DAY 7 May 31, 2009

Another early morning departure allowed me to cruise the streets of Santa Fe taking uncompromised photos of the sites.

On the trip into Albuquerque, I passed on the Sandia Tram (cost $18). I guess it is the longest in the world, but I had no picnic to enjoy at the top of the hill and other options that were more intriguing.

Like the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History ($8). The exhibits were very interesting, but propagandized to make the U.S. look righteous in its bombing of Japan and increasing the number of nuclear energy sites in the U.S.

Albuquerque had some interesting stuff. Next time take the kids to the aquarium and have them eat at the shark reef afterward-the pricing was very reasonable and the crowds were light with free parking. Old Town Albuquerque on the other hand, seemed to be a crowded tourist trap with little parking (none free??).

I ended my day early-it was really hot! The lodging was cheap on Central Ave. I pulled into the Luxury Hotel - a motel and not really luxurious. They also gave me a hard time with the rate (which was on their sign-based on weekly rate) until I went out to the car and got the coupon for the rate. They also told me they had a laundry room, but after I checked in and settled into my room I went to the office to get some quarters. Another person was at the desk and told me that the dryer wasn't working-oh well... Beds were decent and the room was clean enough.

ROUTE: US 285 South>Tramway Exit East>NM 14 South> I 40 West

Lodging: Luxury Hotel 6718 Central Ave SE Albuquerque, NM

Meals: from my "pantry"

Attractions: Sandia Tram (next time), National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, Aquarium & Shark Reef Restaurant (next time), and Old Town Albuquerque

$$$: $8 Museum $35 Motel $2 Food = $45


DAY 6 May 30, 2009

Blew out of the homeless shelter, oops I mean hostel, very early this morning. While everyone was friendly and there were some non-hippy types, I got the impression that this is a location where people without means land and stay. Please don't consider me an elitist, hippies are very interesting people on the whole, espousing unique values. However, when I go to a "hostel" I expect to meet other travelers not residents. The town itself is quite quaint.

The pueblo in Taos wasn't open yet when I arrived, so I shot a quick photo and went into town to check out the farmer's market. Fueled up and hit the "high road" (NM 75) to Santa Fe.

I passed a couple of wineries because they weren't open just yet. I stopped at Black Mesa Winery and enjoyed the kitties until the tasting room opened. This was a delightful experience. The lady pouring for me was very knowledgeable about the wines and they provide seating and a piece of paper and pencil for your notes on each tasting. I loved the chocolate flavored "Black Beauty" wine! It is a balanced, not overly sweet, wine that would pair delightfully with cheesecake or just on its own as dessert. I had to have 2 bottles.

Spent the rest of the day at the hot springs/pools at Ojo Caliente. What a delightfully unique experience. The mud bath was incredibly refreshing, followed by a very hot arsenic tub-ooooh yeah! I enjoyed both the sauna and the steam room with plenty of lemon water (gratis). The bath houses were clean and well appointed. Pricing is higher on the weekend ($25.65 with taxes) as opposed to $18 + tax during the week. You may want to consider staying on site as the room price includes admission for two people on two days and really offsets the cost of the room.

My lodging choice for the night was the Santa Fe Hostel-great choice! It is a remodeled old style motel with communal areas and kitchen. I had planned on eating at La Choza (wonderful during my last trip), but the kitchen was so well stocked with fresh and healthy choices that I grabbed a bottle of wine and shared it with Patrick and Tamas at the hostel-excellent experience! The only drawback to the experience were the foam mats they called beds-next time I will blow up the air mattress and delight in the experience.

ROUTE: NM 150 South> US 64 East> NM 75 South>NM 68 South> US 285 North to Ojo Caliente then South to Santa Fe

Lodging: SantaFe Hostel

Meals: Picnic

Attractions: Town of Arryo Seco, Taos Pueblo, Taos Farmer's Market, Scenic High Road, Black Mesa Winery, and Ojo Caliente

$$$: $22 Fuel $26 Spa $40 Wine $18 Hostel =$106


DAY 5 May 29, 2009

I left Cortez on US160 before day break. I was at Mesa Verde before the fee collection gate even opened. Mesa Verde has the nicest camp- ground I have ever seen in a Federal Park. There is a café, general store, laundry, and coin showers. Tent sites are $22. I drove the Zuni loop first thing in the morning and found several groups of deer there.

The park was very green (except for the very large burn scar) with an amazing assortment of flowers. So many different kinds of flora and fauna to be seen. I saw deer in the campground, a couple of horses just roaming by the road, and a coyote running down the road.

