New Mexico: Tiny Cabins, Trailers, and the Turquoise Trail

I met Traveler Thirteen (see my Ecuador posts) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, piggybacking onto her journey through the Southwest. Traveler Thirteen has embarked on her own amazing journey that you can read about here.

New Mexico kind of came up suddenly. It was, for me, a bit of a last minute decision on a location to meet, and with most unexpected places I tend to find myself, I would fall in love. But first I had to get there. This involved flying, which normally isn't a big deal, but this time was different. I've seen some interesting things happen on planes but nothing had ever happened to directly me. Until now.

I found myself seated behind a crazy person. We were both in the aisle, seats 19C and 20C to be exact. His behavior became increasingly odd as the flight went on. So much so that the male flight attendant took over our section. Crazy, who had been flailing around for a while, eventually managed to reach behind his seat and grab my knee, which scared the hell out of me as I was asleep at the time (I yelled at him and slapped his hand away). He then managed reach around behind the his seat and grabbed my calf. He wouldn't let go. I smacked him over the head with my travel pillow as hard as I could, which made him release my leg. Then I jumped up and fled to the back of the plane. The flight attendants moved me to a different seat. It turned out he'd grabbed the female flight attendants too. I don't know what became of Crazy in 19C but the airline was nice enough to give me a credit for the flight.

Thus, having been assaulted by a stranger, and totally freaked the hell out, I arrived in Albuquerque. And then a miracle occurred. My bag was the first to appear on the baggage carousel. What a strange and enigmatically portentous beginning.

I stepped outside to wait for Thirteen. It was dark. It was cold. It was dry. And the air had that bite that you get at higher altitudes. Traveler Thirteen picked me up at curbside in her Ford F150. It has a kayak on its roof. I remember that so vividly because I saw the kayak first, bright yellow in the dark, like a beacon. I was really happy to see Thirteen.

My impressions of Albuquerque that night, as we drove down the highway, are fuzzy. There's the vague memory of bridges with Southwestern themed art lining the highway, a couple of skyscrapers in the distance, and then we were pulling into the KOA campground where we'd spend the night.

Thirteen had booked me one of those tiny one room cabins (she was staying in her trailer). I have always been intrigued by the idea of staying in one of these tiny cabins or cottages. And finally, I have. It had a double bed and two bunk beds with plastic covered mattresses and an electric heater (I'd arrived in an uncharacteristic cold spell). Thanks to Thirteen's memory foam bed topper it was surprisingly comfortable, like sinking into a nice warm nest. I slept in my cocoon of memory foam and blankets until my bladder insisted I get up and make the trek across the parking lot to the bathroom. Oddly, I still remember the lock code for the bathroom door, which is kind of funny because I kept forgetting it while I was there.

In the morning, I got a tour of the camper. It's small and cozy and Thirteen had made it a real home. We had tea and coffee and ate the world's most amazing granola (made by a friend of Thirteen's). There were hot cinnamon rolls too.

I was also reunited with our two other fellow Travelers: The amazing canines sweet Tootsie, currently of Barer of the Cone of Shame, and Chena, the stalwart scatologist and expert hiker herder. Tootsie is an elderly chocolate lab with some health issues. She currently needs to wear a cone of shame that restricts her field of vision, which in turn makes her unpredictable in terms of trajectory.  Chena is a four year old border collie mix with definite opinions about personal space. She is also not a fan of the cone of shame sharing space with her because, in her opinion, its a menace to one's peace of mind. She has a point.

We walked the dogs in the dog park at the campground. Chena showed off her ball chasing abilities.

Then we packed up. We had to dump the gray water from the camper. I ended up sitting in the passenger seat with the full bucket balanced between my knees as we drove across the parking lot to the dumping station. I found this hilarious. We really should have taken a picture.

We then headed to an RV sales and service center somewhere west of the center of Albuquerque to pick up equipment Thirteen needed. This was a whole new world to me. I was starting to get ideas. I know of another photographer that lives out of his RV. Oh, the possibilities of living on the road. If only RVs could fly too. It'd be perfect.

Heading north on Route 14 (Turquoise Trail).

Then we headed east to Route 14, also known as the Turquoise Trail, a scenic byway that takes you from Albuquerque to Santa Fe through a series of old mining towns that, in some cases, have been reincarnated as centers of art and culture.

Buffalo gourds. These color, in these three photos, these muted greens and bright yellows against multicolored ground typify New Mexico for me.

The last vestiges of flowers from warmer times.

