There are surprises and there are plans.
The plan was simple, a short drive up to Cloudcroft, New Mexico which, with small research, looked pretty amazing, an oasis of forested mountains surrounded by dry valleys. The Lincoln National Forest. I had never heard of it.
I was looking forward to camping again. Feeling refreshed.
Driving up, there were warning signs about how steep the grade is but after a you study them a few times you realize it’s the grade down the other side to Alamagordo that’s steep.
Mo was as excited as I and Michelle was calm for a bit but started getting agitated pretty quickly. “Too early,” I thought and probably said. I often just say my thoughts out loud when I’m with Michelle, a way to feel I’m having a conversation.
We arrived in under two hours and all the warning signs were visible if I had been aware but I had noticed that in the past couple of days I was a bit disconnected. It was strange. I had even run a red light in San Angelo while reaching for a piece of trash near my feet in the bus, something that deserved zero attention was more important, in that moment, than our lives. I felt fine otherwise but I was aware that I was distracted, dispersed a bit.
As we arrived in Cloudcroft it was truly lovely, a small town in the high mountains, but something seemed wrong though I couldn’t put my finger on it. The town seemed frantic, like a stirred-up ant hill. Everyone was moving just a bit too fast. We gassed up and got a snack and then saw the sign, “Forest Closed.” On this very day, right now in fact. Closed. Oops.
People were frantic because restaurants, stores, much of the town, was just shutting down and I noticed the closed signs and empty parking lots. The bar was full.
This could be very bad. Hotels full, RV campgrounds full or not allowing one-night guests to use the bathrooms. Whaaaaaaaat?!
There are plans… and then…
Sondra’s Shangri La.
After some stumbles I found her Airbnb place, just a couple of blocks away and booked it. It was the best accidental thing that had happened on the whole trip. It was… Shangri La.
The photos will tell a bit of the story but when that gate opens you really feel like you have been transported to Sonnie’s version of OZ. And all the hidden gems deep in the nooks and crannies are there to be found. It is perfect, a perfect expression of her heart and all the reason you could want to feel that house sharing is the most wonderful of things.
Michelle responded immediately as did Mo. She sat in her transport chair and trilled while Mo sniffed the entire property with complete joy, best place on the whole trip for him.
Sonnie got there shortly and she is a gem beyond price. She was bright and welcoming and filled with curiosity and stories. She showed me photos of her love of Native American customs and rituals and told tales of her father who was a Professor and writer who specialized in Mark Twain and she showed me the study she had set up in its own mini-cabin, a perfect place to write and she made muffins and we chatted into the evening.
I had made a friend.
Plans and surprises.
And I realized what had been distracting me, had left me dispersed, was that I had fulfilled my purpose. I had, in visiting Cindy in Indianola, my family coming south and ending with Jesse and his family in Texas, I had done “it.” The thing I set out to do with Michelle and Mo. I was dispersed because I had let go, was no longer driving towards something but was in a state of limbo, purpose-wise.
I either needed to find one, surrender to no purpose, or go home.
We packed up the next day and with hugs from Sonnie headed out to the steep grade down to Alamogordo, and it is steep. The Bus handled it fine.
Our destination, suggested by Sonnie, was White Sands National Park. It wasn’t far and we got there fine and I loved its improbability. I bought some t-shirts with VW buses on them. I held on to the idea we could still see some parks, take our time crossing the vastness of the Southwest.
But as we set out towards Las Cruses, just a place to stay for the night, the speedometer went out and the brakes started getting slightly stuck and wouldn’t come all the way up.
I pulled over and did what I could which was not much and it was hot and Michelle was winding up and there were fires to the North and more likely forest closures coming and the fantasy of visiting grand canyons and Bryce and Zion or Joshua seemed a bit overwhelming and I was tired and hot and worn out and we were in a vast desolation that had not tasted water in months and both it and I seemed to have no purpose and I looked at Mo and said, “Let’s go home.”