I’m just going to pretend it hasn’t been a month since I posted the first half of this story. Good news is it will be revised to only the most important and memorable parts as time and constantly fading memory will play the part of the editor.
We woke up at dawn, as we did nearly every morning on the trip (and it was surprisingly very enjoyable to do so) and tried to quickly cook breakfast and pack up so that we could start the hike early. Though it didn’t get underway as early as planned, we set out at about 9am. The first leg of the hike was easy: some wooden bridges, a picturesque meadow full of butterflies (above), and a clearly defined trail. Some parts of this trail were so woodsy and fantastical, it was reminiscent of the Shire from Lord of the Rings. After a couple miles we reached the fork for Gold Hill. From there it was a steady climb then a more strenuous one. We continued to cross back and forth over the mountain stream. The carefully constructed wooden bridges from early on were now just logs laid across or staggered rocks on which one had to choose her step carefully. The increasing challenge was invigorating and though judging by the tree line we were making slow progress, we were determined to press on. Further now than ever from civilization, we made sure to make our presence known to any unsuspecting forest creature by way of song, or the occasional tribal call, “oh AH AH oh AH AH!” By now each of us had acquired a suitable walking staff that we could also use in our defense if necessary.
As we climbed higher our water and cliff bar supply began to dwindle. We brought two jugs per person thinking it would be enough but after four hours everyone was on their second jug. I knew the hike down would be faster and we wouldn’t need as much water so I suggested we continue just a little further, in case we were almost there. And so we trekked further. We had estimated the Gold Hill leg to be about four miles, and felt like we had already gone that far. Finally, unsure of the remaining distance and with little water we decided to stop at a clearing on a ridge to eat lunch then head back. Although not as satisfying as the peak would have been, this location had a great view and allowed us to see how far up we had climbed. We cheers-ed our shots of Bulleit just as the sky let out a distant but powerful roll of thunder, as if to agree. Then it began to rain, a light misty mountain rain.
The hike down only took 2 and a half hours. We used our quads more than ever. The return trip was like a rewinded version of the ascent: faster and in reverse. We recognized this or that tree, rock formation, birch forest or stream crossing, going by them at double the speed. I thought my knees would take most of the beating, but by the end it was my hips who had given up on me.
We reached the trail head at about 3:30 to find llamas in the parking lot. Apparently some people ride them on the trails. We changed out of our possibly poison-ivey-covered clothes and took preventative baby-wipe baths. We parted with our trusty walking staffs and bid them a long and fulfilling life in the service of future forest hikers.
Originally we had planned to get to Lake Abiquiu by four for swimming and camping, but it was already 3:30 and we were at least two hours away. We decided to still go, if nothing else, to see some new and beautiful scenery along the way before heading back to Santa Fe. We went West out of Taos from mountains right onto the desert mesa. Normally you can see for miles across to the end of the mesa where mountains spring up on the other side, but the clouds had followed us and it was raining with low visibility. About ten miles outside of town the ground suddenly dropped 650 below us and in an instant we were crossing the Rio Grande Gorge. It was an awesome surprise and by awesome I mean, really…..AWEsome.
We continued on down the desert road to find an outcrop of interesting looking structures called Earthships. They are sustainable, biotectured dwellings that look like a cross between a hobbit house and a spaceship. Dream come true right?
The mesa is just one of many BLM lands, which is land owned by the New Mexican Bureau of Land Management. It is considered public land and anyone is allowed to use it. Many people live on the mesa in tents or trailers, post-apocalyptic style. At least one of the famed Rainbow Gatherings took place here.
Later, along side of the road we saw a wild black stallion just roaming through the desert. We were almost close enough to touch him as we slowly passed by. BEAUTIFUL. At Tres Piedras we turned South. This road took us back through a national forest. The rain became thicker and the horizon slowly turned into a gray haze. We began to have doubts about getting to the lake before dark. Almost out of gas we stopped in the tiny town of Ojo Caliente (hot eye?). Strange place. The speed limit sign said 10mph. There were only four or five buildings, most of them restaurants. We decided to eat dinner there. Upon entering we realized how badly we, as non-locals, stood out. Suddenly becoming the center of attention, we awkwardly walked to the counter to order our food, being closely scrutinized by all patrons present. The food was so-so but as hungry as we were, we didn’t really care.
Now only an hour away from Santa Fe, we decided to head back to the city for the evening since we didn’t deem it worth it to set up a tent in the dark only to take it down early the next morning. We arrived back at the adobe house where my friend Ben was staying with a gift of locally-brewed beer to show our gratitude in exchange for his hospitality. We spent the evening together, conversing and laughing at ourselves doing ridiculous yoga poses.
