As I drove south on I-25, the Great Plains to my left and then a succession of mountains―the Rampart Range, the Wet Mountains, and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains―to my right, the exits to places with Spanish names multiplied: Aguilar, Trinidad, Alamosa, and La Junta in Colorado; Raton, Cimarron, and Las Vegas in New Mexico. Beyond Las Vegas, I began wending west. For miles, the southern edge of the Sangre de Cristos rose to my right and an array of mesas, dark green with piñon and juniper, towered to my left. After Glorieta Pass―tame by Colorado standards―and a place called Apache Canyon, there exploded a land of tawny plains and scattered mountains: what geographers call America’s Basin and Range Province. Refuge and prospect: my home for the next nine years.
I skirted the southern end of Santa Fe, plummeted down the side of a huge plateau―La Bajada Hill―and negotiated a bridge that crossed a broad, meandering bed of dry sand, identified by a highway sign as Rio Galisteo. I crossed more dry watercourses, passed more exits to mystical-sounding places: Cochiti, Santo Domingo, San Felipe, Algodones, Placitas.
I approached Albuquerque’s city limit in a lavender dusk. My window rolled down for the first time since Denver, the gentle, spring-like air surprised me. Driving south toward the city’s center on a broad, gently-sloping plateau that climbed east to the Sandia Mountains and descended west to the Rio Grande, I became aware of the huge, dun-colored, and seemingly uninhabited upland that bordered the western edge of the city. Not long after my arrival, Linda revealed to me that she feared I would find Albuquerque’s surroundings too barren to ever call home, with her fear particularly rooted in that stark upland visible throughout much of the city. On the contrary, I was thrilled by that sprawling landscape to the west, resembling as it did a cosmic stage just waiting for the sky above it to enact its dramas―and waiting for me to explore it. When I emerged from my parked car on Madeira Drive, my Valentine waved to me from her third-floor balcony.