Side of the Road: Chihuahua Desert

I’ve decided to add a new category of post: Side of the Road. These posts will be for those micro-adventures that can often be found right off the beaten path; the interesting structure or a trail you hadn’t noticed before, a sign that points you down a road you would normally bypass. We wanderlusts like to find adventure where ever we can, and when we can’t afford to drive or fly somewhere, we find things to explore right down the road.

Of course, this Side of the Road is a pretty epic one, but there has to be some kind of catalyst for spawning a new category of post.

A couple of my friends and I were attended a conference in Austin, Texas and took a few vacation days after to do some hiking in Texas. We hiked Guadalupe Peak, El Capitan and Devil’s Hall in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. While driving west on route 180 just after the Guadalupe Mountains we crossed the the Chihuahua Desert. We pulled over to the side of the road so we could check out the salt flats and nab some photos of ourselves in the desert. The salt flats are all that remains of a giant lake that once stood at the same location 1.8 billion years ago, it it was definitely worth a stopping to check it out.

Me in the Chihuahua salt flats

Me in the Chihuahua salt flats, Guadalupe Peak and El Capitan in the background

Surprisingly, the flats were mud just under the salt crust and we had to walk gingerly as to not slip. We were just starting to head back to the highway, a few hundred feet away, when we heard the sound of an airplane approaching. I looked to the east and saw a single prop plane that appeared to be coming in for a landing directly at me. I ran to catch up with the others and get out of the plane’s path. When I felt I was a safe distance away I pulled out my phone and caught some video of the plane. Rather than land, it pulled up as it passed us, not 20 feet above the desert, and dipped its wing. I didn’t catch it, but apparently the pilot was smiling and flashing the peace sign as he passed.

video-icon Video of plane

We assumed that the highway was patrolled by police in airplanes and upon seeing us out in the desert they flew close to investigate. My heartbeat raced for a few minutes afterward, but in all it was a fun experience. When I got back to Maine, 22 hours later, I still had mud and salt stuck to my shoes and the cuffs of my pants. I made sure to scrape some off into my yard.

Water, water, water… There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount…
—Edward Abbey

El Paso Salt War.” National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Web. 19 April 2014.

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