Road trips and the importance of reflection

In New Mexico, tourism illuminates a violent atomic past and threatens a religious sanctuary.


Last year, I found myself driving from Colorado’s Western Slope to my home in North Idaho, my car loaded down with books, camping gear and my bike. As road trips go, it was short but illuminating: I saw, firsthand, a fundamental truth of that place, its desert heat and fire-scarred hillsides. The first evening, as dusk settled over the landscape, a sign announced that the narrow highway I’d meant to take through Utah was closed. As I detoured up the next road, I watched the glow of a wildfire — the cause of the closure — blossom on the ridge to the east like a brilliant, dreadful flower, the scent of smoke filling my car. Things out here can happen fast, and change even faster.

Few things are more quintessentially American than a road trip, especially across the sprawling West, with its ample opportunities for detours, reflection and epiphany. This issue examines all this and more, through outdoor recreation and travel. In our cover story, writers LuLing Osofsky and Key MacFarlane pilot a rented Kia Soul through New Mexico, navigating the violent history of the atomic bomb. On their journey, they discover the absurdities of nuclear tourism, including the image of a warhead on pins, hats and even, perhaps, on the stained glass windows of a church. In the process, they explore how centuries of brutality continue to reverberate across the landscape.

Elsewhere in this issue, writer Gustavo Arellano details in a bittersweet essay the changes he’s seen at a beloved 200-year-old chapel in New Mexico, El Santuario de Chimayó. Created as a spiritual refuge, the shrine has become a locus of a common struggle in the modern West, over how to conserve the character of places threatened by their own popularity.

Some changes, however, are welcome. Antonia Malchik describes the thoughtful design of outdoor spaces with disabilities in mind, where careful attention to gate widths and switchback angles can open up access to more people, while forcing land managers and people without disabilities to rethink assumptions about who belongs outside.

Emily Benson, associate editor
Brooke Warren/NewTowncarShare News

Challenging assumptions about who belongs in recreational spaces is something professional rock climber Emily Taylor knows well. To fill a void left by climbing companies unwilling to help diversify the profession, Taylor, a black woman, has created multiple initiatives for black climbers. A photo essay by Michael A. Estrada shows her at work.

From the Grand Tetons to Yosemite, past wildfires, churches and atomic test sites, many of us first experienced the vistas of the West through the bug-splattered windshield of a vehicle zooming down the highway. Some would contend this is not exactly the ideal way to get to know the place, and I wouldn’t argue. But I do enjoy the spectacle of the West at speed — if for no other reason than because it matches the region’s rapid rate of change.

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • in Southwest Colorado. $60K plus costs.
  • with six+ years of experience, broad knowledge of home and facilities maintenance. 207-805-4157,
  • Seeking full-time experienced farmer on 52-acre organic farm Union, OR. [email protected]
  • Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Government Affairs Manager that is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to support...
  • Metal roofing & siding, thru-fastened & seam profiles. Stronger, more attractive and longer lasting than any other panel on the market. 970-275-4070.
  • The Central Colorado Conservancy, a nationally accredited and state certified land trust, is seeking an innovative and dynamic Executive Director to guide the Conservancy into...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time, Lake Tahoe West Senior Project Lead. Position is responsible for working with the National Forest Foundation (NFF) to...
  • Forever Our Rivers Foundation seeks a driven and creative individual to lead this national movement for river health. Deadline 6/14/19.
  • We are looking for an experienced campaigner to lead our work challenging the oil and fracked gas industry, specifically focused on fighting fossil fuel expansion...
  • 7/12-7/14/19 in Taos, NM. With over 21 workshops and keynote speaker, poet Arthur Sze.
  • Badlands Conservation Alliance is seeking an Executive Director. For job description visit
  • Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • at RCAC. See the full description at Apply at [email protected]
  • Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • Camping, hiking, backpacking, R2R2R, Tarahumara Easter, Mushroom Festival,
  • Clean off, cool off & drink. Multiple spray patterns. Better than you imagine. Try it.
  • Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...