Hey everyone and Happy New Year!
In mid-November we attended a live Rick Steves presentation here in Madison titled “Travel as a Political Act.” Before anyone get their shorts in a tight knot, this lecture wasn’t about politics (although one could imply a subtle political message), it was about his thesis that travel (both domestic and foreign) helps us to expand our thinking, appreciation and understanding about other places, countries, peoples, lifestyles and cultures different than ours and the enormous gaps between the haves and have nots. He states, to accomplish this we must set aside our assumptions, be open to new experiences, educate ourselves and sometimes take the path less traveled to discover the lessons and authenticity the world has to offer. Steves also is struck by Americans wishing others “a safe trip” when traveling away from home as if the world is a scarier place than our local communities here in the US. In fact, the travel destination is likely safer than staying at home. Sure, there are places in the world where travel is not recommended due to instability and lawlessness, but in general most places in the world are pretty safe. As an personal example, when we returned from our eight day trip to Cuba a few years ago, people at home asked if it was safe to travel there. I have to say that I felt safer walking around the streets of Havana than in some places in our local community. As my regular readers will observe, I’ve signed off my weekly blog articles with: Until next week, travel safe. I vow that I’ll create a new signature phrase to end my posts. It’s not that I don’t want you to have safe travels, I do, but I resolve to honor Rick Steves message that much of the modern world is open and available for discovery and adventure. Let’s relish it!
With that introduction in mind I reflect back on 2018 for some instances to share with you where I believe I expanded my thinking and appreciation for people and the natural world. While we didn’t do any foreign travel in 2018, we did travel to some fun, unusual and out of the way places and met some interesting characters here in the US. I’ll start with our stay near Terlingua, Texas, the gateway to the beautiful and highly recommended Big Bend National Park. Here’s a clip from the post about this interesting town.
“A stop (down a dusty, rocky road) in modern day Terlingua is not complete without a visit to the Terlingua Trading Company (the former company store for the mine). The big front porch is often filled with people not only to view the wide valley below but to listen to the musicians playing and singing for fun (not busking for $).
Visitors will buy something to drink and sit on the porch listening to the music. The day we were there a couple of guys were singing both classic pop, country, and a few made up songs soon joined by a guy with a stand up bass, another guy on flute like instrument and occasionally a harmonic player. As the sun set over the Chisos Mountains, folks, tourists and locals alike, enjoyed the impromptu concert. We were told that this happens most days on the porch, a fun cultural experience.”
The next 2018 rewind and reflection is our visit to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. After stopping to chat with the ranger at the trailhead and making our way up to the dwellings, we met a park volunteer, here’s my description of our interaction with this most interesting person.
“The most interesting part of our visit was our interactions with a volunteer interpretive ranger. Meet Saul, who shared some of the history of the peoples and buildings of the dwellings. He told us that he’s been coming to the area for over 50 years from his home base in El Paso, Texas. We learned from another ranger that Saul is a civil rights activist and works with law enforcement to rehab gang members by bringing them camping to this area. It was such a pleasant experience to learn from him and hear his stories.”
While in Arizona in January and February, we visited a number of national parks and monuments. Our stop at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument located about 70 miles north of Tucson was nice but uneventful until I met this fellow in the Visitor Center. Here’s the text from that post.
“In the Visitor Center was a gentleman selling native jewelry. Meet Fredrick Ted Henry of the Navajo Nation. I struck up a conversation with him and he saw that I am a photographer so he pulls out this well worn photography book. He goes on to explain the photograph in the book of “Navajo Woman and Infant Canyon de Chelly” was of his mother and baby sister. The photograph was taken between 1933 and 1941 by none other than Ansel Adams, one of the most well known and revered photographers of the Southwest. The photo is listed in the National Archives so may have been taken when Adams contracted with the Department of the Interior to take photos of National Parks. Mr. Henry was very proud of this photo and it was fascinating to hear the story behind it. It was the highlight of our stop at Casa Grande, for me at least!”
Down the road a piece (150 miles!) from Casa Grande is the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument where we had another inspiring and moving experience. Read all about it in this next clip.
“The last part of this drive took us within a few hundred feet of the US/Mexico border separated by a fence on each side. The road you see is for patrols only, I parked and walked several feet from the public road to take this photo. Note that there aren’t many tracks, this road is dragged on a regular basis to help Border agents detect footprints in the dirt.
It was near here that an event with the most impact happened to us. We were close to the end of the drive, it was approaching 5 PM and the sun was starting to set (February 13), we came over a little rise in the terrain and saw two small groups of people on either side of the road. On my side, was a family of five; the father, mother, and three kids ages estimated to be 10, 8, and 6. They all had backpacks on their back and were standing looking towards Mexico. On my traveling partners side of the truck, there was a little larger group of people maybe 7 or 8 also including young children that looked to be resting or waiting for something. While they watched us drive by, we waved to them and they waved back, they seemed relaxed and happy. In our imaginations, we speculated they were making an attempt to cross into the US, likely to make a better life for themselves and especially for their children. Maybe they were waiting for someone to pick them up at this prearranged spot or just maybe they were waiting for the Border Patrol to come along so they could seek asylum in the US. Or maybe they were local residents just ending their family hike and outing. Regardless, we often think of them and wonder about their story. If they were detained, we hope they (and anyone else) were treated with respect and compassion, deep down, we hope they made it to their destination where ever it might be. For if they were trying to walk through the desert and mountains to safety, we fear they might have perished in their attempt for a better life. It’s been three months to the day since this chance encounter and we continue to think about them.”
It’s been almost year and we still think about these families especially when considering the recent events at the US/Mexico border. We should ask ourselves what can I do to help resolve this issue so that people attempting to enter the US are treated with dignity, respect, kindness and empathy. Things that don’t cost anything but are of the most value. Please ponder this dilemma and be part of the solution.
And to end Part 1 of Rewind, Reflections and Resolutions another quote by Rick Steves: “To me, understanding people and their lives is what travel is about, no matter where you go.”
Next week in Part 2, I’ll continue the rewind and reflections and pronounce my resolutions for 2019.
Until then, happy travels!