I always like to treat myself to being some place special on my birthday. Last years train ride across Canada would be hard to top in the best of years. But during these terribly uncertain times, celebrating one’s birthday seems out of the question. Or is it?
Traveling internationally for me now is not an option. While I know others who are getting back on board, I’m just not ready to get back on a plane wearing a mask for eight hours. I can barely make it across the Walmart without sneaking my nose over the edge for a little breather in an otherwise unoccupied aisle when no one is looking. That’s all I need to be written up for breathing outside my mask on United!
There are two roads between Santa Fe and Taos, the High Road and the Low Road. I have driven much of the High Road before, turning around just short of Taos due to ensuing darkness. So I decide to drive the Low Road this time.
The Low Road follows the Rio Grande most of the way.
Following the Low Road is beautiful at this time of year, as much of the river is lined with golden cottonwoods.
There are a lot of people fishing along the banks of the river, and even a few swimming.
There are quite a few pull-outs long this road, none with a “No Overnight Parking.” I wonder if one could overnight along here.
I honestly thought about doing another dream bucket-lister this year…the rafting trip on a Dory down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. I even went so far as to send an inquiry, thinking “I just may do this!” Then I got back the response, “ATTENTION: At this time, the National Park Service does not recommend backcountry travel for anyone over the age of 65 or at high risk for COVID-19.” While I certainly don’t believe myself to be at any risk, I don’t want to be under the watchful eye of a young river guide simply because my booking is flagged “over the age of 65.” (blank) THAT!!
So here I am in Northern New Mexico under lots of self-imposed pressure to do something memorable. My eldest niece sends a FB message to ask, “Did you spend your birthday ALONE???” She is an extrovert after all, so her reaction makes it sound like being in an ICU ward with the COVID would be preferable to spending one’s birthday ALONE. At least you would be surrounded by some doctors and nurses and not ALL ALONE for goodness sake! It’s funny, I’ve been alone for so long that I never consider the stigma until someone points it out to me. I enjoy my alone time. Only way to be guaranteed of spending the day however I want.
The main square of historic Taos is pretty quiet.
This is the historic Alley Cantina, the oldest building in Taos, occupied by the Spanish government from the 17th to the 19th centuries. A few of the original walls are believed to be over 400 years old. Kit Carson and Buffalo Bill were reported to have been frequent visitors. The property became a restaurant in 1944.
The chocolate shop just closed, but it was quite busy.
If I couldn’t do something special to celebrate, at least I wanted to go some place I’ve never been before. Taos is just such a place. I have had so many “near misses” with Taos. I always thought I might ski here one day, but always chickened out at the trail map and went to nearby Red River instead. I got close again when I was here in 2012 for the Balloon Fiesta. But I only ventured as far as Ojo Caliente Hot Springs, and got no further.
So this year, I was determined to make it to Taos. What better weekend than my birthday! I would make it a day filled with “a few of my favorite things” in hopes that I wouldn’t feel so bad about the situation we find ourselves in these days.
As I rolled into Taos, I observed that the time leading up to a major election day is a good opportunity to scout out places one might like to live one day based on political yard signs. It really does seem to be a litmus test as to whether one is in “friendly territory.” Take the small down where my family farm is located in Texas. There are not just yard signs, but full blown flags waving on regulation sized flag poles. While I didn’t see any Biden-Harris flags waving in Taos, I did see more Biden-Harris yard signs, fence signs, bumper stickers in this one town than I had in all my previous travels combined. I guess that’s to be expected in a community that is known for inventing the “Earthship,” a community of earth-centric homes off the grid.
Earthship community is made up of a group of homes built off the grid with natural and repurposed materials. Tires serve as structural walls, while cans and bottles serve as brick walls.
Earth-filled tires make up the walls on three sides, while the south side is lined with windows to allow sun to heat the floors and walls. In summer months, cooling is enhanced with natural ventilation through buried cooling tubes and vent boxes. Utilizing natural resources for heating and cooling reduces Earthship’s electrical needs to about 25% of that of a conventional home.
The Taos Earthship Community was founded by Michael Reynolds when he came to Taos after graduating from Architecture School in 1969. He began making building blocks from used tin cans, back in the day before recycling. Earthship communities also exist in Montana and Alberta, Canada.
Earthships collect all of their water from rain and snowmelt on the roof, storing this water in cisterns. (Each inch of rain collected from a square foot of roof equals 2/3 of a gallon of water.) Gray water is used to water plants which serve to filter the water before it is collected in a well for toilet flushing. Black water goes into a septic tank. All water collected on Earthships roof is used four times.
