daydreams. Soon enough it will be warm and we’ll be able to venture out for an afternoon hike in shorts and baseball cap, searching a natural treasure along the way.

Bandelier National Monument is about 30,000 acres of beautiful canyonlands and mesa with petrogylphs and dwellings dating back 11,000 years. The main loop trail and visitor center is most certainly worth a visit if you haven’t been there, but we prefer the Tsankawi Trail. It is a bit off the beaten path, and it is one of my favorite spots for a short afternoon adventure.

The Tsankawi Trail is only a couple miles and it is not a difficult hike, but it follows ancient pathways and includes ladders along the trail up the side of ancestral dwelling sites. The petroglyphs and the ancestral pueblo village of Tsankawi are ghostly and beautiful on the mesa above Rio Grande.

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Pottery shards can be spotted along the trail
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Petroglyphs
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More . . .on the last part of the trail you’re surrounded by petroglyphs
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Dwellings
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Looking at over the mesa just as a storm is rolling in
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Chimney
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More pottery shards

La Veta: A treasure nestled in the breasts of the earth

La Veta is nestled at the base of the Spanish Peaks, two mountains at the southern most border of Colorado near I-25.  The Spanish Peaks have been among the most important landmarks of the southwestern United States, guiding Native American tribes, trappers, and American settlers.  The Ute, and other, earlier Indian tribes held the Peaks in religious awe and named the mountains Wahatoya, meaning “Breasts of the Earth.”  The first recorded Europeans to explore the Spanish Peaks region came north from Santa Fe in 1706, 100 years before Zebulon Pike discovered Pikes Peak.  The Spanish Peaks were important markers to early Spanish explorers, probing routes over Raton and Sangre de Cristo passes northward into the Colorado interior.  In 1822, Mexico’s independence from Spain opened the markets of Taos and Santa Fe to American traders via the Santa Fe Trail.  As I travel from Taos to Denver, this is always a stopping place for me.

Among the most unusual features of the Spanish Peaks are the great dikes that radiate out from the mountains like spokes of a wheel.  When the molten magma was rising in the Earth it moved through vertical cracks that you can still see today–jetting out along the road to La Veta.  These walls of rock are often spectacular in height and length, and are known to geologists world wide. They are a unique feature of the landscape around the Spanish Peaks.

And further into the valley, the treasures are even more worthwhile.  The Spanish Peaks are 13,000 feet, and they are surrounded by others similar in majesty, Trinchera Peak being my favorite. Trinchera Peak is 13,517 ft, and has magnificent views in all directions.  We arrived early in the morning and the wildlife was so beautiful.