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Twelve Freaking Hours In The Car!


DAY 2: CORTEZ, COLORADO
(or: Thank God Almighty, I’m Here At Last!)

New Mexico Map
(obviously I wasn’t wearing my reading glasses that day!)

Exit 282. Santa Fe

I don’t know how the hell it happened, but somehow it took me approximately twelve hours to drive from Mountainair, New Mexico (which is about 75 miles south of Albuquerque) to Cortez, Colorado. Now, to be fair, Cortez is up in the Four Corners area, and as such is squeezed into the far Southwestern corner of the state. But for some reason, despite carefully reading the map, dutifully completing a Mapquest Search AND checking in with KC and my husband from the road, I still managed to inexplicably blow by half a dozen important turns, thereby turning a simple six hour drive into a wayfarer’s nightmare of (to those reading this travelogue, but not to its author quite yet) comic proportions. Exit 282 was about all we saw of Santa Fe. (Correction: all I saw of Santa Fe since J was doubtless sawing logs in his car seat by this point.) This is my old exit too, from my singleton Santa Fe days, so it rates some sentimental significance. Before the the bypass was put in (and who uses that anyway?) I’d take St. Francis all the way to Agua Fria Street, then turn off Agua Fria to Maynard, where I lived in a little adobe casita in the old barrio. Those were the days.

The Strolling of The Heifers

These guys (or gals, if their swinging tetas were any indication) appeared many hours and a day after the Santa Fe exit sign, on the Colorado side, just over the border on Highway 285. Yeah, I admit it, I was on &%$#! Highway 285. This incredibly stoned maneuver (and no, I don’t partake of the happy cigarette) can only be explained away as equal parts fatigue, mommy overload (i.e. my shrieking three and a half year old son in the back seat, complaining forlornly about the Draconian cruelties of being strapped in a car seat for hours on end) and sheer oversight. I just plain-and-simple forgot how much farther the distances are in the West. Ooh, did I make a little mistake? Lookee here, I’ll just take another highway, zip over and catch on up. Except there isn’t another highway once you’ve blown past the turn in Chama and somehow end up headed for ANTONITO, a town in Colorado you didn’t even know existed before, despite being…hang head in shame…a 1988 graduate of the University of Colorado. Next realize, with all of the considerable horror in your heart, that not only will you slowly and painfully wend your way through the afore-mentioned and never-before-heard of Antonito, but also Alamosa, and (taking a very ugly turn) MONTE VISTA, DEL NORTE…Jesus did I need coffee by then as well as a swift kick in the head..and (don’t worry, it gets worse) THROUGH THE SAN JUAN MOUNTAIN PASS, at which point the pass became totally socked in and it PISSES DOWN with rain, until I had no choice but to either A) drive for what seemed another five hundred miles, B) scream my fool head off or C) Turn off my cell phone so I wouldn’t have to make report of my hideous failures to either my husband or my friend KC again that day. I opted for all of the above. The cell wasn’t working in the canyon anyway, to nobody’s surprise. 

Highway Hogs

The calm, unhurried Chi of these cows should have struck me like the packing wallop of a Zen Master’s stick on the back of an unenlightened pupil. These gals just kept strolling along, laughing at my hurry (and furry), as if to say: “There’s all the time there is.” Actually, that last is a direct quote from my paternal grandfather, who was a country doctor in Oxford, England. I never met Grandpa because he died before I was born, but my father has regaled me with some of his pithier expressions. He used to rush around the Oxfordshire countryside, looking very Bloomsbury Crowd-dashing, I imagine, in his tweeds and black bag and running late for most of his appointments. I must have gotten my sense of time from him, since I’ve been accused on more than one occasion of being afflicted with “magical thinking.” Time is an illusion anyway, folks. Best to kick back and shake it free. Like these cows.

