Last month, my spouse and I made a 13-day trek to several western states: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Our trip served multiple purposes — see old friends (some for the first time in decades), visit family, get a better sense of the West, and enjoy some good food and fine art.
While we spent a few days on our own in Santa Fe, our trip would not have been the same without (more than) a little help from our friends. It was certainly great to see them and share experiences, but it was also a privilege to have such well-versed guides escorting us to the places we visited. Relying on them allowed me to make less-detailed travel plans than I normally do, which heightened our sense of discovery. I appreciate all their time and effort, as well as all the what-to-see-and-do suggestions that many others offered.
I took 1000-plus photos, some of which had to be good if only by accident. I have posted the more artsy ones at my other site (ART@CHC) in two newly-minted galleries: Western Skies (for landscapes) and Western Civilization (anti landscapes?) Interesting photos from this trip that didn’t fit either category may one day find their way into future and/or existing galleries. But I’ll share a few of them now.
For example, this bighorn sheep (click image to enlarge) strolled right past our car window as we were parked on a roadside in Colorado National Monument. Such lucky encounters with natural beauty can turn anyone with a camera into Ansel Adams for a small moment. But sometimes it’s better to forget the camera and remember to just be there.
After a few days exploring Grand Junction with our friends, we all drove the river road to Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. The river road (Utah 128) is impressive in its own right, following the Colorado River as it flows past the gorges it created. The most dramatic views were those of Fisher Towers. As my inner Keats puts it: The morning light bath’d its cragged spires in mystery.
Many of the rockfaces along the gorge were spectacular as well, but they were no match for what we saw in Arches. We only had a morning to spend in the park, so we mostly stayed on the loop road — but there was still plenty to take in. My main takeaway was how varied the terrain was — not just the pillars of rock sculpted in a hundred different ways and all the boulders balanced on top of other boulders, but the ground itself: sandy in one place, gravelly in another, nearly lava-like elsewhere. I could have spent hours walking along the Arches trails and shooting at ground level.
The internet has plenty of great photos of Arches by great photographers, so I’m not going to duplicate them here. I did want to point out one rockface that I saw as we were driving the loop road — this rockface actually did have a face and, not only that, it was rocky:
We drove from Utah to New Mexico and spent four days in the Santa Fe area. I grew tired of turquoise pretty quickly but not so the art: there were dozens of interesting galleries on Canyon Road, along with the Georgia O’Keeffe museum and New Mexico Museum of Art. I was surprised and pleased that the O’Keeffe museum was not preoccupied with paintings of sexually-suggestive flower parts. Most of her work was far less notorious. (Incidentally, O’Keeffe denied those connotations, which I find hard to believe.)
I did bring home a souvenir of sorts from one Canyon Road gallery, namely a small rhodochrosite (“Rose of the Inca”) warbler perched on a veined rock of unknown type. Even after the owner dropped the price by a third, I probably paid more for it than it was worth. But it’s a nicer remembrance than a Georgia O’Keeffe coffee mug would have been, so no regrets here. I am admiring it as I write.
Leaving Santa Fe, we took the Turquoise Trail (State Route 14) to Albuquerque, stopping at several points of interest along the way. Our first stop was the San Marcos Cafe and Feed Store, where we had a great breakfast watching chickens and peacocks and listening to a well-traveled guitarist-singer. It was a quirky spot, one of those hidden gems. I just had to order the Eggs San Marcos, an egg burrito with chiles, cheese, guacamole and beans. This was the only burrito (or variant thereof) I ate the entire trip and it was delicious.
Our second stop was the village of Madrid, which was frankly a disappointment. It was essentially a half-mile stretch of chuchería (tchotchke) galleries, a chocolate shop with a dauntingly long line (sorry, not going to wait 15 minutes for chocolate) and a biker bar. Almost impossible to find a space to park that Saturday afternoon. Maybe I’m not being charitable toward the place, but I wasn’t into that vibe that day.
Our last stop on the Turquoise Trail was the roadside haunt of one Mr. Leroy Gonzales of Golden, New Mexico. His abode has a pin on Google Maps titled “Bottle House” but it is much more than that. We didn’t even know the house or Mr. Gonzales existed until my spouse spied the bottles in front of the house and made a U-turn so we could check it out.
My brief visit with Mayor Leroy (see my Western Civilization gallery) was the highlight of my trip down the Turquoise Trail. Leroy and his domain have been well documented by many others, including biker/photographer Chuck Jines, so I will just provide a link and let Leroy do the talking. Enjoy.
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We visited family in San Diego for a few days, then headed eastward on Interstate 8, eventually driving through the strangest hills I’ve ever seen. As I would later learn, these are the Jacumba Mountains — they look exactly like giant piles of rubble, as if they were just dumped there from some astronomical-scale construction project.
Other notable features of Interstate 8 included views of the Trump Wall rising and falling amidst the sand dunes, and interior border-control checkpoints. I didn’t even know that the latter existed until this trip. I am sure my spouse and I were being ethnically-profiled by those smiling agents, just as when we visited Canada back in the day. Our freedom of movement at such checkpoints is merely the visible tip of our white-privilege iceberg.
The final leg of our trip included a four-legged breakfast ride at a resort ranch near Tuscon, Arizona. I was assigned a draft horse whose chest was so big that the saddle wouldn’t stay on straight. Halfway through the ride, my saddle starting slipping to the left and my only choice was to fall off as gracefully as I could without getting my foot caught in the stirrup. This earned me a lecture from the ride-boss to sit straight and push on my stirrups if the saddle began to slide — which it did, again.
Meanwhile, my spouse did not anticipate that the trail ride would include rock-strewn 30-degree downslopes. Neither did I, but I figured that my horse had learned the trail on previous rides, and I was pretty sure he didn’t want to fall either. So I let him do his thing and we all lived to tell about it — which I am doing now.
One last thing: I usually don’t do this, but here is a link to a set of uncropped, unadjusted, uncurated and unexplained straight-from-the-camera shots from our Mountain Time trip. (Don’t forget about the nicely-processed images in ART@CHC). In any case, thanks for saddling up with me, and have a great Thanksgiving.