What a great place to hang for eight days. The campground fee was sweet. The campground is an Army Corps of Engineers project because of the enormous earthen dam holding back the Rio Grande here. Our Seniors Parks Pass is good for half price, so we started out at $10 a night and then down to $6 when we switched to a more primitive spot. Even with the slightly cloudy or overcast days, we are making plenty of power off our solar array to keep our batteries at peak so we moved to a site with no power or water.
After our Tent Rocks adventure, we took a day off and had a ‘camp day’. I did some basic chores and Nancy went down the road a piece and did the laundry. The next day we took another roadie and went back south a ways to US550, a highway we used to cross some remote New Mexico country on our maiden voyage in May 2010. We took this north, back up our path of that long ago time and turned off on New Mexico 4. Once on the picturesque highway, we followed the watershed of Jemez Creek or River depending on what sign on what bridge you read it. Mostly we were traveling through either a pueblo or other parts of an Indian Reservation. We passed a convent that dated back before there was a United States, maybe. The Nuns are in the process of moving to Tennessee because this remote village is too close to Albuquerque and on the way of a popular weekend route for the masses as they pass by into the high country and all its visual rewards. They have had shootings between biker groups and other encroachments on their solitude.
We stopped for breakfast at a joint that professed their love for bikers. We bet it is jammed on sunny weekends. It was a funky place to say the least. We were the only tourists in the place on a midweek day. Nancy had the ‘blue blues.’ She ordered a short stack (we were warned away from the regular stack by our server) made from blue corn flour and impregnated with blueberries. The pancakes were huge by any standard and crispy on the edges and outside, just the way the first mate loves them. There was so much that she could only eat around the perimeter of her short stack. I played it safe and went with the local sausage and eggs, taters, and sourdough toast. They did not have my latest passion on the menu, chicken fried steak. After breakfast we passed the convent of the Hand Maidens of the Precious Blood again and soon started gaining serious altitude. We climbed up through the ever present juniper pines of the high desert into the more stately Ponderosa pines in the higher altitudes. We peaked out at 9000 ft before we began our descent into the watershed of the Rio Grande.
Our next stop of the day was another trip down memory lane for the first mate. We were headed for Bandolier National Monument. The monument has several great Indian ruins.
Once at the monument, we took off on the main hiking trail towards some of the popular attractions. As we headed out on the paved trail we noticed the obvious recent flood damage experienced by the meandering waterway that now was no more than a trickle. We later learned the flood was in August 2011 and kicked ass in this canyon. Several picnic areas dating back to the days of the CCC in the early 30’s were wiped out. It was strange to see tables and water fountains buried in the sand and debris. The ruins here are different than many of the ones we have visited in the southwest. Instead of walling in spacious arches in the solid, colorful sandstone cliffs such as Mesa Verde, these ancient peoples just improved upon existing wind and water caves in the unique Tuff cliffs. Mostly they built adobe structures below the cliffs and used the caves for smoking meats and storage of grains. This place was much less defensive in nature compared to the daring cliff palaces of Arizona, Utah and Colorado that we have explored in the past. These people stayed right along their water source and enjoyed the shade and coolness of the canyon bottoms.
As the crow flies we were not too far from base camp, but we had many miles to go which included skirting Santa Fe again. It was a long day, but very rewarding.