Maybe incongruities in daily life give rise to neurotic tendencies. A woman must earn a living but doesn’t like her job; a man loves his children but fears responsibility. Or this one: people want time alone but don’t leave their cities or suburbs.
Good places to be alone are in the America west, and a good way to get there is in a car. On my first trip west in 1969, I remember riding across western Nebraska and thinking, “Wow, this is really open country.” Then there was central Wyoming and eastern Oregon, both yet more desolate. The feeling of isolation was almost palpable.
In the early 1980s I traveled with my family, including Christian, our exchange student, to west Texas. We traveled through Houston, then close to the Rio Grande to Big Bend National Park. Again, that country was dry, open and undeveloped.
Oil and Gas
On my current trip, I came across Texas a little north of our earlier route, on US-84 and I-20 to Pecos, then north on US-285 to southeastern New Mexico. To my surprise, much of the region is occupied with oil and gas development. Mile after mile of wells, pipes, trucks, equipment storage sites and natural gas flares occupy western Texas and southeastern New Mexico.
The people in this oil region are mostly workers who stand apart in significant ways from much of the America I know. Many, mostly men, are working away from home. They drive dirty trucks, wear dirty clothes and stay in dirty motels. Their trucks are full of hoses, big wrenches and hammers, electric motors, tubing, 50-gallon drums. Cleanliness along with all the other refinements of post industrial life, seem trivial. What matters here is bringing oil and gas to America.
I was pleased to see these men in Texas; and grateful for their work away from homes and families. They seemed purposeful.
The Carlsbad Caverns National Park is in the Guadalupe Mountains which lie west of the oil and gas development. The caves formed in an unusual way: hydrogen sulfide from the oil and gas deposits in the area combined with various microbes and oxygen to form sulfuric acid that dissolved the limestone, and as the Guadalupe Mountains gradually rose, ever new layers of rock immersed in this acid bath.
Carlsbad Cavern, the main cave, is open to the public and consists of a collection of large underground rooms filled with spectacular rock formations. Read more about the park at the Park Service website. I’ve included a couple of pictures below.
I was fortunate to visit the Park during a rare winter event: a couple of days of freezing rain, snow, fog and wind combined to create an icy wonderland in the park. Again, a few pictures follow.
After leaving Carlsbad, I drove north and stayed at Roswell, NM, which seems to be about the northern end of the energy development. North of Roswell is space, or rangeland, that gives so much of he west its identity. The ranches include fences, occasional private roads, and some cattle. Only a few ranches can be seen from the highway, and I suspect more of the homes and barns lie behind the horizons seen from the highway.
I drove about 100 miles to Vaughn, which is a poor, declining town with little apparent economic base. It’s population couldn’t be more than a few hundred people. From Roswell north to I-25 there is very little beside rangeland.
Now I’m writing from a small room in Our Lady of Guadalupe Abby in Pecos, NM. The monks are in the Congregation of Our Lady of Monte Oliveto within the Benedictine Order. There only a few monks living here, along with a few more in various stages of formation.
I had planned to visit Christ in the Desert Monastery in northern New Mexico, but snow made it unreachable.
The Abbey in Pecos has maybe five or six other retreatants here now. Some are leaving tomorrow, and others are coming. I’ve had three meals here now, and the food is good. The monks eat separately in silence.
I’ve also participated in three liturgy sessions, and I’m seeing the sense of peace and unity that I wanted. An economy of oil and gas, spectacular natural attractions, open space and sacred space, each one after another, all in their singularity. No clutter, no confusion.
I’ll write again before arriving home, but for the next three days, I’m concentrating on private activities. (Click on the first photo to enter the gallery, then press “esc” to exit.)