In the animal kingdom

Sea lion, Galápagos

I had every intention of following Galápagos National Park’s simple rule: maintain at least six feet of distance from the wildlife.

However, the animals were not as compliant.

Blue-footed boobies waddled right up to my hiking shoes. Sea lions grazed me playfully when I snorkeled. Brown pelicans stood beside me, as together we watched the fishmongers in the harbor.

Even giant tortoises lifted their great heads and ambled in my direction, as if they recognized me from long ago.

In Ohio, wild animals run for cover when humans appear; in the Galápagos Islands, they yawn.

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Rocks of ages

White House, Canyon de Chelly

The history of the American Southwest is written in stone.

It is written in silver ore and petrified wood. In lava flows and cinder fields. On the walls of canyons and caves. In the ruins of pueblos.

It is written on tombstones. And on Spider Rock and Petroglyph Rock and Newspaper Rock. And most intentionally on Inscription Rock.

The Navajo say, “We will be like a rock a river has to go around.”

Instead, the river cut through the rock at Canyon de Chelly (duh SHAY) National Monument, gouging deep channels over millions of years.

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Bright lights, dark sky

The lights dart across the Texas desert, pulsing, merging, and then disappearing.

Some people believe they are UFOs; others, the ghosts of Spanish conquistadors.

A cowboy first reported seeing them in 1883. He thought they were campfires of the Apache. Other theories as to the origin of the mysterious lights include swamp gas, St. Elmo’s fire, and the glint of minerals in the moonlight.

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Prost, y’all

Enchanted Rock TX
On Enchanted Rock

Beef. It’s what’s for dinner in Texas.

Unless you’re in Hill Country, where it might be bratwurst.

In the mid-1800s, tens of thousands of German immigrants settled in central and southwest Texas, which, at the time, was its own country. Some of the settlers were sponsored by a group of German nobles who aimed to colonize the Republic of Texas and develop trade.

Their scheme was disrupted by a lack of funds, the war with Mexico, and the statehood of Texas. The German homesteaders stayed anyway.

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Back on the road

This week, I’m starting a four-week road trip from Austin, Texas, to Antelope Canyon Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona. It will be my longest trip in nearly a year.

After three years of nearly nonstop travel, I felt a need to catch my breath. I was road-weary.

I rented an apartment in Columbus, my first “permanent” residence since 2014. I emptied my storage locker and found things I forgot I owned. I even bought a car.

Most importantly, I reconnected with family and friends. And thought about what is next.

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Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe NM
Museum of Indian Arts and Culture

Three historic trails lead to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

One arrives from Mexico City—El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (the Royal Road of the Interior Land). For centuries, Native North Americans used the sixteen-hundred-mile trade route.

In 1598 Spanish settlers first followed El Camino Real north. It was traveled continuously until 1882.

Another trail enters Santa Fe from the west. Approximately seven hundred miles long, the Old Spanish Trail connected Santa Fe with settlements in California. Blazed as early as the 1500s, the Old Spanish Trail was used by Native Americans, explorers, trappers, and traders until 1848.

A third route, the namesake Santa Fe Trail, connected Santa Fe with the eastern United States, specifically Franklin, Missouri. The nine-hundred-mile trail was established in 1821 to take advantage of new trade opportunities with Mexico, which had just broken away from Spain. It saw use until around 1880.

Three American cultures intersected at the crossroads of Santa Fe—Native, Hispanic, and Anglo. It seemed an appropriate trail’s end for my tour as well.

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Parks and rec

National Park Service

Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.

edward abbey

Over four hundred parks, preserves, forests, seashores, rivers, monuments, memorials, and historic sites make up the National Park System.

During my recent tour of the Southwest, I was fortunate to visit fifteen of them. Seven of the biggest are in Alaska, including the largest park, Wrangell-St. Elias. At 12,500 square miles, it’s bigger than each of the nine smallest states.

Death Valley is the largest in the lower forty-eight states. The smallest park is Hot Springs in Arkansas at around nine square miles.

(For my post on Death Valley, please see “Death Valley days.” For Mojave and Joshua Tree, see “Wandering in the desert.” For Organ Pipe Cactus, Tumacácori, Coronado, and Saguaro, see “Borderline.”)

The National Park Service was created in 1916 to keep the parks unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. They are often called America’s Crown Jewels.

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