|Travelogue: Colorado and New Mexico 2001||
Frommer's Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque
Colorado Scenic Guide: Southern Region
Absolutely Every Bed & Breakfast Colorado
Hot Springs and Hot Pools of the Southwest
Roadside Geology of Colorado
Guide to Colorado Wildflowers : Plains and Foothills
The Guide to Colorado Birds
In September of 2000 I moved from the gray drizzle of Seattle to Boulder, Colorado. Colorado has proven to be very fertile ground for some terrific road trips. This travelogue chronicles some of the trips I took during August and September 2001, including a 5-day trip around southwestern Colorado with my sister, Erica.
Wednesday August 22, 2001
We got a bit of a late start leaving the house, but finally hit the road and drove from Boulder to Aspen. Taking SR-93 south from Boulder to US-6 at Golden then I-70 west. We enjoyed a brief drive through Georgetown, and then continued onward on I-70 to SR-91 south to Leadville. Leadville is a very cute town, worth more visits. We wanted to eat at The Grill, Fodor's recommended Mexican place, but it was closed. Instead I made a huge mistake and dragged us into the Golden Burro, 710 Harrison Ave (the main street through town), where we had a terrible lunch. Awful middle-American family food. Recommendation: avoid! I later learned about The Cantina, located on the way out of town, which is said to be better than The Grill and appears to have more amenable hours.
We continued on from Leadville on US-24 south to SR-82 west straight into Aspen. The drive over independence pass was stunning. We made lots of beautiful stops at scenic views and lookout points. Along the way we kept running into the same people who where doing the same thing. When we finally got into Aspen, I called Aspen Central Reservations (888-649-5982), and made a reservation at the Mountain House, 905 E. Hopkins, 970-920-2550. They provided us a very tolerable two-room "suite" for $105 with tax. Our dinner at the Ute City Grill was very good but seriously fattening. Wandering around town after dinner is de rigueur for Aspen, after which I went in for some serious sleep and Erica went out to watch the stars.
Thursday August 23, 2001
Got up, had the free continental breakfast at the hotel and checked out. I showed Erica around town, during which we saw some stunning art glass at The Rachael Collection on the Cooper Ave. Mall. I wanted to buy it all, but at Aspen prices I didn't touch any of it. Next we took the gondola up to the top of Aspen Mountain ($15 per person.) It was well worth the time and fee. The hikes to the top didn't look at all worthwhile. We attended a free 45-minute guided nature talk presented by the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES). The walk was very good, though there was too much emphasis on history of Aspen and skiing for my taste. It was probably just the right mix of history, culture and nature for most visitors. After riding the gondola back down, we resumed walking around town looking in galleries. Eventually we retired for lunch on the deck at Boogies diner. The food was good, but not quite as good as it used to be. Sigh.
We left Aspen driving west on highway SR-82 then picked up SR-133 west. There was lots of construction, so it took long time. Highway SR-133 is mind bogglingly beautiful with views of stunning mountain ranges. We arrived in the town of Delta at the intersection of SR-133 and US-50. We considered staying at cattle ranch northeast of Delta called the Escalante Ranch Bed and Breakfast. The B&B book made it sound fascinating. Unfortunately it was full up with a group of kayakers, so we decided to cover more ground before stopping for the night. [Side note: the phone numbers listed in the guide are wrong. The correct numbers for Escalante are 970-874-4121 and 970-874-0711]. Delta looks like a more interesting town than I expected, but we didn't really stop. We continued south on US-50 through Montrose to Ouray. All of the B&B's we were interested in were full up. The Orvis hot springs lodge north of town was full except for camping (we had no tent.) We ended up getting two rooms at the Historic Western Hotel on 7th Ave. The guidebook called this 1891 historic hotel "Very Authentic". Yup, all the discomforts of a bygone age. Tiny rooms, thin walls, creaking floors, ancient furniture, 4 bathrooms shared by 12 guest rooms. I think Erica enjoyed it, but my review is "Avoid."
Because we got into town so late, virtually everything was closed when we went out for dinner at 9:30pm. Thankfully we found Buen Tiempo (515 Main St.), the Mexican restaurant, still open. It was absolutely the best Mexican food I've had in Colorado. Outstanding. Highly recommended.