The ruins were diverse, magnificent, well preserved, and nicely documented. I drove the Mesa Loop and walked the short distance to each of the displays-well worth each trip. The museum was interesting, particularly the part about the indigenous people's eating habits and cookware. This was echoed in the visitor center's amazing display of pottery.

Further east was the town I had been looking forward to. Durango, Colorado was quite the touristy disappointment-little, if any, authenticity remains of this beautiful old mining town turned MEGA tourist trap. They have a hostel, but I was not ready to stop for the day. Lunch at Himalayan Cuisine 992 Main Ave (970) 259-0956 was just $8.99 pus tax and tip for a great buffet. Probably the best Indian food I have ever eaten. The college campus was gorgeous.

Bagged Chimney Rock (enough ruins already).

After my second near miss with local drivers turning left in front of my vehicle (traveling at 55+ mph) and immediately hitting their brakes, the sign appeared like a beacon unto the anxious and angered gypsy. An immediate left (with NO unnecessary local style braking) brought me to the oasis of Pagosa Brewing Co. There I found a great bunch of folks, some fantastic dogs in the garden, and respite from the criminally insane drivers. I sat at the bar, closer to the beer, and enjoyed several samples-all outstanding. I tasted the Honey Malt, Poor Richard’s, Coconut Porter, and finally a full glass of Abbey Alpine 10. They serve food, but I was still full from lunch. Definitely a must do for southern Colorado!

The mineral hot springs are right on the river the name of the hotel is The Springs. Access is $20 or $43 with in/out privileges. Across the street you can get a “soak and massage” (mineral?) for $70, but it was too late in the day for that.

Chromo, Colorado on the New Mexico border had all of a post office, but the scenery was gorgeous with meadows and flowers that were beautiful. I have witnessed more wildlife today than I have ever seen in the wild. I saw my first elk in the wild, running up a slope that had to be almost 70 degrees. Then I saw two more herds of elk-wow! A very good reason to slow down and enjoy the trip. This has been a wildlife bonus day. Finally made it to the Arroyo Seco hostel, aka The Abominable Snow Mansion, as the sun set. I really enjoyed the people, but would have appreciated a cleaner location.

ROUTE: US 160 East>US 84 S>US 64 E to Arroyo Seco

Lodging: The Abominable Snow Mansion

Himalayan Cuisine 992 Main Ave Durango, CO (970) 259-0956 (****Buffet)
Pagosa Brewing Co 118 N Pagosa Blvd Pagosa Springs, CO (*****Beers)

Attractions: Mesa Verde NP, Durango, Chimney Rock (next time), The Springs in Pagosa Springs, and Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

$$$: $22 Food $5 Souvenir $20 Hostel = $47


DAY 4 May 28, 2009

Woke up in a real bed and took another glorious hot shower. Gotta grab your joy wherever you can find it.

The Blanding Visitor Center was great- it had a nice little museum, touring info, internet access, and a goody bag.

Drove out to Hovenweep National Monument. You pass the Hatch Trading Post, but there was nothing to see. I decided to hike the whole loop. I would say that you don't really gain anything by doing so, just be sure to walk all the way to where the drop begins. The 80 foot vertical descent into the canyon is tight and the climb out is strenuous.

The ruins are great! A wide variety of well preserved buildings.

I was enjoying my hike until I looked up to see a fast approaching thunder storm. I was on the opposite side of the canyon and on the rim-NOT some place you want to be during an electrical storm. I busted out the last 3/4 miles and got to my car about 5 minutes before the real storm hit.

This little guy is apparently very aggressive, even dangerous, to humans.

I stopped at the Guy Drew Winery on my way into Cortez, CO. I tasted most of their offerings and purchased a very nice port and an unoaked chardonay that was divine. Culinary highlight of the trip, so far.

I ate dinner at the J Fargo Brew Pub and can honestly say the best thing I had were the french fries-anyone else noticing a trend here? The BBQ ribs were a tasteless, chewy hunk of meat that was either cut very badly or from the wrong part of the hog. The beer was even worse, if that is possible. I ordered a sampler. The waitress poured three of the four selections and let me know the one I really wanted to taste was out of stock and I could get a second of my favorite. Ok...but maybe you should have let me decide if I would rather have something else. Then I tasted the beers. They were all so bad that I really did not want seconds of any, in fact I didn't finish what I had.

Went up to McFee Reservoir hoping for a free spot on US Forest Service land, but all places were marked no vehicles or no overnight parking. The area had numerous deer herds near the road.

Their unimproved sites were $14 plus $4 for a shower-no thanks. Back in town, I found myself a well lit quiet place and tucked in for the night.

