Armed with my stack of National Park Service brochures, I turned right out of the NPS Regional office parking lot onto Old Santa Fe Trail. There’s something about driving/hiking/visiting old sites where you know historic events took place that creates a feeling like there are shadows in every corner. I felt it in New Mexico and it made my hair stand up on my scalp. James had told me to look for signs of the Old Santa Fe trail as I drove I-25, that I would be able to see the ruts of the wagons if I kept an eye out for them. He also recommended that I stop at the Pecos Pueblo for its historic preservation and status as cross-roads for traders. He told me to take a bathroom break at the Capulin Volcano on my way to La Junta. I already had planned on stopping in Las Vegas, NM as I had heard about the old Plaza hotel built on the town square.
I wouldn’t say the Old Santa Fe Trail (or Route 66 for that matter) was well marked in this area. There would be signs, and then no signs. It would be named on the Google Map and then it wasn’t. At one point I turned to stop at a breakfast place James had recommended only to find it was closed. When I tried to backtrack onto the Santa Fe Trail, it looked like it dwindled to nothing. I hopped on I-25 and skirted the base of the Sangre de Cristo range.
It’s beautiful country, to be sure. High and dry, with pines covering the mountains, I could only imagine what it must have been like in 1540 for Vasquez de Coronado and the Spaniards who came to this part of the world. They explored in the name of Spain, trespassing on the Pueblo and Zuni lands and later the Apache, Navajo, Osage and Cheyenne (and probably a lot more), wandering along the Colorado, Rio Grande, Pecos, Canadian, Arkansas, and Kansas rivers, to name a few. I stopped at the Pecos Pueblo and walked among the ruins of a once thriving trading site that was active through the 1700s when European disease brought in by western explorers decimated the indigenous people. The last survivors of the Pecos Pueblo moved to the Jemez Pueblo (where my turquoise ring came from) in the early 1800s.
The Pecos Pueblo is a National Historic Park and the walking trail from the visitor’s center is an easy stroll. The church site is a restored ruin that is off limits, but you can get very close to it. The Pueblo is at a crossroads, so it was a trade center for the native tribes of the west to meet with the plains Indians.
I didn’t spend much time at the Pueblo, I had spent so much time visiting with James at the NPS, so I left town eager to get going. I knew that La Junta was a good hike and I didn’t want to be driving on two lane roads in unfamiliar territory in the dark.
I stopped briefly in Las Vegas to see the hotel, but it was Sunday, and most stores were closed. Las Vegas town square was interesting—in addition to the hotel, the other interesting facit was the back-in parking all around the square. Instead of pulling into a parking spot, you backed in, so that you could pull out fast. It was the first and only time I have ever seen this.
As I followed I-25 north, I realized I was on the east side of the Sangre de Cristos, and that Taos was due west. Exits for Angel Fire and Red River ski areas were marked on the interstate. Then I saw a sign for Philmont Boy Scout Camp—significant to me for two reasons. One, my husband and son went on that hike in 2007; and two, that was the year my husband was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. Shadows followed me everywhere.
I would have stopped at Philmont, but I wasn’t sure what I would find, nor how far off the freeway I would have to go. That’s a stop for next time. I kept on driving, skirting Raton to follow Hwy 87 to Capulin Volcano National Park.
The Rocky Mountains are made up of ranges of mountains—most of the mountains I had been skiing had been created by tectonics plates that had pushed against each other to form the peaks. But some of the ranges are volcanic or a mix of plates and volcanos. As I drove east I could see the volcanic peaks—many are perfectly shaped cones—and Capulin is one of those. I expected a barren cinder cone, but Capulin is tree covered. I pulled into the visitor’s center at 4 pm and had half an hour before it closed—just enough for, as James had told me, a pit stop on my way north.
The road from the volcano went due north for about 30 miles of the 125 miles I had to drive. Hwy 325 had some hefty potholes, but James had warned me about them. I could see the mountains west of me, a few peaks jutting up along the range. It was bittersweet. I had been immersed in the Rocky Mountains every day for the past three months. I was sad to be leaving the mountains, leaving the Sojourn, leaving the fantasy I had created over the past three months. It was real—I know it happened—yet felt unreal, and like Lewis and Clark, I hadn’t really left any tangible evidence that SSS3 had really happened. But like Lewis and Clark, I had documented the drama not in hinged notebooks but on the computer, in a virtual blog.
What is it that makes me so contented travelling the countryside alone, soaking in the hills, valleys, creek beds? What is it that makes me wonder about the ranches that are set back from the blacktop turnoffs? And how is it that on the cusp of the end of one adventure I believed I was on the precipice of another? Especially when my destination for the evening was La Junta, Colorado, a place even most Coloradoans don’t pay much mind to. But here I was, the sun setting quietly, the hum of the truck tires on the asphalt, radio playing, wispy clouds just beginning to form. No one waiting for me nor was I waiting for anyone either.
The wispy clouds were foreshadowing a storm that was brewing. I had one more major stop before the backstretch to home—I had been in contact with John Hopper, a teacher in Lamar & Granada who was the sponsor for the Amache Japanese American Internment museum in downtown Granada. He was unlocking the doors (literally) to the museum for me the next day. His students normally man the museum but I was passing through on a school day and both he and his students were embroiled in schoolwork.
I was curious as to what I would find at Amache. I would find out the next day.