Wednesday, 7/11/01 - Entering New Mexico
As usual, I watched the landscape carefully as I crossed the state line between Colorado and New Mexico, wondering if the scenery would change at a distinct point. Maybe it was my imagination, but suddenly, there were more mesas springing from otherwise flat lands.
After another hot drive, we pulled into Raton, New Mexico, heading straight for the visitor information center where I gathered up maps and brochures. Then I walked across the street to a Chinese restaurant - I had been craving Chinese food for weeks - and had a buffet lunch, looking over the brochures as I ate.
My plan was to stay at the KOA in Raton which happened to be a little down the road from where I was. The wicked afternoon sun glared down on the treeless campground, but we got a nice corner site with full hookup (water, electric, sewer) and cable TV.
I set out to do the usual campground chores including laundry, shower and using their modem line to check email. Rode my bike to the grocery store for food for me and the Berts, then made dinner and watched TV. I'm back in my simple, solitary RV life, just me and two chihuahuas.
Thursday, 7/12/01 - Taos is Calling...
The drive to Taos from Raton meant a turn off of I-25 South onto 64 West, a mostly two-lane highway through Nowheresville, although about 15 minutes into the trip, I arrived at the NRA Whittington Center. In a curious mood, I turned down the long, flag-lined driveway to a building complex and spoke with the security guard. Turns out the place is a regular Disneyland for gun owners - a wide array of shooting ranges and even hunting and camping. I gathered some promotional materials on the place to read later.
"Come back and see us again some time," called out the guard as I returned to the Apache. Sure, sure, I'll be back.
The highway soon led into a state park and the drive became more scenic. As the Apache strained to get up and over the largest hill, I could see an enormous emerald lake sparkling in the distance. We descended into a wide valley and a tiny town called Eagle's Nest. "I could live here," I thought to myself as I drove through, especially when I saw an RV park for $182 per month. "I can afford that!" I said to myself, and in a few minutes, we were coming out the other side of town, leaving it and the giant lake behind.
After a town called Angel Fire, we entered a national forest and the drive became another scenic challenge, with steeper inclines and a beautiful river weaving back and forth across our path. The road leading out of the national forest quickly led into the main drag through Taos, Paseo del Pueblo.
Finding our campground - Taos Valley RV Park and Campground - was a little more of a challenge than I anticipated, and after finally finding an RV park only to discover that it was the wrong one (Taos RV Park), we got better directions and arrived hot, dusty and hungry.
The beauty of Taos, from a biker's standpoint, is that it is pretty flat or at least has very gentle inclines, so I hopped on my bike and rode up the main drag to a little local joint called Ofelia's where I had the first of many New Mexican lunches. I chose the tamale plate smothered in green chiles with a big, cold glass of iced tea.
I also stopped at Native Son's Bike Shop and Adventure company, a recommendation of the manager of the campground, and decided, after a short debate with myself, that I was ready and willing to go on a whitewater rafting trip of the Taos Box - a Class 4 rapids adventure.
As I rode my bike back the the campground, I kept thinking "It is really beautiful here." You can look past the mishmash of small buildings, some "traditional" adobe, some non-descript, and see luminous mountains in nearly all directions.
The blue skies are filled with strands and billows of clouds of all colors. Weather patterns play musical chairs around the town, settling for a moment at one mountain, then another, dark and dense.
I was riding against traffic for a brief section of road, carefully staying within the bike lane, when two men in a pickup stared right at me and then began to ease their truck into the bike lane. My first instinct was to jump the curb, but I had never been able to master that maneuver on my bike, and only moments earlier was discussing the possibility to getting shocks put onto my bike to make it easier to do just that.
I toppled over the curb, landing in a tangle with my bike, with only bruised shins and a bloody knee on the outside. But genuine shock and anger on the inside, as I realized what they had just done.
When I told the campground manager what had happened, she said, "The locals here will do things like that." I had already discovered the darker side of the small, beautiful town of Taos.
Friday, 7/13/01 - And the River Calls, Too...