Friday August 24, 2001
After checking out we had a brief and uneventful breakfast at a café on the main drag then headed south on US-50 to Box Canyon Falls. The falls are absolutely amazing and well worth the stop and $2.50 entrance fee. Erica wanted to climb to the top of the falls for the exercise, but I convinced her that the trip to the bottom was the route of choice. The power, noise, and spray at the bottom were incredible. It was a much longer, and better detour than I ever expected. Our next stop was Orvis Hot Springs, which entailed doubling back on ourselves, heading north on US-50. The springs in town appeared to be a rather boring public swimming pool replete with water-slides, diving boards and screaming kids. Orvis, by contrast, was a private retreat with organically shaped pools, pleasant gardens and saunas. It is also clothes-optional. We spent about an hour and a half soaking in the various pools before continuing our journey south. Erica braved the super-hot "lobster pot" tub. I felt that it was probably in the best interests of my future fertility to keep my gonads below the boiling point.
The drive from Ouray to Durango was insanely beautiful. There really are no words for it. The geology, expansive views, flora and fauna were relentlessly spectacular. On the way we stopped in Silverton where I bought an Indian crafts-piece. This is a great little town and I look forward to going back. There is an historic train ride that can be done from Durango to Silverton. Sounds like it would have been a fun thing to do had we had more time. The highway between Silverton and Durango is known as the "million dollar highway", and its views are certainly worth every penny. It is considered to be the most beautiful road in Colorado, and I concur.
We considered stopping in Durango, but ultimately decided to continue west on US-160 to Cortez in order to be as close to Mesa Verde as possible. We pulled into the KOA campgrounds just east of Cortez around 6:30pm. The people in the office there were exceptionally nice, and told us all about a nightly demonstration of Indian dancing going on at 7:30. We checked out our cabin then headed off to the Indian Cultural Center for the show. It was an interesting performance, but the show in the sky was even better, so we left midway through to watch the sunset, then returned after the colors in the sky had faded.
Dinner tonight was more Mexican food at a place named Francisca's Blue Eyed Mexican Restaurant (121 E Main St., 970-564-1252.) They served the best tortilla chips I've ever had. The food was excellent as well, though not quite as good as our dinner the night before. By this point I was completely exhausted. We stopped into Wal-Mart to buy bedding (KOA does not supply sheets, pillows or blankets), and then headed back to the cabin. I was asleep as soon as I hit the vinyl-covered bed, but Erica again went out again to watch the sky.
Saturday August 25, 2001
The KAO turned out to be relatively noisy due to its proximity to the road, but that didn't bother my sleep. Erica had a lengthy swim in the pool before we headed back into town for a light but yummy breakfast at the Magpie Coffeehouse, next to the Indian Cultural Center.
The drive into Mesa Verde National Park was lengthy but uneventful. Apparently tourism is way down this year, so we were allowed to get passes to two of the major sites there. Normally we would have been required to choose just one. We got passes for the most famous ruin, Cliff Palace, as well as the slightly less popular Balcony House. Cliff Palace was just as amazing as the many photos imply, and Balcony House was exciting as well. In between we did a 20-foot drive onto the Indian reservation to get a lunch of "Indian fry bread tacos." They were greasy but good, quick, and filling. Admission to the various sites is strictly controlled by time-slot, so we had to rush to get lunch done before our 2:30 reservation at Balcony House. As it worked out, we were so efficient that we made it there by 2:00 and were allowed to join the earlier tour.
After the guided tours we did a self-guided drive around the mesa-top looking at older "pit house" ruins. I felt like once I had seen one I had pretty much seen them all, but Erica remained fascinated by each one. We finished Mesa Verde with a visit to the Spruce Tree House, the only site where one is allowed to enter a "Kiva" (sacred ceremonial room.) Most visitors go to the Spruce Tree House first, but finishing up there worked well for our schedule. Personally I was most excited by the Turkey Vultures circling overhead, but again Erica's previously hidden interest in archaeology kept her rapt.
We retraced yesterday's path back on US-160 to Durango. This time we did stop, but just for dinner. We ate at Season's Grill (764 Main St, 970-382-9790), which had a very pleasant back porch seating area. The service was excellent, but the food was only just good. During dinner I made a zillion calls on my cell phone to places in Pagosa Springs, seeking the best possible spot to spend the night. Davidson's Country Inn B&B (2763 US 160, 970-264-5863) was able to offer us a great deal on two rooms so we made a reservation.
There is almost non-stop construction between Durango and Pagosa Springs, which made the late night drive exceedingly tiring. When we got to Davidson's about an hour later I was thrilled to be out from behind the wheel. It turned out that we were the only guests, so we were offered our choice of rooms. The place is like a museum of chatchkas, but is cute and comfortable. True to form I headed directly to bed, and Erica took the car back into town to check out the famous sulfur springs, which she later reported were excellent. She was so effusive in her praise that I regretted my laziness.
