There is always activity at the campground, people walking about, headed somewhere to do something. Mabel is usually good with the bustling but at times she lets out a low growl or even a bark if the passing person or dog doesn’t seem right. She woke me up at 3:00 in the morning with a few barks and I could hear footsteps on the gravel. The truck across from our spot started up and left the campgrounds, its speed quickening once hitting the street. It wasn’t there when I got up so I assumed something was wrong but its none of my business. It’s good that she is so aware but I hope I don’t need her alertness much on the trip.
It was cool this morning, 61 degrees outside, and we didn’t need the air conditioning again last night. Its nice to sleep without the noise but I will take it if using the A/C beats the heat. I can see the camp and our surroundings now that it is light out. The campground is nice and they are serving breakfast at the KOA Kafe over where last night’s movie was playing. There are a lot of Kamper Kabins (KOA likes using “K”) all filled and the pool area looks refreshing. Mabel likes the dog park, a big square with enough room for me to chase her around. The RV sites are tight, the rigs are packed in and stand close to one another, you will get to know your neighbor if here for any length of time.
The mountains to the Southwest look hazy and their silhouette takes a pink hue against the blue sky. I am reminded of the type of painting seen in a cheap hotel, or at the end of hospital lobbies; muted earth colors with coordinated matting, all that was missing was the obligatory piece of pottery.
We are heading North on HWY 25 which has gobbled up sections of the old Rt. 66 and our first stop will be Santa Fe. The town is very busy and there is an Art Fair at the end of Main Street, a barrier to our progression. Close parking was going to be a problem even without the trailer and we somehow found one a long way away. It looks like I will get my steps in today as we chug back to Main Street. Government buildings, empty because it’s a Saturday are on our right and somewhere close is the oldest active Capitol Building on the US, I just don’t see it.
Santa Fe is upscale, the shops, restaurants, and galleries all seem to be high-end and brimming with activity; no Tom BoseIy items here. We watch as people line up outside a café to get breakfast, it must be good, because there were a lot of people waiting. The sidewalks are crowded and I can see Mabel is stressed as was I. Shopping is pointless because I can’t bring her in the stores and won’t tie her up outside, so we continue walking. We weave among the crowd, Mabel stopping to greet other dogs. I notice she won’t walk over metal grates or plates on the sidewalk which is a first. We are not allowed through the art exhibit, no dogs, so we detour to the back streets, still lively with people looking at the less tony retail establishments. We do come across the cathedral and walk among its gardens, a permanent exhibit of the artwork displayed on the path. The women were much fuller figured back then and never seemed to wear clothes. I hide Mabel's eyes, she is still so young to see this. The park is nice, a neat fountain and flowers in the center and a “No Dogs Allowed” sign on the gate we choose to exit through. I guess I didn’t see the sign, if there was one, where we entered. The thermometer showed temps in the 80’s but it seemed so much hotter, the A/C felt great once we reached the car.
Los Alamos, the principal laboratory for the nuclear bomb program during WWII was our next stop. We headed North, eventually turning on to a Pikes Peak style road as we made the ascent to the town that the Program built. Thankfully there were guardrails, because every turn I made allowed me to see for miles, and I hate heights. The town eventually appeared, extremely quiet on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The lady at the Welcome Center was very helpful and I thought her Russian accent would have been very out of place for 1940’s Los Alamos. Probably not a lot of job opportunities back then. The free museum, they just ask for your zip code, was more than just the nuclear programs and atomic bombs. It was predominantly science related and had many exhibits about current and future technology. I wish Hayden was here to explain some of the displays, he is better at the science stuff than I am. I like history. I watch an interesting movie on life there during the 1940’s and how secretive it needed to be. It is amazing to see what they accomplished, the facilities and equipment were nothing like we have today with some of the teams working in log cabins. The original buildings are on laboratory property so no tours are allowed.
I wanted to reach Jemez Springs to find camping for the night and took advantage of the local McDonalds to plan our route. It provided air conditioning without having to run the car. I took numerous wrong turns, the GPS barking at me when I thought I was smarter than it was, before figuring out I had to travel across the laboratory to get to where I wanted to go. I slowly pull up to the gate, the one I turned around in front of 15 minutes earlier, and tell the gate guard where I am going. He is wearing Army BDU’s and a Polo shirt and in a very surfer manner tells me I am correct but need to show some ID. The guard reads my name, still sounding more like a surfer than a gate guard and says he needs to look inside the camper to make sure there are no explosives. A 5 second inspection confirms I am clean and no threat to National Security so I am allowed to go through to Jemez. I ask him about the roads, confessing my fear of heights and his response, “oh yeah, you're gonna get high” is not reassuring. The Arabella did some climbing that day and I was glad it was light, I would have been petrified doing this in the dark. I think my knuckles are going to be permanently white from this trip. The views of the Bandelier National Monument were breathtaking and worth the discomfort on the way up.
We come across an open plain that was miles long, the result of a long-ago volcano. Further up is a game preserve that is full of elk, the small parking lot full of people looking at them. Field glasses are passed back and forth giving a magnified view of the herd, the largest bull bugling his dominance.
The air is cool and it feels like rain is on the way so we push on to find camping. A group bouldering on large rock formations caught our eye so I stop to take some pictures. Thankfully Mabel saw the brown camping sign so we pulled off at the Jemez Falls Campground in The Santa Fe National Forest. The campground was almost full, but the camp host said to do the loop as a few sites were still open. We kept our eyes peeled for an open spot, me looking left and Mabel looking right with me seeing our spot first. I backed in to a secluded spot, a large hill in front of us and we walked back to the entrance with our registration and the $10 it cost for the night. I saw later that night, as I tried to find cell phone reception, that there was a “Camp Full” sign blocking the road.
On one of our walks around the camp, we saw an elongated tear drop camper in a spot behind ours. I decide to stop and talk with them and see how their camper compares to ours. It is similar in size, more spartan in amenities, but also tougher in its design. It is the same type as the one we saw in Maine, the owners pulling it with a Can-Am trike motorcycle. The couple are Rangers working in Big Bend, Texas, both responsible for trail maintenance. This is Big Bend’s quiet time so he is on furlough, traveling to the Four Corners, otherwise he would be helping in Houston. I ask how they got involved with the Parks Department and for both it started with AmeriCorps after college. They liked the type of work so applied to the National Parks Service and were assigned to Big Bend. The couple had two big greyhound dogs, one a rescue, so they need all the room the trailer can offer. I told them my story and how I changed from accounting to writing and he tells of an article he recently read. Recent research has shown that switching gears unlocks parts of the brain you haven’t used before. I wonder, on the way back to our site, if the trip is doing this to my brain. I hope so.
We have some dinner and then call it a night.
Thankful tonight that the car made it up the very steep hills.