Last year Mom and I traveled all the way to New Mexico, and found that New Mexico was closed because the government was closed. With guts and luck we managed to sneak into the place where dooms of white sand pile up like something out of a fantasy land. But because we were surprised that we even got in, we never did manage to actually run there. This year, after the white dirt forced us down out of Utah and into the bottom of Arizona, Mom decided that instead of heading back toward California, that we should go the other way; back to New Mexico to see white dirt on our own terms, and run in the sparkling white dooms of New Mexico rather than the gold dooms of California. It would mean missing the delicious chai at Mom’s favorite gas-station-fried-chicken-Indian-Mexican-restaurant 20 miles to the right of Barstow, but Mom was willing to make sacrifices.
For the first time since we left The City, no snow fell from the sky as we looked for a sleeping spot, and no white dirt was on the Wagon’s roof when we woke up in the morning. It was the coldest night we’d spent in the desert, with temperatures below “ice” and into “achey,” but no lady-polcemen had come to check if Mom was a melon, and no trains were howled at us every hour. For the first time, Mom didn’t need to wake up in the middle of the night and hug me for an hour or two until she forgot about all the stressful and unfixable things about herself. In other words, for the first time on this trip we slept well.
We and the sun were waiting at the gate when the government came to unlock New Mexico. The sun followed us into the park and lit up the sky with the soft light the color of baby’s blankets as we drove from the regular desert into the magical sparkling white sand. As we drove deeper through the dooms, the plants faded away until there was nothing around us but rolling dooms of white, and off in the distance a ring of sharp mountains between the land and the sky. Then the pavement ended, and even the road was white, and the only colors were in the sky.
Mom put the leash on so that she wouldn’t get lost, and we started running. We ran up and down a few dooms until we got to one that was so steep that Mom wasn’t strong enough to run up it. The doom slipped away underneath us as I raced to the crest. I stretched the leash to its full stretchiness and just got over the top, but Mom was still on the slippery slope behind me, and the huge pressure on the leash from my colossal strength almost made her fall on her face as the sand under her feet slid away down the hill. When Mom finally stomped over the edge, she put her hands on her hips like an intrepid explorer and took a triumphant sigh. Then she tapped her pockets. Then she tapped her pockets in fast forward. Then she said, “Oh dog doo! Duck, duck, duck!” Each time she said “duck” she slapped her pockets again. “Where is my phone? It must have fallen out of my pocket while we were running!” Then she did an about-face and started walking back in the other direction.
“Where are you going?!” I asked.
“We need to find my phone! All those photos, they’re not backed up! And we’ll never find our way home. And we’ll have to drive 1000 miles in silence. And…” and then I couldn’t hear her anymore because she’d wandered off, staring at the ground.
“You’ll never find her!” I called, running after her. “There must be 100 square miles of nothing but sand that look exactly the same! You can just buy a new one like you did 2 weeks ago.”
“No, look! You can see our foot prints, just like in the snow. Come on! If we follow them, then we’re sure to find it. Like you said, everything looks the same so my phone’s got to stand out as the only thing on the white background.” We must have followed our pawprints for a quarter mile while the stink of frustration coming out of Mom got unbearable. Then, suddenly Mom started running. Up ahead was a black dot in the middle of all the white: it was The Witch!
“You ought to put her on a leash so she doesn’t get lost again,” I suggested helpfully.
“Get with the program, Oscar. Nobody wears wired headphones anymore,” Mom said. “What kind of Silicon Valley dog are you?”
“Nobody says ‘get with the program’ anymore, Mom. And you wear Witch leashes all the time.”
“Well that’s just because I keep putting the wireless ones through the wash. Anyway… I left my headphones in the car. But I have an idea…” Then Mom turned on the only music that she can listen to when The Witch isn’t in service: classical music. “This way if I drop it again we’ll know right away because we won’t hear the music anymore!” Mom said. So for the rest of the run we ran to songs like the beef song, and the Inspector Gadget song, and the Lone Ranger song, and that song that’s in all the car commercials that goes dun-dun-dun-DUHN-DUN…
It was pretty epic.