Sunday August 26, 2001
Davidson's B&B provided an excellent breakfast of made-to-order omelets, fresh baked bread, coffee, tea, cereal, etc. etc. Thus provisioned we set out for the 6+ hour drive back to Boulder. We drove east on US-160 till we hit the town of Monte Vista for the long, straight shot north on US-285. It was very interesting being on a straight, flat, fast road for miles and miles after the prior 5 days twisting through the mountains. The road stopped its straight-away at Saguache, but we continued on until Villa Grove where we popped our heads into a surprisingly good pottery shop, then had lunch at an earthy-crunchy café tucked into the back of a general store. The food was pretty good, but the experience was marred by an extremely long wait for our meals. Turns out that one of the two people on duty hurt herself right after we placed our orders, so everything was significantly delayed.
We made occasional stops along the way for views, gas, and beverages, but pretty much did a continuous drive all the way to Golden, where we detoured for a quick look at Red Rocks Park. Unfortunately there was a big concert scheduled for that night, so we weren't able to park and walk around.
That night we made it back to my home in Boulder, where I vowed not to leave the house for at least 24 hours.
Wednesday September 19, 2001
I left Boulder and headed south on US36 then connected onto I-25 south. The traffic around Denver was a nightmare; a huge numbers of cars and very aggressive drivers. It was not fun at all! I got very tense and found myself wondering if I really wanted to do this trip.
Around the 100-mile mark I made it to Garden of the Gods, just outside Colorado Springs. Garden of the Gods is a city park featuring spectacular red stone formations. Left to the citizens of Colorado Springs by a civic minded citizen, it really is a geological marvel - a must see for central Colorado. I spent a couple hours walking the paved trail through the center of the park, taking photos, and then driving the rest of the park. Afterwards I felt much better about this trip.
I considered spending the night in nearby Manitou Springs so that I could ride the cog railway up Pikes Peak tomorrow, but somehow it just didn't excite me. I sat in a parking lot for quite a while reading guidebooks and cogitating before finally getting back onto I-25 south.
Eight miles north of Pueblo I stopped at the KOA to check it out. Unfortunately this KOA is directly on the highway and noisy as hell. It really had little to recommend it. From the KOA parking lot I called ahead to the Abriendo Inn B&B (300 W. Abriendo Ave 719-544-2703), which had been recommended both by Fodors and by the Absolutely Every Bed and Breakfast: Colorado book. They had a nice sounding room for $74 for a single, with a 5% discount for AAA. Talking with them on the phone, it sounded like the place was half empty, which wasn't really surprising after Labor Day.
I found the Abriendo Inn with no trouble. It is a very attractive 1906 house on what was once a grand and quiet boulevard but is now a fairly busy street. The house has terrific stained and cut glass windows, with nicely appointed common spaces. The rooms are attractively decorated. There are lots of nice cookies and other treats available 24 hours. My room (the Apache-Comanche Room) was a good-sized room with a tiny bathroom, but overlooked the noisy street. Not as bad as the KAO, but not a quiet B&B feeling either.
For dinner I decided that I wanted Mexican. The attendant at the B&B recommended a place called Cactus Flower, but warned me that she hadn't been there since they moved to the north end of town. I headed off and found a place that was indistinguishable from every boring chain-Mexican place I've ever seen. It had no charm, no character, no nothing. Happy families were seated around generic Oak Barn tables dining on the most ordinary of Mexican food. I blew out of there without being seated and headed back to the B&B. The next recommendation was for a hole-in-the-wall place called Grand Prix (615 E. Mesa St.), which was also noted in Fodor's. Off I went. The food was just OK, with boring, starchy sauces having a uniform, uninteresting spiciness. Oh well. I have heard that Pueblo is renowned for its Italian food. I guess I will steer more towards the Roman next time I am in town.
After dinner I retired back to the B&B for much needed relaxation.
Thursday September 20, 2001
Breakfast at the Inn was delicious. Fresh warm muffins with whipped honey butter, banana bread, caraway seed bread, and an artichoke egg casserole. Yummy.
