Tag: Travel

Las Conchas Trail

A mile or so down the road from one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen — the Valles Caldera, the massive caldera of an ancient volcano, 11,000 feet up in northern New Mexico — we came across this paradisal place, the Las Conchas Trail on the East Fork of the Jemez wilderness. Easy to miss, but once found and seen, impossible to forget.

Palo Duro Canyon

So you’re driving through the panhandle of Texas with the land flat as a bedsheet as far as the eye can see, and then all of sudden the ground drops a thousand feet. Congratulations, you have discovered Palo Duro Canyon.


Always rather embarrassing to wonder what one gets out of travel to make up for its privations, except that it requires so much more imagination to stay at home.

— William Empson, letter to John Hayward, 7 March 1933

the joys of overseas travel

Yesterday I woke up in Rome at 6:30am, had a quick breakfast at the absolutely delightful hotel my friend and colleague Elizabeth Corey had recommended to me, and then:

  • walked to the Circo Massimo metro stop
  • took the metro to Termini (Rome’s chief train station)
  • took the Leonardo Express to Fiumicino Airport
  • walked from the train into Terminal 3
  • took a shuttle bus to Terminal 5
  • got into a long queue to be asked questions about my visit by a security agent
  • was funneled into another long queue with people who were checking bags, even though I already had my boarding pass and wasn’t checking a bag
  • got into another long queue to have bags and body scanned
  • got into a fourth queue to have my passport stamped
  • was funneled into as fifth queue to get on another shuttle bus to take me back to Terminal 3, where I was finally dropped off near my gate
  • took a ten-hour flight (complete with screaming baby) to Charlotte
  • got off the plane, went through customs
  • got back into the TSA security line
  • walked to my gate
  • took a two-hour flight to Dallas
  • waited for four hours for my two-hour-delayed flight to Waco (spending some of that listening to an American Airlines employee be loudly rude to an old man in a wheelchair who had missed the last flight of the day to his destination, Madison WI)
  • flew home, arriving at 11pm Texas time, which is to say, nearly 24 hours after I woke up.

This is simply insane. There is no way for the airlines and our security-theater system to make a voyage like that pleasant, and yes, Louis C.K., I heard you, but everyone seems to have gone out of their way to make it as complicated, confusing, frustrating, and generally unpleasant as possible. My visit to Rome was wonderful, if exhausting, but the memory of yesterday is going to have to fade considerably before I will be able even to contemplate another overseas trip.

the chief principles of Texas driving as I have inferred them in my 26 months of living in the Lone Star State

  1. At some point during the execution of a right turn, but always before your car is completely out of the road you have been driving on, be sure to come to a full stop.
  2. Merge onto interstate highways at a speed no greater than 35 miles per hour.
  3. Once on the interstate, if you are driving below the speed limit, make sure to stay in the far left lane and never leave it for any reason except to exit.

the sacred grove of Osun

In 1991 I spent a summer teaching at a seminary in the town of Igbaja in Kwara State, Nigeria. One weekend we took a long drive to visit a complex shrine-compound dedicated to the orisha Oṡun. It was an eerie and fascinating experience. Recently, in unpacking from my move to Texas, I found some photographs I took of the compound. They were taken with a small point-and-shoot camera, and have faded a bit over the years, but I think they might still be of interest.

Update November 2017: I did not realize it when I first posted these photos, but this shrine is now a UNESCO World Heritage Center: the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove.

Rereading Krakauer’s Into Thin Air after finishing Hansen’s book, I was once again struck by the brutal selfishness and callous disregard for one’s fellow humans that characterizes contemporary mountain tourism. In 1996, Japanese climber Eisuke Shigekawa and his partner had walked past three dying men from another party on their way to the summit of Everest; they offered no aid on their way to claim glory, and none on the way down, despite the fact that the three men were alive and not yet past hope. Partly this is due, of course, to the harsh conditions up there, which make it hard to keep oneself alive, let alone help another in danger. (“Above 8,000 meters is not a place where people can afford morality,” Shigekawa later said.) But then, Everest is not a battlefield, nor a suddenly occurring natural disaster area — and you have to wonder about individuals who have knowingly and freely put themselves in a situation where they’ll have no choice but to turn their back on those dying all around them. That these people risk their lives is a well-worn cliché; what’s less acknowledged is the degree to which they risk — and lose — their humanity for the sake of a thrill, or a little glory.