As someone who has lived in the Northeast and South Florida, New Mexico showed me a part of the heartbeat of this beautifully diverse country that previously seemed out of reach. It was not strange to me, but illusory, like I could only read about it. When I saw pictures of the New Mexican and Arizonian landscapes, heard about the climate, or encountered details about Southwestern architecture and decor, it seemed hard to comprehend or imagine living a life surrounded by those things. How is that life different? Why do the buildings look that way? What’s the pace of life there?
I had never been to a place like New Mexico before, a place where the heat didn’t sink in so far that it steamed from the ground at night. Instead, the Southwestern heat bounced around during the day and surrendered to cold at night. I’d never been to a place where salsa was on every menu.
A random scroll through my Google Photos from that trip has landed me on a photo of the exit to To’hajilee, a spot that seems appropriate for a starting point.
To’hajilee is a Native American reservation that is part of Navajo Nation but isn’t contiguous with it. It’s also the site of one of the most important moments in Breaking Bad, where Hank makes his final decision (y’all know what I’m talking about–wave that dark cloud of sadness away; it’s just a TV show!). It’s also a place I didn’t stop to admire.
Those three characteristics of To’hajilee represent three themes I tend to think of and feel as I look back at my memories of my travels through New Mexico and the American Southwest–and they also represent a lot of themes of travel in general.
While a lot of the Southwest is certainly quintessential Americana, a lot of it feels like it is its own separate pocket of the world. Like you can’t get an experience quite like that anywhere else.
And To’hajilee’s infamy due to a television show distracts sightseers from its larger place in history and modern life, but conversely, it puts it on the map and calls attention to it.
Lastly, it’s one of many places that is easy to pass by even though it is rife with meaning and importance. That’s something I feel when I travel–something that I think people don’t often talk about–the stress of not feeling like you can fully experience everything you want to when you go somewhere new.
This post was originally started so I could talk about the Balloon Festival, the food, Taos, and a few other things, but instead I think it’s a comment on traveling in general. While one place or event may draw a person to an area, sometimes it’s the experiences we don’t intend to have–however fleeting or incomplete–that create opportunities for us to learn, understand, and grow.