Hola, mi Hermano!

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For a hundred miles along I-95, the weary traveler can keep up on the antics of “Pedro”, the mascot of South of the Border.

South of the Border is nothing more than a tourist trap, created to give families someplace to stop, stretch their legs and exercise their wallets along the road from Maine to Florida (or Florida to Maine, depending how you look at it!).

The half-mile stretch of road just off I-95, at the Northernmost exit in South Carolina – just South of the North Carolina/South Carolina border – is lined with multi-colored Pedros, such as the one in this picture. From this angle, I like to think that the red-hatted little Pedro is looking up to his big brother, Pedro, thinking that someday, he will be able to follow in his brother’s sombrero, and hold the sign that welcomes pilgrims to the holy land of chatchki, funky hats, kooky mugs, and lousy t-shirts.

As trite as it may sound, there is one truth of South of the Border – you truly never sausage a place!

El Sanctuario de Chimayo

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Between Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, lies El Sanctuario de Chimayo. It is considered the Lourdes of America.

I mentioned in my last blog post that the desert is amazing. It is also very powerful. I don’t know if it’s the expanse of land between people, the calming silence, the tough way of life, or what, but there is something mystical about Southwest America.

El Sanctuario was built in the early 1800s, and is located in the middle of nowhere. People regularly make pilgrimages there, hiking the miles of New Mexico asphalt in search of something greater than themselves.

When they get to El Sanctuario, they are greeted by a calming statue of the virgin Mary, the sound of a nearby moseying river, and fences bearing rosaries of past visitors. It is said that the church has healing powers – there are walls covered in pictures of those who have been healed during their visit to El Sanctuario.

There are actually two churches on the grounds: the children’s church, which is decorated with bright, engaging colors, and the sanctuary itself. There are no pictures allowed in the sanctuary, but when you walk in and see the “Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas” (the crucifix around which the chapel is built), you are hit by a deep feeling that I can only explain as “something otherness”.

To the left of the altar is a small room, lined with more pictures of “the healed”, as well as crutches and canes that are no longer needed. This is the room of holy dirt.

The legend of El Sanctuario says that the hole dug at one end of the room is where the Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas was found. It is the dirt here that is said to contain miraculous healing powers.

Whether the legend is true or real, I honestly don’t know. I do have a little bag of dirt that I retrieved from that hole, though, and when I recall our visit, I am comforted by warm, calming memories.

Sunrise at Red Rock Canyon

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The desert is an amazing place. We moved to Las Vegas, Nevada in May, 2013, and stayed there for two years. The time we spent there was a dichotomy between a miserable lack of social interaction and euphoric desert beauty.

On a few occasions, we cruised out to Red Rock Canyon to watch the sunrise. Red Rock Canyon is a national conservation area located on the Western outskirts of Las Vegas. The mountains tower above the park, and if you are not familiar with desert mountains, the views can be breathtaking.

Getting to the park for the sunrise can be crazy – we would often leave later than we had planned, meaning we’d have to race to get there in time. No big deal, right? Well, state road 160 typically has no lights, and few other drivers on the road at the time, which would make the 20 minute drive a little creepy. And then of course, there’s the danger of native burros!

We often saw signs warning us not to feed the wild burros, and we laughed – really? WILD BURROS?? We NEVER saw one. Until we did. One morning on our way home from watching the sunrise, we saw three of them. And knowing they really did exist made the pre-dawn race to Red Rock a little more treacherous!

The park opened at 6am. Because Las Vegas is the Easternmost city on Pacific time, it meant that the sun rose earlier there. And even if we got to the park at 6am, it would take another 15-20 minutes to get to the valley view scenic overlook.

Once we got there, though, the view was amazing, as this photo shows. As with every photo, it does nothing to represent the true beauty. There was an orange color in the sky over the horizon that I had never seen before, and I burned through about 10 pictures before I realized that the camera would never get it right.

In this photo, the camera is looking East over the Las Vegas valley. The bright set of lights just left of center is the South Point Casino. If you could look around the shadow of rocks on the left side of the photo, you would see the Las Vegas Strip, and even further left from that is Downtown Las Vegas (aka Fremont Street). The white lights at the bottom of the picture are actually other cars driving through the park.

We would spend an hour or two watching the sun rise in perfect calm and silence. It was a bit of magic that you wouldn’t expect outside of the buzz and bustle of the Las Vegas Strip!