The Crossing –

___I have made the journey from my home in Austin, Texas to Santa Fe many times, and it always strikes me as a grand crossing - like crossing an ocean to reach an exotic far away land. I think that if it were easy or quick to reach these marvellous places, they would have a different impact on me. If I lived among the canyons and mesas and stones, they would have great power in my life, but it would be of a different flavor - a different angle.
___It is in some manner an empowering of the landscape by being required to extend some real effort to come into its presence.

___So I leave the greensward of my homeland and set out upon that figurative sea of progressively drier, progressively more sparse land. Slowly, ranch and range opens and the land shrugs up some scrubby mesas. About five hours into the journey, the now flat farm lands become edged with a mesa that will not end. It goes on and on without a break for mile upon mile. It is the border of the Llano Estacado, the southernmost part of the Great Plains - a vast tableland that bemused and confounded the Spanish conquistador Don Francisco Vasquez de Coronado when he and his army came upon its western wall in the 1500's while searching for Cibola - the Seven Cities of Gold.



___Today, I cross the great flats in a couple of hours. The great tall grass is gone now, replaced by agriculture and stockyards and the occasional utilitarian, nondescript town. The only things rising up from the flatness are the grain elevators, tall shapes that make you think you are approaching a metropolis of some kind - office towers on the horizon, but no. The only human towers on this road are in drab Lubbock, soon left behind like an illusion in the endless fields.
___The old plains continue their flatness until, eventually, they break off once again in the same kind of wall as on the eastern edge. This is called the Caprock today, and, on my route, lies in eastern New Mexico. There is a distinct difference when one passes from Texas to New Mexico. The agricultural, political, mercantile histories of the two states are so different that it is patterned on the ground in the way the land has been used. Crossing into the aptly named Land of Enchantment, the farms peter out and the land opens up into broader range land and it is here that one can better imagine what the llano must have been like in its original state. Sagebrush has replaced the once lush grasslands, but the sense of space and untracked flatland is there.
___ As I descend off the low Caprock, the magic of New Mexico really begins. If the ocean was calm and flat before, here it rises up in great swells and gives views of distance and light described in a language that takes hundreds of years to speak. This is ranch land and is covered with sage and short grasses, and it goes on forever and ever. It can be a hundred miles between towns out here, with nothing inbetween but the highway and this sea of smooth hills and valleys. It looks like it could be God's Golfcourse, naturally trimmed and landscaped, but with no holes in sight.
___ If it does not disturb you with its dearth of human services and its monotonous emptiness, it will fill you with peace - a calming that is the beginning of the good medicine in this country.

___ North of Encino, there is a rise up onto a plateau that marks the transition into the true land of enchantment. Here, the great rolling sagelands take on a new mantle of cedar and juniper and the land itself becomes more convoluted and mountainous. As I approach Santa Fe, a great sense of joy and peace comes over me - there is something about this high northern New Mexican landscape that has drawn people for hundreds and thousands of years. The artists speak of the quality of the light, and that is a valid attribute. It is unlike any other place I have been: clear, intense, light of air, cool, deep.

___ Santa Fe is the eastern border - the gateway to the magical lands just beyond. Up in a canyon, just a canyon over from the place where modern men design modern atomic weapons at Los Alamos, there lies an old city. Adolph Bandelier made this place famous a century ago, and we still call it by his name, but the old ones had their own names for the homes they made under the shadow of the cliffs.

___ It was a good life, here in the protected canyon with its stream and its cottonwood trees. There was trade and there were crops of corn. The women wove the magic into the fabrics of their clothing, and the men kept the farms and hunted on the mesas. This, too, ceased to be one day, as the people walked away from their elegant labors. We still do not know for certain just why.

This site and all text and photographs within are Copyright, 2002, David P. Crews. All rights reserved.