Going By Candlelight

What struck me this time, however, is that sometimes location does matter.

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I’m not a travel writer. By most people’s assessment, our family doesn’t go any place that exotic. Someone did tell Sonia that we take interesting trips and I appreciated the sentiment. Sure, we do odd things, but we’re talking odd by “acceptable” standards. We weren’t drinking jack rabbit blood in the Mojave Desert or exploring the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia.

I mean, we’ve been to the American Southwest – a lot.

Specifically, we’ve spent a lot of time in New Mexico. Which, I guess, is odd by most people’s standards. And we weren’t even part of a Breaking Bad walking tour.

We have our reasons.

The last trip – maybe for a while – was to Las Cruces, NM. The bad news one year ago was getting an 8 hour delay on a trip home from Sacramento one year ago.

The good news from that was $800 in Southwest Airlines travel vouchers.

The hard part? Finding someplace the four of us could go for $800 before the vouchers expired.

The resourceful part? When one’s wife is from Las Cruces, NM, your airport is El Paso, TX – about a 45 minute drive away. Thankfully for us, we were able to go just a few bucks over the $800 and get all of us out to Las Cruces. Yes, Sonia can get blood from a turnip. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

This time, we only had to wake up at 2:45 AM to do it. Pish Posh. It’s like taking candy from a baby.

My kids might disagree.

I won’t go blow-by-blow, or day-by-day about the trip. What I will do is give impressions and things I learned while in Las Cruces.

-The people we met in El Paso and Las Cruces, by far, were the friendliest strangers one could meet. The gentlemen at the rental car kiosk in El Paso asked, “What brings you to El Paso?” So Sonia told him, “Vacation!” He was genuinely shocked, and then gave us several recommendations about what to see. By the way, walking around all the tailgating at the Sun Bowl was worth the price of the ticket by itself. The SEC has nothing on a tailgate in El Paso. They have Cowboy Woks big enough to cook a toddler. They have smokers made to look like a cow. They bring their own Porta Potties. It was a sight to behold.

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At the Sun Bowl; children frying in woks and smoking cows not shown here.

Even the random people we met elsewhere were just incredibly friendly. The other hikers we met were extraordinarily chatty. We had the friendliest server when we ate at !Andele! The afternoon staff at the hotel made sure to tell us about the New Year’s Eve Chile Drop in downtown Las Cruces (they actually called us to inform us of time and location).

We ate pizza one night, and the man that owned the place came around to all the tables. He introduced himself and chatted up all the guests. He came to our table, and did 3 or 4 magic tricks for our kids. He then talked about St. Louis, eating on the Hill, and Ted Drewes. Before we left, he managed to guess Andrew’s name without us mentioning it previously. It was pretty cool.

There was just a general a lack of pretense to the people in the area; people weren’t showing off. They were just being, well, happy and friendly.

-I’m starting to understand why people live in New Mexico. 350 days or so of sunshine per year, but you still get four seasons. You have a natural playground right out your backdoor. I’d gladly sacrifice some income for a few extra days of playing in the sun. It’s the “live to work” or “work to live” argument. And “work to live” doesn’t make you lazy. If means you just put a limit on how much money you want to be happy. It seems like a lot of people will sacrifice a few extra bucks to enjoy their surroundings. Any other conclusion would seem a bit crazy and short-sighted.

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Soledad Canyon with the crew.

-The hiking was fantastic, especially since you don’t have to drive more than 10-15 minutes to find an interesting place to go. Sure, you don’t have the grandiosity of the Grand Canyon, and you don’t have 14ers like Colorado. But you have jagged peaks of 6,000+ feet (and Las Cruces sits at 3,900 feet) and trails galore. You have random trails through the desert. You can have a cookout – not on the banks for the Rio Grande – but actually in the Rio Grande.

We did a hike on New Year’s Eve; Sonia and Allison hiked around the base of Tortugas Mountain – a 4+ mile trek. The Boy and I took a trip up and down the mountain before hiking around the base. As we were descending, an older and slightly out of shape woman was trying to hike to the top of the peak as well. We were maybe ¾ the way down the mountain. She asked us if she was “almost there.” I laughed under my breath; Andrew told her, “Yes, you’re almost to the top! Not much further!” The woman smiled and kept huffing uphill. I told him that we had best run like hell if we ever saw her again as she still had a LONG way to go. After we finished our trek around the base, we actually saw her descending the peak. And yes, we did run for the car. Maybe she wasn’t mad at us, but I wasn’t sticking around to ask her about the view on top.

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Andrew, at the top of Tortugas Mountain. We’re a safe distance away from anyone that he *might* have given misleading information to.

Sonia has a strong memory of being able to hop her back fence and take hikes with her family across the open land; her family’s house literally opened up to BLM land. Her mother supplied us with their old address in Las Cruces – a nice, cute adobe style house on a street named Candlelight. She just assumed that the area had changed and been built up (she last lived in Las Cruces in the early to mid 80s).

The house was easy to find; it wasn’t more than 8 minutes from our hotel. And, remarkably, although Las Cruces is considerably bigger than it was 35 years ago, the growth has been in other directions and in other areas of town. You could still conceivably hop the back fence, walk across the desert and try to ascend “A” mountain (as Sonia calls it). I asked her if she wanted her picture taken in front of the house. She declined. It sure would have been nice to hop that fence, but we decided we didn’t need a trespassing citation while out of town.

-I took a walk with Andrew every night after dinner. The early evening is probably his best time of day. He recently downloaded a “Sweatcoin” app for his phone and he wants to earn as many sweatcoins as possible (basically so he can buy crap without using his money). I now have the app and I give him my sweatcoins. We’d disappear for 45 minutes and walk around town. It was rather enjoyable to see Andrew happy and calm rather than happy and twitchy. For a mid-sized town, the place sure seemed like it was pretty walkable/bike friendly. With New Mexico State in town, I guess that makes sense. Whatever the reason, we sure enjoyed our nightly outings.

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Desert sunsets are uniquely beautiful.

Why does all of this matter, at least to me? I’ve tried to operate under the idea that “I can be happy anywhere.” Essentially, home is where your family is. It’s where one’s friends are. And truly, every place I visit or have lived, I try to find the positive aspects of having lived there. I try to have the attitude that I could make just about anything work, even for prolonged periods of time.

And that’s still true. I want to find the positive of any place that is currently home. What struck me this time, however, is that sometimes location does matter. If I really want to “work to live”, then sometimes the physical space and area makes living a little easier. I really don’t think it was the fact that our family was “on vacation”, but rather I managed to see an area through slightly different optics. I could conceive of, “Hey, I could see myself actually being HERE.”

It’s kind of like taking the sabbatical. Rather than having every detail figured out, sometimes you just have to do something new, and figure it out as you go along. I managed to see the upside of moving someplace and then finding a job, rather than “I need THIS JOB, so I’ll go wherever.” Maybe it’s just another reflection of being able to adopt a little more balance in life, rather than just go, go, go.

If the trip was initially planned as a slight trip down memory lane, I don’t think it wound up being that, not even for Sonia. And we didn’t take it with a specific goal of scouting out places to move to. It’s a goal to work towards for sure, but it has the “eventual” label on it. The takeaway for me was this: I’ve always been focused on “what” I want to be doing. Someday, I’ll be able to focus on “where” I’ll be doing it.

Author: Jason Kesselring

I am a 40 year old pediatrician on sabbatical, happily married, and a father of two wonderful children. I fell out of the Ugly Tree, and hit every branch on the way down.

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