• Sage Webb

Place: Southern New Mexico to Tucson, Arizona; Book: Ellen Meloy’s The Anthropology of Turquoise

“The sky looks like a Georgia O’Keeffe painting,” I said to The Bosun, marking myself as Captain Obvious during our drive across the southern part of that painter’s adopted state of New Mexico.

From Van Horn (where we’d breakfasted on a mess of marvelous chilaquiles), we’d passed through El Paso and into the Land of Enchantment. I’d split my time between booking a few spots to camp in the RV once we picked it up and reading aloud Doc, the book I’d gotten at the Book Nook at the El Capitan Hotel in Van Horn the night before. And of course, absorbing the desert landscape. (Adventure planning takes time. The idea of wandering, and just coming upon nice places to camp and enjoy cool experiences, is neat in theory. But given the popularity of summer trips and the limits of things in the time of covid, vacancies and availability come in limited supply. For example, tours of Arizona’s Kartchner Caverns were booked up for weeks, according to a lady I talked to at the park. A campground in Carlsbad, New Mexico, had no vacancy.)

Outside the rental car’s window (we’d be turning it in and getting the RV tomorrow), a desert that reminded me of Ellen Meloy’s The Anthropology of Turquoise unrolled. Published in 2002, the book was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. Meloy’s writing of the West rings with this truth, this commitment, this ardor. The book isn’t a “page turner” (at least for me); it’s a love letter ... to places that wear an arid veil and save themselves for true suitors ... and really, to the human race ... may it be smart enough to treasure its treasure. A series of essays and vignettes, the book uses the theme of turquoise to take readers on a road trip linking motel swimming pools, an exploration of the “mating habits” of desert flora, a solo rafting trip through canyons where one may truly be left alone, and into a desert that hopes it can save some of itself from “progress.”

A piece of that desert swept along beside Interstate 10 as we pushed on toward Tucson. Mexico had sat on our left in El Paso; Deming gave us a view of the Luna County Detention Center; Lordsville brought to mind Billy the Kid (supposedly, he once washed dishes at a hotel there). And all the time, the desert smiled its mesquite-and-creosote smile beneath its torrid sun.

Mission San Xavier del Bac

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