Early in June, my good friend since college, Richard Barron, let me know that he and his wife were going on a vacation to Taos, NM. He wanted to know if I would climb Wheeler Peak with him. I wrote about the Wheeler Peak hike in ANOTHER POST.
This post will focus on everything else about the trip to and from New Mexico to meet Richard and Abby in Taos.
CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
I left for Taos on Sunday afternoon. The game plan was for me to drive to the Cathedral Valley of Capitol Reef National Park, photograph the sunset on the cathedrals, van-camp in the valley and then shoot the sunrise. When done, I would drive the rest of the way to Taos to meet my friends.
Cathedral Valley has non-maintained roads. There are times the roads are washed out, deep in mud or covered in snow.
When I got within 15 miles of the valley, I had to traverse a mountain range. Shortly after I started up the dirt road, I came to a junction in the road where the road narrowed in width by about one half. There was a sign that said four wheeled drive was required to continue over the road. Naturally, my van does not have 4-wheeled drive.
I considered ignoring the sign and continuing over the mountain because I really wanted to make it to the valley. However, I then imagined that if I got stuck out in the middle of nowhere, with no cell service, it would not be a fun thing. So, I abandoned my cathedral quest and headed to the entrance of Capitol Reef instead.
One of the things I like about Capitol Reef is that it is a drive through park. There is no formal gate/entrance.
As I approached, with the sun setting behind me, I stopped before the official beginning of the park and took a few snaps.
I spent almost no time at all in the park as I was rethinking my plan for the evening now that the Cathredral Valley sunset shots were out of the picture.
BUTLER WASH INDIAN RUINS
With the help of my friend Robert, who was talking on the phone with me, I decided to head to the Butler Wash ruins in San Juan County in southeastern Utah. It was about a 3 hour journey through remote lands.
After I left the park area, I only saw 1 car from about 10pm until 7am the next morning. I was out in the middle of nowhere. This was also evidenced by the fact that I almost missed the ruins because there was no signage on my side of the road. Thank goodness for my GPS which let me know I had passed the location. When I turned around, there was signage from the other direction.
At about 11:30pm, I turned into the large, empty parking lot that had no lighting whatsoever. I parked and van-camped the night. I love van-camping and I always sleep like well.
I woke up before sunrise and used the early light to survey my surroundings, since I could not see a thing when I pulled in the night before. To be honest, it did not look like much.
After brushing my teeth and shaving, I found the trailhead and made the short hike to the ruins, with a few diversions.
The hike to the ruins overlook is about a half mile over varied terrain. It reminded me of hiking sections of Canyonlands with Richard.
I did not have high hopes for the site, but when I arrived at the overlook, it was pretty cool peering into the homes of Anasazi Indians. They occupied this area until around 1300, when the mega drought hit the Four Corners area and the inhabitants abandoned their pueblos and homes.
I explored around the wash area and made some fun pix. I wished I was able to walk up to the ruins for a closer look.
I spend about an hour at the ruins and then got back on the road to head to Taos.
EARTHSHIP BIOTECTURE COMMUNITY
Not too far from Taos is th Earthship Biotecture community in the desert lands. I had seen it passing by before, but I had never stopped until this trip. I spent about 15 minutes walking around, taking pix, and soaking in the vibe.
The concept around the community is certainly a good idea. Reducing negative impacts that human life has on the planet and doing things to save precious resources are both worthy goals. I appreciate and respect their intent in those regards.
THE RIO GRANDE GORGE BRIDGE
A few miles down the road from the Biotecture community, you have to cross over the Rio Grande Gorge to get to Taos.
The Gorge Bridge is about 600 feet above the river and is the 10th highest bridge in the country. And there is the problem for me – the height.
I parked my car to walk out unto the middle of the bridge, and as you can imagine, my acrophobia kicked in BIG TIME. It was very bad. So much so that I had to walk in road as I could not be up on the sidewalk by the railing. When a car, or worse yet, a big truck came by, I literally sat in a ball on the sidewalk as the bridge vibrated and moved.
The photo below was the best I could do. I shot it while sitting down and holding up my cell phone. I cropped out the railing that was in the shot. I could not see what I was shooting.
After my bridge freak out, I made the short drive to Taos and met up with Richard and Abby in their hotel room.
Richard and I had not seen each other in person for about 6 years. There is always that awkward moment or two when seeing someone after a while. Then all of a sudden it clicks, memories rush in, and you start connecting, talking and laughing like you just saw each other last week.
After some time in the hotel room chatting, Richard and I ventured out to find some dinner. Seems like an easy task, but it was not. Taos was mostly a ghost tell full of permanently and temporarily closed businesses. Even the I-Hop was closed!
We ended up eating at a very strange Wendy’s.
My first meal in Taos was a Strawberry Chicken Salad and a chili-topped potato. (see photo) Nothing but the best!
After taking food back for Abby, Richard and I walked to the Plaza in downtown Taos for some dusk and night photography. There was hardly anyone out. We basically had the entire place to ourselves.
Speaking of sunset behind the plaza. Richard was working on some HDR shots of this scene. Evidence of this is shown in the goofy video below.
Plaza and Mission Church
After another night of van-camping, Richard and I got up the next morning to climb the summit of Wheeler Peak. Again, see other post.
That evening, Richard and Abby hung out together and I made a solo trip to the Franscisco Asis Mission Church in Rancho de Taos. It is a relatively small mission built in the middle of a quaint little community.
I shot some pix of the surroundings while I also shot a hyperlapse video of the sun going down behind the mission. The grounds of the area had beautiful colors and Hollyhock flowers.
The video is not spectacular, but I do love that it caught some people coming in after sunset to kneel down before the cross and say prayers.
The Trip Home
The next morning I was up and on the road before 6am. I had 10 hours of driving ahead of me.
I decided to not plan any specific stops on the way home but to remain open to where the journey leads.
By far, the highlight of the trip home was the pastures in the Carson National Forest. There were green, carpeted with flowers, trees and other features. I adore the shot below. That whole scene was terrific. I saw about 8 elk, 2 deer, lots of birds, and lots of beautiful imagery.
Whenever you drive through the countryside, you are bounds to see some interesting things. This trip was not different.
Another fun part about traveling is eating at new places. This hole in the wall tiny establishment, called Fina’s Diner, had INCREDIBLE breakfast. Their biscuits and sausage gravy was the best I ever had in a restaurant. Another interesting thing about this place was that they has a window open in the front, and people could drive up and get meals cooked while at the drive-thru window.
As you can see, I covered a lot of ground in three days. I absolutely love road trips and this one was no different.
It was great to connect with Richard and Abby, climb Wheeler Peak, make a new friend, Kathy, see so many cool features of the west and southwest, and to spend some time out of the normal bubble.
I can’t wait until the next adventure!