I was driving a rental car with my daughter in the back seat; she did not yet weigh enough to sit in the front. She was 12 years old and on spring break from middle school. We had just been hiking at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in New Mexico. It was just the two of us; one of the mother-daughter trips we used to do together.

I entered in our next destination into the GPS and started following the directions. I got an instruction to turn onto a gravel road. I thought to myself, “Hmm, this doesn’t seem right.” I re-checked the GPS and then took the turn onto a well maintained but gravel road.

I still felt nervous. Gravel roads are not main thoroughfares. I was out in the wilderness. But I also thought, “Wilderness. I am from the Great Northwest. I have lots of wilderness experience.”

I kept driving, even though I knew that it was a one lane road. That was the total number of lanes. One. There were no turn around spots. At first I was concerned that we would encounter another car traveling the opposite direction. What would we do then? And then upon driving a number of miles and not seeing a single other vehicle or person, I started having different concerns.

The road led up gradually but persistently in elevation. I was driving through high elevation pine woods. The street was so narrow, it was like walking on a path in the forest. There were rock formations in the distance. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

As we got higher, the quality of the road started to decline. It was rutted and bumpy. It all happened really gradually. Then I saw it. It was a place to turn around. Now, if I had started driving at this spot, I would have immediately turned around and driven back to where we came from. I would have seen the situation for what it was. It was a dangerous place to drive. It was a place that required a four wheel drive and even then would have been difficult.

But I am a person of momentum and I was anxious. Usually I am quite risk adverse when it comes to physical safety. But I was not only anxious about the drive. I was anxious about my relationship with my daughter. She was shifting to preferring my husband to me. Dad was cool. Mom was not.

So a reason I kept driving was because I didn’t want to be an overly uptight mom anymore. I decided to take a chance. We got stuck when I drove over a boulder in the “road”.

It was noon. I had water and a first aid kit, which I put into a bag along with my GPS (from which I had recorded the GPS coordinates for the rental car) and my cell phone, the latter of which was low on battery power.

I was externally calm. I was doing the best acting job that I could. I told my daughter that we would walk back to the gas station we had passed prior to going up the gravel road. I had located the name and address of the gas station on my GPS. It was hot. I knew it was a long walk. I was wearing hiking shoes but my daughter was wearing Converse low tops. I was on the edge mentally and emotionally. I was barely keeping it together. I kept having fears that we would be attacked or raped and no one would be able to help us. I knew that I had made a horrible error in parenting. I didn’t know how we were going to get the rental car back.

Knowing if I also had to contend with a cranky tween, I would totally lose my composure, I told my daughter, “We need to walk about 10 miles. I’m sorry I got us into this situation. If you do the walk without complaining, I’ll give you $50.”

Suffice to say it was the best money I’ve ever spent. Along the walk, I intermittently checked for cell phone reception. When I found it, I called 911. However, the reception was spotty and the calls were lost when I shifted my weight. Further, dispatchers from different jurisdictions answered each time, because we were lost in an area close to border between two counties as well as close to tribal lands. After many attempts, I gave multiple dispatchers the GPS coordinates for the car, the address for our destination, the name of the road I was on (you know it’s bad when the 911 people can’t find the road on their maps), and our current location. I also knew that texts would be sent as soon as I walked into areas with cell coverage. I texted my husband our location and instructions to call 911.

We finally found our way to the beginning of the gravel road. I recorded the GPS coordinates and took a photo of some distinguishing features at the entrance to the road since there were no street signs. Just as we were starting to walk on asphalt, a car filled with a family of sight see-ers stops to ASK US DIRECTIONS about the gravel road. I explained our situation and they kindly offered us a ride to the gas station. We got to the gas station and I asked to use their phone since I was still out of cell phone reception. I informed 911 of our location. Then I dug enough change out of my purse to get my daughter and I something cold to drink.

About 10 minutes later, I saw two police cars pull into the parking lot, one from the county sheriff’s office and the other from the city of Santa Fe. I walked out and the sheriff looked annoyed. And he was. None of the information that I’d communicated to the 911 dispatcher had been communicated to him. Stealing my mom’s catchphrase for embarrassing situations I said, “Whatever you are thinking, it is probably true.”

He said, “We’ve been looking all over for you along with the Santa Fe and the tribal police. We were just going to send out a search helicopter.”

I communicated a great self-awareness of my major judgement error along with my multiple attempts to communicate my location to the 911 dispatchers. (Meanwhile, my stomach was lurching as I was thinking about how much money a helicopter search would have cost the fine tax payers of New Mexico.)

He settled down and turned out to be super nice. He actually even pulled the rental car and got it facing the right direction. It took a lot of skillful maneuvering. Then he followed us until he was sure that we made it out of the wilderness okay.

I called my husband that night when my daughter was out of earshot. He had not received my texts. I told him what I had done. Then I started bawling. “I’m so sorry. I made a horrible and dangerous parenting decision. I am so sorry.” At times like these, my husband knows exactly what to say.

Was it true that I was an uptight mom?


Was it true that I needed to take more chances in my life?


Was trying to be a cool mom a good reason to keep driving?

No, absolutely not.

The problem was, and I was mindful of this as I reflected on the incident, was that being so careful in my life, I did not know when to heed my own anxious feelings and when to move past them. And this was a situation that sneaked up on me gradually.

Some fears are rational, some are not. When I’m afraid of everything, I don’t know the difference.

I’ve come a long way since that drive and so has my daughter. I accepted the fact that I was not cool to her about one second after we got stuck; I have never turned back. Mom’s are not supposed to be cool. I have learned to face many fears, both rational and irrational. I will face many more.

In the meantime, I am staying clear of gravel roads.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

New Mexico with Zoey 04_2011 105

This is the nice part of the road.

This is the nice part of the road.


The scenery for the long walk. The sheriff informed me that we walked through cougar habitat. Yikes! I am more afraid of cougars than any other wild animal I've encountered, including alligators and bears.

The scenery for the long walk. The sheriff informed me that we walked through cougar habitat. Yikes! I am more afraid of cougars than any other wild animal I’ve encountered, including alligators and bear.