FARMINGTON — The black dune buggy droned up College Boulevard, its mesh doors flapping, suspension bobbing, wind whipping over the low-cut window and a Lego Star Wars Boba Fett keychain swinging in the ignition, as Nate Duckett, squinting in the wind and sun, sped on to Chokecherry Canyon.
"These are the best views in Farmington, right up here," he said, looking over the city rooftops.
The four-seater Polaris Razor 4 800's wheels left the pavement, its suspension compressed and it churned into the canyon's sandy trails.
The 36-year-old candidate for the District 4 council seat has said Farmington provides its residents with a high quality of life. But the community must share its knowledge, experience and determination to maintain the city's draw, he has said.
The orange speedometer needle dropped to 30 mph.
"The fun thing about the Razor, the faster you go, the better it handles," he said.
His 9-year-old daughter, Hannah, sat calmly in the back seat with her hands stuffed into the pockets of her pink hoodie. She was buckled in and wore a black full-face helmet and yellow goggles.
The buggy blew past and around a plastic water bottle beneath a juniper.
"Remember that time, Hannah, when we came out here and we found a bed and a screen door?" Duckett said, cornering hard down a hill.
"Mhm," Hannah said.
It's a shame, Duckett said, how much trash is dumped in this beautiful canyon — cracked tires, empty oil cans, TVs. Often, he said, they'll park the buggy and collect what they can in garbage bags.
Commercial dumpsters are spread through the city, he said, so there's no need to bring it out here. He wishes the county would build a transfer station nearby.
The buggy's body bounced on its tall suspension as Duckett decelerated and wound through junipers and piñon trees. Sand and pebbles snapped up clanking against the metal machine.
Some nights, after getting home from the insurance agency he runs, Duckett will rip through these sandy washes and over sandstone budges to unwind. He said it's not to blow off stress, it's that time spent with his family is time well spent.
Sometimes, he'll tie a sled to the back bumper and drag Hannah, her younger brother and their mom through the soft washes. But he'll always drive, he said, because that's his job.
The orange needle crept back to 25 mph as the buggy blasted through a wash.
"My friend, Randy Allen, who owns Next Level (Home) Audio (& Video), he's the one who got me to buy one of these things," Duckett said as the buggy burst onto an oilfield road. "It's awesome."
He's now owned the buggy for two years. He said it's the only thing in the world he's ever looked at and said, "This can enhance my life instantly."
He learned these hills when he was young. Duckett moved to the city his sophomore year in high school and banded with a group of friends who would roam the canyon in Ford Broncos and Chevy Blazers. Now, he said, he knows the canyon like the back of his hand.
Over his left shoulder is Glade Road, and beyond that is The Playground, he said. World class four-wheeling can be found there, he said.
He turned off the road, decelerated and began to climb some towering hills. The buggy's wheels spat stones as he reached the top. These hills are great but they aren't as serious as what's in The Playground, he said.
Suddenly the buggy's undercarriage caught on a sandstone notch. It scraped, pivoted and then ripped free.
"Sorry about that," Duckett said.
He rolled to a high spot, parked the buggy and stepped down.
He squinted into the distance. His sunglasses sat atop his blue, white and orange Broncos hat. The sky was big and clear and over the scraggly hills in the distance were the La Plata Mountains. They gleamed white.
"This is why we live in Northern New Mexico," he said. "This is why."