You may wonder how somebody with a sense of direction as lousy as Mom’s followed a 5 mile trail through blank dooms, where there was no difference between trail and not-trail. I was worried about it too, but when we got there I was relieved to see that somebody had stuck a bunch of sticks into the sand so that by the time you reached one of them, you could always see the next one. Every once in a while we would find just the top of one of the sticks poking out of the sand. “Where did the rest of it go?” I asked.
“The sand swallowed it up,” Mom explained. “You know how the legs under the pier at home seem to get shorter and taller as the waves go by, but it’s actually because the water is going up and down?”
“Sure, but what does that have to do with sand? We’re in the middle of the desert.”
“Well, these dunes are like giant slow-moving waves. They’re flowing just like water, and if you could watch them from the perspective of those mountains, over years and years they would look a lot like the waves in the ocean look to you. That sign used to stick up just as much as this one does today, until the dune slowly swelled up around it. Maybe the post will stick back out in another decade or so.” I had never thought about time like that, speeding up and slowing down depending on whether you were looking from the eyes of a dog or a mountain, and I wondered what other fantastic things the patient mountains could see, other than sand that flowed like water, and water that cut rocks into canyons.
Just because there were posts to guide us doesn’t mean that Mom didn’t lead me off trail dozens of times for me to do tricks and her to take pictures. She said that she was walking off the trail on purpose, but it was hard to be sure… You would think that Mom would have gotten sick of taking pictures and videos, since every doom looked pretty much the same as the last, but this place looked so much like make-believe that Mom never got sick of taking pictures. In between photo sessions, we ran when the sand was hard and flat, and walked when the dooms were so steep that they were like running up the down escalator. The best was when we ran down the steep dooms. I would let my legs circle underneath me like Road Runner as I fell downhill, and Mom bounded in huge weightless leaps like she was running on the moon. When her leg landed, it sunk poofily deep into the sand, and then she reached her other leg out as far as she could so she could fall even further on the next step.
When we reached the far end of the loop, the sand flattened out and plants started to poke through. There was a big sign right where we about-faced. “What does it say?” I asked.
“It says not to go past this point because you might get blown up. This is where they test missiles and rockets and stuff.”
“They blow people up in New Mexico just for going off trail? Maybe you should look at the map a bit closer and stop taking so many photo detours. Maybe we should be better about using the leash…”
“Isn’t it so crazy? This place is so empty that they explode huge bombs and shoot rocket ships just to see what will happen, and it doesn’t even bother anyone. Do you know how empty a place has to be for that? The state’s entire population is less than half that of the Bay Area. No wonder they think that aliens landed out here and no one noticed. ANYTHING could happen out here.”
“Yeah! We’re in such a savage wilder-ness that the wifi didn’t work at McDonald’s last night! This place doesn’t follow the rules of everyday life!” I agreed.
“That’s the thing that’s so cool about New Mexico,” Mom said, changing from excited to thinkful. “It’s a place of secrets. This is where they hid out to develop the atom bomb. They tested that thing without anyone noticing! And you remember Chaco Canyon? They built all those houses, and no one knows what they did there because no one lived in them. Crackpots can say that aliens have landed, and there will always be doubt just because no one is around to disprove it. Even Breaking Bad wouldn’t have worked if New Mexico weren’t a place where someone can keep secrets and hide things.”
I felt very special because Mom and I knew about so many secrets that other people would never see. “Can we explore more of New Mexico?” I asked.
“Sure, but it won’t be on this trip. We’re going to have to haul ass to get back home in time to be at work on Thursday.” That sounded way suckier than being lost in New Mexico. “We’ve got to get back across New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California by Wednesday night. BUT…” Mom went on, “you can brag about sleeping in 4 different states in 4 days…!”
Oscar, who Slept in FOUR Different States Four Days in a Row