13 April 2009
New Mexico-First Conversations
"Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it." – Goethe
New Mexico was a place so foreign to my existence when I first started to read about it. Red Rock, Mountains and high desert. My first visit was in May 2000 with Backroads. My trip brought me to a place I had dreamed of for many years and I was thrilled to be there. The minute I walked out of the airport in Albuquerque I sensed something magical.
Once I went north to Santa Fe, I not only saw the beauty of the area but also witnessed the fury of the Cerro Grande Fire which damaged sections of Los Alamos, Bandolier and the Puye Cliff Dwellings.
Almost 50,000 acres were damaged and the Puye Cliff Dwellings remained closed until 2008. I hope to get there on my next trip.
A sample itinerary is pretty much the same as it was when I traveled with Backroads.
With one minor difference, because of the fire, the guides had to re-arrange the scheduled hike based upon where the fire was and the level of smoke in the area. So that meant the level 4 hike at the Rio Grande was one of the first hikes we took. Did I mention that Santa Fe is at 7,000 feet altitude and I am from the east coast where there is lots of attitude but no altitude?
The hike started out easy enough –a couple of miles over flat terrain, beautiful azure skies without a cloud or a hint of forest fire, then the switchbacks to the riverbank of the Rio Grande stood before us.
A thousand feet down and my favorite part, a thousand feet back up. Talk about a good workout. I made it. That is the best thing about hiking, my body is spent but somehow it still says “Wow.”
The smell of smoke was constant. While in Santa Fe, I remember sitting in the plaza and looking up at the mountains, the smoke plume enormous and flames running through acres. It was then and when we visited Taos Pueblo that I felt an overwhelming sadness. The guides did an amazing job of keeping us safe and found ways to keep us entertained. Still, I was desolate, because after all, this was a place I had dreamed of for 20 years and couldn’t ignore or explain this emotion.
It took hiking throughout the southwest for the next three years to understand. The sadness I felt was about the land, the past inhabitants and their connection to the earth. New Mexico has 19 pueblos, distinct cultures that have survived in varying degrees, invasions, wars and disparate cultural influences.
By walking through miles of countryside, I listened and found a place that to this day feels like home.