Finding a Good Hike for a Good Old Pair of Boots

1Today I went for a mountain hike with my almost sixteen year old son, and our exuberant and lovely dog. We were alone on the trail, and we both spent time reminiscing about all the time we’ve spent on the beautiful Italianos Trail. It was delightful to listen to my son remember his stories — that when he crossed the creek as a child the stones seemed impossibly big and scary to reach across. He remembered feeling sure that he would tumble into the cold water. But today his legs are so much longer, and the stones felt so small. Today, the crossing was so easy. Oh yes, the perspective that age brings.

We also commented on how much he has changed in that last thirteen years, and how the trail has changed so little. The caves are all still intact, the special trees, swimming spots. Yes, so much changes, and so much stays the same. Life is so much that way, and the older we get the more we notice the little things, and the big things. And truly all of it is so much sweeter. If we let it be.

Italianos Trail is familiar. It is like home in the mountains for us. We used to come here when he and his cousin were toddlers. We would bring friends here. I helped him learn how to hike, how to maneuver through the rocks and identify plants, bugs, and learn how to be in the mountains safely on this trail. Noitalianos2w as a teenager, my son is my hiking partner, my equal, stronger than me, with more endurance and strength, but still innocent in so many ways. I so appreciate this transition. He remembers the spot where his cousin fell into the creek, and the place where our friends got stuck in the creek when they were attempting to be adventurous.

Along the way, I realize that while he’s changed, I’m still hiking in the same boots that carried him on my back when he was a baby. He changes at such a fast pace, and I’m slower, in so many ways. He still can kick my butt on the trail. But in terms of self awareness, and shifting perspectives and adapting the changing world, youthfulness simply takes the fast 2lane easier. It is beautiful to watch, and to remember when I was more nimble, my body more flexible, requiring less thought to more through the world.

So I wear the same worn out, comfortable boots that taught him to jump across the creeks. The boots have taken me from my college days, to my son’s birth to his teen years. They have helped me forge new paths, and stay on well beaten ones. They are like good friends.

And as life transitions, we certainly need things that we depend on, even if it is just good old hiking boots.

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Why Dirt Road?

Ric at the summit of Imogene Pass. Telluride, CO
Ric at the summit of Imogene Pass. Telluride, CO

Why Dirt Road Journal?

The short answer is because my family loves to get off road and have an adventure. But there’s a lot more to it too. We are adventurous souls. Being on the road of life pushes boundaries and comfort zones, and adventure makes new rules and breaks old ones. That is is where real living is.

And sometimes, we have no choice, adventure finds us. Life is that way.  It happens, and how we respond to it is our choice. We can engage with courage and a sense of curiosity and self-reliance, or we can sit at the bottom of the mountain and cry at the steepness of the summit. Life is in the climb. Traveling gives us practice climbing. Traveling off road gives us tools and stories, experiences and love for tackling new and unknown life.

Sometimes off road is a new cafe, or a practicing a foreign language, or trying new food. It could be taking a hike for the first time, visiting a world heritage site or sitting in meditation.

Being in those places is sometimes like scare-your-socks-off, and sometimes it is pure and simple beauty that makes you cry. Life is funny and scary and when you’re on off-road, it is also pure. It is the place where my husband is truly himself, and where we work together in pure fun. It is the place where anything pretentious dissipates and where presence is profoundly cultivated. Of course, the 1,000 foot drop on the passenger side is a friendly reminder to stay present.

In the last decade, my family has driven hundreds of back country roads in New Mexico and Colorado. These photos and video (forgive my video-editing skills or lack thereof) give you a small glimpse into one way we cultivate presence and find ourselves through adventure. Most often my husband drives, my son navigates, and I document. We’ve driven the highest roads in the country, and they are magnificent! And we all look at roads like Devil’s Punch Bowl and think, “holy moly, how will we navigate that doozy?”

Yes. Hell yes, we’ve gotten stuck, many times. We’ve had to turn around, and a couple of times we’ve had to ask people for help. But I always think, “well, it is only a days walk to the closest town. That’s do-able if anything were to happen.” And really nothing does. Nothing we haven’t handled at least. One time the car died. One time we flooded the engine driving through water too deep. One time we were stuck in a mud bog. But we’ve always gotten through it, and in the end we have a great story and a satisfying day. Even if my finger nails are gone at the end of it.

Life in general is much the same. Sometimes it can be nail-biting. Sometimes we get stuck, really stuck, and need to ask for help. Sometimes we can recognize that it is a short trip back to “normal” and just go for it.

So this blog…not so much about dragging your truck through the mountains, as expanding your mind and body by traveling to places off your beaten path. Finding your own off-road adventures to open your hearts and mind.