ROUTE: US 191 South>UT 262 E>Left on CR 414>Right on CR 401>Left on CR 413> Hovenweep>Left on CR 413>Left on CR 401 East into Cortez>CO 184 North to Reservoir>US 491 South back into Cortez

Lodging: Camping

Meals: J Fargo Brew Pub (* food *overall)

Attractions: Blanding Visitor Center & Museum, Hatch Trading Post, Hovenweep NM, Guy Drew Winery, McFee Reservoir, and Cortez Cultural Center (next time)

$$$: $58 Wine $22 Food/Beer $23 Fuel = $103


DAY 3 May 27,2009

Started the day with a one mile hike to the Betatakin Ruins viewpoint in Navajo National Monument. I was the only one on the trail (daybreak) and enjoyed the company of various rodents and lizards plus verdant blooms in the desert.

The canyon surrounding the ruins is beautiful. The hike has a pretty decent incline with a few benches along the way and down at the end.

I headed into Monument Valley after mailing a postcard in Kayenta, AZ. I decided against the Navajo (Dine`) Nation Park (fee area not included in NPS Pass). Instead I drove 10 miles (each way) out to Olijato Trading Post only to find it closed. There was quite a bit of wildlife on that foray, but few humans.

The Goulding Trading Post was open and quite a bit of fun. The museum on site was an interesting collection of films shot in Monument Valley, with a focus on John Wayne. The Lodge/Motel rooms all have views of the valley. Grandma tells me that she and Grandpa stayed here years ago when this was first built and really enjoyed her stay.

My favorite views of the valley:

Mexican Hat, Utah was a cute town named after a balanced stone that looks like and upside down mexican hat. The "Navajo Blanket" rock formation to the east of the rock is absolutely inspiring. I have never seen anything like it.

North of Mexican Hat is a turn off (UT 261) that has NUMEROUS signs warning about a rough and winding, steep road. This was overkill for the typical, well maintained passenger vehicle.
Goose Necks State Park (3 miles off the main road) was interesting, but not a must do. A great view of Monument Valley can be had there. They had a dry camp area with pit toilets, but I was not ready to stop for the day.

While I considered the 17 mile dirt road to the Valley of the Gods, the impending rain helped me decide otherwise. So I started up this road that was oh so dangerous. Well...not really, but take it easy and pay attention to what you are doing and the temperature gauge (a/c off). The views were astounding!!! Including a great view of the road I decided to avoid.

The Kane Gulch Ranger Station (not visitor center) has pit toilets, overnight parking on asphalt (for a fee) and a 4 mile hike to ruins (another fee not included in my annual pass).
On to Natural Bridges National Monument, as the skies open up and the down pour begins (but totally misses the NM). Bridges has a nice visitor center with an interesting film. The campground had "sand boxes" (for lack of a better description) for tent sites ($10 per night). The loop was gorgeous. Take it slow and walk out to all of the overlooks-they are all worth the walk!
First bridge from two different view areas-front and back of the same bridge.

"Bridges" are formed when water carves out a shorter path resulting in a hole that becomes a bridge. These two bridges are also viewable from the loop with a short walk.

On my way into Blanding, Utah for a coke, I saw a sign for a $25 motel room at the Blanding Sunset Inn 88 W Center (435) 678-3323. All I could think of was a nice hot shower-ooooh sounds too good to resist. The little place was clean and comfortable.

By now you must be wondering, when if ever I am going to eat anything. Well, sometimes scenery wins out over food and that has been the case until now. I have not had much chance to indulge in the regional food specialties until now. I asked the motel attendant where she would go for dinner if she could go anywhere. She indicated the Old Tymer at 733 S Main. So off I went. I asked the waitress what most people ordered and what her favorite item was. She indicated a hamburger and her favorite was the "ribbon fries". Okay french fries rate as a Utah specialty?? The burger was a passable frozen patty. The ribbon fries were great! Cut on a spiral slicer the thickness of chips, they were soft with crunchy edges. OoH so good!

ROUTE: US 163 North>UT 261 North>UT 95 East>US 191 North

Lodging: Blanding Sunset Inn

Meals: Old Tymer at 733 S Main Blanding, UT (**** for the ribbon fries **overall)

Attraction: Betatakin Ruins viewpoint in Navajo NM, Monument Valley, Olijato Trading Post, Goulding Trading Post, Mexican Hat, Navajo Blanket, Goose Necks State Park, Valley of the Gods (next time), Kane Gulch Ranger Station, and Natural Bridges NM

$$$: Fuel $10 Food $8 Postage $3 Souvenirs $6 Motel $28 =$55