The city of Pueblo built a "riverwalk" public space almost a year ago. It is intended to be similar to San Antonio's Riverwalk, and is located right next to the Union Avenue Historic District. This morning the Riverwalk was completely abandoned. There literally was not another person there. Frankly it looked very new and sterile, without any sense of "place." I asked around a little bit and was told that normally there would be many happy visitors (tourists and locals) enjoying this civic area. I assume that the emptiness was due to it being a Thursday morning after Labor Day, and after the bombing of the World Trade Center. I think another aspect of the Riverwalk that didn't quite work is that it is set in an otherwise rather industrial area. The city fathers had hoped that the Riverwalk would attract galleries, cafes, and high-end shops and services into the old industrial buildings. This has happened to a degree, but it is clearly slow going. There is one thing about the Riverwalk that had me in stitches - the sculptures. The Riverwalk is adorned with some of the worst statuary I have ever seen. Life size bronze sculptures of beaming-faced kids playing, frolicking, and presumably smoking a lot of dope. They are absolutely preposterous. Some kind of 3-D Norman-Rockwellesque representation of perfect Stepford kids. Their wide-eyed blank expressions evoke nothing more than a feeling that the models were lobotomized before attaining their ridiculous poses. I stared in wonderment and tried to imagine if the city planners were embarrassed.
Near the Riverwalk runs the Union Avenue Historic District. Again, it is clear that the city fathers intended to create a district of antiques, galleries and high-end shops. Though many of the historic buildings have wonderful facades, the street feels like a failure. This impression may be based on the fact that today it was abandoned, but the sheer number of empty storefronts and "for rent" signs clearly shows that something isn't working. It is definitely trying really hard, but I think the customers have not shown up. Sometimes even if you build it, they wont come. One nearby shop stopped me in my tracks: The Tanned Banana at 311 Victoria St. looks for all the world like it is a brothel or possibly a day spa. It turned out to be a cell phone store. Someone needs to tell them that the Greek statues out front give the wrong impression.
I was very keen to see Rosemont House (419 W. 14th St, 719-545-5290.) Billed as the grandest Victorian house in Colorado. It is a beautiful structure, and worth the stop for fans of Victorian architecture. The tour takes 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on how many people there are and what questions get asked.
I had been thinking about finding something interesting for lunch, but on a whim I pulled into a Wendy's for a quick burger and then hastened to continue my drive toward Taos. The route went south on 25, then West on US-160. There was a nasty speed trap with an unmarked police car patrolling the town of Blanca. I kept scrupulously to the speed limit but still felt paranoid.
Just past the town of Blanca I detoured north on SR-150 to Great Sand Dunes National Monument. Great Sand Dunes National Monument is really amazing. There in the center of Colorado, in the most land-locked part of America lies a 1000-foot tall, miles wide, sand dune. It is as beautiful as it is surprising. I made a valiant attempt to climb it, but that turned out to be a major project. Climbing a huge sand dune is a daunting task, particularly when it starts at 8000 feet. It is funny, even though I live at 7000, ascending just another 1000 feet significantly reduces my energy. Added to that, the shifting sands of the dune proved my undoing. Nonetheless I had a great time climbing up as high as I could and then running down the face of the dune, flapping my arms as I went.
Afterwards, I backtracked south on SR-150 then east on US-160 to pick up SR-159 south at Fort Garland. SR-159 took me all the way down to Taos.
Once in town I pulled over and started calling hotels and B&B's. Cell phones sure have changed the way I travel; what a convenience! Finally I made a reservation at Old Taos Guesthouse B&B (1028 Witt Rd., 505-758-5448). It is a 180-year-old Hacienda turned into a B&B, run by incredibly nice people. It was very cool staying in a genuine historic hacienda. The doorways were incredibly low and the ceilings weren't much higher. Tall people be warned. The walls were feet thick adobe, making the place amazingly quiet. Its location about 2 miles outside of town helped with the total peace and silence . The owners, Tim and Leslie Reeves, have done a super job fixing the place up with nice touches like Mexican tiles and corner fireplaces. The only downside to my room (room 9) was that there was very little direct light from the outside. As always, I like to wake up when the sunshine fills my room. In this case I was destined to sleep in.
After a quick wash-up and a thought provoking State of the Union address by President Bush, I went back into town for dinner at the Apple Tree Restaurant (123 Bent St, 505-758-1900). The soup of the day was chili chicken soup, which made a great starter, followed by a main of BBQ Duck Fajitas from the regular menu. One word: "Yum". It came with great rice, beans, guacamole, and corn salsa too. The "Apple Zinger" beverage was an exciting addition. Overall the meal was excellent.
Friday September 21, 2001
Breakfast at the B&B was tasty, but a bit smaller than the usual B&B fare. Just some muffins and breads. I sat in the garden for a while and wrote, then eventually headed on my way.