The next morning Ben took us to the Santa Fe farmer’s market. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Maybe I have never been to a decent farmer’s market but I was facinated and instantly jealous of Ben who has weekly access to such a diverse plethora of home-grown, home-baked and handmade goods. There were all kinds of vegetables, breads, pies, cheese and meats for sale. I wanted one of everything.
(source: have spork, will travel)
Our next stop was a flea market just outside of town on an Indian reservation. I will not show you any pictures of this because there are none. Cameras not allowed, Tesuque rules. Most of the wares for sale did not interest me as they were overly touristy and “Indian” with too high of an asking price. I did however find one interesting thing: an artist hut ornately decorated with layers upon layers of ……trash, really. Plastic figurines, tires, painted burger baskets and paper, lots of paper, lined the exterior of this hut, resembling a shrine to the god of art garbage. The style of art was to the tune of Baquiat: harsh but childlike renderings of humans and animals. The hut functioned as a gallery and studio in one. The dirt floor was covered with thousands of puzzle pieces. Inside the artist was conversing with one of the visitors. The art was good. It’s a shame I can’t remember the artist’s name.
We had arrived in Santa Fe three days earlier and still had yet to see the Plaza downtown. It was time. The Plaza is the main square of the city and included several galleries and restaurants, as well as the St. Francis Cathedral. It was not what I had expected. There are no tall buildings. Law requires nothing be taller than the capital building which is only about 5 stories. Most buildings on the were only two or three stories and of course, all adobe. I found the gallery where my grandmother sells her art right on the Plaza. I have seen her paint for years but this was the first time I had seen her work in a gallery setting. Very cool. We ate a French cafe then explored the interior of St. Francis. The Plaza area was cool to see but littered with tourists and tiresome. In the afternoon we went back to the house to unwind and read a book or take a nap. I can’t convey to you the extent of the peaceful and serene atmosphere the small adobe house provided. I enjoyed spending time there just as much as anything else we did in Santa Fe.
In the evening Ben took Kara and I out for a night of New Mexican food and drinks. We made reservations at The Shed, a Santa Fe staple for new mexican food. The entrance was in a small courtyard off the Plaza and in interior was an interconnected maze of rooms with low passageways. It had an old, authentic feel. Our table was interesting: it was in the corner by a doorway, shaped for exactly three people (2 across from 1). The awkward placement in the room made it seem like we got the shaft but we thought it humorous more than anything. The food was TASTY. I learned that there is a difference between mexican and new mexican food, however slight it may be. New mexican food is often spicier and entrees are usually topped with a fried egg. We enjoyed our meal and margaritas, feeling quite good by the time we left.
We expressed interest in getting a few more drinks and asked Ben to take us to a good bar. He responded by leading us into the most ritzy hotel in Santa Fe, the Loretto, which looks like an adobe castle. This was not at all what Kara and I expected and we looked at each other in confusion, not being able to tell if he was serious. Serious he was: he led us through the lobby and into the hotel bar which immediately made me feel underdressed. I’d never been to such swanky of a place for drinks. Unsure of ourselves, Kara and I ordered a beer and Ben graciously picked up the tab. We found a table and sat down. Still trying to figure out exactly what was going on, Kara asked Ben if he normally comes here. He confessed he’s “not much of a night person” and was unsure of where to take us, which we found comical since he was seemingly so confident and at ease in the epitome of a nighthawk atmosphere. We laughed about this for a while and listened to the house band who was playing across the room.
After drinks we decided to explore the hotel a little, so we went to the fifth (top) floor. We walked outside to find ourselves on the utmost patio (top center of picture) which provided great views of the city and Plaza. Remember that in Santa Fe, five stories means one of the tallest buildings.
We eventually returned home and decided, of all things, to play cards. We were unsuccessful at starting a real game, instead we played arbitrary games, making up the rules as we went along. Surprisingly this was very entertaining and went on a lot longer than one might have imagined possible. Somehow this developed into drawing pictures and mathematical diagrams that proved the err of scheduling such an early departure time in the morning. We were convinced.
So instead of leaving at 4am, we left around 7 which still got us back at the reasonable hour of 6pm. That morning in the backseat as we left Santa Fe, I was exhausted from getting little sleep but I would not close my eyes until we were out of the empyrean mountainous desert. I had to soak up every last little bit of it as I knew it would soon be replaced by the flat, monotonous landscape of the panhandle. Upon arriving in Denton I was glad to be home and thankful for my experience. The desert, the mountains, the West will always speak to me in ways I can’t explain. I hope I’ll have a chance to recharge my batteries again soon.
(first photo compliments of Kara Kelley)