Friday, May 22, 2015

Taos and the Rio Grande

May 13 - 20, 2015:

The Rio Grande River Gorge

It was a frustrating travel day for me, as I didn’t do my usual road trip preparation.  As a result I was kind of lost for a good part of the journey.  The destination, Orilla Verde BLM Recreation Area has an address of route 570, Pilar, New Mexico which wouldn’t come up on the GPS and was hardly showing on a New Mexico road map.  So I have a lousy map, no GPS and then I lose the phone signal and am confused a bit about the name of this BLM area as it seems now to be called the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.  This is a sort of wake up call as I have been getting very complacent about finding my way, sometimes just plugging in the GPS and going doesn’t work.

Anyhow, it all worked out fine as Twinkles who drove the Jeep solo ahead had a campsite all picked out by the time I arrived. The Pilar campground of the Orilla Verde BLM Recreation area is part of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument since it’s creation in 2013.  There are two campgrounds for RV’s and five other tent sites within the Monument along the Rio Grande River.  These BLM campgrounds are a bargain with a water and electric for $7.50 a night with the senior park pass.  The drawback here is no phone signal or WiFi.

The campsite was very nice

The Rio Grande River is a wild and scenic protected river and is very popular for fishing and white water rafting.  The river flows fast here with lots of white water stretches and has cut a huge gorge that is about 1,200 feet wide and 600 feet deep. They also have many hiking and biking trails in the area.

A scenic calm part of the Rio Grande River near the campground

I happened upon the “Slide Trail” adjacent to a beautiful undeveloped campsite.  The trail originally had been a road, after the rock slide it then became a hiking trail.  It follows the Rio Pueblo de Taos which is a fast flowing stream full of rapids that empties into the Rio Grande River.  It is also has a huge canyon and is very scenic with the trail climbing steadily uphill all the way from the Rio Grande River to the canyon rim.

The Rio Pueblo de Taos is turbulent all the way
I did wonder how the truck ended up in the river gorge ?

I also hiked a short section of the West Rim Trail that overlooks the Rio Grande Canyon, I made a hasty retreat as a storm was approaching.  This is a 9 mile trail that parallels the Rio Grande to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

Beautiful Primrose flowers on the trail

The La Vista Verde Trail went half way down into the gorge to a great overlook over the Rio Grande River and past a few Indian petroglyphs along the way.

Overlook view
Indian Petroglyphs

Taos is about 17 miles from the campground.  It is another old Spanish settlement like Santa Fe that was very prominent in the history of the southwest.  Taos had a very turbulent, confusing history with much conflict between the Spanish, the native indians, the military, the mexicans, the anglo-Europeans and even civil war action.  These days are much simpler, it’s now just a mecca for tourists searching for southwest art, jewelry, fine dining and cultural activities.

Mural on side of a Taos building

Historic paintings old city hall building
View of the Taos plaza area
View of the plaza from our lunch spot

The oldest attraction in Taos is the Taos Pueblo which has been continuously inhabited by the native indians for over 1,000 years.  These indians have quite remarkably survived the Spanish, the Mexicans and the European invaders (the US) remaining in this same spot all these years.  It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and much of it is open to visitors.  It remains virtually unchanged with no electricity, no running water and the original Adobe being maintained mostly by traditional methods.

The Pueblo has a world class view
The Mission on the reservation

The outside ovens called hornos originated from the Spanish, and
are still used by the indians today. Originally there were no lower
entry doors, you entered the Pueblo at the roof using the ladder.
If under attack, the ladders were pulled up.

The San Francisco Asis Mission which is one of the most beautiful and photographed churches in the southwest.

San Francisco Asis Mission

Another attraction is the Hacienda de los Martinez Museum.  The Hacienda was built back in the Spanish period in 1804. It originally had four rooms but over time was expanded to 21 rooms and was a major trading center of it’s day.  A very impressive structure with 2 foot thick adobe walls and two central courtyards.  It remained in the hands of direct family descendants until the mid 1930’s, then fell into ruin, was reconstructed in the 1960’s and was acquired as a museum in 1972.

Nothing special on the outside, but like a medieval castle on the inside

The most famous former residents of Taos is the legendary Kit Carson.  He was an amazing figure in the history of the west who was once revered, but in recent times has come under attack for tactics used to defeat and move Apache and Navajo Indians to the reservations. It seems to me that he was a man caught in the middle between various cultures, as in his life he had two indian wives, one Mexican wife and had adopted indian children.  His house in Taos where he lived in latter years with his Mexican wife and children has been restored thanks to the Taos Masons Club, of which he was a member, and is now a museum.  

The house where he spent his final years

There are many great scenic drives in the area.  Route 570 along the Rio Grande River into the Rio Grande de Norte National Monument takes you to the Taos junction bridge and then up a steep gravel road to the rim of the Rio Grande River Gorge.  Once on the top, a huge open range appears with snow capped mountains in the distance.  You eventually come to route 68 and then in a few miles south to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.  There were many vendors set up on the apron of the bridge selling craft items.  The bridge was constructed in 1965 and is the seventh highest bridge in the US being 565 feet above the river.  It has a walkway across which has become controversial as it has become a favorite spot for suicides.  In the middle of the bridge on each side there is a crisis hot line call station to deter the suicidal types.

Side view of the bridge

A crisis hotline just in case you get suicidal thoughts

All roads going to Taos are scenic, but route 518, known as the “High Road” is the most popular.  This road climbs up into the mountains and into the Carson National Forest and ski country traveling through several old historic towns and many beautiful mountain vistas.

Nice view

I want to buy this place

If you tire of all the outdoor and historical stuff, the downtown is full of interesting shops of all kinds, mostly southwest arts and crafts, art galleries, museums and many good restaurants. 

I found the place for music or pool on Tuesday evenings at the Taos Mesa Brewery a few miles outside of Taos on the Mesa top.  Tuesday night is blues night with a very good local band and a 9 ball pool tournament with some very good players.

Blues and the sound of billiard balls do go together

The weather has thrown everything at us this week, near freezing temperatures, bright sun, dark clouds, heavy rain, hail, thunder, and even snow at the higher elevations.  It has rained at some point almost every day, thought this was a dry climate ?

Next stop is Heron Lake State Park near Chama, New Mexico;
Twinkles and Slick

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