But WAIT! The road to El Paso is lined with all sorts of tourist destinations! Like the city of Hatch, NM...Chile Capital of the World!
And the New Mexico Spaceport
As we were pulling out of town, I asked Neal if we could make one stop at Celestial Creations (the only boutique to make the TripAdvisor shopping list). Of course it had been closed the day before. It was on the way out of town and open, so we stopped in. Celeste, the owner (get it..."Celest"ial Creations. Clever they are in New Mexico), explained that her inventory was from almost all local artists...many of the pieces were only available in her store. She had the jewelry, too...over 700 pieces! And some completely amazing artwork, as well. Unfortunately, southwest decor is a look and not one that we have adopted in any of our homes. We lean toward eastern-seaboard-beach-chic with a touch of French coffeehouse. Think shells and tan and lots of blue-gray. Basically, every time Lisa posts something that she has created, I want to own 10 of it. So, we politely let ourselves out without cracking the Coach open, and headed south. And Neal couldn't have been happier. We had skipped breakfast so that we would be appropriately famished for Sparky's in Hatch. Neal is Mr. Crankyshorts when he gets hungry.
Sparky's is, evidently, an institution. Even as we finished our fries, a couple was coming in from T or C, just for lunch.
They are also famous for their BBQ, though. And that's what Neal chose for his mid-day gorging.
The decor is funky and eclectic...
This is what Neal looks like when he's hungry...
We came, we saw, we ate until our eyes rolled back into our collective heads and then pondered a mango-green chile milkshake. And then thought better of it. And then I played "Frogger" across 4 lanes of traffic so that I could fit both Uncle Sam and Neal into a picture. You wouldn't think of that as a monumental task and yet...
Hatch definitely has a thing for monumental men. This RV salesman looms just down the street.
Once we were on the road again, Neal agreed to stop at the New Mexico Spaceport because, honestly, it is probably the closest we will ever come to space travel. So, we took the exit and hung a left and drove about 1/4 a mile before coming to this:
No Spaceport for us and no more stops until we hit El Paso (trust me, I was burning up that "what is near me now" search button on TripAdvisor. It kept coming back with "there is nothing near you now." Thanks, Sherlock.) If we trucked on, we would hit El Paso around 1 and Neal didn't have to report back until 2000. 7 hours to kill. S-E-V-E-N. What do you do in El Paso for 7 hours??
We photographed Mexico.
We went to the Saddleblanket Company because they got rave reviews and also I had decided that I simply could not leave New Mexico without a sombrero.
But WAIT! You say you would rather be buried in something a little more primal? They got that, too.
I eventually decided against a sombrero. Apparently, I have a big head. And those things are not at all flexible. Not like my Savannah floppy hats. I was afraid Delta would make me check it and I had no interest in buying a Halloween hat, only to pay $23 to get it home.
But fret not, I did get something in our last hours together. We had to run into Military Clothing & Sales at Bliss to buy another bag so I could avoid the heavy bag fee (I was heavy coming out and if you add the bottles of wine plus fleece blanket..well..new math tells me I was going to be heavy returning, too).
Neal got a camo duffle and I got these:
We now had 4 hours to kill so we drove up and down a street in El Paso, looking for a gelato cafe that had, seemingly, been replaced by a hair salon. So, we stopped at Baskin-Robbins for Neal's last pre-flight ice cream. That knocked off 20 minutes. Then I got a driving tour around Ft. Bliss.
The last few hours before reporting back are always strained. You don't want to argue, but you don't want to make undying professions of love, either, because once one starts crying, the other is not far behind. You want to enjoy every minute without mentally tagging it as "this is our last hug/kiss/hand hold/joke/smile for 6/7/8/9/10 months." You try to memorize how it feels to be together so that you can draw on that in the empty nights ahead. But what you find is that as soon as you pull out onto the highway, you're losing the memory, the feeling, the warmth. And now it's just you and all of the days that lay ahead. You think about seeing him just one more time. You almost turn around. But there will come a time when there are no more one more times. So, better to just make it now. And then it never fails..."your song" comes on the radio. It happens every. single. time. And I'm secretly glad that McGregor is something of a hike back to Bliss. I will need that time to re-compose.
There was the very real possibility that the 352 wasn't going to get this 4-day pass. And now, I can't imagine not having it. If you're listening DoD, we need this time to take one more long drink of each other before heading into the desert. We send our husbands/wives/children/siblings packing to fight a war that feels like it is going to last forever. And we do it over and over and over again. The least you can do is give us 72 hours of bliss.