Lavinia M. Hughes                           Word Count: 1,766



775 East Falmouth Highway

East Falmouth, MA 02536



By Lavinia M. Hughes

    It felt so good to get off the plane after the 6-hour flight from Boston.  That bumpy approach to the Albuquerque airport as it neared the circle of mountains was unsettling as the passengers started to whine fearfully. When a child onboard started merrily laughing, perhaps thinking it all an amusement ride, the passengers laughed, too, and seemed to relax amid the turbulence. The landing was smooth by comparison to the tense minutes before.

Stretching her arms in front of her, Ryleigh walked through the passenger boarding bridge into the terminal with her husband Howard. The beauty of the airport terminal in Albuquerque, New Mexico, surprised her, being used to the concrete bunker sans artwork in Boston’s Logan Airport as well as other featureless airports through which she’d passed. She was used to New England colors—gray, white, and forest green. Many New England houses were painted gray. The sky was often an overcast gray or even white. There was a massive amount of forest and the Atlantic Ocean was an angry green.

It was a welcome change to see the colors of New Mexico reflected in the pale aqua signs with rose and sage for contrast. Heavy wooden beams graced the ceiling and turquoise Mexican and Native American designs were stenciled onto the pale mahogany beams.

    They quickly got their luggage and went to the car rental counter. Driving from the airport to their hotel turned out to be not a 2-hour slog through bumper-to-bumper traffic like they were used to, but only a half-hour pleasant drive with a view of the Sandia Mountains.

They settled in and called their friends from New England to arrange dinner out for the next day. The husband had worked in Providence, Rhode Island, but got laid off, so he and his wife decided to look for a new job far away and make an adventure out of it. He found a management job in Albuquerque and they bought a house. Ryleigh and Howard were impressed with the tour of the house. It was modern, had four bedrooms, 3 baths, soaring ceilings, a swimming pool in the back, and a view of Sandia Crest, the highest mountain in Albuquerque. Certainly a contrast to Ryleigh and Howard’s 100-year old house with the sagging porch and nasty kitchen.

They were treated to dinner and enjoyed Mexican food where they were offered the ubiquitous choice of red or green sauce. A Mariachi band, complete with The Three Amigos costumes, played in the corner of the restaurant amid a festive atmosphere. After dinner, the Rhode Island friends suggested a trip to the top of Sandia Crest via the tramway.

Ryleigh and Howard had made the trip driving up the Sandia Crest Byway the day before.  Ryleigh marveled that they had gone somewhat quickly from about a 4,400-foot elevation in Albuquerque to the 10,678-foot elevation at the top of Sandia Crest. Surprisingly, the road was well made and not scary. The view from the top was magnificent. However, having traveled from sea-level Boston, Massachusetts, that morning, there was a physical adjustment to the rise in elevation. Taking even one step up was difficult. Now they knew what they meant by the term “adjusting to high altitude”. They felt like they were elderly and they were only 32 years old. Colorado was visible from this height. They watched the base jumpers, wearing winged suits with parachutes attached, with awe. Ryleigh and Howard had never seen anything like that in the “flatlands” where they came from, as their neighboring state Vermont would term it.

So when their friends suggested another trip to the summit, they decided to go up again in the tramway. Heights always made Ryleigh nervous but she couldn’t back out after the hospitality shown by their friends. As they approached the tramway gondola, she noticed that it was manufactured in Switzerland. Having heard that the Swiss were meticulous about absolutely everything, she relaxed and forced herself to go forward. She held onto the railing and looked out as the gondola backed itself up along the mountain. It was just getting dark and the lights of downtown Albuquerque shone like little diamonds. Along the way, they passed the disturbing sight of a plane that had crashed into the mountain many years before. When they reached the summit and went into the bar for a drink, they were advised by the bartender that alcohol was much more potent at that altitude, so they should keep that in mind as they ordered.

The next day, the Boston couple decided to visit Madrid, New Mexico, an old mining town. Along the 1-hour drive from Albuquerque, they noticed that towns and villages were in clusters, with miles and miles of empty sagebrush in rose-hued soil. This desolate landscape looked like something out of a cowboy movie. And indeed, they found out later that cowboy movies were filmed there. They saw a roadrunner cross the road and joked that apparently they were real and not just cartoon characters. It went so fast they had just enough time to see what it was.

