Monday, October 3, 2016

From New Mexico to Colorado Through Snow and Hot Springs

My plan today was to visit Bandelier National Monument and Valle Caldera National Preserve on my way to my final stop, in Grand Junction, CO. This is a long day of driving, so I split it up between two maps.  I started down in the lower right hand corner of the second map and ended up right here at the top where it says Motel 6.


Leaving Santa Fe, I wish I had my camera handy, because I was impressed by freeway overpasses and retaining walls. Each one was painted with a unique Santa Fe design. I actually grabbed for my phone and the battery was just giving out, so I plugged it into the car to charge. By the time it was functional again, I was past the artistic architecture.

Bandelier was only about an hour from the motel, and was my first stop. Driving to the destination I entered in my navigation for the park entrance, I passed a sign saying "Bandelier Access by Shuttle only."  But I knew that River couldn't get on a shuttle, so I ignored the sign and kept driving to the park entrance. I passed another sign, this one said "Oops! You missed the shuttle to Bandelier.  Go back 1/2 mile"  But I continued to the gate.

The ranger at the gate said, "Did you see all the signs about the shuttle?"  I laughed and said, "yes I did."  She looked into the car and saw River and said, "There are some exceptions to the rule that everyone must take the shuttle into the park, and one of the exceptions is if you have a pet with you."
So she gave me a map and told me to drive around the Road Closed sign to get to the visitor center.

I got around the sign and into the park.  I pulled over as soon as it was feasible so that River could get out of the car and stretch his legs and take care of business before we drove through the park. And he was really excited by this place. I don't know what about it, but maybe it smells really wild or something. He played in the long grass and the rocks and succulents. He had a great time, never going further than six feet from me holding the leash. Nothing about this area was particularly noteworthy except that it was 100% nature. It was quiet and unimproved except for the one road I was on. It was cool and the long grass was waving in the wind.

After he did his thing, I took a glance at the map and discovered that the road from the entrance gate to the visitor center is the only paved road in the whole park. And since River can't go on any trails, this park ended up being a bust. So we left.

Valle Caldera was less than half an hour away so we headed that direction.  When I got to the entrance of that park, I saw that the road was unpaved. I didn't feel like taking an unpaved road, especially considering my feeling was that there would be no place that River would be allowed to go in this park.  So we skipped that one, too and I just set my navigation for the motel room in Grand Junction, CO.

But, surprisingly, this is when all of the interesting stuff started happening...

Most of the drive today was absolutely stunning. NM-126 to Cuba, where I filled up with gas. And then US-550 most of the rest of the way. At one point the road was called the Million Dollar Highway and another time it was called Navajo Trail, but it was spectacular. It has some of the most intense switchbacks I can remember. I tried to get some shots of the scenery, but I'm not happy with them. These are actually the best ones. The cloudy sky and low light make them lackluster.
 You can't really see the oranges and reds. And the rocks were intricately detailed and etched in multicolored strata.

In actuality, the vibrant fall colors, mixed with the evergreen trees covered the rolling hills and almost looked unreal. Like candy. I kept thinking of Fruity Pebbles or Trix.

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At one point there were four different kinds of mountains in my view: a brown rolling mountain that was polka dotted with green shrubs, a craggy, rocky mountain with striations of colors formed over centuries, a grey and red sandstone-looking mountain with no vegetation on it, and a super high snow-frosted one.

During the drive today we went over two mountain passes. The second and larger one took us up to 10,600 feet elevation and the temperature up there was a chilly 36 degrees.

Then we passed by a giant meadow that was home to grazing elk. I was attracted to the expansive openness of the meadow, even though I didn't see any elk. And River was also pretty interested, but he was more focused on eating the grass.
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The highlight of my day was happening upon a flowing hot spring. It was lukewarm, not hot. River was walking through it and I put my hand in the water. There was no smell, but River usually drinks from freshwater lakes and rivers, and he wasn't drinking this.
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I also passed over that Continental Divide again.  So I finally looked it up.  Wow. It's geological. And there's not just one. But the one I drove over today is the "Great" one. I guess I've driven over several in the last few months.

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Amazing color and textures. The mountainside is a painting.

When I got to the Motel 6 in Grand Junction, they said my ID and AARP information was already in the system. As I was fishing for my temporary card, she told me not to bother because the number was already in there. I didn't remember that I'd stayed here before, but a quick check to my Motel 6 blog and I see that there's an entry for this place and it perfectly iterated the experience I had in my room tonight. haha. It's a weird room. It's trying to be wheelchair friendly. The shower is a roll-in with a handheld shower nozzle. The luggage rack is installed about four feet off the ground so if you hang anything The security latch is at four feet high. There is a second peephole at four feet. There is a door separating the bed and bath rooms, and it is half again as wide as a normal door. It opens into the bedroom, butting up into the foot of the bed. For me, it's super awkward to open the door and get around the TV set and the huge door that only opens half way because the bed blocks it. I can't imagine how a wheelchair would get in there.
I saw a sign at the exit for this motel saying it was the same exit for something called the Colorado National Monument. I might have to check that out on my way out tomorrow.

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