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Hope Garden – Gallup, New Mexico

October 9, 2013

New Mexico – Tuesday, October 1

I wasn’t too far from the New Mexico border, so I got packed up and headed out, with my ears full of news from the radio about the government shutdown. Of course, my immediate if somewhat selfish thought, was that the national parks would all be closed, and I was headed into the state with the second highest number of national park sites where I’d hoped to do a lot of my New Mexico walking. But then I thought of all the European travelers I’d seen at the Grand Canyon, and I felt bad for the people who planned their entire vacation around visits to the big parks, and all the WWII veterans on their Honor Flights, and I realized my disappointment wouldn’t match that of others. I’ve at least been lucky to visit as many parks as I have. (But I also think of all the people who paid for the annual pass, and are not able to enjoy entry into the parks – kind of like paying for a meal and then being told you can’t eat it after all.) Time will tell how that all plays out.

Despite the government shutdown, I decided to go see what I’d find at the one last national park in Arizona that I’d hoped to visit, and that was the Petrified Forest National Park. It was about 18 miles off the main road, and when I got there, I saw the gate closed and locked with a sign that said “Park CLOSED due to lack of budget.” There were 10-12 other people there, and some were simply standing by the gate gazing into their park, and others were kind of milling around trying to figure out what they were going to do instead. I talked with 2 older women who were wondering why the gate was locked and if they should try another entrance, and I told them about the shutdown – they hadn’t been listening to any news or anything. They had just the one day to visit one of the parks, and were also very disappointed. The one good thing about this place was that there were 2 souvenir stores (very reminiscent of the ’60s) with lots of petrified wood items, and there were petrified logs and other pieces of wood all over the place outside, so I was able to see a lot of it anyway, and it was unexpectedly colorful and looked like quartz. One of the signs said it took 2000 years for the wind-blown sand to “polish” the wood. So I walked my last Arizona mile among petrified wood like I had hoped to – it just wasn’t in the national park.

Then I drove a couple hours and said goodbye to Arizona and hello to New Mexico. I drove into New Mexico in the arid northwest part of the state, on the southern side of a big Indian reservation. The first town I came to was Gallup, and I had done my homework earlier and read about the Community Food Pantry. They were involved with several different programs and the one that had caught my eye was Hope Garden. I found the food pantry on the outside of town after being taken in a different direction by my GPS (which they told me is not unusual). I gave them my donation for the garden, and then I met Vernon, who took me on a long tour of the garden, and what an incredibly ambitious project it is! They first started work on the garden only about 3 years ago, and it’s a challenging environment for a lot of plants, but with irrigation systems, some trial and error, and a lot of hard work, they have an amazing garden growing, with many of the typical garden vegetables, but also with some other things like strawberries and asparagus that take some time to get going. They’ve also planted a lot of fruit tress which should start bearing fruit soon, and there are also about a half dozen “hoop houses” which are pretty much like greenhouses. The hoop houses enable them to plant and grow different things year-round. To my surprise, even though Gallup is in an arid, desert-like climate, they had already had a frost, and that’s another reason for the hoop houses. Vernon works with one other gardener, and the garden is still evolving, wrapping all around the food pantry building, and terraced on the sides to get maximum use of space. The produce is taken to the weekly farmer’s markets for local people to buy, which benefits the food pantry, and then leftover things are given away to people who visit the food pantry. So it’s a good situation for many people, and it would be fun to see the garden again in a few years when it’s even more established. Vernon offered me a flying saucer squash which I would love to have tried, but I had no means of cooking it. But I was able to sample a Black Cherokee tomato (kind of sweet), a couple other tomatoes, purple carrots and white satin carrots. It was a fun visit.

It was early evening by now, and I decided to simply stay in Gallup for the night. Tula and I set out for some walking throughout town and some neighborhoods, and were able to cover about 3 1/2 miles before it simply got too dark. Gone are the days of starting a 3 mile walk at 7:00 at night! Normally I don’t mind the earlier darkness at all, but it does have an impact while I’m on my journey. I shopped for a few groceries and got a salad to go, and called it a day.

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