When Nayeli and Tacho reach the Rocky Mountains, they stop at a Burger King near a hot springs. They sit outside to eat, and a group of girls asks them if they're Pakistani. Tacho proudly replies that he's Mexican and queer. Later, as they continue east, Nayeli watches rafters in the river as they sit in a traffic jam, and suddenly, mayflies burst out of the gorge. Nayeli laughs at how beautiful it is. When they pass the Native American flagger, Tacho points to his Apache tee shirt and the flagger gives him a thumbs up.
When the girls mistake Nayeli and Tacho for being Pakistani, it's humorous, but it also speaks to Americans’ overwhelming anxiety about terrorism in the post-9/11 world. This moment also shows that racism isn't always as overt as it was in the case of Jimbo and Sully—the girls mistaking Nayeli and Tacho for being Pakistani is its own kind of cultural ignorance.
They continue to climb the mountain and stop at a viewpoint. Nayeli cries again at the view, and Tacho shrieks excitedly when he sees mountain goats. When they reach the Continental Divide tunnel, they honk their horn with the other cars as they drive through. Tacho tries hard to not fry the brakes on the downslope on the other side. He pulls over so that Nayeli can look at the buffalo, and when a blue jay scolds Nayeli, Tacho notes that even the birds hate Mexicans.
Now that Tacho is disillusioned and feels as though the US is out to get him, he's even more attuned to any possible sleight towards him on account of his nationality. This illustrates how oppressed people are often more in tune with these smaller aggressions, as they have to be in order to survive.
As night arrives, Nayeli is thrilled and intrigued by the cold, though Tacho is less impressed. They find a motel, and the woman who checks them in thinks they're Iraqi. Nayeli purchases food, Tacho buys gas, and upon getting to their room, Tacho gets into the bathtub to escape the cold. Nayeli watches the HBO channel on TV.
Again, though the woman at the hotel isn't unkind, she demonstrates cultural ignorance in mistaking Nayeli and Tacho for being Iraqi. Her mistake also suggests she spends a great deal of time listening to the news saturated with stories of the Middle East.
The next day, Tacho and Nayeli smirk at the skinny people jogging in Boulder, Colorado. They climb another mountain, and when they begin their descent on the other side, Nayeli catches her breath again: the valley below looks just like paintings from Nayeli's copy of Heidi. She asks to pull over near the lake at the bottom so she can look at the "horses with antlers," and Tacho complies, though he's bored and uninterested. He insists the beasts are robots.
When Tacho says that the beasts are robots, it's another reference to the movie Westworld. By thinking of these strange animals as though they're fake, the novel explores further how Tacho's disillusionment means that he doesn't want to even acknowledge that what he's seeing is real.
When Nayeli jumps out, she's immediately freezing. She watches the animals eat and greets a fisherman fishing in the lake. In broken English, she asks the fisherman what the big animals are. He asks if she's cold, and though he tries not to smile, he finds it impossible to not smile at Nayeli. He leads her to his truck and gives her a massive sweatshirt and then explains that the creatures are elk. Nayeli looks it up in her dictionary and finds that she's never even heard of elk in Spanish. He teaches Nayeli to fish and tells her about the wildlife in the valley. She kisses him goodbye on the cheek and is far away before she realizes she didn't learn his name.
When Nayeli finds that she is learning as many words in Spanish as she is in English, it reinforces the fact that this isn't just a learning experience about the United States. Nayeli is learning just as much about herself and where she fits in the world, which will eventually help her to grow up and reach a greater sense of maturity. However, learning these things, especially when they seem fantastical, also contributes to her sense of idealism.
At the gates of Rocky Mountain National Park, Tacho hands the ranger money. She kindly counts out the proper amount and hands him a map. When Tacho notices a bobcat and shrieks, Nayeli reminds him that it's just a robot. Later, when it starts to snow, they get out and run through the flakes. Back in the van, Nayeli hides her face so Tacho won't see her cry. Finally, they reach the Kansas border. At a gas station, a siren begins to howl and a state trooper waves Nayeli and Tacho into a shop to escape the coming tornado. When Nayeli explains they're headed for Kankakee, Illinois, the cop turns to the woman next to him and laments that "illegals" can drive cross-country, while working Americans can't afford gas.
Note that this ranger is female, just like the Border Patrol officer who let Tacho and Rigoberto into the US. By including these female characters as part of the landscape, the novel shows that women can absolutely hold positions of power. This implies that the women of Tres Camarones don’t actually need men to protect the village. Meanwhile, the Kansas cop’s rude comment about “illegals” shows his racism. Although Tacho and Nayeli are illegal immigrants, the cop seems to think the very fact that they are Mexican means that they must be illegal immigrants. In addition, by calling Tacho and Nayeli “illegals” rather than people, the cop dehumanizes them.