Last time I was in Taos I bought a wonderful piece of folk art at a gallery on Bent St. called Dwellings Revisited. I was pleased to see that the store was still there, so I went in and, true to form, found some more things that I couldn't live without. Continuing to retrace my prior steps, I went to Clarke & Co. (120 E-Bent St. 505-758-2696), a men's clothing store that never fails to have things I like. A return to Clarke & Co. was part of my reason for coming to Taos in the first place. I found some more terrific clothes to add to my bulging closets.
My small breakfast made the noontime gurglings of my stomach unignorable. The best Mexican food I had when I was here before was at a strange place called Guadalajara, a restaurant that shared a building with a car wash. Unfortunately, it was at the south end of town, and my goal was to head north. It turns out that there is now a second Guadalajara on the north end of town right on highway 68 (phone 505-737-0816.) I had an excellent lunch of enchilada and chili rellenos. The chili rellenos were superb, made with a poblano pepper instead of the more usual Anaheim. They were spicy and very good. Just as with the original Guadalajara Grill, the place has no atmosphere whatsoever, but the food is great.
After lunch I headed north to the town of Arroyo Seco to check out the Abominable Snowmansion Hostel (505-776-8298, http://taoswebb.com/hotel/snowmansion/). I had a look around and made a reservation for a private room for that night ($40 with tax.) That done, I used my Hot Springs and Hot Pools of the Southwest book to find a hot spring that I had heard about near the town of Arroyo Hondo. I wanted to find the Manby Hot Springs, but the directions in the book were terrible and I ended up at the Black Rock Hot Springs instead. A person there told me that it was called the "Hondo Hot Springs", but I'm pretty certain they were the Black Rock Hot Springs. The book said to go to Arroyo Hondo and head southwest. However, there are at least half a dozen roads heading southwest from the highway at Arroyo Hondo. The road I ended up taking was County Road B-005. It's paved for a short way, then turns into a loose, rocky dirt road descending into the canyon. Definitely a road for either a 4-wheel drive or a car you don't care about (or both.) It was a very beautiful canyon and well worth visiting even without the hot springs. Unfortunately the parking area was covered with glass from broken car windows. At least a dozen windows must have lost their lives in recent memory. I was very nervous leaving my car there since all my luggage was in it. In the end I gritted my teeth, set the car alarm, and climbed down the 5-minute walk to the hot springs. The water was not too hot (probably in the high 90's), and it was a pleasant spot, though the rocks of the spring were covered in gooshy algae. On the way back I spotted a pair of beautiful brown nuthatches.
Back in Taos I decided to hit some galleries on Kit Carson Rd. The "A" Gallery had very little that I liked, but they were showing an interesting painted horse. It was a statue of a full sized pony, painted with a fanciful desert scene. It turns out that it was part of the fascinating "Trail of Painted Ponies 2001" series. This is a really clever project in which dozens of full-size sculptures of quarter horses were created and given to artists to paint or otherwise decorate as they saw fit. Some were used as abstract canvases, others literal interpretations of the horse, and still others painted with cultural, historic or symbolic themes. Many are magnificent. The resultant horses were distributed to galleries all over New Mexico, and will be auctioned off for charity at the end of the showing period. This terrific project is document on www.gopaintedponies.com. From there I drove to Lumina gallery (239 Morada Lane, 505-758-7282). Lumina Gallery is a beautiful place set in a wonderful sculpture garden. It seemed like a really nice spot to spend some time. On the other hand, I didn't much care for the sculptures in the gardens nor the works on display inside the gallery, but the spaces were great. Hi ho. [Note: on a subsequent visit in 2005 I found that Lumina Gallery had moved, and this beautiful space was now occupied by Henning Gallery, a gallery of mostly uninteresting digital photography with a couple spectacular (and spectacularly priced) Ansel Adams pieces.)] Next door to the gallery I stumbled into the Mabel Dodge Luhan House (240 Morada Lane, 505-751-9686). It turned out to be an historic home that was owned at one time by the actor Dennis Hopper and then was turned into a very interesting B&B. I would definitely like to stay there next time, especially in the Solarium room.
As evening encroached I went over to the civic center for opening night of the Taos Art Fair. To my surprise it was very lame. After a couple days seeing super art in the galleries, the pieces on display at this juried show were a total letdown. Furthermore, I the judges of the show were clearly insane; the best pieces had no awards, the pieces with awards were worthless. Very quickly I left to have dinner at The Alley Cantina (121 Teresina Lane 505-758-2121), "the oldest house in Taos." I chose the blue corn batter fish and chips. The chips were incredible, and the fish was excellent, though I couldn't really tell that the batter had blue corn in it, aside from the blue specks.
