The Turn Towards Home

It was the middle of March before I skied again. I took over two weeks in Southern California, thinking I would be in flipflops and tank tops, but the storms that were dumping snow in the mountains were sucking cool air over LA and San Diego. I didn’t take the time to connect with Janine and Lila when I was in Morro Bay, but I did visit with my Auntie and Uncle, cousins and second cousins. I also connected with a Montana friend who went to grade school with me.

Usually when I go to Morro Bay, I stay with my Aunt and Uncle, but this trip I decided to stay at a tourist hotel. Auntie is younger at 95 or so, Uncle’s a little older. I figured they probably didn’t need a vagabond on their doorstep or in their guest room. I booked a room off the wharf in Morro Bay called the Beach Bungalow Inn & Suites. I arrived after the front desk had closed, so my key was in a tin mailbox on their front step. They had left directions to find my room which was named, not numbered.  I was pleasantly surprised at the spacious room, comfortable large bed, hardwood floors, fireplace and extra-large bathroom. The shower had these cool stones for tile, just like what I am trying to put into my remodel at the lake. One of the reasons I booked this place was because they had complimentary bicycles, but the weather was too cool for biking. It was right around $100/night, and worth it for a tourist.

Before I left sunny SoCal, I got tickets to the BNP Paribus Tennis Tournament in Indian Wells. I am a big tennis fan, and all the biggies were playing. I got to attend round four, and saw Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Venus Williams, Osaka, Kerber, Nishikori, Nishioka, Navratilova (speaking, not playing) and my favorites, Bob and Mike Bryan. I was in tennis heaven. I caught Bob Bryan coming off the practice courts, and chatted with him. I told him I had twin grandboys. He asked, “How old are they?” I couldn’t remember right away, then recalled they had just had their 2.5-year birthdays. “Two and a half!” I blurted out. I told him I was going to have a hip like his someday. A year earlier he had hip replacement, and here he was playing at the highest level possible. He said that it was as good as the original. His posting about his rehab has been an inspiration to a hack like me.

Bob Bryan
One year out of hip replacement. Bob Bryan at Indian Wells. My new BFF. That’s me in the LL.

I stayed at another WorldMark in Palm Springs, but I arrived after dark, left early to see the tennis and didn’t get back until nine or ten at night. I think it was a nice resort, but I wouldn’t know, I spent so little time there. The weather was unseasonably cool and rainy. The Bryan brothers’ match was rain delayed, and they ended up getting beat the next day after play resumed.

I had a long drive from Palm Springs to Taos, NM ahead of me, but I had a detour in Phoenix to do some research on my next book, a historical fiction based on my mother’s diaries. She and my dad were interned at Gila River Camp and I wanted to see the remains. Unfortunately, where Google told me to go, and the passibility of that route were not aligned. I went down a dirt road until the road got so narrow the brush was scraping my little blue truck. It was only getting worse, so I decided to back out—the road was too narrow and the sides dropped—I did some major bad scratching on the passenger side of the truck that I could easily have avoided if I had thought to hike into the site. But I didn’t think it, nor did I do it. And I am regretting following Google so blindly.

It is a solemn experience to see the remains of a camp where at one time over 10,000 people lived. I felt their ghosts in that arid, windswept desert. All that’s left of the barracks where the Japanese Americans lived are foundations and rock gardens that the internees built to beautify their stark surroundings. My mom relayed stories about picking cotton under the searing desert sun, and walking between Canal and Butte camps, pregnant and slow. Where cotton fields used to be are now orchards, and the land is productive due to widespread irrigation. One of the main crops is alfalfa hay. I spent about two hours roaming the area, and then headed west again.

Right now I can’t remember where I had lunch, but I did, and then set off towards Taos, NM. All I remember is that I ate, and that I got so sleepy on the drive. I detoured through Joshua Tree National Park and exited the park at 29 Palms. Leaving town heading east is a sign that says, “No services 100 miles” and they aren’t kidding. It was warm and windy with a long road in front of me, mountains on either side. I can’t remember the audio book I was listening to, so I may have been between books, too. Looking to the north and back up a valley I could see billows of sand and dust from the high winds that continued to blow in from the coast. All I remember is between 29 Palms and Albuquerque I had to pull over to the side of the road, or at gas stations to nap. I was like drugged. But I don’t like driving sleepy and napping usually does the trick.

That night I stayed at a Days Inn in Albuquerque on I-25 north of the downtown, not far from where Scot and I had stayed a year before. With Scot I had found a hotel on the east side of I-25 that was really cheap. It turned out it was under construction. This trip I stayed at a tried and true chain, and wasn’t disappointed. The next day I knew from past experience that I needed to eat breakfast early and go hungry in the afternoon to fend off fatigue, so I went for the waffle and eggs.  I left early, bypassing old town Santa Fe and then arriving into Taos mid-morning. My room at the Worldmark wasn’t ready, so I had time to explore the town and surrounding area.

