Photographer & Author: Francesco Stumpo
Camera: Nikon D3100 
Film: N/A
Processed: Photoshop CS6, Lightroom and VSCO.

Date: June 6th, 2018

Photo Essay:
New Mexico Solo Road Trip

Exploring the high deserts between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and its surrounding preservations of Cibola National Forest, Jemez Mountains and Bandelier National Monument, NM.

Planning a solo road trip is always a challenging adventure. As you have freed yourself from third party opinions, and with not many unforeseen obstacles ahead, you are truly off on an adventure on your own. While other challenges do come along, like will there be anyone around after sunset? How much spare cash to get in case I lock myself out of the car? and how many books am I planning on carrying through the wilderness? With only a few solo adventures under my belt, I have quickly learned to sort of ignore some of these initial fears, and put my best foot forward into the unknown. Like how much difference would it be to travel by yourself, than with others? Quite a bit, if we are honest, but I always assure myself that when it comes down to it, you oughta be your best companion.

Moving on to the landscape, I would describe New Mexico truly lives up to it’s plaque-motto-slogan of “Land of Enchainment”. Between the ever changing light, the wind and the vastness of it all, the environment certainly brings an awareness into the smallness and bigness of the whole experience while witnessing this coast-less state. As you continue to move through the area, you are reminded on how far apart are all the changing landscapes, where we come from with the ancient civilizations and monuments a few steps away from main roads, and ultimately where we are heading with new developments in between major booming towns like the long-standing Santa Fe outpost and the recent revival of Albuquerque’s downtown.

Since learning about initial indigenous settlements, and the Mexican-American war and acquisitions in college, I have always been eager to make it to Santa Fe. One of the facts that fascinated me the most is that it was founded by Spanish colonists in 1610, it remains the oldest city in the states and the oldest state capital city in the United States. While there make sure to visit one of Santa Fe’s proudest achievements, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. Dedicated to the artist’s life and achievement, american modernism and the high desert, the institution and it’s collection hosts the largest permanent collection of O'Keeffe's work in the world. Afterwards make sure to have  the time to stop by Old Canyon Road and check the inconsistent array of galleries and open studios, while stopping to taste some local shops and coffee.

One of my favorite drives was into the Jemez Mountains, going upwards in altitude and vegetation, while seeing the rear window change from open desert to closed canopies. I would only compare it to the experience of going through I-70 from Kansas all the way to the top of the Rockies and beyond. While up in Jemez, the local hot springs where rich, as such the strangers and dwellers of the small towns scattered through the altitudes. Campsites were delightful and full of surprises, and reminds of Pacific Northwest and Northeast landscapes.

In the end, the time at Bandelier National Monument stands out the most. Having a similar deja-vu moment of my first visit of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, it was fascinating to reach the monument from the upper most elevation to then witness the depression of the valley. Campsites, parking spots and the personnel were so informative that by the time I got to the area I had learned all the facts I need, had it researched it before.

When traveling, I try to restrain myself from looking up everything and anything, as I like to foster the element of surprise and spontaneity in the choices we take. Either it be myself of with others, I attempt to be informed enough to know where I’m going to be and the weather conditions ahead, but always with some internal perspicacity to keep things authentic, and truly, memorable while exploring landscapes on my own.

4 tips:
  1. Camp for a low cost outside of Albuquerque or Santa Fe, look for the National Forests
  2. Head to the hot springs in the high mountains
  3. Read about Georgia O'Keeffe prior to your travel
  4. Check the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta l in October

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