A sign on the wall behind the bar read, "Minors are not allowed in this area unless accompanied by a parent, adult spouse, or legal guardian" (emphasis mine.) "Adult spouse!" Wow. They really covered every contingency. What an amazing society where that is enough of a possibility to be worth noting on such a sign. But what about two minors marrying each other. We deem them mature enough to marry, but not mature enough to be present in a bar (let alone drink.) Go figure.
Saturday September 22, 2001
In the end the Abominable Snowmansion wasn't bad. A fairly typical hostel. Being right on the main road through town I had expected it to be very noisy. There definitely was traffic noise, but it was not unbearable. I expect it would probably be a lot worse in the winter, as this is the main road to the Taos ski area. The bed was typically hostel-hard, the room adorned with laminated photographs cut from magazines. Electricity was dispersed throughout the room via a network of extension cords. None of this was out of the ordinary for a hostel. But for some reason I really wanted to dislike the place. I felt uncomfortable in a very indefinable way. There was just a thudlike quality to the place. I hurried up to get out.
I had an excellent pecan waffle and bad coffee next door at Taos Cow. While dining at a table out in front I overheard an old hippy say to his friend "I must say I've wasted the first half of this day really wisely." Very Taos.
Fully fueled I drove up highway 150 to the Taos Ski area. It was a supremely beautiful drive. The Aspen's were at their fall peak, their golden leaves seeming to wash down the slopes like magnificent tapestries. Along the way I noted that some of the ski area hotels were open with prominent signs announcing special low rates. I suspect I could have stayed up here in a nice condo right on the river for about the same amount that I paid for the ugly youth hostel. Worth looking into next time. My plan had been to ride the ski lift up to the top of the mountain, but when I got there I found out that the lift ride is a 30-45 minute round trip. I don't know about you, but I've spent enough time on ski lifts to know that 15-22 minutes sitting on a lift each way is no fun. On top of that, I was having trouble dealing with the altitude at the base; I was sure that at the summit I wouldn't be able to hike or really walk around at all. It just didn't seem worth it. Instead I walked around at the base, took innumerable photos, then drove back out.
This weekend there was scheduled the Taos Trade Fair at the Hacienda Martinez on the edge of town. I had heard that it was a really fun yearly fair where all the "mountain men" came down into town to sell their wares. It cost me $1.00 to park and then $5.00 for admission. Personally I think that was about $5.50 more than the experience was worth. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't already toured the Hacienda Martinez on a previous visit. The "mountain men" were non-existent, the arts and crafts being sold were quite ordinary, and the whole thing was just plain boring. To make matters worse, the chili cook-off was cancelled. I had planned on lunching on the winning chili from the competition. I walked all over the fair looking for the cook-off and asking official-looking people where it was held. Finally I found someone that told me it had been cancelled. How about putting up a sign at the entrance gate "Chili cook-off cancelled", or at least informing some of the people running the fair? Good grief.
In the end there was a silver lining to the cancellation; for lunch I had the best burrito of my life at "Ernie's Chicharron Corral" food stand. Of course, how could it be less than great made of fresh grilled chilies and rendered pork. Mmmm, mmmm, good.
Driving south out of town I decided that one small burrito wasn't enough to hold me, so I stopped in to the original Guadalajara restaurant on the south end of town (505-751-0062.) There I topped off with 3 fantastic soft tacos. The chicken was the best, but the pork and beef were pretty damned good too.
Driving away from town I pondered my feelings about Taos. I found the galleries in Taos to be much more impressive and compelling than on my prior visit. Perhaps this is because last time I had come to Taos after Santa Fe, but this time their order was reversed. However, I still feel that there is something unwelcoming about Taos. The narrow main street that runs through the center of town is constant gridlock. The lights, pedestrians, and turning cars make getting through town an absolute ordeal, and I found myself planning my whole day around making this drive as infrequently as possible. Moreover, I always have the feeling that there are police everywhere. In Taos I always studiously observe the preposterously low speed limits, and still I find myself being tailed by police cars. I have no idea where this sensation comes from but somehow I imagine that they are just waiting for me to make some minor infraction.
So far I have never had trouble parking in Taos, but I always feel like it will be a problem. Perhaps it is a fear that if I cant find a space I will have to go around the block, and then I'll get stuck on that damned main street again. Furthermore, I am constantly seeing police and meter maids patrolling. On my first night in town I was stuck on a tiny back road for several minutes behind a police car writing a parking ticket. The police had no compunctions about backing traffic up for blocks rather than finding a place to pull over before writing the infraction.
