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Postcards from the desert

2013 January 2
by Rachel Turiel

* before the blog switcheroo, which I hear is still not delivering post-notifications to some e-mail subscribers (darn, sorry. Try waiting, or re-subscribing), there was a road trip:


The good luck raven, seemingly always above us. 

The excitement starts in our ice-grizzled, Colorado driveway as we fold ourselves into the Subaru, everything in the car still optimistically compartmentalized and appropriately stashed: snack bag, water bottles, books on tape, maps. The kids are like very small zen jews for most of the trip, alternately relaxing into every divinely ordinary moment, and then unleashing such torrents of questions, it’s like roadtrip passover: why on all other nights do we eat dinner at our kitchen table and tonight we’re eating campstove beans on hotel beds? (If you’ve never been to a Passover seder, the youngest kid has the honor of asking 4 questions that all start: why on all other nights…).


Extreme hotel-bed jumping competitions. 

I love roadtrips! There’s something about a roadtrip, or just getting away from home that wipes my mental hard-drive clean. I forget to worry and complain about all the usual items filed in my “anxieties and strong opinions” folder. Everything feels so poignantly now, the four of us cocooned in the car, zooming through voluptuous snow-frosted New Mexico hills, all real-world responsibilities on pause. Dan and I sing along to mixed tapes I made in 1992 (“got a feeling inside…can’t explain”), while the kids diligently fill out their “Hovenweep Junior Ranger” books. I’m 20 again! At least until I fall asleep with the kids at 8pm.

Despite the extreme togetherness of car travel, followed by the extreme togetherness of hotel rooms (which seem to amp the kids up to 11), there was always some free-spirit outside adventure to, as they’d say in Dan’s family growing up, “get the stink out.” (There was also a hippie soda for the kids to share each travel day, which killed an hour of car-time, due to the eager anticipation of soda, drinking of soda, and fond reminiscing of drinking soda afterwards).

Valley of the Gods, Utah.



We had a loose agenda (and some loyalty to routine, including conducting our regular Sunday family meeting in the car somewhere on the Navajo rez. between Teec Nos Pos and Shiprock, a swath of land which conjures the adverb “sparsely”), with plenty of room for spontaneous side trips, like the historical Hatch Trading Post in Utah, where the kids rolled out of the car, big-eyed and wondering what they could trade. A lego guy? A Beatrix Potter book? “No trading anymore,” the lady at the counter who’d been there for 61 years and looked it, barked. We bought a can of olives and were on our way.

Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

Chaco was the center of a thriving Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) culture a thousand years ago. Their astronomical, architectural, geographical, geological and farming knowledge was so advanced, it seems wrong to call them primitive. There’s too much to say about this hugely inspiring and mysterious place, except, if you can, go see it.


A great kiva (ceremonial underground room) that could hold over 100 people and contained logs that grew as far as 70 miles away.


Rose: “Okay, lets say we lived in this room and we’d meet up with Iris and Tara on the courtyard to grind corn!” 


Hand-hewn rocks, every one of them. 

Jemez springs, New Mexico

One of the great highlights* of our trip was being invited to the Christmas Day dances at the Jemez Indian Pueblo (no cameras allowed). After our own Christmas ceremony of elk sausage, pancakes and presents, we drove down canyon and settled quietly on the dirt floor of their courtyard. Surrounded by adobe dwellings, dogs wandering through the multi-generational clan of dancers, the sounds of rawhide drums and the male elders’ voices ringing the raw morning, it could have been 100 years ago, or more.

The dancers, including various-aged children, were costumed as buffalo, deer, antelope, big horn sheep and turkey. The teenagers seemed able to suspend whatever aspirations they may have had towards mainstream American to adorn their bodies with antlers, feathers and spruce boughs, and dance without a trace of detectable self-consciousness on that cold, Christmas morning. The kids still say this is their favorite memory (after, naturally, the cat that wandered into our hotel room in Bluff, Utah).

Our last 2 nights we rented a small cottage with a kitchen (!), 2 bedrooms (!), and monopoly set (!).


Dan painting Rosie’s toesies with her new non-toxic Piggy paint.


We almost had to stay an extra night due to very engrossing Monopoly game which included the odd juxtaposition of coaching your opponents in shrewd cutthroatedness. 

Also, very wonderful wild hot springs in Jemez, at which it was disturbingly impossible to keep the kids from drinking the water, despite sign advising not too, something about rare and deadly amoeba. Amazing vapor cave. Left camera in car.

Our trip was fairly low budget, we only ate out twice in 5 days, partly because we’re frugal, and partly because we can make insanely good food on our campstove (mason jar count in cooler: 8), however I’d recommend NOT cooking bacon in your hotel room, because of the infamous breakfast henceforth known as the 3-alarm breakfast. Nuff said.


Obsidian vein; Dan: “when can I quit my job and become fulltime flint-knapper?”


The kids’ Christmas gift to the Universal Child.

* As opposed to one of the great low points, which was when Col, in the backseat, driving out of Bluff, Utah, found it uproariously entertaining to blow into the camelback nozzle, which made the camelback inflate like a pufferfish, geysering water into his mouth. Super fun until he had to desperately pee 4 times in next hour.

Is everyone getting back to post-holiday, normal life?




11 Responses leave one →
  1. Melissa permalink
    January 2, 2013

    Hooray for road trips and family vacations!!

    I’m sitting on the couch with wet hair, granola and the last sip of coffee while my people sleep and I have to catch the 7:28 train; first day back to work.

    But Mexico was so lovely and such a special time for the 4 of us!

    Happy New Year to you and your precious brood!

    Ps. Did you have a bat mitzvah? Just curious….the Seder questions cracked me up! Xo

  2. Molly Wieser permalink
    January 2, 2013

    Recently did a Chaco/Jemez Springs weekend a few weeks ago, sans amazing Christmas dance – but still, so much free magic! I may be on the verge of investing in a game called Bananagrams. Too advanced for Lucinda, but probably ok in a few years. I think Col could do it. Every player forms their own crossword, big or small. It’s not really competitive against other people til the last minute or two…

  3. Rachel Turiel permalink*
    January 2, 2013

    Yes, free magic for sure. We have bananagrams, but didn’t know there were actual rules and objects to the game. Will have to investigate. These children very much motivated by competition.

  4. January 2, 2013

    Have you read the Craig Childs book “House of Rain”? A great read about current research on the Ancestral Puebloan. Plus its just a great adventure with him hiking in the desert, tracing their footsteps. Love the trip. Hugs.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      January 2, 2013

      Yes, I have read that book. Inspiring. xo

  5. January 2, 2013

    i wanna go run as fast as i can in the valley of the gods. so good to see yer trip!

  6. January 2, 2013

    Beautiful, thoughtful, heartening, funny.

    And those words apply to all of your writing and living, which keeps me always here.

    much love,

  7. January 3, 2013

    Oh, how I adore the treasures of New Mexico. What an Other-World it is!! Great pics!!

  8. January 4, 2013

    Road trips make me feel 20 as well. Oh to live on Sugar Mountain…I love the energy of the SW and in your words.

  9. November 7, 2013

    “Postcards from the desert | 6512 and growing”
    ended up being truly pleasurable and enlightening!
    Within the present day society that is challenging to achieve.
    Thanks a lot, Carrol

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