Sunday, June 26
Oklahoma soon blends into the Texas panhandle, and for the first time we begin to see wind farms, one after the other, containing thousands of giant, white propellers, all standing at attention and gently moving as if they were part of one vast orchestra. So far we have not seen one oil well, a sign, perhaps, of the future and our survival as a species.
Yesterday for lunch we stopped at the Mid Point Café, a tiny restaurant located in Adrian, Texas, a speck of a town with handful of desolate houses situated on the original Route 66 halfway between Chicago and LA and recommended by Susan, Ashley’s wife. She was raised on a ranch herself near Lubbock, about 40 miles south of Adrian and described the Mid Point as a rare gem. It was. Tastefully decorated with Route 66 memorabilia, it had about 20 tables and booths, about a third full of tourists and locals when we arrived–which was late for lunch, around 1:30. The 50-something owner greeted us warmly and noted that if we had arrived 30 minutes earlier, we would not have found an open table.
After we finished off a “Famous Mid Point Burger” and a chicken salad sandwich, he wandered over and asked where we were from. When we said DC, he asked where in DC, smiling and casually mentioning that he was born there and raised in the Maryland suburbs. If that was not enough coincidence, his primary home now is in Spring Hill, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville. During the next 30 minutes we pretty much got his life history. He was a landfill, sanitary engineer for years, working mainly in Maryland, got burned out, had serious health issues, drove by the Mid Point café on vacation five years ago and bought the restaurant the next year, having zero restaurant experience. He lives behind the restaurant in a mobile home and is assisted by his 20-something daughter (along with four others), who now lives in Amarillo. His wife visits occasionally, and he closes the restaurant from November through March, returning to Nashville. Not an easy life, but he has managed for four years and says he feels liberated from the East Coast rat race.
On Sunday we leave Santa Rosa, New Mexico, where we spent the night in a small Best Western motel, to head to the Albuquerque Airport to meet our grandson, Jasper. New Mexico is everything you would expect it to be—wide open spaces, high desert, multi-colored mesas, and purple mountains in the distance. Just before we crossed over the NM border, we checked my iphone app to see the elevation, which it turned out was over 4,000 feet. I could not believe it! I could not recall any ascent. It must have been a steady, gradual, uphill drive beginning in Oklahoma.
The rendezvous with our 11-year-old grandson worked out but was not without glitches. Embry waited in the car while I went to get a escort pass so I could get through security to meet Jasper, which I would have done except the Southwest attendant gave me a pass with Embry’s name on it, which I did not realize at the time, and which naturally kicked me out of the security line after I had been waiting for 20 minutes. Starting over, I hobbled back to the SW counter on my bum knee (strained ligament, about a month ago), and repeated the process, unsuccessfully pleading with an officer to let me through the shorter “TSA-Approved” line. (His response: “Are you kidding me?”). After finally passing security, I charged to Gate A-8, gasping for breath just as Jasper was coming out of gate. Hey, no problem, I thought, as Jasper gave me a hug.
The 100-mile drive to Ghost Ranch took just over two hours. Dark skies and thunderstorms followed us on both sides, but blue sky was directly overhead as we marveled at the beauty of the high plain—the subtle shades of green, olive, tan, red and gray mesas and purple mountains on both sides.
It was so great to be with our grandson, whose first comment was, “I am so excited to be here!”
We turned into the dusty road (Mile 2,330) leading to Ghost Ranch at six o’clock, just barely in time to check in and catch the end of the dinner line.
Ghost Ranch is a retreat center owned and managed by the Presbyterian Church, located about 50 miles northwest of Santa Fe. We are booked for family camp, which involves probably around 100 or so families, many multi generational, and many who come year after year. (There is also a youth camp underway.) The retreat center is situated on a 33-square mile parcel, about the same size as Arlington, Virginia. It was previously a dude ranch and sold to the Presbyterians for $1.00 in the 1950s. It is another one of those spiritual vortexes like Montreat (NC), the Pocono Lake Preserve (PA), Beersheba (TN), maybe Sedona, and (for me anyway) the island of Anageda in the British Virgin Islands. By spiritual vortex, I mean a spirit that is tangible when you enter the place, not necessarily a religious sponsorship. All I know is that if Marriott or Hyatt owned this place it would be very different. The houses and buildings are adobe and blend in with the colors of the towering mesas, which surround the camp center. Everything is understated and modest. Besides the housing, there are several camp grounds, a large dining pavilion, the Agape Center (a lecture hall/church building), library, welcome center, paleontological museum, rope and wall climbing area, stables, several athletic fields, and buildings for meetings and hanging out. People are relaxed, friendly and move slowly. You know immediately that this is no Hyatt or Marriott.
Jasper finishes his dinner early and charges out of the dining pavilion to join kids his age kicking soccer balls , tossing Frisbees, and horsing around.
Dinner is over and we walk with everyone else to the Agape Center where an orientation will occur. The orientation starts off with two guitarists wearing cowboy hats, accompanied by a drummer singing lively Christian folk songs and hymns. Most people seem to know the words and sing along enthusiastically. A woman in her 40s introduces herself as the chaplain, says a couple of heart-felt prayers about the beauty of the place and its holiness and then talks about the week ahead. She asks people to standup depending on how many years they have been coming here. About twenty percent are first timers and the rest spread out with some coming here for more than 50 years. It is very different from the solemn, Episcopal high church service we are used to, and as Embry pointed out, is a whole lot more fun. I was pleased that no theology or hard core doctrine was part of the service. I would call it a non denominational, “Christian-lite” service–and genuine, though not what we are used to.
After the orientation we talked with a couple who was from the area who said they were a bit put off because their background was Islam and Native American. They were expecting an orientation but not a religious service. I wasn’t either and could see where they were coming from but thought the service could have been a whole lot worse.
After the service while the grownups were getting more camp information, Jasper ran off to join a group of kids engaged in more games. We all turned in around nine—eleven pm East Coast time (for Jasper).
This could turn out to be a pretty good week—and certainly a welcome respite from driving six or seven hours a day.