The Beauty of the Desert Southwest

After living in Maine for the past eight years, I forget how different the landscape is in New England compared with the desert southwest of the United States. Even though I grew up out west, Maine is home now, as are the plethora of trees, the severe green of the landscape, and the lush, rolling hills. New Mexico was a stark difference with its brown land, geometrically shaped mesas and buttes, and sparse succulent plants that prefer a dry climate. Even the people are different; it is almost like traveling to a foreign country, even though the language is the same – mostly. In Maine, the towns are small and quaint and the people are about 95% caucasian. In New Mexico, the towns are small and colorful in a different way, and while the racial content is mixed, the Hispanic population is quite large, as are those whose first language is Spanish. Also plentiful is the Native American culture.

The Hispanic and Native American influence is evident everywhere in New Mexico, as well as in most southwestern states. From the adobe and stucco homes to the blue tiled doors, the red tiled roofs, and the bright red geraniums growing everywhere, as well as the names of the towns and streets such as Taos, Camino, Pueblo, and of course, Santa Fe. Even the geographical and topographical landmarks have Spanish or Native American names, such as Arroyo, Mesa, and Rio.

When we arrived in Albuquerque to meet my mom and drive with her up to her home in Santa Fe, it was a refreshing change from the tree-lined highways in New England. We were used to driving along a tunnel of green with infrequent openings where we might see part of a town, or some farmland. But in New Mexico, we could see as far as the horizon and what we saw was delightful. If we looked south, we could see a thunderstorm wreaking havoc on a place probably one hundred miles away. To the north, the sky was clear, with only a few scattered clouds (an encouraging sight, as we were headed north). For much of the drive, if we looked to the east, we had to look up to the mountains, mainly Sandia Peak, which towers over Albuquerque and can still be seen quite clearly from Santa Fe, 70 miles away. But to the west, we saw perhaps one of the few things I do not like about New England: we saw a sunset on the horizon that was to die for. Yes, of course we have sunsets in New England, but in spite of all the other beauty, we often do not get to see them, unless we drive to the beach or to the top of a mountain, or somewhere else that allows us to glimpse the horizon amidst all the trees. The sunset we saw that night was not overly spectacular, but it was orange, yellow and pink amidst swirling clouds that looked like they’d been painted on the sky by Van Gogh with a wide brush. It was warm, pretty, and inviting, and a wonderful welcome to our summer vacation in the west.

By the time we arrived in Santa Fe, it was dark, other than a few shreds of light still hugging the western horizon. I assumed my daughters and I would see little else, so we settled in, just chatting for the rest of the drive, when suddenly a deer bounded out into the roadway. Thankfully, we were at a safe distance and did not hit it, but it startled us all. It was just a deer, but I marveled at yet another difference between New Mexico and New England. Our deer in Maine are small, sometimes not much taller than a large dog. The deer out west are quite large and have fluffy white tails that pop up when they run. I had forgotten those white-tailed deer, and it made me smile.

We got settled in at my mother’s colorful adobe-like house that matched all the other adobe-like houses in Santa Fe, and slept the sleep of weary travelers. The next morning we awoke to a cloudless sky and clarity of air I had not seen in years. After becoming quite accustomed to hazy and overcast skies, the bright sunshine seemed a bit severe; but in a good way. One thing we learned out east – one can never have too much sunshine!

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