Oregon to New Mexico
This month long journey began from my Oregon home. The first evening took me to Lynette Shirley’s home in Surprise Valley, CA as she would join me for this month long (plus) road adventure. Our trusty stead (hopefully) would be a 1996 GMC pickup which I had just traded photography for. I named the metal road beast Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse. An old 1969 green Ford pickup which my late wife and I traveled in throughout the USA and Mexico had also been named Rocinante. When John Steinbeck traveled with his dog which led to the book Travels with Charley, his combo pickup and camper was named Rocinante. A few days prior to leaving on the adventure, my dear friend Rick Ponte called from his Rogue River home and mentioned that someone had a 1967 Caveman Classic Camper for sale. Rick and Carol looked at it for me, gave me a call back and said that it was in good shape. I made a quick trip over and purchased it from a river rafter/mountaineer. Rick suggested that I name it Further after Ken Kesey’s bus from the Merry Pranksters. I took his suggestion with one more addition. The camper is officially Further In (in a sense, it could be Inn, too!).
Leaving Surprise Valley, we made our way to Fallen, Nevada where we picked up some extra supplies, then we headed down the Loneliest Highway in America, Highway 50…which nowadays is not even remotely close to being the loneliest. Departing 50, we made our way to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, spending a bitter cold evening inside the embrace of Further In. Ice was on all of the windows upon awakening. The propane portable heater (with some venting) warmed up the camper quickly. The hot coffee never tasted so good. Clear blue skies and a warming sun greeted us. After breakfast we hiked and explored this fascinating park where fossils of the prehistoric fish exist abundantly. We were the only people in this remote spot, though the park ranger later came and he gave us a tour of the fossil museum. Thirty seven Ichthyosaur have been found in the park. On our way out, we walked the ghost mining town of Berlin with its fascinating building and bone-yard of relics from a bygone period. Departing Berlin, I photographed a small herd of pronghorn antelope.
The day was spent traveling to our second evening camper encampment, Rachel, Nevada along the Extraterrestrial Highway which is adjacent to Area 51 and is famous for alien sightings. We saw none…but the night heavens and stars were glorious. Lynette went into the Little Ale’Inn and purchased some alien trinkets.
We entered Utah the following day and made our way to Cedar City where we spent the night in the Jiffy Lube parking lot. We arrived just in time to get Rocinante serviced. A bitter cold night again but we were hooked up to their electricity so we were able to use our little space heater. Leaving early we headed through the spectacular colorful canyon which skirts Cedar Breaks National Monument, threading our way to Kanab and eventually Page, Arizona where a longtime friend Carol McCartney met us at the Glen Canyon Dam Visitor Center. She took us to an overlook that most tourists pass up and we were presented with an awe inspiring canyon view of the Colorado River. After a quick shower at Carol’s, we hit the road, driving into the night to Monument Valley. We parked on a side-road near the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park but just after retiring a car pulled up and started honking. A Navajo lady told us that we shouldn’t park here as “there are drunks and hobos that show up here.” Unable to sleep, we pulled out and spent the evening in the parking lot of the Tribal Park.
We were greeted with speechless natural beauty when we awoke. We spent a memorable morning exploring this glorious slice of tierra firma. We traveled several miles of the 18 mile dirt road which leads one to many of the Monument Valley rock towers. A visit to the new museum is a must. One section is dedicated to the Navajo Code Talkers of WW11.
Leaving Monument, we made our way to Four Corners, arriving just before the gates were closed. We placed ourselves whereas we were able to stand in four states: Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. The sunset was brilliant and lasting as we made our way to a friend’s home between Cortez and Dolores, Colorado. We slept in front of their fireplace that evening. The natural warmth felt wonderful! After a tour of Rich and Mary’s 11 acre property the following morning, we aimed Rocinante to Durango and Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort…where we would spend the next four nights and five days in the luxury embrace of a condo that overlooks the ski/boarding area. Our www.nasja.org Western Summit gathering took place here. Along with NASJA friends from the west, friends from the east coast joined us, too, including NYC, Florida and New Jersey. I had several days of great skiing including one day of cat skiing the back country with www.sanjuanuntracked.com. Yahoo! I died and went to Heaven at Purgatory!
