West and north of Albuquerque, as I drove several hours, first through majestic, rugged mountains, I became accustomed to the driving experience where atop every climb through a pass, the world would open into a enormous scene of expansive plateaus with sporadic formations thrusting upward, islands of rock and trees.
With a view so large, the trees don’t seem tall until you reach them. Still, most of the high desert I viewed from the car was speckled with low pines, shrubs, and grasses in patches. Taller trees seem to prefer the shelter of the mountainside.
And anywhere there was trees, there was the song of cicadas.
Horses and cows wandered the areas close to the road, sometimes without fences. The buildings were low, square-ish, occasionally no more than a group of campers and some sheds, sometimes broad ranch houses, tucked into fingers of the rock formations or standing out alone in the desert.
Off the US highway, the unpaved state roads made for a tooth rattling trip. The road was a slightly rolling, straight tan line thinning out in the distance, miles away into a single point.
The color of the sky was rich, though not dark or deep blue, but solid, consistent, true blue, and different than the whitened color I am used to. Lonely clouds cast patches of shadows over small areas of the large flat expanse, creating dark mirror images on the ground.
Chaco Canyon and the Chaco Culture National Historical Park was absolutely fascinating. This is a unique place, like no other in the world, and a designated UNESCO Heritage Site. The first few hours exploring the visitor’s center and the ruins were simply too brief. I’ll detail more on the Chaco culture and the ruins in another blog post. Instead, I’ll focus on the second half of my day, which was the hike above the rim.
The Pueblo Alto trail began with a moderate climb through the rocks, maybe 30 feet above the canyon floor, then continued through a crevice in the rock face. Once up on the rim, the trail continued by following markers of stacked stones. A small climb later, the vast plateau spread out as the wind whipped and the sun hammered me. A short route brought me back around to the rim, 500 feet above, where the entire canyon was visible for miles.
The wind, especially up high, was fierce. It nearly blew me clear off of several narrow trails and cliff edges (not really, but I almost lost my baseball cap). The way down ended with the same climb through the rocks.
I had a several hour drive to my next stop, so I made my way back out out the park on a different spine shaking road. Instead of following the GPS recommended route, I made my way to Santa Fe through the Santa Fe National Forest to the north on NM 95. A great choice, as this area featured tall pines and spiraling rock formations.
I passed by the first large body of water on my trip, The Abiquiu Reservoir.
Found my western themed motel just after sunset. It lies on a main thoroughfare of motels, auto supply stores, and strip malls. Yet is was very charming in a cowboy themed way, and exactly what you might expect from a good, cheap motel. The room was small, not spartan, but not lavish. The shower was tiny, but everything was clean. Imagine staying in somebody’s guest bedroom, but with your own microwave and table. Perfect for a home base.
For two days, I never saw much of Santa Fe. I spent my days further out. I hear it is very charming, and will return to find out. Except for one night at a brewery restaurant, I ate mostly fruit and eggs for breakfast, and trail mix and Cliff bars during the day.
The restaurant, however, was delightful. I can’t say how the beer was, but they had live music and my pleasant pierced server took a few minutes to proudly show me her self-designed tattoos when I commented on them.
Other than that, the other establishment I visited – a laundromat – was clean and efficient.
The next day, I headed to Bandelier National Monument. An hour-ish drive, short by standards I was getting used to.