Upon leaving Taos, I forgot one of them major suggestions that a friend gave to me, which was to stop and see the Rio Grande. Fortunately for me, there was no way to miss it, and I was able to pull over while I scraped my jaw off of the floor of my car. I may be repeating myself on this, but the pictures do not do the place any justice – and these are particularly bad pictures with the lighting the time of day I stopped.
Part of my amazement with the beauty was how flat and vast the land appears to be on upper rim and then the degree it plummets to the riverbed below; 800 feet according to Wikipedia.
The river is a result of plates shifting some twenty-nine million years ago. It is also designated as a Wild and Scenic River. For my South Florida people, the Loxahatchee River also holds this distinction. It is easy to take for granted what lies in own backyards sometimes. If I had to pinpoint one of the first and biggest lessons I learned while working in tourism industry these past ten years, it is to let explorations of new places renew an appreciation and sense of awe in the things that we see on a regular basis.
In this picture, you can see another cow on the road and a car in front of me. The couple in the car were also visiting the Rio Grande, and we ended up following each other for most of the next 100 miles, often passing each other at different pull offs. After the second stop, we struck up a conversation. They were from Hot Springs, Arkansas, a place I had stopped several states ago during my first couple of camping nights on this trip. I was going to Mesa Verde next, and they were going to check out the Grand Canyon. Having seen Mesa Verde before, they suggested that I also make time to visit Chaco Canyon, a place very different but rumored to be related to the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde. Despite the short conversation, they would influence my travel direction over the next week. Part of the joy of traveling is being okay with being a tourist and talking to others who may have experiences or knowledge of a place. And since I had no schedule what-so-ever, I welcomed suggestions with open arms.
The drive from Taos, New Mexico to Pagosa Springs, Colorado was a beautiful one through the most desert-like conditions I had ever seen. I passed the Earthship Biotecture community, a place that makes you say, “Wha?!”, and a lot more cows in the road. I traveled through my first of many areas with no cell reception and from the look of the ranches and their signs threatening to shoot without question, I crossed my fingers that my car wouldn’t have a breakdown. It would be a long walk in a place I would not want to have to ask for a ride from the locals. On US-64 between Tres Piedras and Tierra Amarillo, the roads were steep, the private property signs somewhat frightening, but the vistas of mountains were awe-inspiring… and the first like it for me.
As I crossed the state line into Colorado, I passed trucks with paddleboards on their roof racks and began to wonder just where I was and if I could just stay there forever. I am a water girl and a big fan of paddleboarding in my Miami world. I soon entered the town of Pagosa Springs and immediately fell in love. Back in January of this year, I came to Colorado for the first time with some friends on a ski trip but kept to the snow and mountains between Denver and the ski areas of Keystone and Breckenridge. So, Pagosa Springs was a nice introduction to summer in Colorado. It was a tourist town filled with cute restaurants, breweries, a beautiful little river and an active-in-the-outdoors type of community.
I loaded up on brochures of Colorado towns and information on the Hot Springs in Pagosa Springs and said goodbye; it was too soon on my drive to stop overnight. I believe I was afraid I would stay forever if I had decided to spend the night.
I pushed on to Durango, another cute town that was on my list. This town was bigger than Pagosa Springs, and I could see the river and rafts filled with adventurers as soon as I entered the city limits. I looked at a couple of campsites around town so that I could check out the community and Mesa Verde National Park which wasn’t too far away. The first campsite was in the middle of nowhere just northwest of town. It was beautiful but did not have hot showers, let alone running water. After contemplating my last couple of nights of waking up to 40-degree weather and a pretty rustic shower with poor internet service, I decided to move on to search for a place with more creature comforts for a change. I did a couple of drive-bys of downtown and looked through Airbnb options, but it was not a cheap town, so I decided against it. The downtown of Durango reminded me of an old western movie with the look and feel of the architecture, but the people were more like a Patagonia catalog. Add it to the list of places to look into moving.
I decided to go straight to Mesa Verde and check out the campsites inside the National Park. If I were going to spend money, I would rather at this point, spend it there. As I pulled into the campground to check out conditions I was flanked by some scruffy looking deer I later learned were mule deer. They were not shy and blocked my car from leaving while they wandered from one abandoned campsite to the next. I had called ahead the night before to check with the park service to find out about the threat of bears. I knew that some National Parks have major issues with bears preying upon recklessly discarded waste and wanted to find out if keeping food in my car was safe enough or if this was a place where bear lockers were a necessity. After a long time on hold, the nice lady (nowhere near or familiar with this park) informed me that bears aren’t an issue at all.
As soon as I paid at the general store and came back to grab my campsite, the skies opened up, and the biggest rain storm I had seen since I was in Florida passed through. I stayed in my car for a few hours and got some writing done, all the while wondering if that would be the picture of my next 12 hours.
Fortunately, the rain did stop, and it turned into a beautiful evening. The campground was in a small canyon which blocked part of my view, but what was visible was full of stars. I shared the campground with what appeared to be a load of Germans in RVs, all running their generators while the deer grazed between us. I say that with loving memories of not only my German co-workers but of those tourists to South Florida who seemed to storm the parks with more numbers than most other nationalities. I would soon find out that in this part of the country, the sheer amount of National Parks and international tourists would rival what I had already imaged to be a crowded place.
The campsite was close to an amphitheater where a ranger was to do a night sky presentation, but the rain canceled the program. I regret the times on this trip that I didn’t get out of my tent at night and explore but often the cold, loneliness, and pile of reading material for my next day’s plan kept me from fully letting go and enjoying all of my surroundings. Though I saw a lot while traveling through these places, my list of things to do when I return continues to grow.
I have always joked about getting a van or mobile home, and this was about the time that I kicked myself for not having taken a closer look at getting one instead of a car. If I had, my trek might have been slower, and I may have increased the number of roadside breakdowns buuuuutttt……….It would be so much more convenient to live out of my vehicle and not worry about setting up a tent, or spending money on a hotel room, or carting my necessities in and out of the car. There is always tomorrow, I suppose.