It was only about 130 miles from Capulin to Taos, New Mexico Monday, and what beautiful countryside we drove through to get to Taos. The first part was mostly flat ranchlands, but we saw antelope grazing in the fields as we passed by, so that was fun to see. Part of our route today was on highway 64, which is along the old Sante Fe Trail. We saw several signs that shared information about the trail: the trail opened in 1821, the year Mexico gained its independence from Spain. A decade later, the trail had two main routes: the Mountain Fork, which went through Colorado, and the Cimarron Fork, which went through Kansas. We had seen wagon marks in Dodge City from the Cimmaron Fork part of the trail last summer and today we actually drove on a road that followed the old trail! I like making all these connections as we continue our travels with the RV. We also learned that travel along the trail reached its height after the Mexican Cession, in 1848. The Civil War brought travel along the Santa Fe Trail to a halt, but people began traveling again after the war ended, in 1865. The introduction of the Santa Fe Railroad in 1880 made wagon travel a less attractive option, and the Santa Fe Trail fell into disuse. When we drove through Cimarron, New Mexico, billed as the “town where the Plains meets the Rockies”, I realized I now have another area to visit – I’d like to go see all the old town historical part of Cimarron and also the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch museums. We were headed for Taos though and already had made plans to meet up with my sister Dianne, so we did not delay and stay in Cimarron; I guess that means another trip out here maybe next summer! There are so many places we already have on “our list” and it just keeps getting longer. I finally crossed off the Texas play and Capulin Volcano, but now I’ve already added more places to visit. We soon entered the Cimarron Canyon in the eastern edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The canyon is incredibly scenic and beautiful: lots of twisty turns in the roads, some neat hairpins, gorgeous tall pins, and my favorite – the rushing mountain stream with a rocky bottom and several fishermen at various spots along the route. I couldn’t get photos since there was really no place to easily pull over while pulling the RV, so that will also be another time. We noticed some state parks we can stay at on another trip and riding the canyon roads in the Harley will be something to really look forward to!
After the canyon and some climbing into the higher elevations, we entered Eagle Nest, a small town located on part of what is called The Enchanted Circle of New Mexico. We noted a nice RV park bordering Eagle Lake as we drove by, and marked it as a possible future stop. The Moreno Valley widened as we left town; we saw lots of ranches in this part of the drive, but after the valley came more mountainous roadways in the Sangre de Cristos. After traversing through Taos Canyon and the busy tourist town, we arrived at our Monte Bello (beautiful mountain) RV Park on the high desert mesa north of Taos. We really like the park. Although it is in the desert so there are only bushes and no trees, it is not far from town, there is a security gate, the owners are exceptionally friendly and helpful, the sites are level, long and wide, the free wifi works great and as well.
We talked with my sister Dianne who lives in Taos, but she had to work that night, so she gave us directions to a lovely Italian restaurant only a mile from our RV park. There we were able to sit on the patio, enjoy a delicious meal, and view the a couple of gorgeous Sangre de Cristo Mountains as the sun set and the light changed on the mountains.
Tuesday Fred took te motorcycle and rode about 100 miles around the Enchanted Circle, passing through Questa, Red River, Eagle Nest, Angel Fire, and Taos before returning to the RV park. While he enjoyed his ride, I drove into Taos and visited two historical museums. The first, La Hacienda de los Martinez, is in the 1804 home of Antonio Severino Martinez, who served as mayor of Taos both for Spain and later Mexico. The hacienda has been restored but only to the condition it would have been in during the early 19th century. Encompassing 21 rooms and two placitas, or courtyards, the hacienda had a self guided tour which was great: I could take as long as I wanted, read all the signs, take lots of photos, and talk to people too. There were several artists on site working on landscape paintings. I spoke to one lady who was from Los Angeles and she explained that all the artists there were part of a master class taught by her instructor from California. I enjoy talking to people when I am at locations away from home – I learn a lot and it is fun to meet people from all over. That reminds me: I forgot to mention the self professed “old sod buster” we met in Folsom at the local history museum. He was not old but he sure was a character: he was sitting on a step, rolling his own cigarette, and wanted to talk to us a log while about everything: “Where are you from? How far away is Massachusetts anyway? Isn’t Boston up there? Have you looked at the rose garden next to this museum? Oh, are there different names for roses? I didn’t know that- I thought they were all just called roses”…and much more.
The hacienda’s owner was, in addition to being the mayor (Alcalde) of Taos, an entrepreneur, trader, rancher, and farmer. He left an extensive will, which has had aided the current owners of the hacienda to restore it to its former eminence and present the home as accurately to the 1820s time period as possible, even to the hand forged door handles, mud plaster, hand adzed beams and floorboards, and even adobe mud floors. I learned that traditionally, a mix of mud, ox blood and wood ash was used to make hard, non-dusty floors in that time period. I bet that didn’t smell too great! I liked the sala (living area), the cocina (kitchen), weaving room, and trade room the most. There were some lovely modern quilts in one of the other display rooms that were so well designed. An unusual display of santos (religious items) was also intriguing. After spending several hours wandering around the hacienda, I finally left and went into downtown Taos to their plaza, where I ate lunch at a restaurant housed in the oldest part of town – some of the walls of the restaurant were existing structures from the late 16th century, while others had been reconstructed after various rebellions in New Mexican history.
My next foray into history was to Kit Carson’s home just outside the plaza. Built in 1825, the home was purchased by the multifaceted trapper, frontiersman, mountain man, scout and guide in 1843. Here he, his wife, and eight children lived; although Carson himself was often gone from Taos, he considered the town his home and he and his wife are both buried in the local park named after him. Fred and I have been to Boone’s Lick, Missouri where Carson was born (another connection); he moved west to New Mexico when he was only a young man and became a trapper. Carson, along with Jim Bridger and a few others of the period, are considered to be the most important frontiersmen and guides of the 19th century. Carson was guide for John Fremont on several of the explorer’s expeditions out west. Fremont's grandest achievement was in exploring the West and making it well known through his lively, readable reports and maps; he stated he never could have completed his missions without the expertise of Carson.
Tuesday evening we enjoyed a visit with Dianne, who was an excellent local hostess in her adopted home of Taos. We first dined at a small local restaurant noted for its New Mexican style Mexican food; my green chile chicken enchiladas were so tasty! After a stop at our RV so she could have the “grand tour” of our home away from home, she took us to the Rio Grande River Gorge Bridge. The bridge is over 650 feet above the Rio Grande gorge and the area was gorgeous at sunset. We watched the sun set and then rode a little further into the desert to visit some experimental “earthship” homes built into the ground and nearly self sustaining with almost no energy costs. Several young men staying in an RV near ours are interning at the site for the summer, and Fred talked to them awhile about this unusual type of home construction.
Wednesday morning we wandered around the Taos plaza shops for a couple of hours and then after lunch, we drove the Enchanted Circle route so I too could see the scenery. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the ranchlands in the valleys were all very pretty this time of year. On our way to Eagle Nest, we noticed a sign pointing down a dirt road that stated there was a local brewery there, so off down the road we went. It seemed like a long way, but we finally arrived at the gate to the brewery, only to find a hand written sign on a poster that stated the brewery would be closed for a few days, beginning the day we went! Oh well, Fred will get to two breweries when we get to Colorado! We stopped in Red River on the way home to visit friends who had moved there from Dallas, ate a great hamburger supper with them, and had a wonderful visit. They recently purchased a small group of cabins (The Three Bear Lodge) and are enjoying their new lifestyle as “lodge keepers” even though it is a very different lifestyle than they had back in the Dallas area.