A Toyota Named Helios

My 2003 Toyota Tundra at White Sands National Monument, Alamogordo, New Mexico 2013 Photograph by ©Craig Varjabedian
My 2003 Toyota Tundra at White Sands National Monument, Alamogordo, New Mexico 2013 Photograph by ©Craig Varjabedian

One of the most important tools in my photographic work is not found in my camera bag. It’s my perfect Zone V gray toned 2003 Toyota Tundra purchased new from Beaver Toyota in Santa Fe. I have come to truly respect Toyota and in fact this dealer too. Years ago, after many failed attempts to repair a Toyota Land Cruiser I owned at the time, Toyota gave me a new vehicle with their sincerest apologies. They have had my heartfelt gratitude and loyalty to their brand ever since.

When I drove the Tundra off the lot that day in 2003, all shiny and new, I thought this vehicle needed a name. I knew that great adventures awaited us, and naming the Tundra seemed an appropriate way to begin our voyage.  I remembered that in Greek mythology the all-seeing god of the sun was Helios. We christened our new friend after that majestic Greek god of the sun.

"L'Aurora" by Guido Reni, c. 1614.
"L'Aurora" by Guido Reni, c. 1614.

If Helios could speak, what stories he would tell! The roads we have traveled, the beautiful New Mexico light we have seen, and the photographs I made along the way could fill volumes and terabytes of hard drive space. Beautiful sunrises at Ghost Ranch years ago and now beautiful sunsets at White Sands National Monument that I am photographing for a book in progress. I remember with great fondness making a photograph of an old corral in a pasture on Antelope Flats at Ghost Ranch years ago. With an impending storm overhead, I was able to set up my view camera and tripod under the fiberglass cap that covered the truck bed and protected me from the hail that fell shortly after I made the exposure. Helios has carried me and my camera gear capably for twelve years now and has never let me down, even though the roads we travel sometimes do.

Old Corral and Approaching Storm, Antelope Flats, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico 2005. Photograph by ©Craig Varjabedian
Old Corral and Approaching Storm, Antelope Flats, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico 2005. Photograph by ©Craig Varjabedian

It has been an amazing run that’s far from over. My mechanic, Mike Potter, who I met at the Toyota dealer many years ago, takes care of Helios now at his own garage. We were there recently for a complete checkup and oil change (Mobil 1 synthetic oil, thank you very much) when he told me the most amazing story. He cares for a Toyota 4Runner that currently has a whopping 385,000 miles on the original engine. That vehicle continues to run strong up the hill to Los Alamos and back every day. This seems to me an incredible feat, as I remember back in the 1970's that my father would drive a car for four or five years and then, with only 100,000 miles on it, trade in the rusted hulk (we lived in Detroit) for a new vehicle.

Here in New Mexico old cars never really die; in fact they don’t even rust away. When a car or truck won’t run any more it is sometimes towed out into an arroyo (a wash or gully), where it is used as a kind of berm to stop water erosion. Thirty or forty years will pass and some distant relative of the owner will discover the car, remove it from the arroyo, and restore the vehicle, sometimes chopping it and lowering it to become a beautiful lowrider. A herd of these cars cruisin’ and bouncin’ along the streets of Espanola on a Saturday night is quite a sight. In fact, every once in a while I will spy a bumper sticker on a vehicle in northern New Mexico that proudly states, “My other car is in the arroyo!”

"My other car is in the arroyo" bumper sticker
"My other car is in the arroyo" bumper sticker

And because all good things eventually come to an end, I have begun thinking about what will happen when Helios can’t make it up the hills as he did in his younger days. My hope is for him to spend his twilight years with a horse trainer friend of mine named Sadie who will love and care for him as much as I have. She will use him to carry hay out to her horses and help with her never-ending chores. It seems like easier work to me, and I like to think of my faithful friend enjoying the beautiful New Mexico sunshine like the many horses on her ranch.

Sadie Lombardi, Horsewoman, Santa Fe, New Mexico 2004 Photograph by ©Craig Varjabedian
Sadie Lombardi, Horsewoman, Santa Fe, New Mexico 2004 Photograph by ©Craig Varjabedian