When I left Amarillo it was already dark so I didn’t realize that things were starting to look completely different. Texas was remarkably flat (except for the gorge). West of Amarillo the only thing that I noticed were flashing red lights as far as I could see, which are the warning lights on top of the wind turbines. From the barnyard smell, I assumed that I had ventured into cattle country. I had visual confirmation when I saw herds upon herds of cows close up to Interstate 40.
The drive to Tucumcari, NM was easy like most of the segments that I’ve taken so far. It was fairly flat and straight. I decided to stay in there for a couple of reasons. It is one of the historic towns along Route 66, it’s so remote that I figured it would have great stargazing, & it had a fabulously restored mid-century roadside motel.
The first thing that drew me to the Motel Safari was their camel. I figured that it was fitting for someone from the Camel City to head down the same road to stay in a camel motel! The pictures on their website did not disappoint. The room was fully restored and had pristine period furniture. The mattress was sent down from heaven….or from outerspace (since NM is known to be an alien hotspot).
The town of Tucumcari is quaint and I could imagine that it was something special during the Route 66 heyday. Everyone that I met during the visit was friendly and welcoming. Unfortunately, much of the town looks like it was gutted with the creation of Interstate 40. Many buildings were empty in their downtown. Several vintage motels and gas stations were in ruin.
When I asked about the best spot to see the stars, the innkeeper suggested that I could drive to the edge of town until the street lights ended. He said it was safe so off I went into the darkness. The random closed motels gave way to a burned out gas station, then another crumbling motel until I got to the part of town where the street lights ended. A sign pointed the way to a community disc golf course so it had to be safe. He said it was safe. As I drove further along a road without features, a road without lights, and no sign of civilization I got a bit sketched out. I pulled off the side of the road and turned the lights off. I’m sure that it was perfectly safe….but I’ve seen one too many movies on a dark road. I kept the car running and got out. The sky was very clear. The air was completely still and I couldn’t hear anything except the purring of my engine. I should have stood outside for a few minutes to allow my eyes to adjust….but I didn’t. I was able to appreciate the bright stars but also satisfied that it happened if only very briefly.
In the morning I was able to drive back through downtown and see more of the town. It was a bit depressing. The empty storefronts also extended into boarded up houses. Perhaps my uneasy feeling at the edge of town was warranted after all. In the light of day, I could see that the town had some great bones(at least the bones that were left). I’m glad that folks like the innkeeper at the Motel Safari are still keeping on with their traditions.
I was on the road for a mile or so before I noticed a new addition to my dash. My tire pressure light was on. The next exit didn’t have a gas station so I continued to drive for longer than I should have before I could check the pressure. It turns out that my front passenger tire was low. Luckily, the light went off and all seemed to be good. Unfortunately, I also found a small chip in my windshield. Took a picture of it to keep an eye on it.
Just like that, I was back on the road. Destination: Taos, New Mexico. My knowledge of Taos goes back to my college days working for the WV Division of Tourism. A major benefit of working in the tourism industry are familiarization tours (FAM) for short. During my 5 years in that department, we went skiing about 10 days per year. It was enough that I bought my own equipment and subscribed to Ski Magazine. A common theme might be that I have a tendency to go all in when I find something that I like. Taos was one of those places that I read about in the magazine. I fantasized about skiing out west in powder instead of on ice. I only ever skied in WV and was happy to do so. BTW, I haven’t skied in over 20 years.
One quirk that I’ve always remembered about Taos is that some people hear things there. Some visitors hear a mysterious buzz or hum when they visit the area. Some hear it when they arrive and it goes away when they leave. Others become in-tune with it and hear it forever. Whether it’s tinnitus, the earth’s magnetic field, or just an engine in the distance I was curiously worried that I would hear it. Luckily, I heard no such thing. I believe that it is real but am glad that I didn’t tune in to that station.
The 3.5-hour route to Taos took me off the flatlands of Interstate 40 and up into the hills. I was excited when I caught a glimpse of snow-capped mountains in the distance. Little did I realize that my path would take me right up in and over the largest of them through Carson National Forest. I knew that I was getting high in altitude once I started to see Aspen trees. To say they were winding roads would be an understatement. One curvy road sign was an “S” on its side. It was as fun a drive as it was beautiful.