The small city of Durango opened itself up to us with a big embrace. I’ll certainly come back!
Departing Durango we spent a night at Macos State Park as a big storm was a brewing. We made our first campfire of the journey and enjoyed a gin and tonic gathered around it. We were the only folks in the park. In the dark hour, I started Rocinante and drove to Mesa Verde National Park in blizzard like conditions. We were able to get in a ranger tour of Spruce Tree Pueblo Ruins during a snow storm. It was scintillating! They closed off the roads to the other Pueblo ruins though, so we made our way off the lofty mesa, drove to Durango and then to Pagosa Springs where we spent the night in a foot of fresh snow behind the San Juan Motel. After a dinner inside the cozy Rocinante, we walked over to Riff and Raft Brewing Company and tried a sampler flight of their beers.
The following morning we took a walk, photographing this picturesque town known for its natural hot springs. We even pleasured ourselves with soaking at the www.overlookhotsprings.com. The rooftop soaking pools with a view is a must. A named Pagosa Colorado’s Winter Riviera.
He next leg of the journey took us to American icon artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s fabled Ghost Ranch. On the 23,000 acre ranch, seven and a half acres of it was purchased by O’Keeffe. Her home is off limits to the general public. The ranch (www.ghostranch.org) was bequeathed to the Presbyterian Church who administer it to this day. The scenery blew me away and I understood immediately what drew O’Keeffe to this southwest landscape. However, we awoke to a flat tire on Rocinante. Anthony, who works for the ranch, helped me put on the spare…and we made our way to Espanola and to Walmart which was the only place open to repair our tire.
It was a beautiful bluebird day and in the distance the Sangre de Cristo Mountains were singing with a fresh snow cover. We took the High Road to Taos toward our destination of Sipapu Ski Resort, Four days of skiing Sipapu were memorable. This resort probably brings more young kids into skiing and boarding than any other in New Mexico with their special discounts and their family friendly attitude. Departing Sipapu we made our way back to the High Road and had a lovely drive to old Taos, one of the America’s most unique cities, including Taos Pueblo, a world heritage site and the home of the longest continuous living community in the USA. I hooked up with old friend Steve Eske who, along with his wife Wanda, established the first micro brewery in New Mexico, appropriately called Eske’s. We would spend two nights in their parking light—under the illumination of lumarnarios—and one night in the parking lot of Taos Ski Resort (where we skied two days at 11,500 feet! Bluebird, beautiful days. We strolled and explored picturesque downtown Taos. We also found our way to the spectacular Grand Canyon of the Rio Grande River Bridge, walking out to the center where your heart beats more rapidly and your legs get wobbly. Once I had taken a hot air balloon into the Gorge and on another occasion, I rafted this stretch. We treated ourselves to a cold beer at the Mesa Taos Brewery—it has a Burning Man like feel to it, architecturally and artistically—nearby the Bridge.
Supplies were gathered and we headed south toward Pilar where we would spend two evenings in a great encampment (with electricity, even!) called Rio Bravo on the famous Rio Grande River. The river was clear, singing deeply and it was filled with a lot of waterfowl. We befriended our camp neighbors Debra and Mark, sharing an evening campfire and breakfast. We marveled at their tricked out camp trailer.
Departing Rio Bravo, we drove south and met Mika, the head distiller at www.kgbspirits.com, and followed him on a labyrinth to their unique distillery which creates the famous Taos Lightening. The distillery is located next to the old Spanish government headquarters which ruled the southwest all the way to California for nearly 300 years. Henry Cabot Lodge would later purchase this unique and sequestered away property.
The next leg would take us to where I write these words at this moment: Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa (www.ojocalientemineraldspringsresortandspa.com) , where we have spent the last two evening. Heaven on this earth!!! We’ve done all the pools, many times over, and yesterday we even did the mud soak and dry in the sun. Everything is skin tighter today!
Sometime time we turn Rocinante and Further In and head back west. We have reached the eastern end of our journey and it has been quite the adventure.