January 31, 2019
“Strolling on, it seems to me that the strangeness and wonder of existence are emphasized here, in the desert, by the comparative sparsity of the flora and fauna: life not crowded upon life as in other places but scattered abroad in sparseness and simplicity, with a generous gift of space for each herb and bush and tree, each stem of grass, so that the living organism stands out bold and brave and vivid against the lifeless sand and barren rock. The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life-forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom.” -Edward Abbey
Here I am. The Doubletree Hotel in Tucson, Arizona is a Kafka-esque mess of a design; but on the other side of my window is an orange tree loaded with ripe fruit. The desert air is not quite as dry this time of year. The nights are pleasant, the sun warms your skin, the sky is deep blue bordering on indigo; and I remember quickly why I love this place so much. It’s good to be back.
The last 10 days have felt more like 30. I moved through Southern and Western Texas like a man on a mission, but with few open parks to mark off my list. The government shutdown was still in effect and consuming ninety percent of my attention. It was somewhere near the Texas – New Mexico border, between Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park, that I listened live to the President’s press conference declaring an end to the shutdown. Halleluiah! Wait, not so fast. Still, the parks are closed, as I drove up to Carlsbad Caverns with the big “Lapse in Appropriations” sign looming large near the entrance. It would still take a few days for the parks to open back up. I pressed on, skipping a couple of stops to get to Chiricahua National Monument – having read their Facebook post stating they were opening back up that day. It was a welcome sight to see Park Rangers in their sharply pressed green and khaki uniforms working the visitor center, answering questions, and patrolling the park. It felt normal again.
I took some time to loop back through West Texas and Southern New Mexico, returning to find the parks that were closed only days ago were now open and accessible – just like you would expect them to be. I’m starting to make up for so many unobtained park stamps, but I am still woefully behind. Doing the math, I recon I must adjust my pace from an average of 1.17 parks per day to something closer to 1.5 parks, at least for a while.
As I transitioned from the Chihuahuan Desert to the Sonoran Desert the trip started to feel back on track. The comfort of familiar territory and warmer weather reinforced my positive outlook. Still there is a shadow of another shutdown on the horizon; but I am not thinking about that right now. There is too much to wonder at in the desert. The extreme clarity of the desert light has refocused my mission, and for now I press on, hoping to flower best in the openness and freedom.
Parks visited since January 21st:
Waco Mammoth National Monument (open, despite the shutdown)
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park (closed, some access)
San Antonio Missions National Historic Park (closed)
Padre Island National Seashore (accessible, no services)
Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site (closed)
Amistad National Recreation Area (accessible, no services)
Big Bend National Park (accessible, very limited services. Park stamp)
Fort Davis National Historic Site (closed, no access)
Chamizal National Memorial (closed, no access)
Guadalupe Mountains National Park (closed, limited access)
Carlsbad Caverns National Park (closed, limited access)
White Sands National Monument (closed)
Chiricahua National Monument
Fort Bowie National Historic Site
Coronado National Memorial
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
White Sands National Monument (return)
Carlsbad Caverns National Park (return)
Guadalupe Mountains National Park (return)
Fort Davis National Historic Site (return)
Chamizal National Memorial (return)