“I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude,” Henry David Thoreau
“Solitude never hurt anyone. Emily Dickinson lived alone, and she wrote some of the most beautiful poetry the world has ever known. . . then went crazy as a loon.” spoken by Lisa Simpson on The Simpsons (Matt Groening)
MY SOUTHWEST SOLITUDE ROAD TRIP 2015: An Overview
In April, I traveled a total of 3,870 miles on a two-week road trip into the Southwest. I knew what cities I would stay in for a few days each time and had some key attractions I wanted to visit. But most of the trip was going to be simply wandering Arizona and New Mexico, enjoying the scenery and history of the area. I even traveled a bit on an old stretch of historic Highway 66. I had a wonderful time.
Petrified Forest National Park
I travel alone on these trips—and typically someone will ask, “Why?” Speculation is often that I would be lonely. But that is never the case! Solitude is not loneliness—and I love the peace and quiet of the back roads I tend to travel. On those roads, it is easier to pull over and stop to watch some clouds drift by, appreciate some wildflowers, listen to some birds, even see some animals I wouldn’t otherwise notice. Even without such wonders, the wide open spaces can be relaxing. How can that be lonely?
Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly
My overall game plan was to stay a few nights in Flagstaff, Arizona; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Gallup, New Mexico, taking day trips from those locations. In part, I just wanted to immerse myself in the area geography, driving the backroads and visiting the small cities that are an integral part of the Tony Hillerman novels I enjoy. I also knew I wanted to visit Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, and Four Corners. Other trips would be decided each day, from a list of possibilities I had generated. I was also open to just following signs and seeing what I could see.
Some Views from Monument Valley:
El Malpais National Monument
Eventually, I will share photos of some of the major stops I made on this two-week adventure. But many of the memories are the smaller moments of each day, some that could not even be captured with a photo. For example, every morning as I left the Gallup hotel, there was a little sparrow in the tree by where I parked who sang good morning loud and clear. But he was shy and never, ever let me capture his photo. In fact, many birds and even some small animals kept me company along the road, but rarely let me take their pictures. It is always a fun little game to try to catch them on film.
Some of these smaller memories I was able to preserve in photographs.
The promise of rain was a constant companion. I was only ever really caught in a storm a couple of times, but the clouds were gorgeous almost every day. One day, it even snowed on me in Santa Fe. How cool is that?
Lilacs in a Back Yard in Gallup
Flowers were also plentiful. They always brighten any day! Some flowers were in the cities, like some gorgeous lilac bushes that made me think of my mom. One stretch near Shiprock, Aizona, offered miles and miles of wildflowers lining the road. Other times, wildflowers offered isolated splashes of color and beauty.
False Red Yucca (Hesperaloe), Las Vegas
False Red Yucca Close Up
Some views around Shiprock, Arizona, mostly Desert Mallow:
Canyon de Chelly Roadside
Along the Verde River
Small Cactus Holding On Near Sedona
Taking Root in Monument Valley
Yucca in Bloom, Monument Valley
Yucca Bloom Up Close
Growing Out of Lava, Sunset Crater National Park
Some Flowers in Petrified Forest National Park:
Indian Paintbrush Close Up
Common Name is Wild Apache Rose (I think)
Apache Rose Close Up
Shiprock National Monument in the Background
A few animals also cooperated as I traveled along, letting me catch them on film. Horses wandered along the road at several locations. Prairie Dogs were chittering alarms as I bounced along a gravel road traversing Valles Caldera National Preserve. Most scampered away, but eventually a few sentries came back to their posts. I also shared shade with a little bunny on a break at the El Malpais National Conservation Area.
Prairie Dog, Valles Caldera National Preserve
Near Canyon de Chelly
At one spot some sheep were literally running along the side of the road. A ram was trailing behind, trying desperately—it seemed to me—to get back to the front of his little flock. That’s one of the hardest things about being a good leader—you need good followers!
This little trip confirmed for me that Nature and Solitude are great traveling companions!
Canyon de Chelly Rim Drive
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THOUGHTS ABOUT NATURE & SOLITUDE
“I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving he can outwit nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.” E. B. White
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.” Anne Frank
“If I were to name the three most precious resources of life, I should say books, friends, and nature; and the greatest of these, at least the most constant and always at hand, is nature.” John Burroughs
“What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.” Albert Einstein
“Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” Paul Tillich
“We live in a very tense society. We are pulled apart. . . . and we all need to learn how to pull ourselves together. . . . I think that at least part of the answer lies in solitude.” Helen Hayes
“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.” Lorraine Hansberry
“What a commentary on civilization, when being alone is being suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it—like a secret vice.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” John Muir
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Henry David Thoreau