It was morning, and the new sun glimmers across the sand of the desert floor. “Clear!” beams Suzie, as she pokes her head out the twin engine’s open window. Flashing a mischievous smile at me she asks, “Are you ready?” “Of course,” I respond, thinking nothing of her facial expression.
Like several times before, the plane’s engines rev causing a slight vibration on the floor board as we slowly roll toward runway one at Santa Teresa’s Municipal Airport. The buzz I feel in my feet and legs always has a calming pre-flight effect on me, though little did I know this take-off would be different. After negotiating the slight curve onto the main runway, I vaguely hear Suzie’s voice through the headset, “Mark, it’s your turn to take off and fly.” As the words quickly register in my brain, no doubt my eyes widely pop open and my heart thumps as if it will burst from my chest. No thoughts race through my head except, “Good Lord, please let my fly today!” There is no time to second guess her decision or my ability; or lack of ability, as I’ve only ever been a passenger during these flights. Keeping outwardly calm, yet tightening every muscle in my body, I intently listen to Suzie’s instructions.
I reach for, and pull the throttle with a slight tremble, causing the plane to move faster. Reaching a speed of 60 mph, I steadily draw the steering column towards me as far as it will extend, and with this movement, the plane gradually sails upward into the morning’s blue sky. “Tower, this is Lima Papa. We’ll be flying around Kilbourne Hole this morning for aerial photography,” are the next words I remember as my breathing and heartbeat regain their normal rhythms. There is an instant feeling of relief and peace inside me as the sky opens up its cobalt tent; the space beneath stretching as far as an ocean. The weight of the world swiftly lifts off my shoulders allowing me to connect with the desert below as I navigate towards Kilbourne Hole, an 80,000 year old inverted volcano crater stretching nearly two miles long and well over a mile across.
A remnant of an ancient volcanic explosion, Kilbourne Hole is a crater in southern Dona Ana County’s desert basin between the New Mexico’s Potrillo Mountain Range and the Rio Grande River, approximately 40 miles northwest of El Paso. The “hole,” or crater, is roughly elliptical in shape, and is known as a Maar; a pit or depression caused by a volcanic explosion with little material emitted except volcanic gas.
Circling around Kilbourne for a bird’s eye view, Suzie takes over the plane’s controls descending and looping until we swoop hundreds of feet deep into Kilbourne. The curve causes the plane to slow until the wind seems to whisper around us, until the walls of the crater encompass the plane. The exposed rock, in a near plastic state, is dull black or brown though erosion reveals a brilliant, sparkling yellow and green interior of olivine glass granules like treasured jewels in a sunken ship.
Looking forward, I see the crater’s end wall racing towards the plane’s front with great speed before Suzie noses the plane swiftly upward till the flat undisturbed desert plain lay calmly below. Her playful smile returns as she glances toward me and there were no words needed to show my appreciation for this episode. Exploring the desert southwest can always be an experience, though one just might find the adventurer sleeping inside one’s soul along the way.