Magic Hour, KOA Kampground

Several hours later we pulled into Pagosa Springs (all I could think was: “Pat Parelli the great Horse Whisperer lives around here somewhere”) and by then I really did wonder how I was going to make it for the next few hours. Because, unbelievably, although I’d been driving since ten that morning (which meant we’d been on the road for about five hours already) I still had another THREE FREAKING HOURS TO GO. Not that I was feeling sorry for myself, mind you. Not until I stopped at the gas station in Pagosa Springs, only to realize I’d have to wait about half an hour in line behind about ten other people before I could make off with my collected stash of J’s chocolate chip cookies & milk, two packages of gummy worms (mine), & a giant thermos of coffee (mine). I glowered at the line-dwellers and wished each and every one of them a private gummy worm-deprived hell. Bad Buddhist that I am. You know, I think it was Stuart Wilde who wrote: “The universal law is impartial. It will throw you garbage or roses, depending on the energy you put in. If you think God is going to come down and fix things for you, forget it. God is out playing golf.” Ain’t that the truth. He was probably out playing golf in Pagosa Springs that very day.

Night Fall On The River

So, J and I get back in the car and by now J is very unhappy because not only has he begun to loathe the sight of that car seat, but being bribed with chocolate chip cookies and then not having his errant mother deliver is a very grave offense. Just then a big white Dodge Dooley pulls in with a big advertisement for a Durango business painted on the side. Even better, it’s being driven by a young cowgirl and her ma. So I say to them, “This has been the longest day of my life. Please tell me it isn’t far to Durango. Or to Cortez after that.” To which ma responds, “Only an hour to Durango dearie, and then you’ve got maybe an hour more after that.” Ah. Two hours. Two hours is nothing. I can deal with that. I thank her profusely. And, after hearing my tales of woe she adds, “I hope it’ll be worth it once you get there.” I assure her it will be.

Tipi at Sunset
In case you were wondering, we did finally make it to Cortez. And J got his cookies and I got my caffeine. Without which, I’m sure, I would’ve fallen asleep at the wheel. It was after 7 o’clock when we rolled in, and there was KC walking her dog Surely, bent over double, checking on something, a lock of long blond hair momentarily obscuring her face. Then she pulled up slowly to her full 6″1 height and saw us. And there was her son RC, all five years old of him with a smile just like his mama’s. And the last four years phone-chat-only just melted away. “Want a glass of wine? KC asked with a smile. You bet I did.

Portending Rain

The word on the street was that the big ugly storm in the Gulf of Mexico was now moving into the valley of our little Cortez hamlet. Previously I had been looking forward to tent camping, since T and I own a cushy 26-ft. travel trailer and hardly consider that we camp anymore. KC had kindly set up camp for all of us, but then the heavens opened up and our tents got pretty battered. But the sky had a magic quality of hovering dew-splattered, new-on-the-earth clean, so I just breathed it right on in. All the way down in my lungs and out again. And boy, did I sleep well that night. So did J.

Gulf Storm Cloud Moving In

The rain let up the next day for our trip to the Mesa Verde Ruins, but it started in again that night. Now camping and rain might sound even vaguely romantic to two forty-something women with plenty to talk about, but not to their energetic 5 1/2 and 3 1/2 year old sons. We asked at the desk, but there were no Kabins for rent owing to the fact that it was Labor Day Weekend. (Not to slight KOA, but the endless transposing of the letter “K” for the letter “C” can, to quote a no-nonsense British friend of mine “start getting on your wick.”) The only option was the $5 upgrade, which I promptly sprang for. The upgrade was a gravel floored tipi at the other end of the campground, and since KC had at one time lived in a tipi in Taos, I thought she would probably approve the executive decision I had just made. She didn’t. Initially, at least. “You mean to tell me you want to pack up our entire camp, in the rain, so we can go sleep on a GRAVEL ground?” She demanded. We had airbeds, I pointed out weakly. “Yeah, well, have you ever heard of The Princess and The Pea?” I had in fact. But this was no time to get Grimm’s Fairy-tale-y on me. “O.K.” she said, in classic Aries take-charge fashion, “Take your sleeping bags over and I’ll do the rest.” Meantime, J, RC and KC hunkered down in her tent to watch Disney movies. The tipi turned out to be fun, what with two adults, two little boys and a full-sized dog inside. So it leaked a little. Big deal. And I have no bruising to report from the pea, either. Neither does KC. Or if she did, she’s not telling me about it.

