Chapter 5: We take a turn towards the East/Arizona to Albuquerque

by William Bossen Photography

Highway 8 runs east along the border of Mexico.  It is hot, desolate, dry and littered with Border Control vehicles and check points.  The check points consist of agents and dogs searching for drug traffickers and illegal immigrants.  We had to stop a total of three times and answer questions about the nature of our trip and what we were carrying in our car.  We also witnessed the Border Control managing a twisted and flaming semi that had lost a tire and careened off the side of the road.  The truck was barley intact and on the verge of exploding.   Sitting in standstill traffic on scorching asphalt and be forced to inhale unidentifiable black and gray toxic fumes was not the highlight of our day.  In fact, driving from California to Arizona was not a very pleasant day altogether.

Between the heat, dust, distance, and lack luster landscape we were glad to arrive in Tucson and check into an air conditioned Motel, take a cold shower, and sleep on a hard bed.  Our initial idea was to camp at Saguaro National Park, but those prickly giants lost their appeal after a nine dirty hours of driving.  Besides, they are all over the Southwest.

The following day we awoke early and refreshed ready to head to our next destination, the Gila National Wilderness in New Mexico.  Our plan was to enter the massive park from the South end via a small and winding road that must be driven at speeds of less than 15mph.  The Gila National Forest has spectacular scenery ranging from high cool mountains with aspen and douglas fir to warm semi-arid lowlands with juniper, oak and cactus. It is one of the more remote and least developed National Forests in the southwest. Covering 3.3 million acres of publicly owned forest and range land, the Forest is the sixth largest National Forest in the continental United States.  We decided to visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings which offer a glimpse into the homes and lives of the Mogollon people who lived in this area over 700 years ago.  The ancient archeological site was impressive and the long meandering hike we took along the Gila River was beautiful.  The trail entailed several river crossings and eventually a skinny dip in a refreshing swimming hole.

We left the Gila Friday afternoon with the intention of backpacking into ever drifting and mysterious gypsum sands at White Sands National Monument.  However, once again we underestimated the time it would take to maneuver our way across and out of the twisty terrain of the Gila.  What we thought would take 2 hours, took 4 and resulted in the car almost overheating.   After stopping in Las Cruces to buy some coolant and gas up, we headed north towards White Sands.  We arrived at close to sunset and were sadly disappointed that we were too late to get a permit and spend the night in the park.  The young and friendly ranger informed us that we were now on Mountain Time, therefore an hour later than we thought, and as a form on condolence recommended another State Park in the area for camping.  We thanked her and drove on in the dark to Oliver Lee Sate Park outside the city of Alamogordo. 

Oliver Lee State Park was another one of those sweet surprises!  Amazing and clean camp sites for only ten bucks a night and yet another beautiful Canyon that stretched back into Lincoln National Forest.  The next morning we took a hike up into Dog Canyon and were captivated by the scenery, solitude, and our first Tarantula sighting in the wild.  In the afternoon we drove North West to Albuquerque.  My cousin Rebecca lives on a ranch with her boyfriend Todd.  At the top of the gravel drive that leads to their house we were greeted by four dogs, five goats, and a very firendly looking horse.