With Laura Paskus’s warning―or projection, or prediction, or however you wish to interpret it―in mind, I was imagining a Southwest a decade hence. I am 80 years old. New Mexico’s oil and natural gas wells are capped, no longer vomiting carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere, no longer cooking the planet, no longer holding the state’s economy hostage. New Mexico is now dressed with solar panels, bristling with windmills, grappling with the challenges and enjoying the rewards of harnessing and delivering clean energy. Forests are relaxing. The desert is luxuriant, the blessing of regular flash floods erasing the prints of resurgent wildlife on the sands of its arroyos. Lithium for batteries is being mined relatively cleanly from brine rather than rock. Psychiatry is booming as purring electric cars, trucks, motorcycles fail miserably as expressions of American manhood. And I am once again longing to hoist my (plant-based) pack on my back and light out to mountain, desert, or prairie for a night.
But then I have questions. Will my dimming mind and historically-tender piriformis muscles withstand another 50- or 100- or 200-mile drive? And, if so, will there be a charging station for my car in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas; Campo, Colorado; Mexican Hat, Utah; Winslow, Arizona; or Vado de Fusiles, Chihuahua? And should I have a major medical event on the remote trail, will rescuers reach and deliver me to a major medical center in time? Have I renewed my Verizon service? (Shit! I can’t remember.)
And then it occurs to me: Maybe I no longer have to put all those miles of asphalt and concrete beneath me to get away from it all, rough it, enjoy a wilderness experience. Maybe it’s time to finally spend a night in those mountains that have witnessed, inspired, and comforted me for my quarter-century in Albuquerque: maybe it’s time to backpack a destination close to home: the Sandias. After all, despite docking against a city of three-quarters of a million, they still offer opportunities for solitude and peace; still cover 112 square miles; still contain 37,000 acres of federally-designated “wilderness”―that is, acreage free of all motorized and mechanical devices. As reliably as any mountain I’ve ever packed, they offer earth for a bed; sky and stars for a blanket; and plenty of safe, discrete woody and rocky hollows―those figurative little-brown-shacks-with-half-moon-ventilators―for relief. Prescribed burning of their forest has successfully reduced the threat of catastrophic wildfire. And they’re a mere 45-minute walk from my front door . . . through another wilderness, one I’ve never packed: Albuquerque.
So, at age 70, to prepare for this eventuality, that’s what I did: I backpacked Albuquerque and the Sandias.