I watched my wife disappearing around a boulder on the trail as I followed, thinking and worrying about coyotes, mountain lions and rattlesnakes.
A few seconds later, she came hurrying back down the same rocky path. She wasn’t going any farther. Nope. Nope. Nope.
Not with Godzilla blocking the trail.
We were in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’d gone for a conference, and she climbed into my suitcase as a stowaway. (Not really. We bought her a ticket.) While there, we’d watched Sandia Peak from our view in the city. Once the conference ended, Susie said she wanted to see how high up we could drive and check out the view.
So we went, just before dark. It was steep. I had to Fred Flintstone our little rental car most of the way up, with neither of us knowing how far we’d get. Once the dirt road ran out, she decided to find a trail.
She did. A perfect trail — for a mountain goat. Sucker wasn’t more than a couple of feet wide, and the drop-off on the right went straight down into a patch of cactus and large rocks. A small fall would equal a large splatter. There wasn’t much light, we were in strange territory and I knew there were night creatures out looking for a late dinner.
But Susie was determined to watch the sunset from as close to the top of the peak as she could get. So we climbed … and climbed … and climbed …
… until she ran smack into Godzilla.
A herpetologist would probably tell me it was just a lizard native to the area. Bull puckey. Sucker was at least 10 — no, 12 — feet long. Maybe not. Maybe he was actually about a foot long, but hey, Godzilla wasn’t born big, either.
And the dude had blue feet! Probably from all the flames he’d blown at hikers.
There he lay, right in the middle of the narrow path. We left him alone. After all, we were in his house.
We’d never have met him if we’d stayed in the car.
And we still managed to catch a sunset over the city from high up the trail. It was definitely worth the hike.
The next day, we headed up the road to Santa Fe. On a tip from my buddy Jeff Pownall, we didn’t take the interstate. Instead, we drove a different route winding through the desert and through some mountain passes. We saw some old missions, rock formations and even drove through an art community. The streets were lined with painting and sculptures. Susie got pictures of a rainbow over a mountain range.
It took us forever to reach our destination, only because we stopped, got out and walked around looking at everything. And I do mean everything. We saw more critters, and we climbed more rocks. We prowled some canyons. We met Godzilla’s cousin stalking us in the brush, and we watched plenty of other wildlife all around us.
All because we decided to wear out some tread on our hiking shoes.
Just this summer, we made another long road trip, this time to my hometown in East Tennessee. Back when I was a kid, I’d never have used the word “hike” to describe what I was doing. I was playing, whether it was in the creek near our house or on the mountain behind it. I guess kids play, and old people hike.
I couldn’t wait for my wife to see it all. Once again, we bailed from our vehicle and beat feet all around. We waded “my” creek. I climbed — or started climbing; I forgot I’m old now — my mountain in the very same spot I used as a launching pad as a 12-year old Davy Crockett wannabe.
From there, we drove to Spivey Mountain so she could see the biggest waterfall in the area. Another hike, this time down a long gravel road and then over the rocks leading to the site. Susie shot pictures of the local vegetation while I pretended I was a kid again, climbing the formations to get closer to the cascade. I got close enough to feel the spray and watch the foam dancing its way down to the pool below. I watched the trout gathering and wished I still had my fishing pole.
I’ve been taking road trips to somewhere for most of my life. Different states, different countries. Woods, mountains, deserts — I found beauty everywhere, especially when I put my feet to work. Sure, driving past scenery is great, but to get an even better perspective, put the vehicle in park and get out for a walk. You’ll see things you’d miss otherwise. You’ll get the full experience of wherever you are. You’ll have the best photos to go with the greatest stories and memories. You’ll come away feeling as if you know more about what you’ve seen than if you’d only viewed it through a windshield.
Not to mention, you’ll never meet Godzilla while sitting in the car.