I asked the young army officer who stopped me at an immigration checkpoint forty miles north of El Paso, Texas. He had just requested that I roll down the back windows so he could check the back seat, and as I fumbled with every lever on the door, fearing that I might eject myself before finding the correct one, I blurted out, “Sorry, officer, but this is a rental car, and I’m not familiar with….”
“Oh, you’re not from Texas,” he replied, which is when I asked him the question, nervously eyeing the large dog sniffing around my tires. He laughed. “But you’re an American, aren’t you? New Jersey is still in the lower 48. Go on. Enjoy your day.”
If there’s one thing about Texas you can count on, it’s polite and friendly people. If you get lost on the highway, which I did with regularity, the police practically drive you back home. And they send you off with a tip of the hat and a “You stay safe, M’am, ya’hear?”
Why on earth was I in Texas? I promised in my last blog to relate the final three days of my climbing escapades in Washington State and, suddenly, I’m driving through the Guadalupe Mountains and the wide expanse of desert in the Lone Star State. Well, it’s called medical tourism and, if you’re in the over-60 set, find out about it. It can save you a bundle.
Long story short. I had a dental emergency, which was estimated to set me back about $7,800. I could envision selling my house and actually living in that yurt in Mongolia that I keep threatening to do. Several friends told me about Mexico and their excellent clinics just across the border. I went on line and found Rio Dental in Juarez. Unfortunately, I had to move fast, which meant giving up playing in our first Plainfield concert, but they’ve forgiven me. Frequent flyer miles got me to El Paso and a prepaid stay for six days at the airport Travelodge cost $238 (complete with breakfast and pool…what a deal!). Monday morning a van came for me, and several other Americans, and took us across the border to the clinic. On Thursday my crowns were ready to go and on Saturday I headed home, after a day of sunning myself by the pool. Cost was $980.
During my two free days I drove to New Mexico and enjoyed visiting two of America’s national parks. What an unexpected treat! I can thank my musician friend, Phyllis Bitow, who had just made a trip to New Mexico and gave me the details. Her picture is below.
The first park was at the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert, where the mountain-ringed valley, the Tularosa Basin, gives rise to one of the world’s great natural wonders…the glistening White Sands National Monument. Great wave-like dunes of a rare form of gypsum sand engulf 275 square miles of desert and have created the largest gypsum dune field in the world. As is customary at this parks, there’s an informative film that covers the fascinating history of the undulating mountains of sand and the animals and plants that have adapted to life in the constantly changing environment. As I drove through the dune fields I felt as if I were navigating through snowfields. The roads were plowed where the sand banks flowed onto the road. I rented a flying saucer, just like the ones our children used in the snow, and careened down steep hills like the wind. Too bad my camera settings had been jolted and the pictures were so faded, but here are a few to give you an idea of the striking scenery.
White Sands Visitor Center, typical of New Mexico park architecture
Road leading to the dunes
The long walk up
- My saucer at the ready….
Trail on which I slid down to the car
The trail from the bottom
Phyllis on top of a dune
Heading for Carlsbad Caverns
Outcroppings and mountains everywhere....
Beyond these rugged mountains and broad plains is a world away from sunlight…the celebrated underground world of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, an incomparable realm of gigantic subterranean chambers and extraordinary cave formations. I started exploring the chambers from the natural entrance route, descending a mile into the earth and following steep and narrow trails through a tall trunk passage called the Main Corridor. Some of the highlights along the route include the Bat Cave, Devil’s Spring, Green Lake Overlook, and the Boneyard, a complex maze of highly dissolved limestone rock reminiscent of Swiss cheese. The wonders continued unabated as I arrived at the 8.2 acre Big Room, another 1 1/2 mile eye-popping circular walkway with every possible rock formation from stalactites, helictites, and stalagmites to “draperies,” columns, “popcorn,” and “soda straws” (these are all laymen names of formations). I ended my four hours underground with a guided tour of the King’s and Queen’s Palaces and the Papoose Room. Exhausted, I took the elevator to the surface, another engineering feat from my point of view.
Here is just a sample of some of the natural wonders I experienced.
The natural entrance to the cave
Scenes along the way
Varieties of "draperies"
Typical terrain outside the caves
One cultural footnote of the season. I was thrilled with the Metropolitan Opera’s first production of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, starring the incomparable Russian soprano, Anna Netrebko. If you get a chance to see it on HD do so.