Monday, August 9, 2010

♫ "A-standin' on the corner in Winslow, Arizona..."*

I didn't really grasp the concept of elevation until I moved to the West. I understood intellectually that higher elevations meant cooler temperatures and different topography, flora and fauna, but knowing something like that intellectually and experiencing several different elevations in the course of one afternoon are two very distinct ways to comprehend.

Our travels today took us from 2500 feet above sea level to over 7200 feet, then down to around 5,000 feet. The temperature swung from 104 to 72 to 86. Desert scrub and sandy, barren mountains gave way to tall pines and green-carpeted slopes, which in turn transformed into the dusty greens and gently rolling contours of the high-desert railroad towns along Route 66. The air stopped sucking the moisture out of everything not already bone-dry and started hydrating skin and tightening curls. (I imagine the wildlife also differed significantly from elevation to elevation, but I'm not particularly interested in fauna, and we saw neither snake nor mountain lion nor buffalo.)

Unless I've forgotten or something's changed in the last five-and-a-half years, one cannot travel by car from Chicago in any direction and encounter in the course of a single afternoon meaningfully higher elevations. (Lower elevations need not be mentioned; Chicago is barely above sea level.) So my Midwestern-born-and-bred understanding of elevation was based on book knowledge and the intelligence gleaned from travels by plane. Taking a plane to a destination that's novel, whether by reason of elevation or other attribute, is not the same as experiencing entirely different environments within 30 miles of one another.

I've been wondering all afternoon what else I might know intellectually, but not truly get because I haven't actually experienced it. I bet elevation isn't the only such thing.

*I really did write this post in Winslow, Arizona. Though I wasn't standing on that corner (or any other) at the time, how could I resist using the title everyone (or at least everyone alive in the 1970s) associates with this sleepy little town full of railroad- and Route 66-related history? Here are a few photos from Winslow:

Friday, August 6, 2010


I'm getting ready for our trip to explore the Rio Grande Rift. Like the Rift, our route will bisect New Mexico, from north of Santa Fe all the way down to Las Cruces. There will be geologic glories galore, including calderas (volcanic craters), lava frozen in place by millions of years of time, mountains (ditto), and the sparkling water of the Rio Grande itself. This trip will also feature the sophisticated man-made glories of Santa Fe, which will be our home base for a variety of mostly geology-related side trips before we head south.

I'll post a travelogue with photos while we travel, but the rift I want to write about today is the one caused by Arizona's immigration law.
For the first time in over fifty years of traveling within the United States, I feel obliged to take my passport.

I am not a fan of "shoot first, ask questions later" type laws. I'd just as soon not visit Arizona or patronize any of its businesses until its state legislature decides to recommit to the principles of democracy. But
the only sensible way to drive from Las Vegas to Santa Fe is via Arizona's roads, so out come the documents proving we're U.S. citizens.

It's very strange to think we might need our passports to travel to an adjoining state. I'll be surprised - and horrified - if we actually do need them. But who knows what some over-zealous officer in some middle-of-nowhere Arizona town might conclude based on my curly brown hair and my and my husband's tanned, olive skin? I don't relish the idea of spending part of our vacation being detained, interrogated, confined to a jail cell or deported.

I'm a law-abiding sort, and I do not support illegal immigration. I also do not support racism, racial profiling, intolerance or fear-based legislation that fails to take into account or respect inalienable Constitutional rights. Appearing to be "foreign" or, for that matter, actually being from somewhere other than the United States is not an appropriate basis for being suspect under the law.

The U.S. as we know it has benefited from the contributions of immigrants ever since the Pilgrims first arrived at Plymouth Rock. Immigration and immigrants aren't the problem - illegal immigration is. Immigration reform is certainly necessary, but ill-thought-out, misguided, and fundamentally un-American responses like Arizona's have no hope of effecting it.