Rider of the Storm to Solstice Depths and Blown into a Supermoon

Tender Mercy - Monahans, TX © 2013 Skip Hunt

Rising up, and up into the cool mountain air around Cloudcroft, New Mexico. There were amazing vistas looking back down toward the white-hot desert plains below, and plenty of overlook parking along the way. I was moving now and couldn't bring myself to stop. The cool air was so soothing that all I wanted to do was glide around the easy curves, under great pines. 

I passed this way, over the mountain through Cloudcroft, a few years ago and remember thinking I'd stop the next time I pass. Guess it'll have to wait until the next one I reckon. 

Beyond Cloudcroft, things started to get more dicey. The clouds on the horizon were dark and the view frequently obscured by dense dust storms. At one point I couldn't see more than about 10 yards ahead of me and had to slow it way down. Just beyond the pine mountain forests, you drop down a bit in altitude to flat plains that look like they've been in drought a good while. And, with wildfire smoke, dust storms and dark clouds, the high plains just felt ominous. I just had to make Carlsbad even if it meant I'd get a little wet. 

Stopped in Alpine, New Mexico for gas and to check the weather reports for the last 50 miles into Carlsbad. Not good. Severe storms and flash-flood warnings. It was stay up on the high plains amidst ominous dust storms and dark clouds, or take a chance and see if I could punch through the storm quickly enough to escape the worst of it. 

As I left Alpine toward Carlsbad, the sky I was riding into got significantly darker and the sky filled with spidering electrical bolts in all directions. It wasn't until 2 couples on touring Harley's passed me heading right into the darkness that I decided if they weren't giving up, I wouldn't either. Basically, idiotic machismo directed my decision-making process and I was all in. 

The Harleys were traveling at a fairly high speed and the wives on the back didn't look all that thrilled about it. I stayed close to them in case anything went wrong with any of us, they'd  be strength in numbers. In the worst of it, I would have pulled over for shelter and waited it out, machismo be damned, but there simply is nowhere for shelter in those parts. Just desert plains, highway, and severe storms. I suppose I could have turned back, but it didn't look much better in that direction either. 

My budget had really taken a beating with over-priced dive highway hotels along the way and I'd planned on making up the extra expense by camping as much as I could. Even with the storm, I checked out a Carlsbad campground after discovering the least expensive shoddy motel I could find, basically triple-gouged their prices for the hoards of tourists coming to see Carlsbad Caverns. 

It was already dark and the campground was closed, but I met a couple who'd been assigned a spot for their tent just before they closed. The couple were covered in ink, lots of piercings, itching their arms and twitching a bit like they could use a quick dope fix. Their assigned tent spot was on dirt and gravel next to a garbage dumpster and they paid $25 for that. Decided, I'd have to extend the budget once again and pony up for the triple-gouge dive motel. Not that I had a problem with camping by a dumpster, or the storm… but I was really tired and wouldn't be able to sleep without my gear locked up near folks who looked pretty desperate.

Started to silently grown to myself a bit after learning Carlsbad Caverns National Park had just nearly doubled their entry prices and I was paying for the privilege of going down into a deep cave with huge crowds of other tourists and screaming children in-tow. And, on the day of the Summer Solstice no less! For a brief moment, I almost decided to cut-bait and just keep on motoring into Texas.

So glad I stuck it out and descended into the magnificent cavern! The crowds weren't as bad as I'd feared, and the children seemed mostly well behaved. It was so quiet and at times it felt like I'd been transported back in time to the Summer trip I made with my grandparents a few decades ago. 

The caverns weren't lit up as much as I remember from my childhood, or perhaps my eyes are less sensitive now than they were when I was about 7 years old. Getting photos proved to be a challenge that I mostly failed. I took a small monopod that converts to a table tripod, and tried to use the railing to support my camera. Two second exposures where picking up the tiniest vibrations from the railing for floors so most of the images have motion blur. I knew this fairly quickly, but thought I'd see if I got lucky with a few or at least got some nice abstracts and colors I could use as backgrounds later. 

The deepest part of the caverns called "the Big Room" is where the most impressive details are. I think I vaguely recall this from my childhood, but descending through the natural cavern entrance appealed to me more than just taking the elevator down. 

After a fill-up at the tourist compound of "White's City", I tried to make contact with Guadalupe National Park about 50 miles away to verify their camping wasn't full. Couldn't reach anyone, but a fellow in the parking lot overheard my phone call and asked what they charge to camp. I told him $8 but that I didn't know if they were full or not. He said I could camp in their campgrounds with hot showers, wifi, etc. for the same price. Being a Saturday and likely the park grounds would be full, I decided staying put and relaxing in my hammock sounded a lot better than a later afternoon gamble.

The flies were very aggressive there & were biting me most of the evening. Had to chase a raccoon away from my bike because I think he smelled the sardine can from my dinner. 

A bird started incessant squawking up in the tree where I had my hammock slung and couldn't get back to sleep. But, I witnessed the most resplendent vermillion sunrise in the quietude of dawn & somehow it all seemed worth it for that interlude of serenity.

