We’ve had a nice time voyaging through northern New Mexico on our way to Denver. From our overnight campsite at El Malpais National Monument, we’ve continued pursuing scenic routes as much as possible, and it has been a very nice change from the Interstate.
Although our initial impression of Joe Skeen campground was not great because we arrived in the dark to a seriously un-level site, we woke up to an entirely different place. This time of year it’s beautiful in every direction, with little hills and green foliage arranged almost as if someone planned the place to look that way, and very peaceful.
I found I had left the rear compartment open all night, with the light on. This explained how we managed to use up 38 amp-hours of power in one night (the compartment light is not yet LED). The light attracted a party of moths, who were all sleeping in the compartment the next morning. I chased several dozen of them out and even a couple of days later a moth or two flutters out of the compartment every time I open it.
Driving to Albuquerque, we made a stop at Petroglyph National Monument. There’s RV parking, a nice visitor center, and just two miles further there are some short walks in the area called Boca Niegra where you can see dozens of interesting petroglyphs chipped into the black volcanic basalt. We spent an hour there and then continued north to Las Alamos and our destination, Bandelier National Monument. This meant we managed to visit three National Park sites in one day.
The specter of the “Atomic City,” Las Alamos, is obvious when you come to Bandelier. Along the twisting entry road we passed a few Los Alamos National Laboratory sites, tucked into canyons and atop mesas, each one fenced off and featuring a bunch of scientific-looking objects and warning signs. But the real feature is the dramatic canyons of pink volcanic tuff, riddled with Swiss cheese holes from wind erosion. These holes are sometimes large enough to form small dwellings, which were used by the Ancient Puebloans as the basis for their cliff houses.
Bandelier’s visitor center sits in the bottom of Frijoles canyon, which also holds the remains of a large pueblo and numerous cliff houses. Unfortunately, the same river that attracted native residents for centuries has also threatened the visitor center, and currently you can’t drive down there. All visitors (except, apparently motorcyclists) must come by shuttle bus. If you are staying in the Juniper campground at the park, you catch the shuttle about 1/4 mile from the campground. A short trail leads from the visitor center to the pueblo ruins, kivas, and cliff houses, along with some petroglyphs and one very nice pictograph.
Connectivity in northern New Mexico has been hit or miss for me. I was able to send and receive text messages and email on my phone, but Internet access via the Cradlepoint/Verizon card was hopeless. Voice phone calls worked only at the dump station. That was fine with me, since I wasn’t there to do a lot of work.
We considered hiking from the campground the next morning via the Frey Trail down to the visitor center (2.0 miles) and then catching the shuttle back up, but with all the other things we wanted to see along our driving route it seemed best just to make an early start of the day. Bandelier will go on our list of places that deserve a second, lengthier, visit.
The drive north toward Taos brought us up the Rio Grande River Gorge, along Route 68. This is a great drive through part of the 82-mile long river gorge, and there is a small visitor center along the route. With all the pauses we made, it was lunchtime when we finally reached Taos, and we’d gone only 73 miles. We took 90 minute to wander the downtown (loaded with art galleries and curio shops, very touristy), and then got serious about covering some miles.
Fortunately, from Taos to Rt 160 in southern Colorado there aren’t many temptations. The land becomes wide open with great vistas to scattered mountains, but there’s little to stop for. A few hours later we were at Rt 160 and decided to keep going east through the La Veta Pass (9,500 feet) to make Colorado Springs by dinnertime.
I think normally we would have stopped sooner, but we knew that Emma’s friend from Alumapalooza (Kathryn) was camped at Cheyenne Mountain State Park. Also, we realized that a night at this great state park would give us our only full-hookup night in about three weeks of traveling. That’s an opportunity to do a few things that consume lots of water, so we went for it and managed to pull in by about 6 p.m.
Our night here has been great. The girls had a sleepover in our trailer, which was our way of pre-paying Kathryns parents for what will undoubtedly be five days of kid-wrangling while Eleanor and I are busy with Alumafandango. The girls are easy to have around and entirely self-entertaining, so while they are doing their thing we’re taking the opportunity to catch up on laundry and email and such things. This afternoon we will relocate to Wheat Ridge (the town next to Lakeside, about 90 miles away) to prep for Alumafandango over the weekend.