Day Two: Gandolf Seeks Hobbits in Santa Fe

Golden clouds are tightly draped on the peaks of the Sandia Mountains above Albuquerque at dawn. Like lightly toasted whipped cream, I think to myself. Runners are plodding through the coolness, taking advantage of the absence of direct sunlight. Like zombies, I think to myself.

Santa Fe is an hour away north by northeast. It manages somehow to be a liberal cowboy town. I can't resist a jaunt around this home of retirees, politicians, Hispanics, and hippies in cowboy hats. A bunch of Native Americans are leaning up against poles under a canopied promenade downtown, smiling and chattering. They're waiting for eight o' clock so they can set up stalls to sell their handmade wares. I talk up a pleasant-looking grandmotherly woman, hoping she'll let me take a picture of her. The flat morning light is great. She talks me up hoping I'll buy something from her. "You should stay and buy something," she finally admits. "Nah, got to go," I respond. "But would you mind if I took a picture of you?" "I'd rather not," she says. Touche. I see our duel is a draw.

Raining sunshine? I pulled of I-25 and off-roaded just a bit to find an unobstructed view.
With Sauron defeated, Gandolf retires to Santa Fe to slam a Dr. Pepper and check the funnies. 
Every morning, Native American makers of hand-created wares gather before 8:00 on a promenade in downtown Santa Fe to reserve spots for booths. They use these colorful towels to save their places, then at eight they set up.
There's a shrine to the Virgin Mary halfway between Las Vegas, New Mexico and Tucumcari, on state highway 106. There is nothing for fifty miles in either direction. The shrine sits at the foot of a steep, craggy escarpment, which are scattered across northwestern New Mexico where weather has eroded most of the soft ground down hundreds of feet, leaving the rocky plateaus hulking up out of the desert. The shrine is strangely tidy and sacred-feeling despite its remote location. I suppose that it's how people treat something that makes it holy or not, and this place is clearly the depository of people's hopes and grief. There are funeral programs for teenagers, aged photos of departed love ones, and notes to God. It's a Wailing Wall in the wilderness of New Mexico.

The shrine.
The small shrine is about 10'x8'x4' (appears much larger here than it actually is -- you'd have to stoop to get inside, unless you're a Hobbit).
Tucumcari touts itself as a hub on the famous Highway 66, but the wide, four-lane re-creation of the original highway is rather lifeless. This mural, on the other hand, tucked away in a quiet corner of town, is anything but lifeless. Note the rare Abu Halen sighting. No loud noises -- he could bolt. 
I walk into a gas station in Amarillo. An edgy guy with face rings, a tank top, and a sideways hat is chatting up the tattooed girl behind the counter. I inquire about a bathroom. Edgy Guy turns and disarms me. He calls me "sir." His tone is deferential and painfully sincere. Welcome to Texas, home of the Jesus is Lord Truck Stop and polite punks.

In the flat Texas panhandle, you can watch the clouds congeal into thunderstorms before your very eyes, then implode under their own weight, spilling their guts across the land. Five minutes after this shot, this colossal comma of a thunderstorm opened its belly all over the Texas-Oklahoma border.