When I stuck my head out the door early Sunday morning, the biting wind had been replaced with a mantle of dull gray clouds and had deposited a sprinkling of ice on the horizontal surfaces of my car. As I headed off toward El Paso, tiny pellets of rain mixed with ice began to pepper the car. Before long I passed a convoy of TXDOT trucks, one spraying the interstate with deicer, the other three trucks spreading sand. I'd been monitoring the weather, but all this ice stuff took me completely by surprise! Still, the driving conditions seemed to be perfectly fine - it was only the elaborate reaction that was making me nervous.
By the time I reached El Paso, the cloud deck had broken and the winter sun shone brightly. I navigated my way to a working class neighborhood northeast of the city in search of a house called La Casa de Asucar.
La Casa de Asucar is bounded on one side by the feeder road of a major freeway (54) , and on another the southern fence of Fort Bliss which is the Army's 2nd largest installation in the U.S. As such, the Casa could not be more anathema to it's surroundings, much like a beautifully decorated cupcake on the dashboard of an Abrams tank sitting in the desert.
Casa de Asucar was sculpted by a gentleman by the name of Rufino Loya who spent over 30 years creating his amazing tribute to the city of El Paso. The house does indeed look like icing, especially if you're a fan of Latin American Day of the Dead decorations. It wouldn't have surprised me one bit if I'd looked in the window to find a sugar skeleton busy ironing clothes, her hair in curlers.
The house is a real gem. It's packed with posies, pineapples (as a sign of welcome) and putti, many of the angels sporting startlingly expressive eyes. One of the things I most admire about Rufino's design work is his use of repeating patterns. His designs are precise, geometric, elaborate and repeating. It's a really pleasing place, brimming with love. The perfect counterpart for the other destination I had planned for the day - White Sands Missile Park.
I had done some research earlier in the morning and was excited to discover that if you head north on the highway that runs right beside La Casa de Asucar, it quickly begins to dwindle in size and about 30 miles later, dead ends into the El Paso gate of the White Sands Missle Range. I had been keen on visiting the base's Missile Park to look at some real projectiles and do some research on designs I might use for my spaceship.
The road quickly transformed from a roaring urban highway into a aging two lane blacktop snaking through the desert. Because the road dead ended at the base, there were very few fellow traveller which lent even more of an apocolyptic edge to the already prickly scenery. I giggled out loud the first time I saw a Tank X-ing sign, and stopped for a quick picture when I spotted the second, despite all the dire warnings posted along the route about the distinct possibility of an encounter with unexploded ordinance if one were to be lax and wander off the road. I quite enjoyed the driving, sleuthing for signs of military activity. The road I was driving along was named War Road, after all.
After clearing the post I drove slowly through the streets of the base admiring the beauty of the location, tucked as it is into a desert valley bounded by mountains on one side. I really liked the way the Park looked as I approached it - dozens of immense pointy warheads aimed in every conceivable direction of the compass, surreal in profile against the dramatic steel gray storm clouds that had moved in.
I found myself to be pretty fascinated as I wandered around, admiring these pretty instruments of destruction. Technological relics from the Cold War era that were used for test measurement such as the above Contraves Cinetheodolite Electro Optial Tracking System and the below Intercept Ground Optical Recorder (IGOR) were the items that captivated my imagination most, although there is a weird sort of cheap thrill in seeing a missile bigger than your damn house.
I spent most of the visit simply absorbing the shapes and designs of these empyreal travellers. Imbibed the pointy points, inhaled the decisive fins, allowing the physics of the things to crystalize into an aesthetic that would permeate my brain. Got it.
I headed back toward Las Cruces after leaving White Sands Missle Range. There I'd rejoin the interstate and hightail it on over to Tucson to spend the night. Before I reached I-10, I saw a bridge ahead and looked so see what river I'd be crossing - the Rio Grande! One of my favorites! If you doubt the severity of the drought in the southwest, take a look at this my friends - the mighty Rio Grande in Las Cruces:
I stopped at an I-10 rest area just before sunset to watch the dramatic clouds and give some space to my thoughts. It had been a thought provoking day after all, love and missiles and death. I had received news early in the morning that a cherished friend had died overnight, succumbing to cancer that had taken root in his spine and brain and lungs. A boy that had been a bit of a surrogate son for a time in my life, doe-eyed Michael Charnock with a heart of gold. Cancer had taken him, just like his mother, way before any of us were ready. Damn it.
But that's exactly why I'm out here doing it - the icing, the bombs and the clouds - and loving every single minute of it.