Upon our somewhat reluctant departure from Taos, New Mexico, we drive west across an unassuming but incredible bridge that spans the Rio Grande Gorge. It’s not visible until the car is almost upon it; then, suddenly, it’s almost as though we’re crossing the Grand Canyon on our way to Colorado.
Later, we stop in Chama for a picnic lunch at the station of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Narrow-Gauge Railroad (where a family of the tiniest, cutest field mice we’ve ever seen keep the boys entertained for over an hour.) Then, just past the affluent town of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, we stop briefly to admire several llamas in the middle of the road–it seems they have wandered away from a llama farm just below.
Durango has Cowboys and Trains
We spend our first evening in Durango at a somewhat hokey but very enjoyable Chuck Wagon Diner that we had read about in a tourist guidebook. There, we share our barbecued chicken and baked beans with lots of other tourists and locals at long picnic tables in the open-air arena. After dark, we listen to cowboy songs and jokes performed by the “Bar-D Wranglers.” Much to Ann’s and my surprise, our otherwise jaded, sophisticated East Coast kids beg us to buy cassettes of the cowboy songs to take home with us.
We have also come here to ride the famous Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (800/675-6900), which we do the following morning. To keep the kids from getting bored, we opt for the railroad’s bus tour on the way up to Silverton; the bus follows a winding mountain road with gorgeous views, and makes a stop along the way for the boys to do some fossil collecting. After lunch, with great excitement, we board the huge, puffing steam train for the ride back; it runs through a gorge alongside the lovely Animas River, stopping to pick up and let off an amazing number of backpackers and mountain climbers, and gradually making its precarious way up the side of a cliff on the dramatic “High Line”. We ride in an open car; though we’re covered with cinders and soot by the end of the trip, we have a real appreciation for the backcountry beauty of the Rockies.
Early next morning, we head west toward Mesa Verde National Park (800/449-2288). The park entrance is only about 30 miles from Durango, but the visitors’ center, museum, and ruins are another 20 miles south within the park, up a steep and curving road that feels like an accomplishment in itself. Around each turn, we come upon different and spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and plains; we are amazed at how far we can see and how the landscape changes.
Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings seem more elaborate and advanced than those of Bandelier; rather than the two or three hours we had anticipated spending here, we spend the entire day, exploring the Balcony, the Cliff Palace, and the many large ceremonial fireplaces, called “kivas” (which the boys think are really neat).
We keep up a running dialogue with the boys about how ancient peoples might have found these sites and how they were able to build such impressive structures on this difficult terrain, all the while making up silly answers to the riddles and jokes that Roni insists upon reading to us constantly from Josh’s joke book.
Before leaving Durango the next morning, we drive north to the ski resort of Purgatory for a ride on the chair lift. The view of the valley as we descend is truly gorgeous, but thunder and lightning at the top of the mountain rule out the possibility of the Alpine Slide, a warm weathered toboggan ride, (personally, I am relieved rather than disappointed), and we head south on our return trip to Albuquerque in a brief but heavy rainstorm.
The Drive from Abiquiu to Albuquerque
Our original plan was to include Canyon de Chelly in Chinle, Arizona, on the itinerary. But that would have added hours of driving which we felt would have been too much for the kids, so we opt instead for a more direct diagonal route back, across the Navajo reservation. This, as it turns out, is much more scenic than we had expected.
We’ve made a last-minute reservation in a place called Abiquiu, trusting our instincts rather than our research this time. Less well known than other areas of northern New Mexico, Abiquiu gave inspiration to Georgia O’Keefe when she lived here. Remembering her paintings, we recognize the huge multicolored cliffs and rocks that loom before us, and we are immediately very glad of our decision to spend the night in this serene and isolated yet somehow familiar place.
The inn where we stay is a small cluster of adobe buildings; our suite has a huge country kitchen that opens onto a flower-filled patio. Our only disappointment is that heavy clouds obscure our view of the night sky, which, so far away from city lights, would otherwise be filled with millions of stars.
Reflecting on a Trip Well Done
In the morning, with the return of cloudless skies and dazzling sunlight, we tour Abiquiu Lake and nearby Ghost Ranch Living Museum (800/821-5145) in New Mexico, a low-key, child-friendly place with exhibits about the local environment, history, and culture which the boys seem to enjoy. Later, on our way back, we stop for a picnic lunch in Santa Fe by the small canal that runs along Alameda Street.
It takes us about another hour to reach Albuquerque, where we will stay overnight before catching our flight back to Washington in the morning. After dinner, we make a unanimous decision that we want one last look at Albuquerque from the tram station at Sandia Peak. We spend several leisurely hours choosing our final souvenirs in the gift shop, and gazing out over the twinkling lights of the city, thinking of how much we will miss the splendor of the towering clouds and the incredible expanse of sky.
Ann and I also reflect with wonder on the fact that, in 12 days, we’ve only had fast food once (at “McTaos”–it was Joshua’s choice for his birthday dinner, and we couldn’t resist the notion of a green chile cheeseburger), and have only played one round of miniature golf.
As Roni cranes his neck to peer out the airplane window, looking for the Rio Grande and wearing the Davy Crockett coonskin cap that we bought in Taos, I lean back in my seat and find myself thinking, “Rafting, huh? Maybe next summer we could try hang gliding… now, where would be a good place for that?”
Read on for Judith Teich’s New Mexico Adventures as her road trip saga continues….
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