It was February 8th, 6:05am and my cousin and I were about to set off on a 1000 mile road trip to Tucson, AZ. Being the literal dead of winter in Colorado, we had just experienced a cold snap. It was -1 degrees Fahrenheit and our goal was to get him to his new job by around 8:30pm. Just in time for dinner.
My cousin is in the process of following his dream. When you ask a little kid what they want to be when they grow up, they might tell you firefighter, jet pilot, astronaut, or even cowboy. Jason is one of the most interesting people I know, and one reason for that in his late 30s, he decided to be a cowboy. He’s been doing this job for several years already. As part of his profession, life takes its toll on a body. He has had his jaw broken (and wired shut) from a horse kick, he has been run over by livestock, and stayed up all night tending to animals, as ranch hands do. He enjoys the isolation, the quiet solitude of being close to the land. Riding herd. And not being stuck behind some desk. Recently, he decided to apply for a job down in the Sonoran desert, as a ranch hand in Mammoth, just about an hour north of Tucson. He got the job, now he just needed a way to get down there so he could start.
I got the text a few days before. “Haha ok this is a really huge thing to ask, but what are the odds of you being in the mood for a quick road trip to Tucson?” After some deliberation, I agreed. If we were going, this was going to be the best weekend to do it. The roads all the way there and back were clear for the week, including the infamous Raton Pass. We loaded up the bare bones of his worldly belongings into the back of my Jeep, including his saddle, bedroll, and a few living essentials.
We headed down the road, the tires humming on dry roads, hoping to make Santa Fe by noon. Successful road trips have a few key elements.
- Reliable maps
- Good company
- Good music
- Plenty of stops to stretch your legs (use the bathroom) and fuel up
By 9am we were making good time, putting Pueblo, CO in the rearview, where it belongs. Pueblo is the Detroit of Colorado. Early 20th Century Industrial is the aesthetic. Beyond that is a lot of open country with not much else to do but pass the time with good conversation. Which is what we did. Our family hasn’t always been the closest, but this was a good way to distill the last few decades of our lives, our hopes, aspirations, ambitions, and family stories into the next several hours. A lot of ground can be covered on a trip like this, not only in terms of miles on the road, but the distance between people that years have put between them as well.
By 11am, we hit Las Vegas, NM. In my own experience with New Mexico, this is one of the northern outposts in the state that serve amazing food. You don’t get much more New Mexican than Blake’s Lotaburger, a culinary delight I was introduced to by my ex-wife on our first trip to Santa Fe.
I had the Lotaburger with green chile and cheese. Two quarter pound patties, onions, tomatoes, pickles, and Hatch green chiles to top it off. It was sublime. I highly recommend it if you get the chance.
By noon, we were cruising through Santa Fe, then on to Albuquerque, where we stopped for gas. I would be staying in Santa Fe for the return trip, and Jason was anxious to get down the road to start his new job. After all, we had been told there would be a picnic dinner waiting for us if we made it to Mammoth at dinner.
The two cities couldn’t be more different. Santa Fe is identified by stucco adobe buildings, which just sort of emerge from the scrub and mesquite of the surrounding desert and hills. Over the pass, Albuquerque is much more like Denver. A sprawl of a city, characterized by Better Call Saul! type billboards for attorneys and warnings against drunk driving. It’s an indication of the haves and have nots. Albuquerque is Breaking Bad country. People live, work, commute, and get through their daily lives there. Santa Fe is the nexus of artisans, vacationing film producers, and high plains tourism.
We pushed on, venturing further south along the I-25 corridor than either of us had gone before. Uncharted Territory. The old stomping grounds of Billy the Kid, Cortez, and other legends of the South West.
By noon, it was 45 degrees.