Road trips and the importance of reflection

In New Mexico, tourism illuminates a violent atomic past and threatens a religious sanctuary.

 

Last year, I found myself driving from Colorado’s Western Slope to my home in North Idaho, my car loaded down with books, camping gear and my bike. As road trips go, it was short but illuminating: I saw, firsthand, a fundamental truth of that place, its desert heat and fire-scarred hillsides. The first evening, as dusk settled over the landscape, a sign announced that the narrow highway I’d meant to take through Utah was closed. As I detoured up the next road, I watched the glow of a wildfire — the cause of the closure — blossom on the ridge to the east like a brilliant, dreadful flower, the scent of smoke filling my car. Things out here can happen fast, and change even faster.

Few things are more quintessentially American than a road trip, especially across the sprawling West, with its ample opportunities for detours, reflection and epiphany. This issue examines all this and more, through outdoor recreation and travel. In our cover story, writers LuLing Osofsky and Key MacFarlane pilot a rented Kia Soul through New Mexico, navigating the violent history of the atomic bomb. On their journey, they discover the absurdities of nuclear tourism, including the image of a warhead on pins, hats and even, perhaps, on the stained glass windows of a church. In the process, they explore how centuries of brutality continue to reverberate across the landscape.

Elsewhere in this issue, writer Gustavo Arellano details in a bittersweet essay the changes he’s seen at a beloved 200-year-old chapel in New Mexico, El Santuario de Chimayó. Created as a spiritual refuge, the shrine has become a locus of a common struggle in the modern West, over how to conserve the character of places threatened by their own popularity.

Some changes, however, are welcome. Antonia Malchik describes the thoughtful design of outdoor spaces with disabilities in mind, where careful attention to gate widths and switchback angles can open up access to more people, while forcing land managers and people without disabilities to rethink assumptions about who belongs outside.

Emily Benson, associate editor
Brooke Warren/High Country News

Challenging assumptions about who belongs in recreational spaces is something professional rock climber Emily Taylor knows well. To fill a void left by climbing companies unwilling to help diversify the profession, Taylor, a black woman, has created multiple initiatives for black climbers. A photo essay by Michael A. Estrada shows her at work.

From the Grand Tetons to Yosemite, past wildfires, churches and atomic test sites, many of us first experienced the vistas of the West through the bug-splattered windshield of a vehicle zooming down the highway. Some would contend this is not exactly the ideal way to get to know the place, and I wouldn’t argue. But I do enjoy the spectacle of the West at speed — if for no other reason than because it matches the region’s rapid rate of change.

High Country News Classifieds
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Mountain Lion Foundation is seeking an Executive Director. Please see our website for further information - mountainlion.org/job-openings
  • WASHINGTON DC REPRESENTATIVE
    Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Washington, DC Position Reports to: Program Director The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is seeking a Washington, DC Representative...
  • REGIONAL CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    Position Title: Regional Campaign Organizers (2 positions) Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Preferred Billings, MT; remote location within WORC's region (in or near Grand Junction...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....