Every time I drive south out of Raton, New Mexico, I have a little bit of that fear thing tingling on my neck. The emptiness of the rolling prairie is kinda frightful. Us in-the-know folks refer to it as the I-25 corridor, because that is the route I-25 takes...and it is well known for smuggling dope, people, and who knows what else. Of course, since NAFTA, I-25 has been rumbling with truck and bus traffic from Mexico...no need to smuggle anymore, just load it on any north-bound tractor-trailer or Chihuahua-hound.
If you have read McMurtry's "Dead Man's Walk", the I-25 corridor is pretty much the same route the Texas Rangers that were captured by the Mexicans had to walk to get to El Paso. We drove it yesterday in about 8 hours...their walk took weeks. And that is what is frightening to me about the drive. There is nothing out there. If your car is eleven years old with 111,000 miles on it, you think about the emptiness.
I have spent a lot of my life driving across the Southwest Deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, California, Nevada, Colorado, Texas (did I miss any? I've probably been to those, too.). I was well aware of the emptiness of it long before I ever read about the Rangers' walk. When you are young and dumb and full of...well, you think of yourself as bullet-proof. The big empty doesn't faze you. The trouble with youth is a serious lack of imagination. As you get older and have more experience you realize that stuff does happen, it can happen to you, and you are absolutely NOT bullet-proof.
My eye-opener about the "Walk" came several years ago when MC and I were on our way to visit her parents on their 50th Wedding Anniversary. Our little Taurus was tooling up Raton Pass, nearing the 7000-foot mark when it started to sputter. Just short of the peak of the grade the Taurus just died. We were still rolling about 45 MPH but there was no power at all and we were slowing. We coasted over the top and started downhill. I thought that coasting was better than stopping so we rode it out...the town of Raton was not far off. We decided to skip the first exit because we couldn't see any businesses. At the second exit I could see a gas station so we got off the freeway, coasted to the top of the exit ramp, I rolled on through the stop sign there and we were able to coast all the way to the gas station. I parked beside the building and walked around front to find that it was a convenience store...not a garage.
The man at the counter was very helpful and knew a guy (a cousin or BIL, I suspect) and made a call. In short order we had a mobile mechanic checking our car out. He determined that our fuel filter was plugged and replaced it. The car started right up. We followed him over to his shop, settled our bill, fueled up, and started back on our trip. Getting back on the freeway heading south, I was suddenly aware of how empty and desolate every- thing looked. We didn't say anything right away then both spoke at once about what it would have been like if we had made it past Raton and out onto this surface-of-the-moon-looking emptiness before the car quit. That is where the little tingling of fear comes from.
When I read "Dead Man's Walk", I had such clear images of the terrain and surroundings McMurtry described and a lot of times, instead of a raggedy band of captive Rangers, in my mind's eye I saw a bedraggled BFD trekking across the plains in search of a Taurus-fixer.
We try hard to be prepared when we leave home; we try to time our trips to the desert so we can visit in the cooler months. Which means that we are leaving Colorado with all our winter gear in the car and arriving in Arizona in the middle-eighties, temperature-wise. We carry blankets and water and emergency rations and boots and warm clothing and tools (and a spare fuel filter) and whatever else we think we might need. But short of packing a Smart Car in the trunk, there isn't much you can do to shorten the miles and miles and miles of emptiness between garages.
I love the desert's stark beauty: amazing sunsets and -rises, wildlife, cacti and scrub brush and everything else that makes it a desert....I just don't like the idea of becoming part of it!