Gregory Dennis: Phoning from the Land of Enchantment

When did everybody suddenly own a smart phone? We’ve gone from a world in which people sat and talked with one another to a world in which we sit side-by-side, ignoring each other and staring at our phones.
This may actually represent progress. Before we could access the interwebs on our phone, every mobile user seemed to think they were required to communicate by speaking loudly at all times — “cell yell,” they called it.
On the opposite extreme of smart phone use: When we are not ignoring each other, we’ve become addicted to oversharing.
Every dinner gathering seems to require the showing of multiple photos on our phones.
I wasn’t that interested in the photos of people’s kids when they pulled photos out of their wallets. I’m even less interested in seeing 40 images from their latest family reunion.
And spare me, please, the sharing of YouTube videos to which everyone feels obliged to offer a chuckle, no matter how inane the video.
However, I must say that a recent trip has convinced me of the astounding usefulness of smart phones.
I was solo in New Mexico last week to rest and take in the scenery on day hikes.
But the weather gods had a different itinerary in mind. Rather than the usually brilliant sunshine of the Land of Enchantment, I arrived during a dismal run of overcast skies, cold rain and frequent snow.
That limited the hiking. And one can only spend so much time wandering through Santa Fe galleries.
Those emporiums of high-priced kitsch seem designed for the 1 percent, anyway — people who can drop 10 grand on a bronze sculpture and another 3K on a buffalo skin poncho they will be too embarrassed to wear once they get home.
My condo rental was in the town of Tusuque outside Santa Fe. It’s a hamlet of rundown mobile homes juxtaposed with millionaires’ hilltop mansions the color of red dirt.
Community life revolves around the marvelous Tusuque Market. The food there is spectacularly good. But one can only eat so many of the world’s best chile rellenos, and even the breakfast egg dishes come drenched in a spicy mole sauce.
So I took to my iPhone to find “good places to eat in Santa Fe.”
This simple inquiry brought forth not just restaurant websites. It also opened up the world of Yelp, Trip Advisor and several other services. All of them guiding me to great meals and countless travel options.
Yes, you can look up this stuff on your desktop or laptop. Some sensible people even buy guidebooks. But the magic of a smart phone for the traveler is that it packages, there in your hand, ideas, basic info, recommendations, directions and ratings.
I never would have found the Ramblin’ Café without Yelp, much less braved a trip through its front door.
Urged on by a Yelper’s review that called it “the best hole-in-the-wall in town,” I lunched there on a deliciously Southwestern scramble of spinach, sweet peppers, tomatoes, onions and whatever secret sauce they use out there that makes so many dishes taste like they were made by your beloved Mexican abuelita (grandmother).
Smart-phone wisdom also found me High Desert Guitars. I’d brought along my Larivee for musical companionship. But when I arrived and pulled it out of the case I found the bridge was coming unglued.
I never did get to play the thing on my trip. But I did get it expertly repaired.
The greatest smart phone friend of the traveler, though, is the maps app.
Without it I would still be trying to find my way to the condo.
With it, I found the Whole Paycheck grocery store, Best Buy to replace a dead laptop cord, and REI for new hiking shoes. I even used it to find my rental car when I lost it while walking the byzantine back alleys of Old Santa Fe.
I’ll acknowledge that it’s possible there’s just too much travel information available online. Smart phones can make it too easy for the hordes to discover once-secret hot springs and fragile Anasazi ruins.
Exploring one of those ruins outside Los Alamos, I turned on my iPhone to take a photo of the petroglyphs — the rock art carved into stone cliffs by natives who lived there centuries ago.
My phone immediately pinged an alert that I had voicemail from a friend in Vermont. Standing beneath those ancient rock carvings, I returned the call.
Yes, we are addicted to our 21st-century 24/7 connectivity.
Talking with my friend back in rainy Vermont, I stood on a windswept mesa overlooking a green valley where natives had farmed a millennium ago.
Their spirits still permeate that landscape, long after they abandoned their cliff dwellings and faded from the scene.
They left behind mysterious rock carvings whose secrets — despite all the information contained in our smart phones — we will never know.
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at www.gregdennis.wordpress.com. Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @greeengregdennis.

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