Saturday, September 04, 2021

An Abandoned 1960s Rest Stop

(Above:  Guadalupe Mountains at dawn on a cloudy morning.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I have been up before dawn every morning since arriving at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Why?  Well, I'm intentionally staying on EST.  It allows me to start hiking when temperatures are cooler and to avoid the afternoon heat.  Most mornings have started with brilliant sunrises and long rays that cast pink light all over the mountain range, but that wasn't the case on Thursday.  Instead, clouds hugged the earth.  It was a perfectly gloomy day for a visit to the nearby, abandoned 1960s era rest stop.

(Above:  The old highway.)

I learned about this place from a comment made by the Park's superintendent while we were both volunteering to pick-up trash.  Why?  Well, the old highway parallels the new one on the section of road we were cleaning.  He talked about how the old road wound its way inside and out of the current Park's perimeter and that an abandoned rest stop could be accessed from the parking lot for the Salt Basin Overlook Trail.  I knew exactly where this was.  I'd already hiked that trail during my first week.  So, on this overcast day, I headed to find this unique location, a place that is really "hidden in plain sight".  The old highway is being overtaken by desert growth ... but ...

 ... the yellow, center line is often quite visible.  I walked while humming "Follow the Yellow Brick Road".  There was a strong sense of yesteryear.  I couldn't help but remember my Grandpa Baker.  Traveling modern highways to western destinations was very much a part of his American Dream.  In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Grandpa would spend hours mapping out his summer vacations.  He took slides, carefully limiting the number so that his available film would last for the entire trip.  Although he was never in this area of western Texas, I'm sure he stopped at many, similar rest areas to enjoy the vista and to marvel at the road he had just traversed.

(Above:  The abandoned 1960s rest stop.)

This abandoned rest stop isn't actually inside Guadalupe Mountains National Park even though most of the mile up the old highway is.  I had to open a gate onto private property ... thus trespassing, even though I'm sure no one would otherwise know or care.  Yet, this means that someone actually owns this nostalgic place with fine crafted masonry walls and a gorgeous view over the salt basin.

Most of the timbers are now gone.  There are no picnic tables or lines in the parking area ... but ...

 ... the view is likely similar.  Certainly, travelers in the 1960s felt the same way I did when standing in the same place, looking out over the landscape and seeing the road they'd driven ... even if it was a different road than the one that brought me there.

The two roads aren't very far apart, and as I walked back down, I couldn't help but to notice the clouds clinging to El Capitan peak.  The early morning sun was slowly baking off the vapors.  The gentle breeze was pushing the clouds higher.

(Above:  The clouds lifting off of El Capitan.)

I stopped to watch the mass of clouds climb the cliff face.  This is one of the reasons I seek out art residencies.  In my normal, day-to-day life I rarely have time to watch clouds, see sunrises, notice the shifting position of the moon, marvel at the Milky Way, and observe so many other natural wonders.  A month in a National Park provides the opportunity to experience something from a life I didn't choose.. 

I live in a urban city that is 292' above sea level.  There are few stars at night and no rattlesnakes.  This month, I'm living in a remote, mountainous desert landscape, far from traffic, sitting at 5480' above sea level, and never really far from the wilds of a designated wilderness area.  This is truly a blessing.

(Above:  Roadside shrine along the side of the old highway ... and actually inside Guadalupe Mountains National Park.)

I was reminded of this blessing when I came upon a roadside shrine.  It was actually inside the Park. I don't know how old it is.  Could it have been constructed for someone who died in an accident on this stretch of road?  Maybe.  

There was seventy-six cents on the front rock ...

... and a weather-worn angel who seemed to be carrying scales of justice.  My background in Medieval and Renaissance Studies (concentrating on early Italian art) led me to think it was Archangel Michael who is often portrayed with scales, assisting on Judgment Day by weighing the souls of the faithful. This would be quite appropriate for a roadside shrine erected after a traffic accident. But, this angel looked much more feminine.  Perhaps she is Dike, the mythological Greek goddess of justice who is associated with the constellation Libra. 

It really doesn't matter.  Finding the shrine felt special ... in a beautiful, haunting way that blended seamlessly with the trip to the abandoned rest stop.  It made me think of the thousands of people from all parts of ancient to modern history who once came through these magnificent mountains.

By the time I returned to the parking lot, daylight was everywhere.  The clouds were off El Capitan and the weather was heating up.  The trip had already slipped into the past but its memory will remain with me.


Christine said...

Beautiful! What a payment for litter picking.....
Thank you for sharing, the photos and your text have touched my heart.

O'Quilts said...

Stunning photos. You have such a fine eye.
Brave you walking with rattlesnakes in the wilderness alone.
Very brave you xo

Catherine - Mixed Media Artist said...

That's an interesting observation of an "art residency" but you've right - you have no responsibilities that you would have at home, and being able to wander at will, if the area has the "seeds" to allow that. Adding to your mental memory when you chose to "create".

Thanks for sharing - it's given me an idea when our severe Delta Variant lockdown is down to a level where I could do a kind of art residency someplace else in NZ.