Thursday, October 7, 2010

Peace in the Valle

The next day was even more brilliant than the last. We drove north through Taos, stopping at whim. Ice cream in Embudo. Mexican food in Questa. A mile shy of the Colorado border, we turned down a road that would remain dirt for the 50 miles that it passed through the Valle Vidal. I'd been expecting some pretty hard road, having read that I'd need a spare tire, and shouldn't expect to get out of second gear. But this was nothing like the road leading from Madrid out to Bud's place, a road that continues to set the bar.

We followed a fast stream as it zigzagged around the parked 4x4s of flyfishermen. Further in, horse trailers were left at scattered parking areas, their inhabitants out in the deeper woods, ridden by bowhunters seeking the elk that are protected during the 7 months that the Valle is closed off. (Prior to the trip, a friend had mentioned that the elk travel in 100-head herds, and the sound of them moving past is like thunder.) We moved further and further in, each meadow more spectacular than the last. In the true proper Valley of Life we found Shuree Pond, glimmering at the head of a drainage that flowed toward Mt Wheeler far to the south. Nearby, we topped out at The Rock, from which we found an amazing lookout over the entire eastern half of the Valle. The road switchbacked down, and before long we found our campsite. A few horse trailers were parked near the entrance but the back of the campground was near empty. We chose a site, and began to get to work. A minute into putting up our tent, one borrowed from REI, one of the poles irreparably broke. This was particularly ironic since this night out was to be a gear test of sorts. Plan B was to sleep in the back of our Subaru, another trial. The new Jetboil stove and GSI cookware worked great, and as darkness fell, we built a fire using matches borrowed from our boyscout neighbors. (Forgetting matches while camping is a terminable offense at REI. But, hey, I thought I had had a lighter.) As our fire began to sputter and die, the moon rose full through the trees, bringing with it coyote song, and the baritone accompaniment of snorting horses.

We hadn't slept too well, with the moonlight and a narrow sleeping space. (Though I have no qualms about sleeping in that car again. It passed the test.) We left as the sun rose, with the frost still streaked along the western edges of the wooden rails lining the road. Deeper in the forest, we herd the bark of elk and a lower-pitched growl of some predator in pursuit. Seeing nothing, we wound back out through meadows that narrowed into canyons, with classical music setting the tone. After an hour or so, we reached the Valle's eastern edge, the next 500000-acres belonging to Ted Turner's private Vermejo Park Ranch. Just where the blacktop began again, a herd of buffalo grazed. I stood there in the warm morning sun, eyeing the buffs as I took pleasure in peeing on Turner's land, my stream arcing through an electrical fence that tried to prevent me from doing so. (No politics at all in my action. I strongly admire ole Ted and his conservation efforts.)

A few miles up the road was Cimarron, which got me paraphrasing a Neil Young song. We saw more wildlife here, in the form of deer wandering the narrow town streets, and a gaggle of turkeys strolling the amongst the boy scout cabins at Philmont. The real wild life used to be found at Cimarron's St James hotel, gathering place for famed names of the old west and the site where 26 lesser-known names were gunned down. We had a quiet second breakfast here, enjoying our coffee and toast under the glazed eyes of a couple dozen trophy heads hanging from the walls. (These people must really hate animals here.)

Our drive south took us through the impressive Cimarron canyon, past the lakeside Eagles Nest, and over the ski resort of Angel Fire. Outside the latter, we made a brief stop at this country's first Vietnam memorial. Built twenty years before its better-known DC cousin, the chapel and memorial are built in the shape of a large white dove that looks over the valley. Ironically, hawks circled high overhead. Even more ironic was the sight of a few orange-garbed convicts working in the hot sun, while the words "freedom' repeated endlessly from the media room not far away.

The road took us again, down to Moya, where alpaca grazed with wool newly shorn. A crow perched atop the chimney remains of a long gone homestead, and beneath us, a huge scorpion crossed the road looking like a lost crab. In town, we enjoyed a nice lunch followed by ice cream. Not far away was another stop, at La Cueva for some raspberry jam and raspberry salsa. Back on the road, past a rope swing tied to the bough of a cottonwood weeks away from coming into color. On the grounds of a neighboring farm was a large trough written with the words, "God and the USA," the iron, and the sentiment, slowly rusting away. It wasn't far from here to Las Vegas and the Interstate, which demarkated the true path home.

I returned to the house happy and pleased with the fact that I still had two full days in front of me, as the words began to gather like clouds and sentences formed in my head.

(Miki's view, with photos, is here.)

On the turntable: Mumford and Sons, "Sigh No More"

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