A third of the way through our Southwest road trip, Christmas Eve found us in Artesia, NM – a small town that owes its name to a long ago depleted artesian aquifer and whose present existence is supported mainly by oil and gas refineries. A ghost town under ordinary circumstances, Artesia seemed doubly so as we navigated its deserted, halogen-lit streets. Even grocery stores were closed on account of the approaching holiday. The neon billboards of fast food restaurants, which remained stubbornly open, provided the only sign of life as night approached. We had stocked up on groceries before our arrival and hunkered down in our inn with a board game to while away the evening.
Posts tagged ‘adventure’
Hands down, the top highlight of our most recent trip to the Southwest was a visit to Chiricahua – a little-known national monument that is tucked away in the southeast corner of Arizona, near the border with New Mexico. The park receives between 50,000 and 60,000 visitors a year – less than one-tenth of the number of people who visit nearby Saguaro, where we had spent the previous day.
While the Grand Tetons get top billing, we found Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains not only every bit as spectacular, but also much more sparsely frequented. Whereas the Tetons were swarming with visitors, we did not see more than a couple dozen people on the trail in the Sawtooth Wilderness. Our first hike there – a five-mile ascent to the Wilderness’ eponymous lake – proved the most memorable of our home leave adventures.
Since returning home from Kigali, we had been in a state of limbo. Naturally, we took advantage of D’s home leave to go exploring out west, but S was forced to cut her travels short, returning to DC for the start of her Foreign Service Orientation. The opaqueness of the assignments process and the temporary lodging she took up in Virginia while D stayed out west only served to further underscore the sense of suspense and uncertainty. Should we settle in and get comfortable? Or would DC serve as but a brief stopover before our next overseas destination? Until Flag Day, it was impossible to tell.
The mere sight of snow-capped peaks sets D’s heart aflutter, and the Tetons are quite spectacular as far as American mountain ranges go. There are myriad lakes and streams criss-crossing the valley beneath the peaks. On a clear morning – when the water’s surface is undisturbed by kayakers or paddle boarders – it is possible to capture the mountains’ reflection at one of the dozen turnouts along the main road that runs north from Jackson alongside the Snake River.
As with our previous trips out West, one of the biggest highlights of exploring the great American wild is the opportunity to get up close and personal with the wild animals that call it home. We saw plenty of mule deer, prongorn, and smaller animals (rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks), and quite a few of the woods’ larger mammals. S and Junebug even had a terrifyingly close encounter with a bear.
We spent the last two weeks on the road in the western part of our country, reconnecting with friends in Salt Lake City, visiting a couple of national parks in Wyoming, soaking up Americana on July 4th, and exploring Idaho’s natural wonders – a beautiful state that had sneaked under our radar until now.
You’d think that after half a dozen major moves in as many years, we’d be pros at this, but this transition is shaping up to be the most chaotic of our Foreign Service tenure. We have been so focused on tying up a thousand and one loose ends that we have almost completely neglected planning for our home leave. We have our sights set on another road trip out West, but have done next to no research and have just now booked accommodations, with the trip only a week out at this point.
As we prepare to bid adieu to Rwanda, we have been making mental notes of the things we will miss (and others that we definitely won’t). One thing high on D’s list – not just for Rwanda, but rather for the entire continent – is the region’s incredible birdlife.