Day Fourteen: The Time Has Come, the Walrus said, To Talk of Many Things: Pistachios and Lava Flows and Boxcars Fit for Kings: New Mexico (Alamogordo, Taos)

Annie and I slept like logs at the KOA, so much so that we were both a little slow to get started the next morning. I appeared to have sunburned my self (typical) at the sand dunes, and she appeared to have OD’d on the ginormous corndog from the drive-thru burger joint. We decided to pass on the church service being held in the KOA annex, and got Marigold rolling along again, although in somewhat muted spirits. But that all changed a hop, skip, and a jump outside of town when we happened to stumble upon a delightful bit of insanity that my friend Kate had previously brought to my attention…

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NO! YOUR EYES ARE NOT DECEIVING YOU! THAT IS, INDEED, THE WORLD’S LARGEST PISTACHIO! (Annie is cross because I explained to her it wasn’t the World’s Largest EDIBLE Pistachio.) It stands a robust 30 feet tall outside of The Pistachio Tree Ranch and Winery (a natural combination). The proprietors sell every flavor of pistachio you could want, and many you don’t! (Ranch was my fave.)

Spirits lifted, and back behind the wheel, it strikes me that New Mexico is flatter overall than Texas, with large mountains rising up in the distance, some of them cool and wavy. The grass is a very pale yellow punctuated by stubby blobby tree bushes and the occasional cow seemingly unattached to any form of habitation. A sign informs me that we are entering “Billy the Kid Country,” and not long after we’re stopped at a railroad crossing as an impossibly long train stretches across the emptiness. I can almost see Billy TK riding up, if Billy were interested in boxcars full of low quality Chinese made goods, which is what the labeling seems to indicate is onboard here.

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It’s becoming more and more common to go long stretches of time with no cell service. It’s startling how much emptiness there still is in America.

And soon I see a site that lifts my spirits even more! You will recall that yesterday we had been shutout of our first choice in camping locales. This was an intriguing sounding National Recreation Area I had also hoped to take Annie hiking in. I had assumed it would no longer lie on our rerouted path, but low and behold, it rose up before us like the answer to our prayers, just when we needed a break . . .

THE VALLEY OF FIIIRREEEE(S)!!

(Remember that S, it will be important later on in the trip.)

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The absolute bestest thing about the Valley of FireS is that it’s almost entirely composed of LAVA FIELDS!! LAVA! FIELDS! That you can actually walk on (a bit). The lava flow occurred about 5,000 years ago when “Little Black Peak” erupted, leaving a trail about five miles wide running through the desert. The lava has all kinds of plants growing in and around it, and critters residing there, and gaps and bubbles and tubes, and is genuinely quite awesome. It just doesn’t photograph well…

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I’m pretty sure this is Little Black Peak. The name doesn’t lie.

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And yes, the eagle-eyed will spot that I am growing increasingly more sunburned. Recall my previously referenced inability to translate past consequences into future actions.

Annie and I enjoyed about an hour exploring on and off the nature trail, and were still making good time for the afternoon. Now, originally the plan had been to spend a day and night in Santa Fe after Valley of Fires, but, if you recollect, we lost a day due to the infamous Gruene Hall detour. Taos was next on the agenda, and I had made Air B&B reservations there well in advance, so we’ll have to backtrack a bit and catch Santa Fe AFTER Taos, which isn’t ideal, but such are the dues we pay for spontaneity. And the place I’d arranged for us in Taos is MEGA UBER FANTASTICO SUPREME! Are you ready for this jelly? I’m not sure you can handle this jelly… IT’S AN ACTUAL, OFFICIAL, ORIGINAL 1898 CHILE LINE BOXCAR THAT HAS BEEN REPURPOSED INTO A MINIATURE HOUSE! But wait, there’s more! It has been gorgeously decorated with stained glass panels and a CLAW! FOOT! BATH! TUB! But that’s not all! Outside there are sweeping views of hundreds of acres of pasture land AND ACCESS TO AN OUTDOOR HOT TUB!!

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