“Stop!” Shouted Joe from the passenger’s seat followed by “U-turn. U-turn.”
As a regular driver for Joe on his photo safaris, sudden detours are a recurring request. So, I slowed down our rental vehicle, found a wide spot in the road, checked for traffic, then turned the car around. Joe added, “I read about this place online and I want to stop and take some pictures.”
We pulled into the dirt parking lot and stopped in front of a row of rusting gas pumps. In the center of the lot was a wooden building covered in metal auto shop signs. Our backroads path led us right to the Classical Gas Station Museum in Embudo, New Mexico. The museum was closed, so we poked around in the yard. It was an odd collection of rusting signs, old cars, soda bottles, gasoline cans and a traffic light or two. We were just wondering if we might be trespassing, when out of nowhere a truck zoomed into the lot. Out jumped Johnnie Meier, the museum’s proprietor. He was a compact and wiry man and his face was half-hidden by a ball cap. Mr. Meier hopped up on the porch, pulled out his keys, opened up the building, turned on all the neon lights and invited us inside. Joe was reluctant to leave the rusting equipment outside. Odds and ends that in Joe’s eyes looked like art. The pieces indoors were bright and shiny and looked brand new. With so many exhibits, it wasn’t possible to see everything in this floor to ceiling homage to the era of full-service gas stations.
I asked Mr. Meier, “Where did you find all this stuff.”
He said, “One piece at a time. I’m a lucky, lucky man.”
Both Joe and Jonah enjoyed every minute they spent on the museum’s property. Admission was free. Mr. Meier turned down our proffered donation with a solemn shake of his head. He was selling old license plates, so we bought two. We thanked Mr. Meier for showing us his treasures. We all agreed, unplanned stops generate unusual photographs.
We stopped for a late afternoon lunch at a bar in Taos, New Mexico. As we sat together talking about the four to five hours of driving left in the day, to reach our hotel in Colorado Springs, Jonah noticed a photo of a bridge arching over a spectacular gorge. When the waitress came by to take our order, I asked, “Is that bridge around here?”
Her directions were vague, more hand waving than road names. Joe found the spot using Google Maps and loaded the directions into his IPad. The bridge is located 10 miles northwest of Taos, so not too far out of our way. When we reach the bridge, we drove all the way across the 1280-foot span, then parked our rental car in a large lot on the far side. Joe and Jonah were looking for the best spot for a photograph, so walked back across on foot. Standing near the bridge’s midpoint, on the pedestrian sidewalk, we could feel the bridge’s vibrations through our legs when a semi-truck drove by us. It was eerie and encouraged all three of us to hurry back to the car. A repurposed school bus with a colorful paint job was also parked in the lot. The bus was operated as a food truck. We stood in line and purchased hot coffee and smoothies. Drinks that helped keep us awake on the drive north. An hour later, we crossed over the state border into Colorado. Jonah called out from the backseat, “I really missed trees.” New Mexico as a state is more rocky and barren than green.
We all love Molly because she is our first family pet; because all Josh ever wanted was a four-legged friend; because Josh spent the entire summer before his senior year of high school researching puppies and began his pitch with, “I finally found a dog that dad isn’t allergic to”; because now that Molly is a member of our family, we can’t imagine life without her; because when Molly is out of the house, there is an eerie silence without the jangle of her collar tags as she moves from room to room; because she is our princess and, like royalty, Molly insists on riding in the front seat of the red Jeep and, upon arriving at our destination, sitting still and statuesque while she waits for one of us – her humble servants – to open the door for her; because “I will follow you, wherever you go” is the theme song that encapsulates her life; because Molly embodies unconditional love and, no matter what is going on in our lives, she greets us at the door with her happy dance; because when someone in the family has been out of town for more than a day, her happy dance becomes an explosion of uncontainable joy and she darts around the house jumping and swirling and twirling as if she is an entire pep squad performing an elaborate gymnastic routine; because she will walk beside you in the heat of a summer day or the bitter cold of a winter afternoon; because she will leap onto your bed and sleep at your feet; because she can sense when you need extra comfort and will lay her head on the pillow next to you; because Molly sees everyone she meets on the street as a potential new best friend; because when one of us is home alone, Molly will stick beside that person, often laying quietly at their feet; because Molly has exceptional eyesight and on late afternoon trail hikes, when we begin to lose the light, Molly takes the lead and keeps us on the right path back to the Jeep; because when we are packing for a trip, she lies down on top of the luggage as if to say “I will not be left behind”; because when we are out in the woods, she herds all the hikers, running back and forth as if she’s always in the middle of a head count; because Molly is fearless and only seeks refuge when she hears the sound of plastic bags blowing in the wind, or a car driving over rumble strips, or people coughing; because she went to puppy school, where her humans learned how to be members of her pack; because she trained us, her caretakers, so well that when we walk her through the neighborhood, we are required to stop and say hello to all the members of her fan club; because without her love, hugs and face licks, our lives would be incomplete; and because we now understand that life is better with the windows rolled down and our hair blowing in the breeze.