Rafting Photos Courtesy of Southern Exposure
I assessed my battered legs and decided I was perfectly fine and could go on my first Class 4 whitewater rafting trip. My three previous trips - in Gardiner Montana, Jackson Wyoming and Salida Colorado - had progressed from Class 1's and 2's to some 3's. 3 being challenging, 4 being technical, 5 being dangerous, 6 being life-threatening.
The trip was 17 miles down the Rio Grande as it carved a deep path through a canyon into a gorge, the river being the only way into and out of the canyon for miles and miles. Jagged, crumbly, crooked rocks climbed from the earth like walls toward the clouds. The water went through changes at nearly every turn, with long stretches of calm but fast-moving currents taking us downstream.
As with all raft trips, we get a 15 minute safety lesson before we depart, learning things like if you fall into the river, you must assume the river flotation position: feet facing downstream, toes up, so the flat of your feet are the first to hit rocks in case you hit rocks, which you most likely will when floating down rapids.
Another lesson: if the boat hits a rock and the force of water rushes so hard as to suddenly cause the boat to wrap around the rock, do a High Side. That means everyone in the boat must immediately move to the side of the boat nearest the rock to counter the weight of water submerging the opposite end.
I've heard those instructions before, listened intently because I have tremendous respect for the river and for nature, but have never seen those maneuvers in action. Until now. And of course, I have decided, once again, to be a lead paddler, taking the position at the front on the right side of the raft. Brave girl.
The first portion of the trip was slow and relaxing with no more than Class 1 rapids and maybe a Class 2 thrown in for fun. Then, before the bigger rapids, we took a break, pulling into an eddy to get onto shore where a picnic lunch was prepared for us. I had a turkey and cheese sandwich, then a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dessert, washing it all down with powdered lemonade drink. I also got some antibiotic ointment from our guide to apply onto my scraped up knee, hoping to get some relief from the pain each time I bent my leg. After we were all full of lunch and energy, we got back into the raft and pushed off into the river. Soon, our real adventure would begin.
At the rapids called Pinball (because of the way the water can toss a raft up against rock after rock like a shiny metal pinball in a pinball machine), Don, the father of the teenage boy and girl who were also in the raft, fell in.
He fell in right at a big rock, right as the raft was about to be thrown on top of him and against the big rock. Our guide started screaming "Get him in here NOW!" which is the first time I've heard a river guide with such urgency in his voice.
Don's son (also named Don) didn't have the strength to pull his father in. Another command the guide was shouting was "Back, Back! Whoever can, Back!" which meant that some of us had to paddle backwards. The teenage girl, Andi, and I paddled backwards with all our might.
Then Sean, the other passenger who also happened to be a river guide, jumped across the raft and leaned out to grab Don's life vest to pull him in. At that moment, Don decided to assume the river flotation position, putting him out of Sean's reach. I turned to look at my paddle dragging through water, seeing rocks all around, and out of the corner of my eye, finally saw Don being pulled into the raft.
He was fine, just one small bump on his shin where he kicked a rock. And the raft swished away from the rocks, through the rapids, and into a calm portion of the river. We all laughed and breathed loud sighs of relief. Laughter is the best reaction to these (mis)adventures, I found.
Later, at another set of rapids, we bumped into a rock, which happens often when rafting, but this time was different. The bump didn't jolt the raft away but instead, sucked it in. Our guide suddenly yelled "High Side!" and since I was on the side of the rock, I grabbed the cord which circles the raft (called the "Chicken Line") and leaned backwards as far as I could. Little Don scrambled across the raft right before Big Don, and I could see their side of the raft folding up as the river crushed over it.
The moment both Don's and our guide were on the rock side of the raft, the river let go of the raft, water rushing out of it instantly (it is a self-bailing raft so when level with the river, it keeps water flowing out). The raft popped off the rock quickly, and rushed through the rest of the rapids into another calm point of the river. More laughter and the guide admitting this was the first High Side he had to do all season.
The rest of the trip was textbook, challenging but not too eventful. And the scenery was incredible, with wildlife all around including golden eagles, turkey buzzards, ravens, chipmunks, beaver, gray-tailed squirrels and swallow-tailed butterflies.