Traveling is more about what happens on the road than it is about reaching the destination. That’s what makes a road trip more exciting to me. It’s what I see and who I meet on the way to a destination that feed my curiosity; becoming a learning experience and a journey of discoveries. A road trip takes away the comfort zone of getting on an airplane, reaching the destination, hopping on a cab, and checking-in to a hotel before visiting a landmark. The morning I started out in Texas on the way to New Mexico, I expected it to be a smooth road trip. According to the GPS, it would take 9 hours and 8 minutes to cover the 582 miles!
In a road trip it means that the restroom is not a few feet away from your airplane seat, and you don’t know if the next rest area will actually be open or closed for construction. Confronting the unknown is what drives me to take the road with an open mind. Reaching the destination sometimes becomes an obsession when a hurricane is approaching. Other times, if time is not an issue, reaching the destination becomes secondary because even that destination could change; as it has many times in this road trip.
I left Dallas around ten in the morning. It was a beautiful sunny day with clear blue skies. The vibrant yellow and purple colors of Spring peppered the road sides in Texas. All appeared to be going very well until just about an hour on the road I came across the first slowdown caused by road construction. Soon I after that first few miles of one lane slow moving traffic, it did not take long for a second, then a third, and a fourth road construction zone. It did not take long before I stopped counting them. Driving through a mostly unpopulated area I spotted a sign for a rest area. At that point that would have been a much needed stop. Unfortunately, to my dismay when I approached the rest area a sign indicated that it was closed for construction: the next rest area would be eighty miles away!
At dusk on the seventh day of April, I was still about three hours from Alamogordo, New Mexico. By then I had seen immense wind farms and smelled the oil horses and the flaring stacks dotting the landscape for miles and miles in Texas and New Mexico. I watched the sun setting in the desert heading west on US-82. The most scenic portion of the road would have been through the Lincoln National Forest, a mountainous area where the 9,260 feet high Alamo Peak stands, if I could have seen it. I was out of luck! I was exhausted and still not a rest area in sight. Besides, I couldn’t see a thing! After sunset the skies became pitch-black and the road went from a straight line in the desert to a meandering path up and down through the mountains. There was no one else on the road but a slow truck which I followed for miles. There is no signage on the roadside that signals an upcoming curve, as it is common in most roads in the mountains elsewhere. After the “leading” truck’s taillights in front of me left the road, I had to rely on the imagery of the GPS to know that I was entering a right or left curve. I knew then that I had no other choice but make it through to the destination, if I only could keep my eyes open!
Being so tired by the time I arrived in Alamogordo, I didn’t realize that I had set my GPS to take me to the White Sands National Monument, located 16 miles southwest of Alamogordo. When I realized the mistake I had made, I drove up to the next U-turn on US-70 W to turn around and head back east to find a hotel in town for the night. All of a sudden the speed limit signs became more and more frequent, dropping the speed limit all the way down to 10 MPH. And the surprise! I had come to a border patrol check point. I got so confused because I knew that Alamogordo was over 80 miles north of the Mexican border, but being tired and having had no service when I was driving through the mountains a couple of hours earlier, I thought I might have been rerouted.
A border patrol officer approached my window inquiring about my citizenship and immigration status and asked for my immigration papers. It never occurred to me that I would need them since I was travelling within the continental United States’ borders. I told him that they were in a briefcase in the trunk of the car. He said that it was okay and he did not have to see them. I asked him just out of curiosity, if I had crossed into Mexico? “No”, he replied. I was happy to know that I was not lost, but his answer further confused me.
As I was checking-in to the hotel, I asked the front desk agent why did they have a border patrol check point there since it is located miles away from the border? He explained to me that there are several of those check points in New Mexico and Arizona that he knew of. He went on to explain that the reason is because of drug-trafficking by the Mexican cartels. He continued on explaining the geography of the area and problem of drugs coming from Ciudad Juarez in Mexico through Las Cruces in New Mexico.
I had never been on a road trip in the Southwest before; although it was a travel destination in more than one occasion in the past. The difference is that I had flown when I visited a few times before. If I flew in again this time, I probably would not have seen all the police activity on the streets of Alamogordo. Was it being a drug trafficking hot spot the reason why there was no one else driving on the roads after sunset? Or, was it just a coincidence? Perhaps no one will answer that question, but I know that whenever traveling near the border in the Southwest in the future, I probably will stick to driving during the day. What I imagined to be a long, boring drive from Dallas, Texas to Alamogordo, New Mexico, turned out to be about an eleven hours adrenaline filled journey. I had enough for one day and it was time to rest for the night.