I stayed way past my limit in Cloudcroft. Even with confirmation from the Ranger that the Forest Service was taking a bit of a “who’s counting?” approach during COVID, coupled with the fact that I did move around a bit, I didn’t want to wear out my welcome.
I had hoped I could stay long enough to see the large stand of aspens at the top of the hill in my favorite meadow turn gold. It was my favorite hiking destination, as it was behind a hiker’s gate restricting vehicular traffic, and with the exception of Labor Day when they opened the gate, I rarely saw anyone up there. The wild horses from the Mescalero Reservation came to the meadow to graze. That meadow with those tall aspen trees was just the kind of “therapeutic” I needed to get me through these crazy COVID times.
In the middle of that meadow was a thick stand of aspens. I went to the aspen stand at least a couple of times a week hoping for signs of color change. I thought maybe I could wait it out. But nighttime temps were dropping down into the low 30’s. As we know, it’s not the cold that brings about the change of color as much as it is length of day, as photosynthetic activity decreases as the days get shorter. The amount of daylight signals the leaves to cease producing food in the form of chlorophyll. In other words, I was running out of heat much faster than the aspen leaves were running out of food. It was time for me to drop down in elevation a bit, and continue my planned counter-clockwise tour of New Mexico.
I don’t know what it is about that intense golden color of the trees. Whether it is the higher altitude aspens or the mighty cottonwoods that flank the riverbanks, I can’t seem to get enough. It’s like gorging on liquid sunshine, and I want to drink it in until I am giddy with intoxication. Especially in the halcyon days of late autumn when the sky turns cobalt blue, it brings to mind my favorite poem, “October’s Bright Blue Weather,” by Helen Hunt Jackson. It’s the only poem I ever memorized, and when looking up through these dainty quaking teardrop aspen leaves against the intense blue sky, I often feel compelled to stop to recite a few lines. 😉
In doing research online to find the best location for fall color in New Mexico, Santa Fe’s Aspen View was mentioned repeatedly as a place not to be missed. I needed to go to Santa Fe anyway, as the Winnie needed some work, and there is a diesel mechanic there I have used before and trust, Hal Burns Truck and Equipment Supply.
The thing I don’t like about Hal Burns is that they don’t take appointments, but rather operate “first come, first served.” Conversely, the thing I DO like is that they will allow us RV full timers to stay on the lot at night waiting our turn, even offering hookups after business hours. The lot is gated, but those who stay overnight are given access. RV parks in Santa Fe are expensive, costing $40 to $50 per night, with few low cost state or federal options close to town. So avoiding the high cost of hookups I don’t need helps take the sting out of the repair bill.
After being boondocked in the forest for close to two months, I had a list of errands to complete while in town, not the least of which was to visit the Aspen Vista. Having “free parking” made waiting for my turn in the repair bay seem like a bonus as I traveled up the winding road to drink in the liquid sunshine.
Moving from the forest of Cloudcroft to the city of Santa Fe was an interesting social study. With Cloudcroft being only 100 miles from Texas, it’s really more Texan than New Mexican, with two times more Texas license plates seen around town. The top restaurants all serve up Texas Barbecue as a mainstay on the menu. It’s a tRump town, with weekend MAGA protesters waiving tRump flags along both sides of the highway, while wearing gun holsters on their hips. Even though there are giant poster-board signs on the front doors of the Allsups, the main store and only gas station in town warning that masks are required for entry, I felt lucky if one out of three customers were masked. While the cashiers wore them, they did so beneath their noses, just enough to keep from being reported.
But once I got to Santa Fe, a markedly more “blue” part of New Mexico, being the State Capital people were even wearing masks to walk their dogs outdoors. I was amazed at the difference! I saw a few people wearing them driving when they were the only ones in the car! While I am a big proponent of wearing the mask in public, I must admit I am not accustomed to wearing one on a hiking trail. But had I gone without, I would have been the only one.
So masked up, I huffed and puffed my way up the mountain, grateful for an excuse to stop often to catch my breath and bask in the brilliance. Grateful for the distraction and relief from COVID confinement. Grateful for the glorious golden glow, and grateful for the clean mountain air, albeit a bit thin. 😉 Gold in them thar hills, indeed!