The following month, I continued my exploration of the Southwest, this time with Linda. We planned to camp at the Valley of the Fires State Park, outside of Carrizozo, New Mexico, in the state’s southeast quadrant. I knew very little about Linda’s camping experiences. She told me of once fishing with her father, including sleeping in a tent, at Colorado’s Dillon Reservoir. I didn’t get the impression it was one of her more enjoyable experiences: cold, hard ground seemed to be the event’s main theme. Yet I did not doubt she had an appreciation for the beauty and wonders of nature. She told me of her enjoyable visits to Milwaukee’s Audubon Nature Center while she was briefly an ophthalmology resident in that city. While we were together in Colorado, she proudly introduced me to Colorado Springs’s Bear Creek Nature Center. We once bicycled for a day amid the Rockies on a paved path that linked Frisco to Breckenridge, Colorado. And we had an enjoyable spring picnic, this despite a raw, misty afternoon, on the shortgrass prairie east of Kiowa, Colorado (my somewhat unusual idea, of course).
I suggested we visit Valley of the Fires for several reasons. Carrizozo was roughly 100 miles south of Albuquerque, so I figured it had to be pleasantly warmer than the Duke City, which was still occasionally experiencing the chilly April day. I was eager to pay my first visit to New Mexico’s only classic American desert, and North America’s largest, the Chihuahuan, which encompasses the state park. Finally, I could not resist the graphic name “Valley of the Fires,” although I had no idea it pertains to a specific geologic characteristic of the park.
Linda’s fellowship at the university gave her exclusive access to the university’s “recreation” department, and it was from this that we rented an air mattress for her and a tent for the two of us. (Like me, Linda owned a bulky Sears cloth sleeping bag.) The smallest tent available for rent comfortably accommodated as many as four persons: fine, I thought, plenty of room.