Prices in Taos feel like they are very high. In reality, they aren't very high at all, but somehow it just feels expensive. Again, I can't pinpoint this sensation. Finally, there is virtually no nightlife, and most restaurants close quite early. In the end Taos feels like a tourist town, one that should be making me (the tourist) feel as welcomed and comfortable as possible. Instead I feel like the unwanted tourist, with some bad-juju energy pushing me away.
Thus, I continued out of town. Heading south I stopped at Rancho del Taos to take some photos of the San Francisco de Asis church. The shadows falling on the sensuous curves of the adobe structure were a photographers dream. Tan walls and buttresses contrasting against the bright blue New Mexico sky gave me some of the best photos of the trip. Later I drove up the Rio Grande Gorge on SR-570 from the town of Pilar to do some hiking. The canyon is full of striking scenery, but somehow it didn't look very inviting for a hike, so I turned around and continued on to Santa Fe.
I couldn't decide where I wanted to stay in Santa Fe. What I really wanted was some kind of lodge outside of town and closer to nature, but none of my guidebooks listed such places. I ended up pulling into the information center and grabbing the local Santa Fe guide, then I just parked near the plaza and started walking around. The La Fonda hotel is closest to the Plaza so I went there first. They were so empty that the desk clerk offered me lower and lower prices as I pondered my decision. Though highly rated, somehow the place just didn't appeal to me at any price. To my amazement, the Inn of the Anasazi was full. I complimented them on being the only hotel in America that was full up. My next stop was the Loreno hotel, which had cut its rooms to fire-sale prices, but was still extremely expensive. Finally I ended up at the Inn on the Alameda (303 East Alameda, 505-984-2121). They weren't discounting their rooms much, and I don't really know what prompted me to choose them over the other two. Perhaps it was just exhaustion.
For dinner I went to the Anasazi (attached to the Anasazi hotel), a restaurant where I had had an excellent meal 3 years earlier. As with my prior visit, the appetizers all sounded excellent, but the mains did not, so I went with three appetizers for my meal. I stated with the tortilla and lime soup, which was excellent. Spicy, complex, interesting and fun to eat, it was a wonderful start to the meal. From there I moved on to a salad of field greens with an orange vinaigrette dressing. I have to say that I found the salad very odd. It consisted of a collection of strongly flavored greens with a dressing that can only be described as subtle; the leaves were wet, with what I cannot say. My final appetizer was a "tropical shrimp quesadilla". It was fairly disappointing. Not bad, but lacking any spice or oomph. Though I was pretty well filled, I couldn't resist the sun dried cherry chocolate bread-pudding from the desert menu. To be honest I should have resisted. The description made my mouth water, the reality did not. The decaf coffee was watery and bad. Overall I have to give a thumbs down to the meal.
Sunday September 23, 2001
The alarm clock in my room went off this morning at 6:15am. Apparently the previous guests had been early risers, and the staff had not turned off the alarm when the cleaned the room. As I turned off the buzzing I experienced the pure joy of knowing I could go back to sleep for a few more hours. Mmmmm.
After waking up for real I walked over to Canyon Road, Santa Fe's center for art galleries. I recalled a gallery that had a café in it. After asking a few passers by, I found the place and had a coffee and pastry at Off the Wall Gallery and Café (616 Canyon Road, 505-983-8337, www.offthewallnm.com). I strolled up and down the street, stopping into innumerable galleries, some good, some great, some not. Many places were basically empty, and it seems that a lot of galleries do not open 'till noon on Sunday. The most exciting gallery to me was the Running Ridge Gallery at 640 Canyon Rd, where they were showing incredible pieces of art glass.
Eventually I stopped for lunch at Apple Hat Bistro, 802 Canyon Rd, 505-989-1949. A sort of quasi-German restaurant, the food sounded really good but the dishes I ordered could best be described as "odd."
Somehow I just wasn't terribly inspired. I had had such a great time in Santa Fe the last time I was here, but this time I really just wanted to go back to Boulder. I have no explanation for my homing instinct, and fought it valiantly for a while. In the end it got the better of me so I gave in, packed up, and headed north.
That evening I made it as far as the KOA in "South Pueblo". It is really Colorado City; why the KOA people call it South Pueblo is beyond me. It was also very close to the highway and super noisy. I think the fleabag hotel across the highway might have been a better deal. Worth avoiding.
