The Dunes: Homebound

IMG_1787We left San Luis Valley as the sunrise splashed the mountains with orange heading for the plains, but before all of that, we stopped at the Raton-Clayton volcanic field in the northeast corner of New Mexico. Lava flows, lava domes like the one above and extinct volcanoes cover about 8,000 square miles there, according to the National Park Service’s helpful pamphlet. Capulin Volcano, a nicely symmetrical cinder cone that’s designated a national monument, is just a couple miles off the highway. Capulin last erupted about 60,000 years ago, or around the time humans first ventured past the edge of Africa, for anyone keeping track. We walked down into its crater.


IMG_1784The rest of the field started forming 9 million years ago, or several million years before mammoths and saber-tooth tigers first appeared. I keep coming back to the ages of these places because they’re astounding. That volcano is about five times as old as human agriculture but could be just one-seventh as old as the Great Sand Dunes. The dunes, meanwhile, could be several times the age of the human species yet are essentially the age of kindergartners when compared to this lava field, which is itself an afterthought in the entire Rocky Mountain range.

Anyway, much was the same in Oklahoma’s flatness: the oddly abandoned towns, the enormous piles of hay, the bridges over creeks running dry. But unlike the first drive, we passed about a dozen stationary trains alongside the road; early in them orning I’d heard something about a train-truck collision along U.S. 25 on the radio and figured that was the reason, but it must have been a minor accident, because I can’t find a single news story on it.


IMG_1790Later, a massive cloud of smoke appeared like a haze along the horizon, coming from near Woodward, Oklahoma. Here it is from the west, looming over some wind turbines for scale:

IMG_1798And from the other side:

IMG_1805I could still see the smoke 100 miles east of the grass fire responsible, blasted northeast by Oklahoma wind. The fire had burned about 35 square miles by Thursday, and the cause was still unclear. No one was hurt, though.

The last landmark we passed in sunlight was Tulsa. We were back in northwest Arkansas around 9 p.m.


IMG_1811Being back home felt strange; driving across the panhandle, I had to make sure I had enough gas between towns, especially since some were empty, while in the dunes, I had to make sure I had enough food and water in case of delays and that I stayed hydrated. I realized in Fayetteville I didn’t have to do either anymore.

As a side-note, if you have a tight budget and don’t mind a long drive, road trips to national parks or anywhere else can be worth it. Hotel, food and gas for this trip cost about the same as one plane ticket. And just think of everything I would have missed if I had flown. It was all worth it.

Thanks for looking and reading, everybody.


Boxed In

_C1_8646Zoos are tricky places.

They can be fun and educational for kids and adults, if they’re paying attention, but they hold animals that would range over thousands of square miles in a complex of a few dozen acres. Many contend zoos make people care more about the planet’s other inhabitants, but others dispute the notion. They work to bring animals closer to us, but we’re still safely remote behind windows, fences or moats. Zoos expand enclosures, but animals still grow either lethargic or edgy, pacing over and over.

Zoos are tricky.

_C1_8698These issues were on my mind when I went to the Tulsa Zoo this weekend. I don’t know the answers. I had a good time in Tulsa, and I’ve seen animals I’d never see in person otherwise thanks to Tulsa and the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo. It’s hard to argue with the excitement and wonder from kids as they watched the elephants and chimps and hellbender salamanders. Maybe the only answer is zoos are good and bad.

Anyway, here are some photos.


_C1_8613This, bizarrely, is a smaller snake curled up within the coils of an eastern diamondback rattlesnake. The rattler didn’t seem to mind.









_C1_8583Thanks for looking, and for tolerating my ramblings. I hope it was a good weekend.