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Published: March 28th 2019
We got an early start from the Wahweep Campground, it would be a long haul to Taos, if we got that far at all. The route we were taking would be all two lanes across the top of Arizona, with a brief detour up into Utah to take that famous drive through Monument Valley. I had done that before on my Porsche trip a few years ago, but I was surprised to learn that Cathy had never seen it. We made good time on open roads, and there was plenty to see. It's funny to think that geographic features that would be celebrated and famous were they situated back east are completely overlooked here, to travel here is to be visually spoiled.
In due time we entered into that famous valley of red rock mesas. Maybe Americas' most iconic movie back drop, it has been featured in everything from the Ford/Wayne classics like "Stagecoach" and "The Searchers" to the more recent "Forrest Gump". I've heard people complain that there is nothing to do in Mounument Valley but "drive through and look at it" -- but that is the whole point. CinemaScope could never match the experience of swiveling your head
as you pass through there, an IMAX theater could not come close to reproducing what is really there as you drive through.
After that, we drove north through the fancifully-name town of "Mexican Hat", then curved back around into Arizona again. That route included a bit of 10% downgrade. They advised truck drivers to "Check Brakes!" this is very wise advice. We continued east into New Mexico, past the amazing "Shiprock" an exposed extinct volcano core, and then into the San Juan River valley. Then it was back up into the mountains through Dulce and Chama. From that area we could see very high and snowy mountains to the north in Colorado. That area is special to us, as we spent a good part of our honeymoon there some 35 years ago, skiing at Wolf Creek.
Shortly after that we ran into a little trouble. Route 64 turned east a little south of Chama to cross the San Juan Mountains into Taos. As we headed down the road, there was a lighted sign on the right, but the low sun made it difficult to read. We continued on for maybe another 10 miles of twisting climbs. There was
old snow on the sides of the road, but, more worrying to me, I could see fresh snow frozen into the branches of the trees above. We rounded one more sharp bend, and there was a locked steel gate across the road -- crap! I guess we knew what that sign said now.
Fortunately, the plows had made a wide spot there, giving us just enough room to turn our rig around. As we headed back down, we passed a young couple in a Subaru with camping gear, who were also stopped by the barrier. We gave each other the universal "palms up" sign, and shook our heads, nothing else we could do. So now we had to continue all the way south to Espanola, then back up north to Taos. By then it was dark, we'd been driving for about 11 hrs, and the helmsman was getting tired. Route 68 up to Taos was twisty and steep, there was a lot of traffic, and it wasn't much fun. Too late to find anything else, we pulled into the Walmart lot and called it a night. Unknown to us, it seems the Walmart lot is the hangout spot in Taos. And (this came as a surprise) it seems Rice Car Culture survives there, as does street racing. Under some other circumstance I might have enjoyed that, but it made for difficult sleeping. Nice to hear all those shifts though -- long live the manual transmission!
After midnight or so, it quieted down. We woke early and headed down to the old town section to see if we could find someplace to park. Most places out west seem built for large vehicles, but these very old places can have tight streets. I struggled a couple of years ago with this dually in Santa Fe, and I feared the worst here too. Not to worry though, we found a nearly empty municipal lot, and after a bit of maneuvering, we were parked. This being Sunday, most of the shops were not open, but we found a nice little place to get breakfast.
Walking about, we spotted several people from New York. How did we know? License plates is one way, but a "Genesse Beer" hoodie is even more certain! Cathy and I have made an observation about travelers from NY that you meet out west. They are always, almost without exception, from upstate, never from NYC or Long Island, why is that I wonder?
We did find a few stores open, and in one Cathy found a beautiful blue lapis ring, with a split wrap that can accommodate her RA affected fingers. We hadn't visited Taos since our honeymoon trip all those years ago, so we decided that it should be her "anniversary ring". I don't know if that's a thing, but it is for us now. We can always remember this trip by that ring, and the other trip too, even if so long ago.
Taos is still great, and unlike Sedona, unspoiled. As much as we enjoyed walking around there in the warm sun at 7000', we both could feel the call of home. We got back to the truck and pulled out at about 11 AM. We're heading east for real now, like an old horse, it's time to head for the barn.
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