Saturday, July 28, 2012

Vacationing Along the Jemez Mountain Trail

Ahhh, it feels good to be on the road again.  Steve and I are on a vacation in northern New Mexico.  As one of my friends observed, I really NEED a break from the stress of working one day a week at a spa.  Yeah, whatever.  I know I need to get out of town sometimes or I get a bit cranky and maybe even boring.

This trip has been anything but boring.  We hardly planned it.  We're going with the flow, taking things as they come, playing it by ear.  

On Wednesday, our first day out, we thought we'd get north of Albuquerque, but the brakes on the Guppy were mushy, so we added brake fluid.  When that didn't help very much, we overnighted at Kiva RV Park and Horse Motel, where I'd spent several nights last year before I first went to Truth or Consequences, and then had the brake lines bled in Belen by a mechanic whom we've gotten to know all too well on trips between TorC and Albuquerque.  Fifty dollars and a great breakfast later, we were back on the road.  If YOU ever break down south of Albuquerque, check out Mike's Auto Detailing (he's actually full-service) and Frances' Restaurant (menudo every day, but, no thanks, I'll pass on the tripe).  They're on Main Street, you can't miss 'em.

We still had plenty of time on Thursday after the brake repair to head up to Coronado State Monument in Bernalillo.  This is one of the pueblos that was probably visited in the mid-1500s by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado on his famous trek to find the Seven Cities of Gold.  All he found were Indians, but they were living an abundant, usually peaceful life.  Unfortunately, Coronado and his 1000+ followers stuck around long enough to change this pretty drastically.  (They wiped out at least two pueblos that got tired of feeding the entourage, and many more people died of illnesses to which they had no immunity.)  

The Coronado State Monument was established after WPA workers accidentally dug into a beautiful, rare, painted kiva in the 1930s.  Painted kivas were not so unusual a few hundred years ago, but they're rare today because they are so difficult to preserve.  

The paintings are done in a kind of fresco with natural dyes, and they are painted over and over many times.  It's thought that the process of painting pictures in a kiva was a sort of meditation or prayer.  So, in the one we saw, there were probably six inches of paintings that had been done over several hundred years.  Most of the preservation was done by an anthropology graduate student, who tried to isolate some of the most complete drawings and preserve a single layer.  

The paintings we saw inside the kiva were reproductions done by an Indian in the 1930s who got thrown out of his tribe for being willing to share something so sacred with the rest of the world.  You can still see some of the original paintings, dating from the 14th to 16th centuries, in another building where they are preserved.  

All very cool.  But the Coronado Campground just outside the Memorial was not so cool--they wanted $18 for us to park on a bit of gravel right next to a really big rig.  So we took a chance on what we'd find up the road, and it paid off!

We headed north up to Highway 4, a winding road through the Jemez Mountains that offers lots to see and do.   We got to see people still living in the old Jemez Pueblo, and we stopped at their visitor center, where they also provided information on National Forest Service campgrounds in the area.  So we ended up at a really nice little campground that cost us only $5 (Steve has the Golden Age pass).  We were surrounded by red rock mesas and we were close enough to Jemez Creek to hear a little waterfall.

After spending most of this summer in southern New Mexico, the cool evenings in the north are very welcome, as are the sights and scents of different vegetation.   We slept among the junipers on Thursday night, and then among pines last night (Friday).

Yesterday morning, we headed into the town of Jemez Springs.  It is a spa town, sort of like TorC, but smaller and up in the mountains.  It has some great little collectively-run art galleries, where I bought a couple fun things and learned lots about a top secret newly-invented media that I'll try working with once I get home.  We stopped for coffee at Hwy4 Coffee, which had free wifi.  That was great, because I hadn't had phone or Internet access for a while. 

We did not go sit in the mineral springs--we can go for free when we're home, and also the ones up here have a distinct sulfur odor, which we don't have in TorC.  In fact, when we were driving by that stretch of Jemez Creek, I sniffed and looked askance at Steve, because I was pretty sure the odor was his fault; but then we stopped to look at a natural dam that is the result of many years of mineral deposits caking up in one place, and that's when I realized, "Oh, it's the creek that smells."

We drove up mountains on scary roads yesterday to see about staying at Fenton Lake State Park, but the campground was full, so we just ate lunch and headed back to Highway 4.  Then we found another nice NFS campground where we slept last night.  Steve heard wild turkeys and had brought along his turkey call, so he tried to attract them closer, but there were too many people in the campground for these skittish birds to come visit us.  We did see a few other smaller critters, though, and we heard lots of barking dogs. 

I was ready for a different sort of campsite tonight, after being woken by the dogs this morning, and we have found it.  We spent part of today at Bandelier National Monument (which was, disappointingly, mostly closed due to rocks on the road), and the rest of the day at the science museum in Los Alamos (owned and run by the Los Alamos National Laboratory, just so you know what to expect if you go there yourself--very informative, but don't expect to hear ANY criticism of nuclear weaponry or energy).  Even though we weren't really thrilled by the attractions in this area, the drive itself was amazing.  Lots of switchbacks and scary mountain roads.  I love that sort of thing!  

When it came time to find a campground, we were near Espanola, and the only "RV park" in town is one of those places where people tend to live full-time.  Really run down and right in town.  So, after driving around north of town and asking some questions, we found ourselves at a fishing lake at the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo.  We don't have hook-ups or showers, and it is way overpriced, but we are also the only ones staying here overnight (so far), I'm writing this about 10 feet from the lake, and there are no dogs.  There's a nice breeze and the evening promises to be pleasantly quiet and cool.  

We left Sonja at home in this little tiny basket (and arranged for daily visits by our friend Kelly, who is a great pet sitter!):

We plan to continue our vacation for another five or six days, so I think there will be another blog post about this trip.  We're thinking of heading east next, through some of the mountains south of Taos,  catching up with our friend Bridget at her ranch or somewhere nearby, and then circling back to Santa Fe where we know a few nice folks.


  1. Oh I love it! You guys are doing famously! Nice posting too Sue....thanks and keep it up. We miss you but we'll just suck it up and get over it ...LOL

  2. Sounds like a really great time! Enjoy your vacation. Heck your life is better than many people's vacations so enjoy your life.... vacationing or not :)