Road Trip Southwest – a Tucson, AZ New Year’s Eve

I have been on a blogging hiatus for longer than I am proud of (a good month and a half). This holiday season was exponentially more hectic than usual, as it was my first holiday season while attending graduate school. Juggling 30-page final papers while trying to frantically find broke-girl-approved Christmas deals in NYC a week before zero hour was almost enough to send me into a tailspin. I may or may not have developed a stomach ulcer. Maybe I needed that extra happy hour…

Knowing that I had a road trip on the horizon was probably the only thing keeping me from  hiding under my kitchen table, grasping a bottle of Blue Moon and rocking back and forth in a tizzy. I always road trip with Katie, but this time I was going to have a rare opportunity to join my mother and little brother on one of their adventures (road adventures are a family trait). They planned to start in Tucson, AZ and end up in Santa Fe, NM (one of the highlights of my first big trip), so I grabbed a last minute plane ticket and whirled into Tucson a few days after they did.

DSCN1110I absolutely LOVE the southwest. It’s stunningly beautiful and there are endless road tripping endeavors to tackle—ghost towns, open roads into the horizon, mountain passes with less-than-adequate guard rails—and a lot of quirky towns and chances to clear your head. Life in NYC leaves me craving places like this more with every passing year. There’s so much open air out here and a calming silence that echoes in your bones.

DSCN1113I arrived in Tucson on New Year’s Eve, which meant that I would unfortunately be missing out on spending the night with Katie 😦 We knew it would be a low-key evening, so we didn’t waste any time exploring the area as soon as my feet hit the desert dirt. Mom loves ghost towns almost as much as I do, so I didn’t even blink when she asked if I would be okay with trying to find the town of “Ruby” down some dirt road in the middle of nowhere as soon as I landed. We drove off towards the nearby town of Arivaca, a barely-there village with only a handful of houses and stores. At first, we tried to find a lunch spot called “Sweet Pea Cafe”, but it turned out to be closed. My mother, fishing for an explanation, flagged down the first random guy in a pickup truck that we saw come flying down a nearby dirt path. When we inquired about Sweet Pea, he shook his head and said, “Well…she only opens that place up once in a great while”. After seeing the looks of disappointment on our famished faces, he told us that “Virginia is probably cooking something up downtown”. Off we went to find her….

DSCN1116“Downtown” was minimalistic but housed a few notable places, including an art co-op in a wooden building on the main street. “Virginia’s”, however, turned out to be closed as well. We ended up grabbing food at the only open place in town—“La Gitana Cantina” for a surprisingly excellent black bean burger, a quick beer, and some friendly local company. Feeling ambitious, we went off to find the ghost town of Ruby down Ruby Road, and according to a local at the bar, “the paved part of that road is much worse than the dirt part”.

DSCN1130This turned out to be frighteningly accurate, as we wobbled down a “paved” country road riddled with more potholes than clear gravel. As we got further into the nothingness, the pavement ended and the dirt began—a surprising relief. A local farmer warned us that the road would get worse further down, but we fluffed him off naively. After chatting with some border patrol officers who chuckled after hearing about our destination, we passed a DSCN1123sign that read, “Traveler warning: smuggling and illegal immigration occurs in this area”. I realized we were only a few miles from Mexico and there was not another car (or town…or sign of life) anywhere in eye or ear shot. While my brother became visibly apprehensive from the backseat, my mother was shockingly undeterred. I’m not sure she even slowed down. After going about 12 miles total, and only about 1 ½ miles from the end, our hearts sank as we came head to head with a heavily flooded wash in the road ahead of us. We stopped the car, staring at it like laser beams, as if to force the water to evaporate before our eyes. Realizing that our little Toyota Corolla would not make the pass, we reluctantly turned around and left—leaving our ghost town/potential smuggling location behind in the quiet.

Mom: “How long did you honestly contemplate crossing that water? It was a good solid 10 seconds for me… before I decided it wasn’t possible”

DSCN1142Despite our disappointment, there was nothing like being surrounded by beautiful emptiness and winding roads again. It was my first taste of nowhere this winter. Later that night, we spent New Year’s Eve at a cute local wine bar and ended with prosecco in the hotel room and screaming “happy new year!” out the window in a tipsy frenzy while people shot fireworks off in their backyards. Here’s to 2016 and never forgetting what it means to explore and get lost.

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