Sink Detail in The Little Girls’ Room


Hopper Stall Hottie
Now really, how is one supposed to attend to important commode business when you’ve got this hot mama to stare at? Actually, this was the ladies’ room, and I could’ve done with a cowboy. But I took the picture of her anyway because she’s classic Kampground Kitsch.

More Kampground Kitsch

This one was on the wall, right above the towel racks. It’s got the skull and the ladder. Just needs the coyote fence. The cactus are a little weedy looking for cactus. Not that I’m criticizing, mind you.

J Getting A Ride From KC

The boys started melting down a little bit on our big field day out of school. I should have known that 8,000 feet and no lunch by 3 o’clock would bring on a cranky mood from J. Before I knew it he was lying down on the asphalt throwing a full-fledged three year old hissy fit. I carried him a ways, but since I have some fairly serious altitude challenges myself, I began to weaken. “Here, take my stuff!” KC said, piling me up with camera bags, messenger bags, and whatever the hell else she carries on that tall lanky frame of hers. “Give me the boy.” She gave him a piggy back ride that stopped his tears dead in their sockets. See, daddy is only 5″9. Mom is 5″5 on a good day. But 6″1. We’re talking sky. We’re talking clouds. We’re talking orbiting suns and stars. The view from up here is cool. Way cool.

Mesa Verde National Park
My spies tell me that Mesa Verde is the only American National Park that protects man-made structures, as opposed to natural features. Whatever that means. In the hilly country south of Cortez, there are over 4,000 separate historic ruins, many of which are large structures built under steep, overhanging cliffs in narrow canyons. Mesa Verde is said to be the most famous and highly foot-trafficked archaeological site in the U.S. This is due to the number and size of its buildings, not to mention their good state of repair.

Tree House Detail

The Park is close to the Four Corners area, the only point in the country where four states meet, and is the center of former Indian civilizations. Several other important sites are preserved nearby, including the Hovenweep, Aztec Ruins and the Canyon de Chelly National Monuments. Today most of the region, including the area where Mesa Verde resides, is still within the boundaries of Indian reservations. These include the Ute reservation in Colorado and the Navajo reservation in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Treehouse Detail

The hills of Mesa Verde are shaped like a comb, with the high ridge of the North Rim running approximately east-west. The many wooded mesas extend toward the south. The latter have nearly flat tops but are separated by narrow, sheer-walled canyons of up to 1000 meters deep. Here the Anasazi Indians built their settlements between 550 and 1250 AD. Most of the larger structures were constructed near the end of this period. Mesa Verde was abandoned suddenly and inexplicably around 1300. Its settlements were not rediscovered until late in the last century.

Map Showing Where You’re “AT”
Since I did both my B.A. and M.A. in English, every now and then it’s fun to be naughty and end a sentence with a preposition, athough it’s staunchly against the rules of decent grammar. (Strunk & White would not approve, in other words.)
Sandy‘s Trash and Treasures

Sorry, Sandy. I never got a look-in. Next time. I’m more curious about the trash, I must admit.

Cortez Cantina
The front of this place had a sign that blazed “The Hide Out.” From what?  I wanted to ask.  The side view seemed a better bet. Pink & salmon-colored buildings fascinate me.

Frostichino: The CRAZE of Cortez

If anybody out there is from Cortez could you please tell me if frostichinos really are the craze of your fair town?

Pop Art At Its Best

I’ve always been a big fan of random pop art, Andy Warhal’s endless brillo pad boxes excepted. And the more random the better.

Cortez. Main Drag

Time to turn around and drive another freaking 600 miles or whatever. This time I got smart and headed straight south on Highway 491. And still managed to end up briefly in Farmington before righting myself and getting safely to Gallup. I made sure the car was stocked with chocolate chip cookies this time, though. And gummy worms. What else do you need?