Monday September 24, 2001
I woke up stiff and cranky at the KOA, but the crisp clear morning sun quickly drove that away. I packed up my sheets and pillows, piled into the car, and continued north to Manitou Springs. A friend had told me about the cog railway ride up pikes peak. I had skipped it on my way down south, so it seemed this would be the ideal time heading back north. While driving I called on phone and was told, "You need reservation, you need to be here ½ hour in advance, the next train is at 11:30, you wont make it." Grrrr. America is devoid of tourists, but this tourist attraction doesn't seem to have gotten the word. So I continued to Manitou Springs anyway. As it happened I arrived exactly ½ hour before the trains departure, which should have given me plenty of time to get a ticket, find some breakfast, and fill my water bottles. To my surprise there was a huge line at the ticket office. It seems that an elderly couple had a reservation but were given seats that not only weren't together but weren't even in the same car. Of course it took quite a while to find a supervisor who was able to re-issue the tickets for adjacent seats. Fifteen minutes later the line was served, I had my ticket, and the ticket office was as empty as I had expected it to be. My schedule was now blown, but I was able to buy and inhale a bagel from the snack bar before boarding.
To my ironic amusement, the end the train was half empty. All the rigmarole with the elderly couple was made irrelevant as the conductor invited us to feel free to move around and take any empty seat we liked. My seat was in the front row with the train's huge front window before me, so I stayed put. Unfortunately I was seated next to a total grumpus. I don't know what was eating this guy, but I think his hemorrhoids had gotten the better of him even before some jerk (me) took the seat next to him.
With all due deference to the friend that recommended the ride up Pikes Peak, my honest review is "whoopde-fuckin-do". This trip was what I call a "tourist check mark". Been there, done that, now I never have to go there again. Amen. Through the whole ride up the tour guide made stupid jokes and pointed out the rock that looks like a camel, and the rock that vaguely resembles a shoe, and the crumbled remains of an old house, and the rock that kinda looks like an old house if you squint your eyes just right. Who cares? At the top the views were marred by serious smog, but it was fun watching the tourists line up to have their photos taken in front of the Pikes Peak sign, as though it was some monumental accomplishment to have ridden a train up a hill. The only really cool thing is that you can see the curvature of the earth. Kinda makes you wonder how people thought the earth was flat for so long.
Travelers Tip: If you feel compelled to take the cog railway up Pikes Peak, 80% of the views are on the "2-seat" side of the train. If you go, request a seat on the "2-seat" side (the right side when facing up.)
After all this excitement I drove back into "downtown" Manitou Springs for a quick lunch at an extremely weird place called The Maté Factor, a Common Ground café. This place is open 24 hours a day except Friday night to Sunday morning. The employees all looked like they had experienced some serious spiritual cleansing, probably as a result of staying up all night drinking maté by the gallon. They all seemed quite concerned that I try the mate, but ultimately conceded that it would be OK for me to have an hibiscus cooler. Based on the weird pseudo-religious literature that was free for the taking, the place was clearly a front for a cult of some sort. Nonetheless, the salad was excellent and just exactly what I was hankering. [Aside: for those of you not yet familiar with the new beverage craze, maté is a beverage brewed from a the leaves of the Yerba Mate tree, which has a stimulating effect similar to coffee or tea but without caffeine. It is claimed to have a variety of heath benefits as well as generating a feeling of alertness.]
Next door to the Maté Factor I found an "antiques" store next door every bit as odd as the café. The store was chock-a-block with fascinating artifacts from around the world, especially Asia. Very little of it was verifiably antique, but it was fun. I ended up buying a really handsome Buddha, then continued back to beautiful Boulder.
Thursday September 27, 2001
Looking outside this morning it was clear that this was a day of paramount beauty. Fall was in full swing and the Aspens were at their golden peak. Leafing through my Colorado hiking guide I decided to head down to Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Thirty minutes south on SR-93, then 15 minutes SR-46 brought me to the visitor's center. Along the way I had picked up a sandwich at Subway in Golden. The park rangers were great helping me to pick the ideal hike for leaf watching.
Armed with a park map and a destination I stopped for a picnic at the "Ralson Roost" picnic grounds. Next to my picnic table was a babbling brook, babbling more perfectly than any body of water I've ever heard. The "International Society of People who Listen to Nature" rates it a 10 on a scale of 10. A bluebird singing in the bushes couldn't have made it more perfect.
After lunch I hiked the "Horseshoe trail" from the Horseshoe trailhead up to Frazer Meadow, then down part of the Mule Deer trail to Rim Meadow, then back down Horseshoe to the start. The aspens were stunning, just past their peak of golden glory. It was one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done. Absolutely worth making an annual event.
© 2001, Andrew Sigal
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