Lola and I check into our Las Cruces accommodations. One more night of transience before we can settle into our Winter quarters. Right now, however, I need a respite from the road. Lola and I stretch our legs by walking around the motel grounds. I take a comforting and hot shower, change clothes and take stock of things in the Subaru that we might need before our arrival in Tucson tomorrow. With these matters taken care of I contact my friend, Marge, to let her know that we’re arrived in town.
Here in southern New Mexico, Lac Cruces is a major hub. The second largest city in the State of New Mexico, it’s nonetheless relatively small with a population still under one-quarter million people.
It’s home to New Mexico State University, a large academic institution. And, I wasn’t surprised to learn, based on what I’d already seen today on our way here, the federal government is the area’s biggest employer. With its lively university community, an abundance of government work available thanks to nearby White Sands, and a steady influx of retirees arriving from all over the place, Las Cruces is a growing town.
Marge is a retired professor. Since the past Fall, when Marge left Columbia University, where she taught for many years, Las Cruces has been her home. The move wasn’t pure happenstance. Marge already owned rental property in town. She had spent considerable time in the area in the past decade and already gotten to know some of its people.
Today, one of the places we’ll visit is the interesting Mesilla Historic District. Around 1850, the United States and Mexico made a treaty establishing geographic boundaries for this part of the continent. Mesilla was located near this boundary. Despite its strong cultural ties to Mexico, Mesilla officially became a part of U.S. Territory in 1854. Today, with its surviving plaza and numerous adobe structures, many of them refurbished and repurposed, Mesilla retains much of its original flavor.
We catch up over a cocktail inside one of the buildings on the square, which includes the former jail where the outlaw Billy the Kid had once been a guest. Marge tells me that she still misses New York but since relocating to Las Cruces has become an avid hiker and an outdoor enthusiast. This lifestyle marks a sharp contrast from her relatively sedentary existence as an academic in the Big Apple. It sounds to me like Marge plans to stay here for the long haul.
Later, we take a quick walk around the small downtown entertainment district. Here on a week night there is not much activity. We depart the area to find a decent place to have dinner.
When I get back to the motel its still early. However, Lola is already sacked out in middle of our bed. It won’t be easy moving 65 pounds of pooch to make a bit of room for myself.
In the morning I pack up our things and get prepared to make our final push. I estimate that today’s trip due west should be relatively quick and easy as I have bought us some extra time on a couple earlier legs of the journey. Now I very much wish to arrive, to unpack, and get settled in before dark, if possible.
I haven’t been driving west on Interstate 10 for very long when I spot an electronic sign advising westbound motorists there is Border Patrol roadblock set up one mile ahead. Here I am completely innocent: a senior citizen, driving an SUV bulging with travel gear, a loyal pup in the back seat, displaying our out-of-state plates and up-to-date stickers. Nonetheless I involuntarily tense up the instant I see the sign. I envision stern faced, uniformed guards wearing Cool Hand Luke reflective sunglasses, barely able to restrain their snarling dogs, ready to descend upon me and my vehicle.
I recall that Steinbeck had a similar visceral reaction when he inadvertently and momentarily crossed into Canada while on his travels with his own dog. My situation feels as bad, maybe worse, because I haven’t stepped even one foot outside my own country. I’m thinking, what scary, divided times we live in today.
I approach a solitary guard, in his booth, quickly scanning motorists and ushering them onward. Before I could say a word, he’s given me a once-over and waved me through. Other than Lola there are no dogs.
Much ado about nothing, I suppose. Still, my sense of relief feels like a weight lifted.
My drive immediately starts to improve. In the distance I can see a mountain but at this distance away I can’t tell how close we might come to it. When we start inclining uphill, I’m encouraged. This land feels alive. It is striking and dramatic.
As we continue our climb, the rocky highway evolves into a twisting, snow-covered alpine road.
I pass through a couple toney alpine villages set among the evergreens. Both feature upscale shops, fashionable eateries. I see expensive cars parked off-road. In the open spaces between the towns, beneath a pure, blue sky, I note this is the most snow I’ve seen during the entire winter.
It’s too good to last. Lola and I descend back into an arid, mostly barren landscape, where you need to be mindful of gasoline and water. I gas up one last time at a place that must have been put down here to serve that specific purpose. Then, we’re back on the road.
To my surprise, now that I am near to achieving my revised “grand plan,” I cry for Lee, who can’t share it. I eventually spot a road sign that brightens my mood.
As I near Tucson, Arizona, my GPS warns that the interstate ahead is congested due to an accident. I make the decision to go overland because I hate traffic delays, despite the fact I still have no good idea how to get to my destination in Tucson.
I find my way to Tucson easily enough, but once there it’s strictly cross-town traffic on unfamiliar streets. I pass a gigantic, fenced lot containing dozens of military-looking airplanes. Based on a case that Eric and I handled some years back, I know that the desert is a good place to keep such machinery. I make a mental note to get back to see these planes again by the time Lola and I depart for the season.
Our timing is perfect, as if planned. Lola and I arrive at our casita mid-afternoon. The place looks ready for our arrival. However, it’s an impression I will come to modify in the coming days and weeks.
Inside it’s about big enough for a man and his dog but not much more. On the plus side, there is one large and heavy wooden dining table with four heavy wooden chairs, a full refrigerator, an electric oven with a built-in, overhead microwave, a double sink; on the other hand, the place has virtually no counter space, and just a few inconveniently located and hard to get to kitchen cabinets. The main room is big enough to accommodate a stone indoor fireplace, which I am afraid to use after the owner informs me that the flue is in questionable condition.
There is a decent size bedroom with a queen bed, but little closet or storage space. I observe there is no light in the closet, so I’ll need my phone’s flashlight when selecting a wardrobe. The bathroom off the bedroom will be serviceable.
I have my own laundry facilities, indeed a blessing. We also have a walled yard with attractive native plants, including several large Saguaros. A very dusty yard!
Perhaps I am being a tougher judge than Lola, who in no time at all makes herself at home.