Lady truckers: the Land of Enchantment

New Mexico state line

It is vacation time in the US which means cross-country travel for many. The following article is the first of several that chronicles my adventure with Jan Pawlak in the summer of 2010. They originally appeared in my column Feed the Mind, Nourish the Soul at the Communities @ The Washington Times from August to November 2010.


FORT WORTH, Texas, June 30, 2014 — Movement and the slam of Big Blue’s cab door shook me awake. Sunlight streamed in the driver’s side window as I peered over my bunk.  Through squinty eyes I saw that Jan was gone; that must have been her leaving to go into the rest rooms.

Remembering that we had to leave early I climbed down, and dressed. By that time Jan was back to see if I was awake and filled the electric thermos with water for our coffee. We went and did our morning routines while it heated.

Now with bright shiny faces and coffee in hand we headed north on US Highway 287 toward Amarillo and I-40. It’s not unusual to think of sand and a dry climate when you think of Amarillo. After all, it means “yellow” in Spanish. We found instead grassy farmland that was for the most part green. “Verde” better described the scenery than its given name.

Amarillo is also where you find the second largest canyon in the U.S.  Palo Duro Canyon is second in size only to the Grand Canyon. The crevasse is 120 miles long and as much as twenty miles wide. It includes cabin rentals, campsites and RV sites, hiking and mountain bike trails, and horse rentals. There is also a gift shop and history, geology and wildlife exhibits.

Once we turned on I-40, Texas got really flat right before the New Mexico border.  It’s the flattest land we’ll drive for several days.

The Land of Enchantment greets you with a bright yellow welcome sign that crosses the highway, complete with an ancient symbol of the sun called a “Zia” flanking each side.

Dormant volcanoes near Albuquerque
Dormant volcanoes near Albuquerque

It doesn’t take long to start seeing mountains and mesas off in the distance.  The word, “desert” comes to mind but not the dead, bland and neutral-colored type of land.

Multicolored hues in various shades and tints of red, pink, green, brown, purple and even blue paint the landscape. These desert colors brought to mind words like life, soul, and vitality.  My senses were very aware of them.  It’s truly an amazing experience that many people won’t find at home.

Albuquerque sits in the bottom of a valley surrounded by mountains. The road becomes more winding as it takes you to a lower elevation. We twist and curve with the road while descending to the bottom of the bowl. A giant metal cactus sculpture greets motorists from the roadside on the outskirts of the city.  Jan says at night it is lit up and a sight to see.

In no time we are at the Swift terminal of Albuquerque, Jan’s home terminal. It’s smaller and newer than in Lancaster. The surroundings are prettier too. To the east are the Sandia Mountains.  North of the terminal are five dormant volcanoes.  They look so pre-historic you half expect to see a Tyrannosaurus Rex heading your way or a pterodactyl off in the distance. The ancient cinder-cones looked totally lifeless but research says that they are merely asleep.

Beautiful mesas in the distance
Beautiful mesas in the distance

The main building was much like the one in Lancaster. But it’s bright and laid back atmosphere made for a much more comfortable rest. The staff I met was quite interesting and likeable. All possess a great sense of humor; we laughed quite a bit during our visit.

Jan and her supervisor Steve have a unique relationship. He is a former driver who started supervising when Jan started driving. They learned the ropes together and are friends in addition to their professional relationship.

The others include an affable guy who does stand-up comedy at the local club, a full blooded Navajo Indian who has been married to his high school sweetheart for twenty-five years, and a man whose grandmother was a Cherokee Indian and forced to participate in “The Trail of Tears.”

This combined with the lower temperatures made Albuquerque a delightful place to hang our hats for a bit.  The goal was to get to Phoenix and it would take a couple of days to get a load going there.

On Thursday Jan and I took some empty trailers to the train yard in Albuquerque since we were waiting anyway. It gave us something to do and I got to see more of the area. The city and its vicinity are lovely.  Native plants encompassed by rocks in desert hues fill the landscaping along the highways. The colors and symmetry are simple yet stunning.

In the older sections near the train yard we saw buildings embellished with art expressing the heritage and beliefs of the local people. The adobes and church architecture did too.  Huge old trees at least three feet in diameter graced a clearing just across the rail yard as well.

The trailer deliveries filled the day. Once back at the terminal we retired to the truck for the night. Relaxed in our bunks we laughed out loud to several episodes of Fraser before putting out the light.

A mild Friday morning greeted us with a load needing to go to Phoenix. Eager to be on our way, we were ready in no time flat. Soon we were ascending up and out of the desert bowl.

Excitement built in anticipation of seeing the beautiful landscape and scenery that lay between us and the “Valley of the Sun.”


Stay tuned for more.

Heading west on I-40 in New Mexico
Heading west on I-40 in New Mexico
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