I landed in Albuquerque amid a descending sun, the sky a spectrum of golden colors so unlike those I see in my usual Santa Monica sunsets. Everything around me is brown, brown for miles. It’s 50 shades of brown. I don’t particularly like the color in general, but it’s fitting here, and changes before my eyes to become more beautiful, more meaningful.
I’m surprised to be caught in traffic on my drive to Santa Fe. In my mind, New Mexico isn’t supposed to have traffic. It’s supposed to be more…untouched. But no, there’s regular rush hour here, with everyone in a rush to get somewhere other than where they are. It’s not unlike Santa Monica in that way.
Of course in Santa Monica, I don’t see three men riding horses on the service road that runs parallel to the highway, each with one of those big bucket cowboy hats. I don’t drive through an Indian Reservation, with my car swaying from side to side, caught in a windstorm. I don’t get gunned down by a state trooper’s radar.
I chose this visit to New Mexico mostly because it was a state I had never been to. I could ski, I could visit a sanctuary, I could go to a Japanese spa. But mostly so I could check another state off my travel list.
It’s a game I play with myself: how many new places can I go every year? How many passport stamps can I collect this trip? How many United miles will I get? The game fails me sometimes, or I fail it. Sometimes I am ready to go home almost as soon as I arrive, having picked a place I “should go” but didn’t even want to, except to get ahead in this ridiculous game.
New state: I WIN!
But, I lose also, because I’ve lost all focus of what traveling is for. That eye-opening, mind-expanding, culture-absorbing wonder that travel brings.
I worried that New Mexico might be one of those “failure” trips. It was almost arbitrarily chosen. My pre-trip research consisted of a Travel & Leisure article about Santa Fe, and a conversation I had on a chairlift with some snowboarders who lived there. I even considered changing my return flight to come back earlier—before I even got there. I anticipated that I would possibly, probably, want to leave early.
As I drive the long stretch between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, post-police run-in scare, I contemplate whether this trip was another impulsive, poor decision. I’ve certainly made plenty of them. And then I notice it, on the license plates all around me:
Land of Enchantment
That word, enchantment, is so evocative and magical. And it’s just the message I need to see now on this drive, to remind me that if I keep my eyes open to it, I can find the beauty everywhere.
A Katy Perry song starts playing on the radio, and before I can change the station, I listen to the refrain.
I’m wide awake.
I’m wide awake
It’s funny how sometimes songs can pick us like that. It’s funny how the universe chooses to speak to us.
A license plate slogan and a Katy Perry song remind me why I love to travel, and what I need to be throughout this trip: wide awake, open to the enchantment.
The beauty is all around me, if I just open my eyes to it.
My Five Most Beautiful Things about Santa Fe: history, culture, spirituality, food, people