Last night, the city lights looked like they’d been swallowed up in fog. This morning, even with binoculars, I can’t see more than a few miles west.
Yesterday, the Wallow Fire up in the White Mountains was the fourth largest in Arizona’s history. This morning, it’s up to third with more than 125,000 acres burned. They’ve started evacuating whole communities.
One of the places evacuated is a town called Alpine. It’s on 180 just a few miles across the border from Luna. I was down there some 30 years ago, and I remember both those towns because they gave me my first clear sense of the differences between New Mexico and Arizona (and Colorado and Texas, except for the southeast part of our state which is a whole ‘nother story).
Luna looked like a place that had decided to become a ghost town and was just waiting for whoever was still hanging out to get the message. Later, I read it had been an outlaw hideout back in the day, and I could believe that.
Alpine, on the other hand, looked made in America. I remember some trim that suggested Switzerland, and the trucks over there were newer and shinier and had all their parts, and all their parts were the same color.
Later, I’d contrast Scottsdale with Santa Fe, Sedona with Taos, Flagstaff with Ruidoso. About the only two places where we pulled even was Tucson with Albuquerque.
Now, I like all those places, and some of the best driving we’ve done has been through the White Mountains down toward Phoenix. Some breathtakingly beautiful country over there.
We’re not in the same WOW! league. Our scenery isn’t as spectacular, and our towns just aren’t as finished or as cuted up as our neighbors to the west (although God knows Santa Fe has tried). And if that’s a reflection on the folks who live where they do, that’d be one interesting essay.
But there’s an exception to every rule.
Winslow — yes, that Winslow (Arizona/And such a fine sight to see) — lies in the northeast part of Arizona, in Navajo country, just off I-40. But it’s not just the dusty, fly-blown speck of a place with a kitschy corner commemorating a ’70s rock song that makes it so New Mexican. It’s also the incredibly wonderful, sprawling, idiosyncratic La Posada Hotel, another unique Mary Coulter creation that was saved from demolition by three folks who’ve slowly and steadily been rebuilding and refurbishing the place themselves by hand. That is so us.
And they’ve got a restaurant, The Turquoise Room, where the old Harvey Girls once served the railroad passengers and crews. You and I have been to places like this, where the food just took advantage of the draw. We’ve got such a place right here in Albuquerque, and you do, too, wherever you live.
The Turquoise Room isn’t one of these. The food isn’t fancy-pants, but it isn’t down home, either. It’s original, creative, wonderful. You can’t help but associate the meals with “La Posada” and “Winslow.” We’ve even routed some our drives out west so we’d hit mealtime at The Turquoise Room.
We go out there to spend a night or two every so often, eat every meal there, and it’s always been a pleasure, and it always feels like home.
It doesn’t really belong to Arizona. It’s ours.