If you look closely, you will notice the structural walls around the windows look like small dotted material built from recyclables.
The Earthship community is a gated community. Only residents and their guests are permitted entry. However, they do have a Visitor Center that conducts tours of some structures in the process of construction.
The Earthship Community is the world’s largest off-grid, legal subdivision on 630 acres. There are approximately 60 homes in the community with space for another 70 more. Lots vary from 3/4 of an acre to 3 acres. There are currently two for sale, one for $515K and another for $775K. I think I’ll stick with my rolling earthship, thank you!
I started my birthday out with slice of Berry Chantilly mini cake from the local grocery store for breakfast. Not something in my normal breakfast line-up, but hey! It’s my birthday!
I caught up on some correspondence, then went for a late lunch at the #1 rated restaurant on Trip Advisor, if for no other reason than they offered patio seating. Dining outside was my one deal breaker.
This adorable little Berry Chantilly “mini-cake” was the best store-bought cake I’ve ever eaten!
My “al fresco” birthday lunch from Antonio’s ” The Taste of Mexico” restaurant. Chiles en Nogada, poblano chiles stuffed with a ground beef picadillo, covered in a creamy walnut sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. Chased down with a jalapeno-infused margarita!
Antonios is known for their Chili Relleno en Nogada. This is a celebratory dish from Mexico often served around Christmastime. It’s rare to find it on the menu north of the border. It’s meant to represent the Mexican flag, with poblano pepper representing the green, walnut cream sauce representing the white, and pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top for the red. I’ve had this dish several times in Mexico, but never better in the States, and never better than Antonios.
After lunch, I went on a lovely hike along the west rim of the Rio Grande Gorge. While the bridge crossing was a bit crowded, there was no one on the rim trail, so it was a nice time to reflect on birthdays, both past and future.
The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, a steel deck arch bridge across the Rio Grande Gorge. At approx 600 ft above the Rio Grande, it is the tenth highest bridge in the United States. (In case you are wondering, the Royal Gorge in Colorado is the highest at 900 ft.)
I found this gorge to be particularly impressive because the land on both sides of it is so flat. It’s just desert scrub brush in all directions, and then suddenly this giant crack opens up out of nowhere. Whenever I see natural phenomenon such as this one, I always like to reflect back to what the first explorers thought when they came upon such an unexpected massive chasm.
Sad to think they needed four of these stations. Good thing I was not here on election night, I might have placed a call to talk me down.
There’s a beautiful 6 mile trail along the western rim of the gorge. Once I left the bridge area, there was no one on it. I came upon this Tibetan Buddhist offering and labyrinth. After circumambulating, I left a small donation. I was surprised to count at a glance $16 in the offering, along with many personal items. I wonder how much the remote location has to do with the money still being there.
The town of Taos is just as “golden” as Santa Fe.
Whereas Santa Fe is more aspens, Taos appears to be more cottonwoods.
The drive up to Taos Ski Area is a gorgeous drive.
As I climb in elevation toward Taos Ski Valley, I start to see more aspens.
I always wanted to ski Taos, but it had a reputation of being extremely “steep and deep,” so we always went to neighboring Red River instead.
Turns out it might not have been as steep as I thought. I often think back to how I did my travel research before the internet. I think it mostly came from travel magazines and brochures which I got from writing to the regional tourist bureaus.
I like the intimate atmosphere of the small ski village.
It was a lovely day with perfect weather. And I enjoyed touring around Taos. The golden fall color was just as vibrant there as in Santa Fe. The town was way too congested, however for consideration for any kind of summer home despite its political leanings.
As birthdays go, I’d give it a “C.” C for COVID.
Another reason to travel the Low Road to Taos is to stop in at Johnnie Meier’s Classical Gas Museum.
Damn fine stuff, indeed! Johnnie has everything from a model of a diner and soda fountain complete with “Big Boy” mascot, to life-sized models of the Blues Brothers.
The owner and museum curator is a retired scientist from the nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Look on the back wall for the Flying Red Horse — for Mom.
There is no fee to tour the Classical Gas Museum. Donations are accepted on behalf of the local animal shelter.
Either direction you turn is beautiful at this time of year in New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment.
FOOTNOTE: It’s been a month since I blew out the birthday candle. I’ve had this post ready to go for a week now, but I’ve just felt too stressed this past week to think about the blog. However, at 9:30am this morning while hiking through the Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge, my CNN alert went off with a “Breaking News” notification. I got my birthday wish! Blessed Relief!