6-23-00 - Ruidoso to Santa Fe - Bandelier National Monument

The mustangs were grazing around the campground as I walked up to the shower house this morning. I watched them for a while, the colts scampering around, bucking and playing together. Nice to see them taking advantage of their youth.

As I ate breakfast the hummingbird whizzed about. He popped into the van very briefly....I'd like to think he was wishing me well on my journey.

I rolled out of the campground, down the steep, switch back laden road. I passed Hoot's trailer, he was sitting out in his chair.
"See you next time." I said with a wave as I rolled by. He gave me the nod and waved.

I joined a two lane road at Capitan, New Mexico 70/380 and headed West. The road was empty and desolate. The scenery was amazing. I came upon the Capitan Mountains, rising up from the desert floor.

I hit NM 54 and headed North and the road just got that much more desolate. The hundred miles between NM 380 and highway 40 was home to just a few towns, Ancho, Corona, Cedarvale, Willard, Estancia, McIntosh and Moriarty. I saw a German family in a huge RV with German plates and a "D" sticker on the back of it in Corona, I guess they brought the whole rig over on a ship to tour the country. Passing through Cedarvale I saw a sign spray painted across a boarded up half adobe, half wood structure...."Snakes Keep Out" it read, middle of nowhere New Mexican humor. I laughed out loud and it felt good. As I entered Moriarty I thought of Dean Moriarty, Jack Kerouac's adventuresome character from "On The Road" and wished I could have traveled the country back in the early 50's, in a jalopy, or an old pick up truck, the kind with swoopy fenders.

Covering these empty miles I remembered what the English woman in Lincoln told me about keeping the gas tank full and I was glad I followed her advice. Estancia was the only one of those towns with a gas station.

I saw a mule deer carcass out in the middle of a field, not too far from the road. There was a gaggle of vultures crowding around it, vying for the best spot, almost like the pictures you see of the African Savannah. Nature's garbage men. Vultures have developed bald heads over time because they put their heads into animal carcasses, take a beak full and pull their heads out. Feathers would just inhibit such feeding behavior. I kept rolling.

Along the way I would pass other cars, pick up trucks mostly. The people would wave as they passed, some of the old men would just raise their index finger from the wheel in salute. I just started waving to everyone. I imagine most of them were local ranchers, they probably know everybody they pass on those roads. In any event, I felt welcome out there, way out there.

Eventually I arrived on the outskirts of Santa Fe. The Spanish colonial town founded in the early 1600's....about the same time the Spanish founded the town I lived in in Chile, Concepcion was founded in 1550. Santa Fe was founded a little later, 1609. I saw signs for the visitor's center and of course, followed them. I was greeted by two men behind computer screens. It looks like they did more than just welcome visitors, this was the biggest visitor's center I had seen yet, full of books and brochures.
I explained that I was interested in camping around Santa Fe.
"Well," he began from behind a ham sandwich, "you've got a couple of options. First of all, the entire Santa Fe National Forest is closed due to fire danger, but Bandelier is open, you can camp there or you can go down to Villanueva State Park, it's about 50 miles Southeast of here, those are probably your two best bets."
"Okay....sounds good." I replied.
He gave me several maps of the area, we talked about the sites to see in Santa Fe.
"I was here once before, I was in high school. My boy scout troop went to Philmont Scout Ranch and on our way back to Albuquerque we stopped in Santa Fe for the afternoon, I remembered it was a pretty cool place." I explained.
"It is a cool place," he agreed, "I'm glad you came back."

Soon the subject turned to forest fires and the recent happenings in Los Alamos.

"They don't have any controlled burns scheduled any time soon do they?" I asked.
The guy looked at me and laughed....."Ha! I don't think so."
The fire that ripped through Los Alamos was supposed to be a routine controlled burn started by the people at Bandelier.

"I guess some heads will roll for that eventually huh?" I commented.
"Oh yeah, heads are rolling already," he began, "the head of Bandelier is gone. The people at Bandelier started the fire on the edge of their land, it didn't burn much of their land though, it went in the other direction, towards Los Alamos. A real mess." he concluded.
The guy sitting in front of the other computer chimed in, "Yeah, I haven't gotten up there to check that out yet, I wanna go up there and see that."
"Is it still burning?" I asked.
"No. It's not burning....well, yea, I mean there are still stumps smoldering and stuff, but the real fire's extinguished. If you want to see it drive into Los Alamos, it's like a disaster area." he answered.

I left the visitor's center and headed outside. I called home, just to check in and see how everything was going, to let someone know where I was, what I was doing. My Mom answered.
My parents were in Santa Fe a few years ago during their Western tour, so she had a view suggestions about things to see and do in Santa Fe. Mostly she asked if I was eating enough and if I was lonely, and if I had enough money. It was a lot like the conversations we used to have when I was away at Summer camp for a week as a kid. I'm lucky in that regard, and I think about it every day. I'm just lucky that someone in the world wonders those things about me.

Around Santa Fe the two lane roads turned into 4 lane highways through the desert and mountains. The New Mexico clouds painted the sky.

I headed North towards Bandelier National Monument, where I would spend the night.

I entered the gate paying $10.00 just to enter. The camping fee was separate which I would pay at the campground itself. Bandelier National Monument is made up of several mesas and valleys, close to Los Alamos. I passed a lot of National Laboratory compounds. I had always thought The Los Alamos National Laboratory was just a great big building somewhere, but it was more like a series of building complexes spread out over the 15 or so miles around Los Alamos. I'd be going down a forest road and see a big blue sign next to a guard gate and driveway leading into a concertina wire encircled group of buildings. The sign would read "LANL Area #2649" or "LANL Energy Resources Unit # 932", all the signs were non-descript enough to make you wonder what they're really doing out there in the woods. As I was rolling along the mesa top road towards the Bandelier Campground I looked across the valley to the other mesa and noticed a huge LANL dish pointed skyward, like something on the floor of the forest of Endor to keep Darth Vader out. The dish appears as just a tiny white saucer on the green mesa top in the picture below.

Bandelier itself has a variety of things to see and do. Indian ruins are the main draw, and here would be my first brush with the ancient peoples of the American Southwest. There are three loops with campsites, but two of them were closed due to extreme fire danger. The dryness was incredible. If I brushed against a spruce branch it just snapped off. I picked site #69, it was the only unoccupied site left with any shade from the blazing sun. I cooked dinner and went to bed looking through the pop top window at the stars. I would hike to the ruins in the morning.

Capitan Mountains

Desolate road

Downtown Corona, NM

Approaching Santa Fe, incredible sky

LANL radar dish across the canyon.

Camp site at Bandelier.

The vehicle