Altitude Adjustment

Morning, 7:30 am. The day begins slowly, high-altitude heavy mist filtering the sunlight. The mist pulls back now and then to reveal the fantastical rugged peaks of the Organ Mountains, so-named, I guess, because they look like a giant pipe organ from a distance.

I “camped” for my second night here at Aguirre Springs in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico last night. I have no tent, no stove fuel, no firewood – just a borrowed Toyota Land Cruiser and a cooler full of food. I fled Las Cruces on Thursday, desperate to get out of the city, and left the last few outfitting errands on my list un-done. My goal all along (and the one and only goal on this 6-week long trip) was to be out someplace quiet and wild for the full moon on January 12. I managed to accomplish that, and so far, it’s worked out just fine to go light on the outfitting. I’ve been sleeping in the back of the Land Cruiser, and yesterday I had a eureka moment when I discovered that instant coffee works in cold water. I bought half and half before leaving town, so now am sipping my fancy iced coffee. It’s all in the mindset.

I’m on my own for the first time since I left Seldovia, twenty-three days ago. Feeling exhausted and run-down. Portland and Albuquerque are such big cities, so many cars, a constant flow of traffic and noise. Visiting with old friends, and making new ones, is the only reason for me to be there. Most of my time in Albuquerque was spent trying to adjust to the altitude, and getting my computer fixed, which I dropped in the Portland airport on the way to New Mexico. Albuquerque is way up there at 5,312 feet, over a mile higher than where I live. I am a sea-level kinda gal; thin air (or “air without air in it,” as I think of it) is a challenge. This campground is at 5,738 feet. Last night when I walked up the road to the Iron Ranger to pay my camping fee my vision started to get a bit grey around the edges. My thinking is slow and sometimes confused. It takes me a long time to accomplish anything, even simple things. I’m keeping a journal, and would like to do a few blog posts as I travel, but my brain is too muddled to write anything very well. Maybe after a few days my head will clear.

About this Land Cruiser: She’s a 1997, dark green, Alaska plates, and 226,415 miles on her when I started. My neighbors in Seldovia, who also have a part-interest in a ranch here in New Mexico, are letting me borrow her. This entire trip hinges upon their one act of generosity, and a mutual friend who arranged the deal. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to rent a car for the whole time. And, as it happens sometimes in matchmaking, I think I am in love. I love her high clearance, her sun roof, her dark tinted rear windows, and the way I can sleep, a perfect full-length fit, in the back if all the seats are folded up. I suspect she might be a gas-hog, but since we’re on our first tank, we’re still in the honeymoon period. I decided to name her Green Jean, or Jeannie. (Alternative spelling Genie.) Hopefully, both of us will hold out long enough physically to have some fun adventures together.

But I’d still like to get a tent. I could hear a Great Horned Owl hooting on the full moon night, but once I closed Jeannie’s back hatch it was very quiet. I felt disconnected (though safe) inside. Considered sleeping with the back open, but I had my whole cooler of food in there with me – not smart in bear country, if indeed this is. Who knows? There was a sign on the way in, “this is cougar country,” but they haven’t said anything about bears.

I got to watch my New Mexico full moon rise over the White Sands Missile Range and the Fort Bliss Military Reservation. What a strange choice! But this place is only 20 miles from Las Cruces, so it made for a quick and easy escape. My other goal (besides the full moon thing) for this trip is to stay away from nukes, military zones, mining, clearcuts, dammed rivers/irrigation, highways, airports, and air bases. Good luck with that! I seem to have failed on my first night out.

I looked at the map and put together a week-long itinerary, starting tomorrow, that would loop counterclockwise from here through Texas to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, then Carlsbad Caverns National Park, then around to the Lincoln National Forest, White Sands, and back around to Las Cruces by Saturday the 21st. I think it breaks the rules on most of the above “stay away” zones – White Sands is also right next to a missile range! – but what the hell. They’re my rules, and rules are meant to be broken. And I must admit I feel drawn to visit the national parks. It’s almost like a fast food chain: you know what to expect and it’s safe that way. Going backcountry camping, or stealth camping on private or public land… I’m just not willing to do that when I’m alone. Too easy to get in trouble, not knowing the territory, not having a local contact.

But first, back to Las Cruces to get that stove fuel. I have some ground Sumatra coffee beans and a drip filter… it’d be nice to have coffee with a little heat in it.


Jeannie, with crazy tall yucca stalks.


Morning at the Aguirre Springs Campground; the Organ Mountains peeking out of the mist.


View of the White Sands Missile Range, looking down from the Aguirre Springs Campground.

This entry was posted in Southwest, Travel, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Altitude Adjustment

  1. Dede Higman says:

    I’m enjoying your posts, Cindy! Wish I could be your co-pilot!


  2. Scot Siegel says:

    Great dispatch, altitudinal wooziness and all!


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