Friday (non)Fiction - New Mexico's Windstorm

This is an excerpt from my NaNo book, Coast to Coast-and home again, that I wrote of our family's trip to California about 20 years ago. We had some interesting experiences. This was one.

New Mexico's Windstorm

Leaving Oklahoma, we passed into Texas, the Lone Star State. If it weren’t for the sign, I wouldn’t have known the difference. It was still flat and barren and hot. When we opened the van door, it felt like the hot breath of a dragon in our faces. The kids grabbed their flip flops from the basket near the door and stretched their stiff backs and arms. Some sprinted for the restroom.

At one gas station, atop a hill, the wind blew dust all around, in your eyes and mouth. Randy asked the cashier, “Does the wind always blow this hard?

“No, sometimes it blows even harder!”

As paid for the gas, he noticed a coffee machine behind her. “I’ll have some coffee, too.”

“Honey, you don’t want that coffee. It’s been sitting there all morning. Go ‘round to the restaurant and get some good coffee.”

“No, that’s okay. I’ll take some of your coffee.”

“Honey, if can drink this coffee, you can have it for free.” She poured him a cup. “Here are a few creamers and sugars. You’ll need them.”

Randy took a sip and coughed.

“You sure you want that, Honey?”

He smiled. “I won’t fall asleep after drinking this.”

Not too far from the gas station, we saw an interesting rest area. The picnic pavilions were like rock houses. There were stone walls all around. The kids pointed out some signs along the pathway.


They half wished and half feared that we would find one. I just as soon we didn’t see any this trip. I had enough to worry about without thinking about rattlesnakes and other poisonous things.

Randy was in a perky mood. We were traveling on the famous Route 66. He put on an Arlo Guthrie tape, and we buzzed along to the tunes of “This Land is Your Land” and “Down the Mississippi To the Gulf of Mexico.”

Randy pointed out the Cadillac Ranch – a famous landmark of old cars planted nose first in the ground like gravestones. Every ten miles or so, we would see billboards announcing a steak house that offered a free meal to anyone who could eat a ten pound steak. Caleb and Benjamin, my ever hungry fellows, thought they could do it.

Occasionally, I let the kids switch seats from their assigned seats(after I made sure no one was missing) so they could have a different person to pester – I mean, play with. I found it fascinating that Abel (trapped in his car seat)wanted to do specific activities with certain kids. He wanted Grace to read to him. He played cars with Benjamin and with his plastic cowboys with Micah. He sang songs with Anna, but when Lydia sat next to him, he always wanted her to tell a Bible story.

I’m sure there were lots of unruly things going on out of my sight, but on the whole, the kids seemed to be getting along quite well for being strapped in their seats day after day. We played the regular state license plate hunt, and everyone cheered if we happened to see one from Maine. Road killed animals were announced and stared at, especially if they were something like an armadillo or snake. Stephen wanted to catch a lizard. Micah wanted to see a real cowboy. We saw lots of cows, but no cowboys.

We passed one place that had hundreds of cows. It stunk! I think it was a slaughter yard. I’m not sure I said this out loud. I didn’t want to dampen the excitement of the kids over seeing so many animals together.

Speaking of stinking, the cooler was getting pretty rank. Whatever ice we put in it melted right away. We couldn’t keep anything cold. We gave up and just kept it closed. With so many sweaty people in one confined spot got pretty stinky, too. Lydia would put her empty mint container over her nose whenever anyone tooted or any time she smelled something disgusting. I would be glad to give the van a real clean when we got to California.

The early excitement of this trip was dwindling down. There was not much to see but billboards, trains, and a few cows. There was mile after mile of flat dry land, with an occasional bush. There were flat rocky hills, mesas, interrupting the monotonous landscape. There wasn’t even much traffic. It seems like we were lost on a strange planet.

Once in awhile we saw ravines that show evidence of erosion – dry river beds. We missed the water of Maine – the ocean, the rivers, the lakes, even the puddles in our driveway. We missed trees. It was hot – even with the air conditioner. The kids didn’t talk often. Some dozed in their seats, leaning their heads on the sibling next to them.

The sky was darkening. We could actually see it raining in the distance. Lightning zigzags to the ground. We could’t hear the thunder. It was too far away. Besides, the sound of the radio and the hum of our wheels drowned out most outside noises. I knew that lightning will strike the highest thing. Scanning the horizon, I had the feeling that WE were the highest thing around. The wind was picking up. I felt gusts buffeting our van. Aren’t we in tornado country? What are the signs of a tornado? I began praying for safety.