Although I didn’t hear the hum, I did develop a dull headache that was very unpleasant. I did some quick googling and realized that it was altitude sickness. I was able to pop into a very stylish Walmart to pick up some water and Aleve. Dehydration was probably part of the problem. Self care tip #1: drink alkaline water. I’m not medically nor scientifically trained but it seems to be wetter than normal water.
I didn’t really have a destination in mind by going to Taos. I just wanted to go there because I could. I knew that there was a Pueblo and that some websites said that it was a tourist trap, and others said that it was a sacred site that allowed visitors. Mindlessly, I followed the signs and ended up being herded into a parking lot and I couldn’t really tell why. Had I done any research at all, I would have realized that the Taos Pueblo is an actual community. It’s the only Native American community that is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. As such, vsitors are not allowed to drive beyond a certain point.
I arrived at 3:25pm to learn that the Pueblo closes to the public at 4pm. The lady at the ticket booth assured me that I would still be able to make the 3:30 tour. Being late was a blessing because I was the only person on the tour. I learned that the settlement is still home to 16 families. They are a matriarchal society that passes the homes down between generations. The folks that live in the Pueblo chose to do so which means that some do not have electricity or running water. The snow had fallen a few days prior to my visit which made for beautiful photos but also meant that the area was muddy. Luckily, I had on my waterproof hiking boots.
At the core of the community is their Catholic church. Photography isn’t allowed inside the chapel but I assure you that it was as colorful as you can imagine. Interestingly enough, Mary is on the altar and is the largest of the icons. Jesus is smaller and to her left. Her placement was a reflection of their maternal society.
Back in the car with only a general idea, I was off to Santa Fe. I have been sold on Santa Fe for years by my friend Lynn. She offered early on to give me tips on what to see and do. I sheepishly drove into town with little research but her strong assurance that the city is phenomenal. It was dark as I drove into town from the highway. It appeared to be an ordinary town and nothing special until I turned onto San Francisco street. The “normal” buildings gave way to quintessential Southwestern architecture. Every building from that corner on was adobe. There were shops upon shops. I quickly found a public parking deck and googled “gluten free near me”.
I set out for a restaurant called The Shed Creative Cooking located in the courtyard of a building set back from the main street. I only had to wait for a few minutes before my table for one was ready. The restaurant has dining rooms spread throughout a meandering space. I was led through 2 dining rooms and told to watch my head as I entered through each doorway. They were only about 5.5 feet openings and one had a foam bumper pad to soften the blow for folks who didn’t duck properly.
Once I found my table I was presented with a menu that said, “our chile is spicy.” I chose an Enchilada & Turkey Chorizo plate with red & green chile (a/k/a Christmas style). The side dish was posole, pinto beans, & garlic bread. I’m unclear where the garlic bread tradition comes into the picture. I can’t eat the bread but it looked and smelled amazing. When it comes to food, I do enjoy hot sauce. This dish came with a level of heat that I did not imagine. But I am stubborn and can power through almost anything…especially if it’s delicious. My nose was running with the first half of the plate, and my endorphins had kicked in by the time I scraped off the last morsels. I could have eaten another entree but instead, I pulled out my phone and used the Hotel Tonight app to find a hotel.
Though my plan was to stay at “affordable” hotels on this trip, I was able to honor that plan through justification. The hotels around downtown Santa Fe are a bit finer than I had intended but with the app I was able to find one that wasn’t too much outside my imaginary budget. I settled on the Luxx Boutique Hotel because it was a winner on a Travel Channel competition, it was 2 blocks from the central plaza, and it was half price. It was a winner in my book before I even checked in.
When I say that the room was massive, I mean that it was almost the same size as my apartment. It was a corner room that had patio views. My good fortune was confirmed when I looked on the bedside table and saw The Teaching of Buddha alongside their Bible. Once I had moved in all my stuff, I bundled up and ventured back out onto the streets. The shops were all closed by this point in the evening but there was still a bustle on the street from diners and other folks enjoying the plaza. I found a few places that were on the to-do list for the next day, especially a combination shop called Chocolate & Cashmere. From the window, it appeared that they sold exactly those items.
Next up: day 2 in Santa Fe, also known as the day I spent over $60 on chocolate.