From Taos Pueblo, NM to Cortez, CO and everything in-between
12.03.2016 - 13.03.2016
We woke up early this morning so we could have enough time to explore Taos Pueblo before heading out.
Unfortunately, even after a complimentary breakfast at the hotel (made to order Mexican omelets!), we arrived downtown too early to get into any of the shops. We didn’t want to wait until 10am to look at some tourist-y Pueblo knick knacks, so we just snapped a few pictures of the town’s unique architecture and headed on our way.
Even the McDonalds was built like a Pueblo.
The first half of the drive was slow and winding just like the drive last evening, but this time we could appreciate the scenery around us so it was a thrill rather than tedious.
Unfortunately, we also noticed dozens of crosses with flowers set in memorial along the side of the road, acting as a reminder to drive carefully along the dangerous mountain roads.
We made sure to pull over often to photograph villages below us and other mountains miles in the distance.
We stopped in Española, NM to see the famously beautiful churches around the city. The area was mostly Hispanic and devoutly Catholic, and this was reflected in the town's stores and art galleries.
I stopped to talk to a local who was selling spice blends (mostly chili themed) at a stand outside an art gallery that also featured some of his pieces, made of recycled materials. His method for letting customers taste-test his spices was to break a pistachio nut, put a pinch of the spice blend into its shell, then have the person throw both the pinch of spices and the pistachio nut into their mouth together. The mix of salty and spicy flavors was surprisingly good, and I shamelessly tried almost all of them. Before I left, I made sure to pick up a bag of my favorite blend for my older brother who is a chef and would undoubtedly appreciate the flavor much more than I could.
We spent a long time shopping around and exploring the churches in the heart of the town.
Even better, the town's cherry trees were in full bloom and the white and pink trees were everywhere.
Even on the way out of the city and further down the mountain, we came across more churches with incredible architecture.
Then we were on our way to the Bandelier National Monument, which features preserved homes of the Ancestral Puebloans. Unfortunately, as pathetic as this sounds, there was no parking available at the monument and the closest spot outside the monument to put our car was miles away. Thus, after circling the parking lot for awhile, we gave up and headed onwards. Luckily, we found a lookout spot outside the Monument to take some pictures of the canyons below. Note the weather is starting to get a little dark and stormy!
We followed the winding road to the Valles Caldera National Preserve, a suddenly wide open flatland amongst the mountains we had been driving through.
We even saw a lonely hiker out in the fields, who appeared to be fishing despite the water in the area being about a foot deep.
We followed the one lane road to the visitor center along muddy dirt roads before we realized it was lightly snowing. We decided to get going quick so we could be out of the area before the storm made the roads more dangerous.
Unfortunately, we didn't move fast enough. Just beyond the flatlands, we hit an intense snowstorm so bad we couldn't see a few feet past the car. It was wildly beautiful and completely surreal since earlier that day we had been cruising through sunny and warm forests.
We were worried at first that we would never make it out of the storm. Yet somehow, after driving 20 more minutes down the road, the snow cleared and we entered a completely new landscape of red rocks and green grass. It was warm again, too!
We stopped at a historical site that featured old Native American housing buried deep underground and accessible only by ladder. A trail took us around the sites, and we were grateful to take a moment to catch our breath and enjoy being a tourist again after our blizzard adventure.
After that, we stopped for lunch at a taco stand owned by a friendly Native American couple. The husband came and sat with us, and together we all tore into our cheese fries smothered in green chilies while we traded stories about our trip and his life working for the tribe. We were beyond grateful for the food and the conversation.
When we hit the road again, it led us out of the mountains and towards the barren deserts of New Mexico.
We wanted to find a ghost town which was supposedly several miles down a dirt road off the highway, but it was getting dark fast and the location of the abandoned town wasn't on any of our maps. We drove for about an hour through treacherous pothole covered roads with huge dips so high you couldn't see over them to know what was coming next. We knew once it got dark the road would be too dangerous to drive on, and after struggling a bit longer to find the town we decided to give up and head towards a place to sleep for the night.
The sunset in the desert was breathtakingly beautiful and absolutely one of my favorite experiences of the trip. Sadly, we were in such a hurry to find the town we didn't stop very often to photograph the sunset colors that saturated the landscape.
We were extremely exhausted by the time we got on the long stretch of highway towards Cortez, CO. But even on a main highway, I had never seen so many stars! We even saw a shooting star as we reached our destination, the perfect end to a beautiful day.