Randy asked me to find a campsite soon. He wanted to get under shelter before it storms. At our last grocery stop, we also got a few supplies in K-Mart and Randy found a good sale on a dome tent. Two tents would be better than one, if we didn’t have a cabin. I found a listing for a KOA nearby. WOODED, CABINS, POOL, LAUNDRY . It sounded like a great place to stop.

Did I say it was wooded? There might have been ten trees near the office. There were only two cabins, and they were already being used. We chose a corner site of the tenting field. The wind whipped the limbs of the trees about. Randy and some of the kids set up the tents, while I made use of the laundry facilities. Every time I filled the slots with quarters, I was grateful that I didn’t have to use a laundry mat all the time. It surely got expensive! It seemed to take hours for the clothes to get dry. I watched the storm get closer from the laundry mat windows. I tucked the basket under my arm and dodged the raindrops back to our van. We sat inside as the rain poured and wondered how long it would last.

It passed over in a few minutes, and we readied for bed. The older boys (Caleb, Benjamin, and Stephen) would sleep in the van. The girls would sleep in the bigger tent, while Randy and I and the two younger boys were in the new dome tent.

We lay in the darkness, listening to the howling wind – blowing, blowing, blowing! Abel whimpered. To calm the boys, I began singing. “Jesus loves me…”

We could feel the edge of tent lift when a bigger gust tugged at our tent. I sang another song that we had just learned about not being afraid. “How can I fear, Jesus is near; He is ever watching me…” As I ended the song, I could hear other voices singing the same song. The girls were singing it. They must be afraid, too.

“Lord, take care of us tonight. Calm the kids. Help them to sleep.”

Randy and the little boys fell sleep, but I couldn’t. The wind hadn’t stopped. It wasn’t coming in gusts any more. It was a steady moan, pushing against the walls of the tent like a big monster trying to sit on us. It was pushing the sides of tent so much that they were touching my head. I reached over in the darkness. Micah’s or Abel’s heads were beneath the bending walls. Afraid that they would be smothered, I pulled them closer to the center of the tent. I lay back down – praying for protection. What do tornadoes sound like? I felt trapped! Even if I were outside, I couldn’t see anything in the darkness. The owners of the campground would certainly warn their customers, if there was danger – wouldn’t they?

Suddenly, a strong gust lifted the edge of the tent. The sides billowed downward. SNAP! The tent collapsed. Randy woke with a start. He held the roof up enough for me to get the boys out of the tangling cloth. “Go get in the girls’ tent!”

I ran to the faithful bigger tent and sent the boys inside to huddle with the girls, while I helped Randy. It took several trips to get all our bedding in the girls’ tent. I asked them to arrange it for me, while I went back out into the storm. Randy had wadded the broken (faulty new) tent into a ball and stuffed it in the back off the van. He handed me a flashlight and he took the hammer, some screwdrivers, and some string. He pounded the tent stakes of the broken tent in any extra eyelets of the bigger tent. Then he strung more ties on the poles. He used the screwdrivers as tent stakes. As I held the flashlight for him, the wind whipped my hair around and tore at my clothes. Needing one more tent stake, he thrust the hammer's cat claw deep into the ground to secure the last rope. He didn’t want to lose this tent, too.

Inside the tent, we snuggled side by side, hardly able to turn ours head from one side to another. I felt safer. Everyone settled down - even the wind seemed to go to sleep.

The next morning, the older boys emerged from the van. They stood looking at the spot where our tent had been. “Where’s the tent? Did it blow away? Where are Daddy and Mama?”

The sun was out the next morning and the storm had blown away. The morning sun highlighted some pretty desert flowers just behind our van. We didn’t wait for the pool to open, and eyed the ones staying in the cozy cabins with envy. They probably didn’t even know there was a horrible windstorm during the evening. At least we were safe and dry. We would put the experience behind us and face a new adventure.

Randy was looking forward to our next destination, Holbrook, Arizona. He told the kids that in this little town, there was a motel that had concrete teepees for cabins. We would sleep under a solid roof tonight!

~ ~ ~

Fly over to Hoomi's Blog for more stories.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Reminders of my trip out west.
(without kids or tents) The
landscape made a big impression
on me, and the oasis of friends.



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