Sunday, June 7, 2009

Back Roads

The side roads have been good to us this trip to the four corners region.

In south-western Colorado, we searched through dirt roads on a large tract of BLM land to find one or more elusive herds of wild horses. After missing a turn-off and driving about 18 miles through endless scrub land, Jamie spotted a group of them. All but one looked completely relaxed, but the stallion kept a close eye on us. It was for good reason, too. Clearly, one of the mares was ready to burst with pregnancy. So, after a few pictures and so loitering in the pleasantly hot sun, we moved on.

Just outside of Flagstaff, there is a Native American ruins site that is in the process of excavation. Though we had just visited Wupatki and all its beautiful ruins just an hour before, we felt lucky to stumble on this pile of mounds that seemed to be bursting with broken artifacts churned to the surface by summer rains. Here, we could see the remains of an ending before too much was done to start a new beginning. Somehow, it felt more intimate this way.

Along highway 4, headed to White Rock, New Mexico, I passed a small sign indicating a prehistoric site. I almost stopped, but decided to wait for Jamie to come along, thinking it was something rather insignificant. So many sites in that area have been marked, and since I could see some of the ruins from the road, I figured it would be less significant than other around the area. It was a great thing I waited for two reasons. First, I headed down to White Rock, pulled alongside the houses until I got a WIFI connection, yanked a trail map for a canyon hike, and hiked a beautiful trail to some rapids along the Rio Grande. Second, Jamie was able to come back to the area with me, and we found an unexcavated cliff dwelling, so well-preserved, plaster still existed on many of the dwellings' interior walls. Above the cliff dwellings, there were unexcavated pueblos, and like our experience in Flagstaff, there were all kinds of beautiful pottery shards churned to the surface from recent storms.

West of Las Vegas, New Mexico, we found a road that cut through the mountains towards Taos. Though short on the map, we spend a glorious afternoon weaving around mountain roads, stopping once for some fresh high mountain clear water raging alongside the road. Now that I had a good water filter, we could enjoy the freshness of mountain water in minutes.

And the back roads in the cities brought us to both familiar and new spots, away from crowds, where we blended in with locals as we did our own thing as we would have back home. Aztec Café in Santa Fe and The Bean in Taos were the most comforting, and the most familiar, and neither showed signs of even one tourist. Both had the best coffee I'd had since Paradiso's strong cups back home, and neither would have been visited at much length had I not needed to use the internet out of obligation to work duties. The required diversion, though first thought as an albatross, turned out to be what opened up to the most conversations with the most people.

Interstates and chains and tourists are comforting when we need them, but the adventure of the back roads is much more satisfying. Yes, it takes longer to get place to place, but isn't that a good thing? After all, the finish line is always going to be home, so side trips and out-of-the way adventures, both exciting and unsettling, seem to prolong the trip, providing some of the best stories in the process. I have so many more from this trip alone, from being chased across a cliff's edge by bighorn sheep to crossing a creek between two waterfalls to get to a mining cabin along a ledge in near zero-visibility fog, from hiking in 105 degree heat to find elusive ruins to requests for rides by odd characters hitching their way to Las Vegas. But those are for another time.

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