Reflections of my Duplexity

The Story of Dual-Masters

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    Dam Nations, Missile Tests, and the Wild West (pt.2)

    By sdonnelly
    Mar 1, '18 5:06 PM EST

    When I last left off with my travel I had passed out from a mixture of exhaustion, timezone, and several of those original classic margaritas from the Kentucky Bar (lets be honest it was mostly the margaritas), getting a few hours of sleep until the morning came, and the single most epic road trip of my life thus far would begin.

    The second day of our travel was designated for a day long road trip that would begin in El Paso, Texas and take us along the water way of the Rio Grande river north throughout New Mexico. Covering a total of 400 miles and nearly twelve hours of driving, this highway excursion has left me infatuated with the American Southwest.

    My alarm goes off at 6 A.M. and I roll out of bed, groggy but excited for the day that would unfold before me. Meeting up with the other designated drivers and professor Velikov in the hotel lobby, we took an Uber over to Enterprise where our metallic chariots awaited. In typical rent-a-car fashion, every vehicle they had was painted silver, and thankfully with the University Card to use, we were all given full size cars and SUV's instead of an econo-box. Once the rest of the class arrived, we split into groups and I whisked three of the classmates into my temporary Toyota Camry (which I named Kerri the Camry). First stop was Dunkin Donuts for coffee, incredible breakfast burritos at a local drive through Mexican restaurant, and a bathroom break before we finally hit the pavement at full speed. The purpose of this highway adventure was to follow the course of the Rio Grande and see where different dams, reservoirs, and water control measures regulated the river, reducing it to the minuscule trickle I had seen the day before on the border of El Paso-Juarez. This river chasing would then conclude with our studio visiting White Sands Missile Range where the first atomic bomb was detonated and White Sands National Park for a sunset hike. 

    The first leg of the trip covered 200 miles to our first major destination of Elephant Butte Dam, the major piece of water infrastructure that holds back and harnesses the power of the Rio Grande. The drive to the dam was breathtaking! I had never seen such flatness contrasted by 14,000+ foot tall mountains. Desert to blue sky, and sand versus tarmac. I fully understood the draw of this terrain for painters, photographers, and artists alike for the alien like, and otherworldly sight being eaten up mile after incredible mile by the car. After two and a half hours of driving we reached the monstrously sized Elephant Butte Dam in the quirky named town of Truths or Consequences, New Mexico. My class and I spent the next hour here exploring the dam and the highly depleted reservoir, which had dropped some forty plus feet in depth over the last couple decades due to overuse of the water, and climate change caused drought.  It was wild to be stepping on land that just several year prior would have been sunken in water up to my neck; only perplexing me that much more as to why so few governing bodies and people are taking actions to stop the complete depletion of this valuable and necessary resource. However, by the time I was contemplating this, we all were famished, so we headed for lunch in Truths or Consequences. There we found this little New Mexican restaurant called Tony's that served the famous local red and green chili sauces made from local peppers. I ordered enchiladas smothered in both sauces and swear I have never tasted any enchilada as mouth watering as those were in my entire life. 

    Following this luscious lunch, we hit the road again, this time going south from Elephant Butte to the White Sands Missile Range and the oddities of its Missile Museum. The scenic drive was just as amazing leaving as it was coming to Truths or Consequences, and once we hit the mountain pass which connected the White Sands base to the nearest town, I had to pull over and stop the car to admire the spectacle before me. Big sky country, I now truly understand its meaning. The pull over for the pass's view was just an endless expanse of blue sky, with the sandy desert at the base of the mountains. This stretched out in front of me for at least 100 miles where mountains on the other side of the basin rose again, creating this awe-inspiring view. Once at the base of the mountain pass, we entered the White Sands Missile Range, greeted by a sign saying BEWARE DO NOT LEAVE PAVED SURFACE. LIVE UNDETONATED ORDINANCES IN THE SAND. Once cleared to enter the base, we explored the Missile Museum. The museum's highlight is it's outdoor Missile Garden exhibit, which is just a ton of left over missiles, rockets, planes, and experimental technology from the 1940's-1970's that they displayed in this picturesque walk. This included the shell of one of the original atomic bombs tested on the site. By the time we were done at the Missile Museum it was nearing sunset and the best part of my travel was about to begin, hiking White Sands National Park. With just a half hour drive to it there was no time to waste!

    Once we arrived at the park we drove several miles along the road to meet a park ranger for this sunset hike. When one first enters the park, they do not see any white sand, but a few bends into the road, suddenly a sweeping wall of white comes into view. The contrast is unlike anything id ever seen, like mounds of perfectly white snow, smoothed out by the wind. We met the guide with just 40 minutes left of light. Our guide walked us up and down throughout the dunes, explaining the history, ecosystem, and geological information of the dunes. At nearly 225 square miles it is the largest white sand desert in the world, and with the sun still high enough to give full light to the area, the white shimmered, and looked like spilled cream on the landscape. While the sun continued to set, the sand began to turn blue as the sky darkened. The streaks of sunlight breaking over the white capped dunes. This place was an alien world transplanted right in front of me. The deeper we moved through the park, and higher the dunes we climbed, the more my heart grew with love for this part of the country. It goes without saying that as the sun dipped below the mountain lined horizon in the distance, I knew I had seen one of the most incredible sights on Earth and it was all thanks to my studio. 

    My life changed forever by this experience, we made our way back to El Paso to rest in preparation for day three of the travel studio. It would include cartel regions, fire fighters, and watching a TV interview. 

    • 1 Comment

    • sameolddoctor

      Have you been drinking heavily?

      Mar 1, 18 6:01 pm

      From the cup of life!

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About this Blog

The reflections, recollections, and insights from the viewpoint of a dual-masters student here at the University of Michigan's Taubman College of Architecture. My three year journey to obtain a Masters of Architecture and a Master of Urban Design has brought me, and will continue to take me, through some of the most incredible, toughest, happiest, and satisfying moments and experiences of my life. Please join me through the wanderlust that is my design and academic expedition.

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