I have always been attracted to the word sabbatical. It sounds much more respectable and purposeful than “I need to get heck out of here because life as it is, is driving me insane!” Most people think sabbaticals are reserved solely for academics or clergy to recharge and refresh, so that they can deepen their understanding of a subject and return to their teaching or research with renewed vigor. While we recognize the purpose and benefits for academia, it is discounted and discouraged for others. I would argue that it is every bit as important for everyone to have time to reflect, recharge and develop personally and spiritually. Very few people allow the space for serious and often beneficial contemplation to live life intentionally. Too many of us, self included, get caught up in the expectations and currents of life before we even have the faintest idea of what is going on. Perhaps fear is the reason we steam ahead certain in our uncertainty. It is said we are the sum of our choices, but what if all of those choices were made with little thought or insight and the total is wrong? I do not think there is anything more terrifying than that. While many people double down and harden on their current path, a sabbatical is an opportunity to rediscover, develop awareness and enrich life and purpose. While world travel may be out of the question or impractical, especially for people with school aged children, traveling North America in an RV for a year or more is well within reach for many.
At the start of our adventure, we hadn’t planned on spending so much time in the desert, largely because we were unaware that there was so much of it in this country. As easterners, when we thought of the desert, the image of brown, scrubby and barren came to mind, a waste land. Never did we think that it was colorful, filled with life, delicate with ever changing landscapes and vistas around every bend. Nor did we know that it would attract us, and spark a desire to want to better understand its mysteries.
Death Valley National Park
The Garden of Eden comes to mind when exploring Yosemite National Park. In late April and early May, when we were there, the waterfalls, streams and rivers are at full flow. The rushing water sounds like thunder, and rainbows in the mist fill the air. The bright green meadows, newly budded deciduous trees and flowering Pacific Dogwoods in the valley create a lush and sumptuous scene. Animal life is active; birds of prey soar high above, deer and bears are seen drinking from the streams, while the smaller forest creatures scurry about comfortable with their human guests.
Left to Right: Upper Yosemite Falls from Big Meadow, Vernal Falls, Big Meadow
A secondary hope I had for this trip is that it would restore some of my faith in humanity. After living for nearly a decade in Baltimore City, where the worst of people is on display for all to see daily, I had gown cynical. I wanted to see people who were living creatively and full of life, not overwhelmed by programming and addictions.
I have found some of what I was looking for in the West. It started in Texas with its independent spirit and gumption. In New Mexico and Arizona I saw people living off the grid and in small make-shift communities consciously living outside of convention. Some of the residents in small desert communities made a big impression upon me. These desert people are not consumed by pursuit of fortune, prestige or ego inflation, but seem content to live simply and cheaply in a barren yet often beautiful landscape. Between the solitude, surroundings and simple living, they seem more connected with something and at peace. The central coast of California, so far, is where I have encountered people most full of life and living at a higher frequency. I couldn’t get out of southern California quick enough, a place where indulging in ego pursuits and selfishness seems extreme, but 100 miles up the coast from Santa Barbra to the north everything changes. The central coast has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world and the people are out enjoying it. They are active, love to get out in nature and seem to fully appreciate the beauty that surrounds them. Smiles are frequent and civility is the norm.
Arizona exceeded our expectations. After spending more than a week in New Mexico, we thought we had experienced the most varying landscape of our trip. However, Arizona is not one to be upstaged by its neighbor.
We entered the State in dramatic fashion from southeast Utah, which upon entering you are immediately in the one of the most photographed western landscapes, Monument Valley. Monument Valley is a place of towering monoliths of weathered rock standing like sentinels in the rugged arid vast expanse. They are seen from at least 30 miles away and greet you with a strong, quite solitude, even when you get to the park and among the tourist bustle of the visitor center. This is a Navajo Monument, and this being the case all of the prices are inflated, but the views from the road are free and almost as good as inside the park itself. After leaving, the scenery calmed down a bit, perhaps in homage to the almost surreal visual experience awaiting us at the Grand Canyon.
Monument Valley – Left and Right Mitten
New Mexico is fondly called the land of Enchantment. I am unsure what the true meaning behind this is, but for me it describes the ever changing landscapes and history rich in Native American lore. We drove from the southeast to the northwest of the state and hit several points in between. In New Mexico the landscapes seem to change dramatically every 30 miles or so. One minute you are in a dry flat desert and the next climbing up a snow capped mountain surrounded by Ponderosa Pine. We even found ourselves in areas where we were looking at 4 or 5 distinctly different landscapes at one time; desert, shear cliffs and buttes, canyons and Rocky Mountains.
Road between Taos and Colorado
South Eastern New Mexico is stark and barren. This is desert flat country with large stretches of varying hues of beige punctuated with small shades of green from junipers, desert palms, prickly pear cactus and brown mountains in the distance. In one of these mountains is Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
The National Park, one of the earliest, is remote but once inside it is every bit worthy of its designation and the trek. The National Park Service has out done itself with a fantastic 2.4 mile trail and just the right amount of lighting to accentuate the features. This place is of such uncommon grandeur and so other worldly that its description is defies my vocabulary. On at least two occasions I turned a corner and literally lost my breath, something that has never happened before. I have been in other caverns, so the subterranean world was not completely new, but this was an overwhelming visual overload.
Hall of Giants – Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Texas is, well… Texas. Coming from the east coast I have always had an idea of what Texas is and it did not disappoint, but it is also more than I expected. It has a fiercely independent spirit and does not take its freedoms for granted even if some of them are harmful. Gun shots are heard regularly and driving fast is government sanctioned. It is true; everything really is bigger in Texas, especially the trucks. However, supporting small and local business is a part of the culture. The country music has an edge and leaves the popular stuff for Nashville. Good Mexican food is everywhere and Sushi is hard to find.
6th Street in Austin: