On my last road trip, just over 10 years ago now, I noticed a surprising thing when I crossed state lines. Things changed. I’d always assumed these borders were largely arbitrary, formed by politics and history and maybe a river here or there.
Nope. I found that each of the states had distinct landscapes and personalities, and these changes took place pretty much right on the borderline. Today, when I passed from New Mexico into Colorado, that feeling was reinforced. Suddenly, trees! The adobes shifted to log cabins. The weather and the rivers were the same, but now there were fly fishing outfitters. All of this within the span of about 10 miles.
This time, though, because I was thinking about it, I noticed the shift coming back into New Mexico down a different road. On this road, the changes were far more gradual; it took nearly an hour of driving for the landscape to feel like a new place. (Yet another sign that the brain tricks you, and only remembers what it wants to remember.)
And of course, since I seem to be traveling on a theme this time around, I started to think about the borderlines between life and death. Sure, sometimes they’re abrupt: life on one side, death on the other. But maybe sometimes they’re a bit more gradual…
I was lucky enough to see two aunts today, who live about seven hours apart from each other within New Mexico. The first, who’s right next to one of those gradual state borders, was who I was aiming to reach when the snowstorm pushed into a haunted hotel instead.
“I worried about you!” she said. “Did you sleep at all? Did you even know what it was, going into it?” I reassured her, and we got to talking about spirits. I think one of the reasons I seek them out is because I’ve never seen one. I’m not what you’d call sensitive, really in any sense of the word. So I look for them, and enjoy the terrifying tricks that my mind plays on me along the way.
She had an amazing story, about coming down a grade in the snow, losing traction on a pile of slush, and hearing her father’s voice telling her to let up on the brake. She swears she never would have thought to do that, and that he saved her life that day.
As I sit near Santa Fe and think about borders and spook-filled late nights, this feels appropriate, from Tom Russell’s Borderlands album. “Baby wakes up and calls to me, ‘What is that lonesome sound? It echoes off the mountain out near the lights of town.'”
On an unrelated note, I started to get nostalgic for the sketchy places I’ve slept in (the hotels and family homes on this trip have been freaking DIVINE, I feel spoiled) and discovered that my favorite, the Sleeping Buffalo, has been seriously swanked up. I reeeally want to go to the new spot, but I’m a little sad, too. Here’s what it used to look like, except I’m pretty sure it was never really that clean or that bright. I remember dim lighting, murals obscured by decades of mineral deposits, and the only after-hours entry was through a darkened, perennially under-construction motel with plastic window coverings flapping frantically in the wind. Once you actually got to the pool, your senses were overloaded. The water coming in through the exposed pipes (with holes punched into them for jets) blasted your eardrums so that you could just barely hear the menacing, grumbly, hungry noises of the water running back out, and the jets churned up the rust colored water so much you could not see your foot as you stepped naively into the water. It was a pretty good bet that the crazed serial killer lurking in the abandoned motel behind you was going to grab up one of the power tools left lying about and easily sneak up behind you.
I loved it. I miss it. RIP, old Sleeping Buffalo.