I could easily say that my drive through east New Mexico and west Texas is one of my favorites, and the most different. I've been on the lush west coast for some time now, but I had a sneaking suspicion that I would enjoy the rugged scenery and vast landscapes. I was very right.
I joke that my favorite things to photograph are rust and roads. It became clear to me, that this particular part of the country was my personal jackpot.
At the border of New Mexico and Texas, I pulled off onto a dirt road that ran parallel to the interstate. It was dark, but I could see some abandoned buildings spotting the road and heavy equipment behind them. They were in clear view from the interstate and I wasn't too worried about being harassed, I knew I would want to take some photos, so I parked my car and stayed for the night. When I woke up, I felt like I had been transported to an alien planet. One that used to be inhabited by farmers.
There is an absurd amount of abandoned buildings and run down operations along the interstate. At one point, I passed an entire town that looked as if it had been abandoned around the year 1967. The only thing that seemed to be in use was a small church, smack in the middle. It gave me chills.
I'm not too familiar with the economic history of that part of Texas, but it must of at one time been booming, and then collapsed. There were abandoned oil rigs, bars, gas stations, motels. All of these signs that people were traveling there from out of town. But the only thing left were a couple employees of road-side stores and a few houses in the distance.
I arrived in Bluegrove, Texas to see my friend and old roommate in Fairbanks, Jenny. She had visited someone in Bluegrove and fell in love with the place. I tried to fight it, but part of me understood.
On top of feeling like I was entering an abandoned, alien planet, I felt such an enveloping nostalgia, like I'd travelled through a time vacuum. It's hard to describe the feeling of what an entire town seems to give off, but it was like a snow globe, but the size of a planet. I swore to Jenny, the sky was bigger, and that if I looked out far enough, I could see the Earth curving down.
I have been in vast landscapes before. Backcountry hiking through Denali National Park will make anyone feel like a bug on a planet. But this was different.
There were no comforting mountains holding you in place, cupping there long arms around you. I could almost imagine that if I jumped too high, I would fall up and out into the abyss, like an astronaut into space.
When the magic hour for photography fell upon us, when the sun decided it was time to go down, my stomach and heart seemed to swell into this gooey, warm appreciative mush.
Jenny drove us to her friend's house so we could take a group trip into town to the grocery store, (true story). It's about a 20-30 minute drive down all dirt, backroads. On the way there, I kept yelling, "Stop! I need to take a picture!" If I had been driving, I would have never made it. I could have taken a picture every five feet for 20 miles.
I was in such a state of visual excitement. At one point, I saw some cows, grazing in a field. I looked at Jenny, pointed out the window and actually yelled, "THE COWS!" I was like a newborn.
We piled into a small, older car, popped open some Michelob Ultra's (not my usual pick but who am I to complain), and took off down the dirt road, sunset in full bloom, now. There were two dead hogs strewn along the ditch, bloated. There were fields of cows, dozens of them. Jenny joked that there were more cows than people. The grass was mostly yellowed and lit up by the sunset. The sky had remained stark blue in defiance and nearly naked trees and fat green shrubs lined the road and dotted the barren landscape far back away from the road.
The car made a strange noise and drove like a go-kart. They talked about the new girl who just got hired at the corner store, about the guy that sells sodas from his fridge so people don't have to drive to town. They talked about the men in their lives, working out on the ranches and cooking them dinners. I didn't say much.
I was in awe of everything.
The grocery store had pictures of football players and cheerleaders up on the windows. The only other car in the parking lot read, "GO BEARCATS!" in washable marker on the window. There was a Christmas display of pictures all the employees, dressed in their vests, hanging on a Christmas tree. The girls were on one side. The boys were on the other.
The sun was gone by the time we left the store. In the dark, we stopped by the corner store and there was a group of teenagers standing by a truck at the pump.
I remember this girl. She was beautiful. She stared at us in suspicious curiosity as we passed. I pictured what her life might be like and what it could turn into. I felt this strange urge to speak to her, take her away.
I thought about how I used to be that same girl in that small town, watching intruders pass through my private space. I vividly remember a they came and went, and wondering what life could be like out there, and feeling the pull into the vast unknown.
When are beer bottles were empty, we rolled the windows down, sat on the edge of the window as the little car strove violently down the dirt road and lugged them as hard as we could at metal signs. I know what you're thinking. But, I was in a snow globe! Rules don't apply in Texas!
I felt like I was in Footloose.
The next day, I hugged Jenny goodbye and gave the dogs a few last pets. I took my time getting in my car. I looked out at this planet that I felt my heart attaching itself to. The yellow field on the other side of the road - The electricity poles, the wooden and wire fences, "THE COWS!"
I didn't want to leave. It all felt like a dream.
I initially gave Jenny a hard time about moving to the middle of nowhere, Texas. But now, I understood completely.
I felt like that 14-year-old girl, like time didn't really matter and the rest of the world - all the strangeness of everything except for this, was so unfathomably far away that perhaps, just maybe,
it didn't exist.