The next day, I took my time and eased along casually. It shouldn't have taken long to get to Monahans Sandhills State Park near Monahans, Texas. That is, if they'd thought to put up any signs pointing the way for travelers coming from the Carlsbad direction. This park is really tricky to find, but it's not far off the Instate highway 20. For some reason, it's location throws off GPS and online maps. After at least three wild-goose chases, I finally just happened to stumble onto the feeder road and entrance sign. 

Because I'd taken my time getting moving, it was right smack dab in the hottest part of the day. When I pulled up to the guard shack, a lady in a car behind me blew on her horn and kept yelling something at me. I asked her to hold on while I take my helmet off and pull out my headphones, but she just kept yakking at me. After I could finally hear her, she said, "Just pull over there, park your bike and come inside and we'll get you taken care of." Gee thanks! That's exactly what I was trying to do before you started blasting your horn at me, but I didn't say that out loud. 

Inside, there was a ranger who acted like he really didn't like the look of me and even less interested in helping me with any information. I told him I was there to camp, but he just kept on suggesting other places, saying there's no shade out there, and there are several large groups of boy scouts on their way, etc. 

All the options other than staying put were too far away or too expensive. So I asked him which part of the campgrounds am I most likely to be the furthest away from crowds. He got upset and said he couldn't guarantee anything. I told him fine and asked if I could just have a look before I registered. By his description, I'd be boiling out in the sun on nothing but asphalt with screaming boy scouts running around like banshees.

On my way out to my bike I decided that if it wasn't going to work out, I didn't want to have to take off gear again just to go back inside to let them know I was moving on. When I went back inside the office, the rangers didn't see me and I watched them making fun of me and mocking my questions. Cleared my throat so they could see me and they quickly shut up and got embarrassed. I told them that I was a long-time supporter of Texas State Parks and didn't appreciate being ridiculed. The offending ranger stuttered a bit, then said, "Well, I can't guarantee how many people are going to be here and where they will be camping!" I replied, "I never asked for any guarantee. I asked for your opinion based on your experience since you work here and I don't. No guarantee, just an educated guess. Sorry that request was too demanding. I'm going to see if it'll work out for myself. If it doesn't, I'm going to just keep moving." He swallowed his tongue and said, "I'm ok with that." 

At this point, knowing I wasn't welcome made me even more determined to stay put. Glad I did. The grounds weren't even close to full. It was easy to see where a large group of boy scouts would likely choose to camp, and the sites had shelters perfect for a hammock. Everything the ranger had told be turned out to be false. 

When I went back to register, the ranger closed himself into a small office while the yakking woman took care of me with minimal words exchanged. 

Standing my ground and staying put despite every reason to keep on moving, proved to be the best decision I could have made. There was a high wind, but it served to wash away footprints and create an ethereal blur of moving sand in many of the images. The boy scouts arrived and were led my a scout master who kept them all pretty much in-line and they all were extremely well behaved. It was to be the night of a "supermoon" and after a couple glasses of wine in the evening and checking the time the moon would be the most full, I slumbered in my hammock and drifted away with the sands. 

The "super moon" was to be the most full at 6:32AM and I woke up at exactly 6:32AM. Grabbed my camera and stomped out onto the dunes. The full moon looked pretty much like any other full moon, and it was still too dark for images. This is one of those moments where I just stop, forget about yesterday, stop planning or analyzing, stop taking photos, etc. and just breath in the moment. This is the sort of moment I seek on these trips. Everything else is just trying to grasp onto something and make visual notes to remember.

The last leg home through oil-country was dry, desolate, and littered with countless oil derricks foresting a drought beaten countryside. As I approached Austin, Texas the rolling hills and familiar green foliage returned to my view as I made my way down the last stretch and held onto that last moment remembering the gently blowing on the dune surface and the clouds passing before a full supermoon… and I was home.


- This video's intent isn't particularly to showcase my work. The video's intent is to translate my experience. I make so many images compulsively, without thought of sales, or how they'll be received. I hope they're well received and that I sell a few, but that's not what drives me. Always moving and trying to keep the frame in front of me ever changing... constantly making visual asterisks in the form of images, words and video as I try to snag bits and pieces in the content rushing by. 

When I'm in the place that I often seek, it feels like it's moving this fast and I'm just trying to keep up... almost as if I switch from an analytic, thoughtful mode to one of pure intuition. In this mode, it's a constant flow of information. At some point, I simply stop... breath... I don't make in images... or engage in thought. The "I" disappears and there's just ALL. That's ultimately where' I'm trying to get to.


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For my SUPER-FAN patrons who've been there for me on previous trips and who want to continue their patronage, I'm offering 3 levels of support that get you discounts from my normal print pricing. I'm going to keep these available for a few more days before closing it off and getting the print choices of folks who've already supported this trip. 

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a quick rest and I'll hopefully be back on the road again soon...

Stay tuned!