Madrid was a ghost town with a line of old, vacant, broken down houses as one entered town.  These gave way to a small downtown with a café complete with an old dog on the porch to greet people. They sat down to eat and an elderly Mexican woman came by with a tray of turquoise jewelry she was selling. There were all kinds of shops on the main street with artisanal products such as scarves from Peru, jewelry made by Native Americans, and metal art. So even though coal was no longer mined there, life still went on as it had turned into a tourist destination and haven for local artists.

The next day, they decided to travel to see The Billy the Kid Museums in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, about a 6-hour drive from Albuquerque. The houses were so different in New Mexico. Made of stucco, flat-roofed, close to their neighbors, with stucco walls between them, it was a completely different style than the wood frame, peaked roof, colonial houses on spacious lawns they were used to. There was no traffic on the way to Fort Sumner, so they felt comfortable in going well over the speed limit, sometimes reaching 85 mph (136 km), although they felt like they weren’t moving. There was just so much land with nothing on it except cows, which had been provided with giant round water troughs, about the size of a small hot tub. Mile after mile after mile with no people or houses, mesas in the distance in unusual shapes, was another world to experience for two “city kids”. They felt like two small specks in comparison to the big land and sky. A train with Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe painted on it roared by, giving the region the look of 100 years ago.

The couple was used to New England’s winding roads amid dense forest with foliage that sometimes grew over the road. Rarely could one see the horizon unless driving along the shore. New Mexico’s landscape was so vast and an optical illusion. You could see the endpoint of where you were going—buildings or a water tower or some other point of reference—even though it was miles away. But you kept driving and driving and never seemed to get any closer.   

They checked into a motel and the next morning, as they came outside, the sun was shining so brightly in the cloudless sky, it was blinding. Ryleigh suddenly understood why westerners wore cowboy hats with big brims. Rarely was a brimmed hat necessary in woodsy New England, just the occasional baseball cap while out on the boat. Wanting to see the legendary memorial to a gunfighter and outlaw, they visited two Billy The Kid museums.

Ryleigh and Howard were used to the Boston Science Museum, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the New York Metropolitan Museum with their fine art, expertly curated exhibits, a “don’t touch anything” policy enforced by the museum guards, and a high admissions price. As appreciative as they were, culturally, of their classic museums, they had to admit that the New Mexicans’ unsophisticated yard-sale method of just piling stuff on an open shelf and employing handmade signs was just as informative as it needed to be. One of the items thumbtacked to a wall was a witness’s apron that she wore during the final shootout between Billy The Kid and Pat Garrett.

After lunch at the café, they chatted up the server and asked her a few questions about all the cows they’d seen. Ryleigh and Howard had seen only a few dairy cows on their trips to Vermont. Dairy cows were fairly few in number compared to these New Mexican cows, and were rounded up and brought back to the barn every night. The server answered that they just stayed outside all the time until it was time to round them up and bring them to market. When they left the next morning, they saw just that. There were cowboys on horseback rounding up the cattle toward the cattle truck.

The server had also told them stories about how some people didn’t know New Mexico was a state, with customer service people saying they didn’t ship out of the country.

On the way back to Albuquerque, they decided to travel the iconic Route 66, that road of TV show fame. Enjoying the retro feel of the early 1960s, they stopped at a drive-in restaurant where the server delivered their food to the car on roller skates.

The sun almost always shone brightly in the Land of Enchantment, as the local New Mexicans cheerfully told them, the food was delicious, and the architecture was so cool. The landscape was how one imagined Mars would look like. They loved the breakfast cafe where, at 9:00 a.m. when most people would have to be at work, it was filled with police officers, various work- uniformed persons, and office workers—all having a leisurely breakfast and reading the newspaper. The toasters on the tables were fun. You could make your own toast however you liked it.

They wondered if they should move there. But driving past numerous gun and ammo shops was jarring to their liberal political views. They realized that this just wasn’t home. Plus their hash browns were weird and you couldn’t get a decent piece of fish within 2,000 miles. Time to go home.

# END #

September 17, 2020 15:53

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Wendy Cohen
23:23 Sep 24, 2020

As an East Coast person, having been to New Mexico several times, I appreciate the great job you did capturing the "oddities" of that part of our country, and the contrasts with the East Coast. It read a bit like a "travelogue" and perhaps could have used some type of rising action or a problem/solution to make it feel more like a story. It did leave me with a desire to go back and see more of New Mexico.


Lavinia Hughes
14:44 Sep 25, 2020

Yes, it felt like a travelogue even as I was writing it. But New Mexico was such a vastly different place than my woodsy New England, it was like a visit to another planet, which was story enough for me. Thank you for reading it!


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