Preface: I can’t believe we haven’t posted since August! I know it’s a travel blog, but still. I hope we’re back. Time will tell.
We had been waiting to go to New Mexico for months. Literally. The Land of Enchantment has been essentially closed to most out-of-state visitors for months. We stopped even checking to see if the state was “open” yet. Then our neighbors posted that they went to Taos for lunch (yes, it is a bit far for a lunch date, but it’s a nice drive) and we immediately had to investigate whether the rules had changed. Indeed, the current public health order recommends that visitors self-isolate or self-quarantine, but only requires social distancing and mask wearing and sets occupancy levels for businesses based on county health statistics, much like the rules in Colorado.
So we booked a room at the Hotel Don Fernando de Taos (a Hilton Tapestry property) and booked a slot for Rebbe at A Country Canine Resort and made a plan for a mini-escape. We packed our usual pandemic-era cooler with backup breakfast and lunch options and our duffels with a change of clothes and headed out Saturday morning. Saturday was bright and sunny and VERY windy. As a result, we didn’t see any interesting birds or other wildlife. Once we turned off Highway 160, we were in new territory for both of us. Maureen had never been to Taos, and I had been there only when I lived in Albuquerque and thus approached from the south. We were pleasantly surprised by the beauty and character of San Luis, CO about 18 miles from the NM border. Admittedly, we did not stop—perhaps on another trip.
Our first stop was actually a little park with a bathroom at the Sanchez Stabilization Reservoir. It was not one of the nicer bathrooms I have encountered in my travels, but sometimes you can’t be particular. Our next destination was Taos Cow, which is not actually in Taos. I trust the GPS most of the time, because I have been burned by doubting it a few too many times. So when she told us to turn off the main road at Arroyo Hondo onto Hondo Seco Road, which is more like a lane and about 1 1/2 cars wide, I did as I was told. I was rewarded with pleasant views of newer adobe-style homes and, eventually, the town of Arroyo Seco and Taos Cow. It was crowded with young people enjoying themselves, perhaps on the way to Taos Ski Valley? We ordered food at the window and promised to come back for ice cream. Maureen had a bagel with lox, and I had the only apparently gluten-free item on the food menu—a beans and rice bowl. It was amazing. I know, rice and beans, but amazing.
We did go back for ice cream. Maureen had chocolate in a sugar cone, since there were no “unadulterated” coffee flavors available. I had a mixed scoop in a cup: Chocolate Rio Grande with piñon nuts, pecans, and dark chocolate, and Cherry Ristra, with dark chocolate and piñons. No pictures, I’m afraid. It was very good. Smooth texture, excellent creaminess, and the chocolate flavor was outstanding. I don’t know if I’m sold on piñon nuts in ice cream, but then I’m generally not a fan of nuts in ice cream (because they lose their crunch). I could have eaten any of the sixteen or so flavors available. Clearly a return visit is in order. Satiated, we headed back to the main road on a regulation-width roadway. As you can see from the map, the GPS was correct, the triangular route was most efficient.
It was too early for hotel check-in and too windy for a hike, so we decided to check out the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Completed in 1965, it is the second-highest bridge in the U.S. Highway system and is located west of Taos on U.S. Route 64. It is even higher than the Perrine bridge, which we visited in Twin Falls, Idaho a few years back. The visitor area adjacent to the bridge was packed, which did lead me to wonder what it would be like on a day that was neither super-windy nor in the midst of a pandemic. Despite this, we grabbed a parking space on our second loop through, donned our masks, warm hats, and coats and ventured to the bridge. It was worth the short walk to get a good look at the bridge and the views from it.
Taos beckoned. We drove in to the town center and attempted to park. Sadly, our quarter supply was depleted (we are out of road-trip form) and the meters didn’t take credit cards (!) so we had to find the free parking area. We enjoyed walking around and window-shopping. We chose not to venture in to most of the shops. Despite the MANY signs declaring that mask-wearing was required—and the compliance of most visitors—we felt safer staying primarily outside.
We were able to check in to our hotel early. We scored an upgrade to a really nice room, so we decided to hang out for a while. Plus, it was still really windy, so we weren’t inspired to do anything outside.
Our neighbors (remember paragraph one?) had eaten at Orlando’s—their favorite, so that was our plan for dinner. We debated calling in our order, but ultimately decided to drive there and order. We should have phoned it in. They were busy! We waited in the car (still windy and now cold) for about twenty minutes for our food. Not bad, in the great scheme of things. We took our food back to the hotel to eat, since we’re still hesitant about eating in indoor spaces with strangers. It was really tasty. A good end to our first day in Taos.
We got up early to watch soccer (surprise), which was happily on a channel to which the hotel subscribes. We ordered to-go breakfast from the hotel restaurant. They have some dining space, but the breakfast buffet is a victim of the pandemic, and we were still watching, so… I picked up our omelettes and coffees, and we noted that the design of take-out containers has improved—perforations! Breakfast was good and it was nice to start the day with a cooked meal instead of our cooler rations.
Our plan for Sunday was to drive the Enchanted Circle Tour. It was cold and overcast, but we stuck with the plan. After fueling up, we headed out of town on a road specified, again, by the GPS. Again, she was correct and we had made our way to Highway 64 east. The twisty drive led us past many studios towards the ski town of Angel Fire, where we were unsuccessful in our quest for a coffee shop. The next stop was the Vietnam Veterans National Memorial, a privately-funded monument and chapel near Angel Fire, NM. Built by a couple whose son died in battle in Vietnam, it was once a state park, but is now run by the NM Department of Veterans Services. We were the only people there during our visit, but the chapel remains open 24/7 during the pandemic for those who wish to enter.
It got a little snowy after that stop, but we continued on. We didn’t stop in Eagle Nest (it looked like a great summer destination) and pushed on to Red River. There we pulled over at the edge of town for coffee and treats at Bearly Awake. It was a needed stop, and even had a clean and open indoor bathroom—something that seems much harder to find during pandemic times.
The snow decreased as we dropped down towards Questa and then turned north on NM 522 to return to Colorado. We stopped again at the Sanchez Stabilization Reservoir, avoiding the bathroom this time and eating our “cooler food” in the car. When we reached Highway 160, we had a decision to make: Head right home or go look for birds outside Alamosa. We chose the bird search. Sadly, we saw few birds, but we enjoyed the visit to the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge.
This little escape helped us to think about travel in a world with COVID. (I thought about writing post-COVID, but the experts seem to be saying it will be with us for a while.) What do we want and what do we value? For me, it’s seeing people we care about, walking and cycling in new places, high-quality eating and drinking experiences, and enjoying nature. Let’s see how this plays out, shall we?