You'd think it was summer or autumn but winter had already arrived.

More colors of New Mexico.

And the plants are armed and dangerous.

We stopped first in Cedar Crest at the Greenside Cafe for lunch. Food and service were really good. While Traveler Thirteen walked the dogs up the hill behind the restaurant I discovered the hill was covered with buffalo gourds, a native southwestern plant supremely adapted to arid conditions.

It was here that I discovered that I might possibly have major camera problems. My camera stopped autofocusing and wouldn't take photos if the lenses were in autofocus mode. I'd spend the rest of the trip taking everything in manual focus. Not a total disaster BUT not ideal, especially for certain kinds of shots.

First stop in Golden, NM

We then drove through Golden, NM. Golden, a ghost town, was the site of the first gold rush west of the Mississippi in 1825. Today its known mostly for the Henderson Store and the Mayor of Golden, Leroy Gonzales.

We stopped in the store, where there was a lot of interesting jewelry and antiques to look at. A fellow customer gave us an plethora of information about the area and interesting places to visit. Then we passed a most amazing art installation next to an abandoned house. We pulled over for a photo op. The owner of the art installation came out to see if we needed help, thinking we were having problems with the trailer. This individual turned out to be Leroy Gonzales, the de facto Mayor of Golden. He happily let us explore his property. He introduced us to his "dogs", two creatures built of dirt and other findings. We explored his "mine", a fake mine he dug into the earth and in which he used mirrors to cleverly build an optical illusion of great depth. He told us how he became mayor. He was the only person to run. He's quite an interesting dude this Leroy Gonzales, teller of tales and sculptor of over large pets. Stop in. Talk to him. 

Leroy Gonzales' property, Golden, NM

Leroy's "dogs" in the foreground. The "Cantina" and "Goldmine" in the back.

The Mayor of Golden

More of Leroy's art.

This abandoned house stands adjacent to Leroy Gonzales' art installation. I might actually own it. He said I could have it for two dollars. I did leave him two dollars in his tip jar...

A ruin at the end of the road, Golden, NM.

We drove through the marvelous little town of Madrid, a former mining town now turned artist colony. Chena accompanied us as we walked through the town. I found myself fascinated by not only the crazy colors and uniqueness of the various houses, restaurants and shops, but also the mail boxes. To me they were photographic gold. They were are individual and unique as the everything else in Madrid.

Madrid, NM

Madrid, NM

Madrid, NM

Madrid, NM

Madrid, NM

Madrid, NM

Madrid, NM

This saddle has been put out to pasture.

Madrid, NM

The Turquoise Trail train.

Madrid, NM

Madrid, NM

Border Collies can be cowgirls too!

We threaded our way north toward Santa Fe. I kept thinking of Iceland as I looked at New Mexico. The vegetation is all wrong and New Mexico's yellows, gray greens, deep black greens and reds are all wrong too but there's something about how you can feel the raw Earth here that hinted at the landscapes of Iceland to me.

We drove into Santa Fe, which happens to be the oldest capital city in the United States, and navigated to where we were staying. We'd rented a "house." Why house is in quotes will become obvious soon. We wound our way through the center of Santa Fe and then hit a dirt road that twisted up a hill. We were wondering if we were going to be able to get the trailer up there. Traveler Thirteen got out and walked the route first to make sure we could do this. We made it though one turn in the road required us to squeeze by the corner of someone's house and a place where the road was partially washed out. Our house was located on top of hill at a dead end. When we got up there I couldn't find the house. Then I realized it was below us, roof flush to the parking area, built into the side of the hill like a Hobbit hole. We'd driven all this way to find ourselves in Middle Earth and staying at Bag End.

The Hobbit hole in the hill.

We were also presented with an interesting in quandary as to how to get the trailer in a position where we could get it back down the hill again. Thirteen did marvelously driving it backwards up the rest of the hill.

Our Hobbit hole, or "hovel" as Thirteen called it fondly, it turned out to be a very nicely appointed little place. It had a courtyard for the dogs. It had a bed and a sofa bed for the humans. It was warm. It was clean.

We went down to the center of Santa Fe and had pork tacos for dinner. We wandered downtown Santa Fe with the dogs. I tried to do night photography but the lack of autofocus was killing my photos. So I took a ton of terrible shots of Santa Fe at night. And no you can't see most of them. They have been deleted. They were truly awful.

Downtown Santa Fe

Seriously, we were in Middle Earth. Even Smaug showed up.