That’s why this is the Dirt Road Journal.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

 

 

 

 

Finding the Santa Fe Trail (Part I)

Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe Trail

Sometimes things that aren’t lost are pretty hard to find. And once you discover them, you realize you’ve simply got to tell everyone you know because the treasure just might disappear forever if other people don’t know about it. This is how we felt about finding Fort Union National Park about thirty miles north of Las Vegas, New Mexico. It is just off I-25, about 90 miles east of Taos.

My son studied New Mexico history, like every student in New Mexico, and for the last couple of months he has been talking to me about different places around the state. Fort Union came up, and together we looked it up on the map. Seemed like a good day adventure. So we headed out of the pass toward Mora, and followed the Santa Fe Trail. The ruts along the road are still visible along the route.

Once we arrived at Fort Union, we got a serious history lesson from my son, but also from the national park itself. The brick chinmeys pierced the landscape while the June wind whipped the prairie grass, and we walked the Santa Fe Trail. Trail travelers generally ventured between 12-24 miles a day (between a 1/2 and full marathon at todays standards). From this major outpost, Santa Fe was still two days travel at least. Beautiful to consider, what it must have been.

More than 3,000 people lived at the Fort in the early 1800’s. There was a major hospital on the grounds that was the best in the region. The hospital had over 126 beds over its life. This Fort was a booming place. And we, along with the one National Park Service Ranger, had it to ourselves.

It takes just a few hours to explore the ruins and trail in this area so we drove into Las Vegas afterwards for lunch at the historic Plaza Hotel.  It is worth the 30 miles drive south to see the plaza.  The Plaza Hotel was built in the 1880’s when the railroad was built.

Fort Union National Park is a beautiful little day trip to explore the southern end of the Santa Fe Trail.  It is definitely worth the stop, taking a break from a long drive along I-25, or as a day trip from Taos, Santa Fe or Albuquerque.

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Sunday morning walk to Petaca Point

DSC3392-300x200A short drive over Taos Junction Bridge and up a steep dirt road with several switchbacks to the West Rim of the Rio Grande Gorge will take you to the trailhead of Petaca Point Trail. Petaca Canyon is an easy four miles, along the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge. Because the trail runs along the ridge, the mesa grasses and flowers are beautiful, and the 360 views are amazing. The wind and sun can also be amazing, so early morning is the best time of day to take this walk.

The best part of this walk is exploring for petroglyphs. There are many along the rocks. Petaca means “case used to carry belongings when travelling” mostly tobacco or cigarettes. And it has been said that there is treasure hidden in the canyons along the Rio Grande. So we like to think that the travelers stashed their bags in the nooks along the Rio here. It is a good reason to explore. I don’t know if it has been said from a credible source or not, but it is credible enough to keep my husband and son exploring the rocks and canyons for years, so either way the “legend” is worth something in my family.

Located in the Rio Grande Recreation Area just down the hill from Taos. The trail is off the road from Pilar and the Taos Junction Bridge. It is a great morning hike–and the mud is fun too.

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Petaaca Canyon 1

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Tent Rocks: someplace you gotta go, and my family thought they looked a little like something else . . .

Yes, they’re called tent rocks, but as you wander through the trail to the top of the mesa, it feels like you’re wandering through another world.  A bit like Star Wars or a bit phallus depending on your state of mind, but in either case, it is magnificent. The monument is about an hour north of Albuquerque and definitely off the beaten path, but so worth the adventure of finding it.  Truly, not much else could be said about it. Find it! Tent Rocks National Monument.

Tent Rocks National Monument
Tent Rocks National Monument

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Hidden spots in Bandelier

It has been warming up around here, and it makes me yearn for summer and weekend hikes. This weekend I’ve been daydreaming about places we’ve been and places I’d like to be if it were warm. So my next few posts will be my summer daydreams. Soon enough it will be warm and we’ll be able to venture out for an afternoon hike in shorts and baseball cap, searching a natural treasure along the way.

Bandelier National Monument is about 30,000 acres of beautiful canyonlands and mesa with petrogylphs and dwellings dating back 11,000 years. The main loop trail and visitor center is most certainly worth a visit if you haven’t been there, but we prefer the Tsankawi Trail. It is a bit off the beaten path, and it is one of my favorite spots for a short afternoon adventure.

The Tsankawi Trail is only a couple miles and it is not a difficult hike, but it follows ancient pathways and includes ladders along the trail up the side of ancestral dwelling sites. The petroglyphs and the ancestral pueblo village of Tsankawi are ghostly and beautiful on the mesa above Rio Grande.

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Pottery shards can be spotted along the trail
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Petroglyphs
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More . . .on the last part of the trail you’re surrounded by petroglyphs
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Dwellings
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Looking at over the mesa just as a storm is rolling in
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Chimney
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More pottery shards