Have you ever listened to a train go by and wondered where it was going or where it had come from? Driving across plains and deserts I spent many hours listening to trains as our paths crossed on some distant highway.
I have always had a love of trains, I have not spent much time riding on trains but I have always had a romantic image in my head of trains as they cross the country one track at a time. My romantic idea of trains goes along with the same image I have in my mind of dust devils swirling and twisting on fields ready for planting with a single red barn. Or passing over bridges with brooks and rivers passing underneath with Sunday fishermen standing on the banks hoping to get lucky. All of these things create a story, one a single train can see in nearly every corner of this country…they are the simple things in life.
That may be why I have created such a romanticized ideal of these simple images in my mind. They are things that were so common many years ago, before electronics and instant gratification dictated how we function on a daily basis. It was working for every penny you earned, taking pride in your hometown, having a work ethic, putting family first. All things that a few years ago were staples in our lives but now they are seen as rare qualities. This is why I think about trains…
As the traveling continued I finally made it out of Texas but I had to finally stop for the night. After pushing through a 1,100 mile day I had to finally call it quits for the night. But since I decided to stay off of the interstate once I arrived in New Mexico, which meant I was in a bit of a sticky situation. I made it out of Texas around 11am and I was already thankful for my next rest break planned along my route, Albuquerque New Mexico! I stumbled into town hungry, tired and in a desperate need to stretch my legs for an hour or two. Since I was still struggling with being a student on the road I thought this was an opportune moment to catch up on some homework before pushing on down the road so I didn’t have to worry about homework that night when I knew I would barely be able to keep my eyes open.
I spent about two hours resting, drinking coffee and walking around Albuquerque. With a heavy sigh and a heavier heart I climbed back into my car and was ready to put another 400 miles down before quitting for the night. My end goal for the night was the Four Corners Monument.
However, to get there I had to continue pushing on through most of the night on back highways. This is my favorite part of this adventure I am on! The not knowing of it all! I know where my end goal is but the roads traveled to get there are always unknown to me. Driving through the blackness of the night I suddenly realized why and how so many photographers would come out to the Utah or New Mexico region to take photos of the night sky. With no light around, taking back roads through Pueblo country, I looked up and thought I could see straight to heaven! There were a few clouds in the sky blocking my direct view to the pearly gates but regardless I was astounded by the wide open sky, the clarity (with help from the 7,100 ft altitude) and the only lights that were shining through were those in the heavens.
So I might have been a little side tracked from my exact mile marker I was hoping to reach but my excuse was extremely valid…I spent a good hour or so just photographing the night sky. Once again my photography leads me to night lights and to the heavens. After I put away all my equipment I pressed on wanting to make it at least another hour before I crashed out. The only problem with not taking the interstate is sometimes there is a few very long stretches of road without a gas station…
Yeah it was going to be one of those nights…when I got down to the 1/4 tank mark I started to get a little worried, when I reached the 1/8 (aka the 50 mile warning) I started to panic, trying to look up where the closest gas station to me was…in a deadzone. I finally got to the point of pure panic when I rounded the corner, to my enormous relief, I saw a gas station! At that moment I decided that at any chance I was given from then on I was going to fill up whether I needed it or not! That was far too close for comfort and the last thing I needed to add to my list of things I did on this trip was get stranded in the New Mexican desert at nearly midnight on the side of the road with an empty tank. God was certainly keeping his eye on me out here.
I finally found a good spot on the side of the road to park for the night. It also just so happened to be the side road that turned into a residential driveway about 50 yards in front of where I parked…of course I didn’t know that until I woke the next morning. Locking the doors and after crawling in the back of the car I was ready to crash out! And I crashed out hard!
The next morning I nearly didn’t want to get out of my covers! I went from 85+ degree weather to waking up to 30 degrees! Now normally I would not be one that would complain about the cold but I was a little shocked! Mostly physically in shock, my body was used to sunny days of Texas and 80+ degree weather for the last several days I wasn’t expecting New Mexico to be below freezing when I woke at 6am.
When the Four Corners Monument opened I had to go, I found out the night before that I was going to be the first in my family to ever of traveled to the Four Corners. It was always talked about but no one had ever made it to the actual monument. I happened to be one of the first cars through the gate so I had the whole monument to myself before the waves of tourists flooded through the gates.
Since I have picked up mementos from all across the country I wanted to wait till the local vendors had set their booths up before I left to pick up a token from the monument. As I walked around looking at what few things and few booths were in the process of being set up I found myself in front of an art booth. I learned something new that day; I was discussing with an older Navajo man whose booth I had stopped at about my travels. He asked where I had come from, so I told him I was coming from Virginia but I am from Alaska he stopped to look at me for a moment before he asked “how much do you know about Alaskan history?” I replied that I had a fair bit of knowledge of my state’s history. He asked if I would like to learn something new about my state, always eager to learn I replied “absolutely!”
The older man cleared his throat and began his tale: “Did you know that the Navajo and the Athabascan speak the same language?” Shocked by this question I replied “no I had no idea,” he continued…”We speak the same language, ancient folklore says that we (the Navajo) were sent away from our frozen home to scout a new home for our tribe. And our Athabascan brothers were left behind but we were to supposed to return for our brothers and bring them with us but we never returned.”
Absolutely flabbergasted I was at a loss for words…being lovingly adopted by several Athabascan families I would have thought that this piece of information would have been shared with me at one point or another as I sat at the feet of Elders as a child. It just goes to show you never stop learning…if you are willing to listen.
I truly believe that I was supposed to be at the memorial that day. Though my road is far from over I believe that was a heavily kiss on the cheek for me to start my very long day of travel where all my roads lead me North.
Traveling Photographer Out…