I was pleasantly surprised at the town of Taos. I had no expectations ahead of time, but had been to at least 18 ski resort towns previously. Taos was completely different!

I had traveled the northern Rockies and Sierras. I hadn’t been to a Southwest mountain town. Taos is home to the Taos Pueblo, a town and community over a thousand years old. Unfortunately, the tour of the Taos Pueblo was closed while I was visiting, but it is normally given continuous during the day. On the other hand, it may be providential, as it will force me to return someday.

The ancient Pueblo, Navajo and Mexican cultures permeate the area and adds an exotic dimension to this  mountain ski town, different from all the others. Even the WorldMark Resort with its desert southwest motif was distinctly different than all the other WorldMarks I had stayed at. It was a great town with a familiar feel to it, even though it was different.

I drove to the bridge that spans the Rio Grande River, northwest on Hwy 64. It’s a dizzying canyon with one of those steel and riveted arched bridges that were popular in the 1940s and 50s. The town square of Taos has that adobe look that’s actually real, not made to look that way. The land is semi-arid, full of scrub trees and bushes. Horses are corralled in dilapidated fenced pastures surrounding a small ranch house. It felt like my hometown Hardin, Montana, with southwest flair.

That feeling was reinforced the next day when I drove the 18 miles to Taos Ski Valley. I got into the line to get my Mountain Collective pass and the four women working the counter all looked Native American. And the lady that helped me looked like one of the Native mom’s that I knew growing up. Of course the Taos lady was younger than me and from her nametag I knew I didn’t know her, but even so, it felt familiar and familial.

I skied every lift that was open. Taos is known for runs accessible by hiking only. The weekend I was there they were holding the Ridge-a-Thon, a fundraiser where the extreme skier can raise money by hiking the ridge and skiing the extreme chutes and runs. There are other levels, but the extreme one was awesome. I rode up the chair with a woman who had skied the Ridge the day before and whose son was skiing both days. She was volunteering, and gave me a great overview of the mountain. The backside of the mountain wasn’t open, all day the avalanche guns were going off. Lifts 4 and Kachina were closed.

Taos likes to brag about having some of steepest runs in the country, and from the chair looking up it IS really steep. They have only one high speed chair, so hitting my 10K was harder than I thought it would be. I never realized what a difference high speed chairs make, but it is one of the reasons lift lines are almost non-existent now-a-days. The firs day the Kachina lift stayed closed. Kachina services the top of the mountain. Chair 4 opened though, and I got brave and hiked to Hunziker Bowl, a black diamond. I also had to do the run named Japanese Flag Glade that turned into some fun trees. It was un-nerving to hear the avalanche guns going all day. You could see some of the avalanches that they set off. I thought to myself, I don’t want to ski in areas where there are avalanches! I had spent most of the day on the upper mountain and in the early afternoon I took a run to the bottom. I was ready to get back on the chair when I realized I had lost my pass, so I ended the day at 1 pm with a drink at the Hondo on the plaza. I had passed 12,000 vertical feet, so I was OK.

The next day I got to Taos Ski Valley a bit later, but was still ready when the lifts opened. I rode up Chair 4 with a guy in maroon who told me to ski the top, that I could always traverse my way down. It was the encouragement I needed, so I did. I took Kachina at about 10:30; it had opened at 10. They had so much snow that a person had to hike to get “up” to the Kachina chair. I opted to ski “down” a slope, and had to crawl under a fence to get in line. Imagine that, a 64 year old crawling under a fence to get into line. There are firsts for everything.

The scariest part of skiing double blacks is getting in line, waiting and then getting on the chair. It’s the point of no return and it’s definitely when the palms sweat. The runs at the top are all supposed to be double blacks, but Mainstreet is an “easier” double. I took the dive and started my journey down. At the bottom I saw the guy in maroon, and shouted out my thanks. So much fun!

The rest of the day was a bonus. I racked up another 10K vertical. At the top of Lift 2 I saw those same birds that were at Steamboat eating out of the ski intructor’s hand. I pulled a salted nut roll out of my pocket, brushed off some nuts, and had Gray Jays eating out of my hand. It was another really a great ski day. Facing my fears was becoming easier and easier. A ski patroller told me to have lunch at St. Bernard’s Deck. I had a very good hamburger with Bavarian style sauerkraut on the deck that was warm from the spring sun.

My last night in Taos I had dinner at Orlando’s, a tiny family run Mexican restaurant. I sat at the counter beside a young couple visiting from Boulder, Co. He was from Heber City, UT, a town I had just passed through when I was going to Park City.

The next morning I had a big breakfast at the Taos Diner, where two guys who sat at the table next to me started chatting. They were long-time residents of Taos, and I loved the friendly, down-home attitude that permeated the place.

But Crested Butte was waiting for me and I didn’t tarry long.


2 thoughts on “The Turn Towards Home

  1. Sandy says:

    Another favorite place of mine. I have visited many times for different reasons.
    So glad to hear you had a good experience.


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