At 37 pounds, Molly, our black Portuguese Water Dog, is small for her breed and often mistaken for a puppy. Together we’ve learned that age is only one measure of a full life.
Our destination was the Charlevoix Apple Fest. En route, we passed by a charming garden gift shop and detoured to investigate. The store was closed, but as we pulled out of the parking lot the owner ran out of the house next door, waving his arms and motioning for us to return. The proprietor encouraged the camera-toting Joe to take photos, so we toured the whimsical garden.
We walked on water the second Sunday in March. It wasn’t a miracle though, and we weren’t alone. The winter of 2014 will be remembered for the mountain of snow that dropped from the sky and the ice caves that formed along Lake Michigan’s shoreline.
Joe, Molly and I drove Up North for that rainy March weekend. We didn’t even consider going to see the remnants of this rumored once-in-a-lifetime phenomena, created by the perfect combination of wind, waves and extremely low temperatures. Then, on Saturday night, we dined with my parents, and they had a basketful of ice cave stories to hand out and tips on the best places to park.
The next morning we rolled out of bed, filled our bellies with oatmeal and drove up M22 just north of Leland. As instructed, we turned off at Gills Pier Road, driving slowly over the frozen ruts, and parked the Jeep near the ‘Road Closed’ barrier fence. It was just 9 degrees out, so I would have preferred to stay in the heated vehicle. With a bit of coaxing from Joe, we took our last breath of warm air and hopped out of the Jeep. Of course, Molly, our Portuguese Water Dog, was with us. Joe never leaves home without his four-legged best friend. The shoreline was about a quarter mile away. With great trepidation, we walked to the waterline, then out onto the ice.
Did we tentatively take a few steps from shore and call it good? No, of course not. We hiked out half a mile from the snow-covered beachfront and onto the frozen water. Lake Michigan was frozen solid as far as the eye could see – to the north, the south and the west. The ice was believed to be several feet thick. Waves had curled and frozen solid, creating twisting, glossy ice caves. Old Man Winter’s gift for the long, unending arctic season was a series of interconnected ice sculptures for the local residents’ viewing pleasure.
In a cold that first nipped at – and then froze – our cheeks, we explored the cove at Gills Pier before walking back to the Jeep to warm up. Next, we trekked north.
Stunned by the beauty, we wanted to change our perspective, so we slid down through one of the cave openings. Molly, our loyal and beloved dog, would not follow though. Our normally quiet dog was yipping nonstop. Joe calmed her down, put her leash on and carried her through the opening.
As soon as Joe let Molly off leash, she found her way back to the top of the caves. Joe snapped some unbelievable shots. One shows the sun in a starburst through the crescent-shaped cave mouth. Another photo displays the vast landscape, with Molly and I dwarfed by the sheer size of the ice formations. Walking in front of the caves, we started to hear an eerie creaking noise. It was a heart-stopping sound that grabbed our attention and changed our single-file walking formation to a more staggered and spread apart one. We wanted to distribute our weight over a greater surface area and potentially prevent both of us falling through at once. Instead of focusing on taking photographs, we zeroed in on finding a way back.
The photos are amazing, but I promise that next time we will heed Molly’s warning barks.
Lake Linden, Michigan