March 19 – April 1
Our two weeks in Albuquerque are drawing to a close and we’re ready to move on. The city and all its amenities have been nice, but time to change it up and camp in a more rural setting. Before we go, there are a few more outings to cover.
Jemez Mountain Trail Scenic Byway
Since we’re spending significant time in Santa Fe, we weren’t terribly concerned about seeing all the surrounding area. We did want to cover the closest portion of the Jemez Mountain Trail, and set out one day to do just that.
About 15 minutes outside of Albuquerque and you begin to figure out why everyone raves about the scenery. The red rocks are so, well, red! You can’t help but notice the change in coloring, especially on such bright sunny days. This view is right across from the visitor’s center in the Pueblo of Jemez.
The color makes you stare. I had to pull the car over to gawk completely. Pat’s interested in that light colored rock slide.
At the visitor’s center, we learned that the Jemez Pueblo is one of 19 in New Mexico, and is a federally recognized American Indian tribe. According to their literature they are “a sovereign nation with an independent government and tribal court system”. The Jemez are known for their pottery and traditional dances as well as their unique language, “Towa”. They are the only tribe to speak that language and it’s not recorded in written form. Pat and I discussed the difficulties of keeping the traditions alive with the young people, when right down the road from the pueblo are all the modern conveniences to lure them away from the old ways.
We exited the visitor’s center and decided to head to the Gilman Tunnels and save the rest of the scenic drive for our Santa Fe explorations. The tunnel road is a spur from the main scenic route, and gets narrower and narrower until signs tell you it is now a one lane road with turn-outs for passing.
We drove as far as we could until the road ended with a gated gravel trail. Once we turned around, we came face to face with this giant tree growing out of the rocks. This is probably at least 40 feet tall jutting right out of the cliffside.
Here’s a closer look at that amazing tree.
There are two tunnels that lead to the end of the road and they’re carved right out of the surrounding cliffs.
There’s Bitsy on the other side of the tunnel waiting patiently for us to walk back through. These tunnels are right next to Rio Guadalupe and the only other river we’ve seen lately besides the Rio Grande. A beautiful drive and they say it only gets better the rest of the way around to Santa Fe. Can’t wait to see for ourselves in a few weeks.
The Dogwood and Red Bud trees have suddenly come to life during our stay in the area.
One of the locals told us about some walking trails close to the KOA. Placitas is a neighboring town just up the road and has a forest service parking lot so you can access the trails in the Cibola National Forest. We were tired of walking Jackson around in the same camping loops, so took a ride to Placitas.
Here’s our forest service road/trail at the foot of the Sandia Mountains. We’re not sure how this classifies as a National Forest, but there are some trees. They just aren’t huddling up together as much as we had hoped. At least these roads are kind to Jackson’s feet and we can avoid the cactus and other pokey things.
Looking the other direction, there are the pueblo homes in Placitas with the Jemez Mountains to the West.
This turned out to be a great place for Jackson outings and it quickly became our daily routine. He gets a car ride and a lengthy walk out of the deal.
Fire and Ice
Our one restaurant find for this stop was the Range Cafe in Bernalillo. When my stomach was still a little funny from the Elephant Butte taco incident, I really wanted comfort food. I had a dynamite turkey dinner complete with dressing and mashed potatoes, topped off with their signature green chili gravy. Yum! Pat had the meatloaf since he always gets that if it’s on the menu.
While we waited for our table, we plucked random brochures out of the tourist display. The one labeled ICE CAVE & Bandera Volcano caught my eye. I have a fascination with volcanoes, but have yet to see anything up close and personal. This place outside of Grants, NM boasts a volcano that formed an ice cave, thus the fire and ice. It struck us both as something we must see, but we weren’t going to be any closer than the ABQ stop. That is, if you can call 110 miles one way “close”.
This place is on the Continental Divide and is referred to as the ‘Ring of Fire’ since there are 29 volcanic peaks in the area. This is a view from the hike to the top of the Bandera Volcano and 15 volcanoes are visible from here.
The view looking into the volcanic crater. This particular volcano erupted around 10,000 years ago and is one of the best examples and most accessible in the country. There were many in Alaska, but you couldn’t get to any of them except by plane. So glad to finally hike up to one. Speaking of the hike, it wasn’t particularly long, but at an elevation of 8,122 feet, you do manage to get the blood pumping.
I was amazed at the tenacity of these big fir trees on the slant of the cindercone. Pat’s reaching out to one of the huge roots just to show how big they really are.
The Juniper, Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine really take a beating from the elements up here and some of them are approximately 700 years old.
The ground looks like tilled soil, but upon closer inspection, is really piles of volcanic rock like this one.
After the Bandera Volcano erupted, it produced a lava flow almost 23 miles long, with a crater 800 feet deep. This shot is of the canyon created from that lava flow. A collapsed lava tube from the flow produced the second marvel in the area – an ice cave. The temperature inside never gets above 31 degrees. Rain water and snow melt continue to collect in the cave producing a growing layer of ice.
After the hike to the volcano look out point, we headed down the trail to the ice cave. I know the photo isn’t stunning, but look at the upper right striped-looking piece of ice. Yes, that is ice and the green coloring is from Arctic algae. That striped piece used to be an ice wall 12 feet high back in the 40s. The ice floor continues to rise each year and that’s all that’s left of the wall.
The afternoon sun made the lighting all wrong, but this gives you an idea of the cave entrance size and the amount of ice below.
This kitty gave me a start as we headed down the stairs to the ice cave. We’ve been in mountain lion country, so at first glance as it scurried away, I wasn’t sure what it was. Poor kitty just hunkered down and I think it hoped if it ignored us, we would ignore it.
Lichen and Alpine moss cover the rocks close to the mouth of the cave. A little snow thrown in makes for an odd assortment of colors and textures.
And the final factoid that we liked? This lava flow is rich in iron content and results in lots of lightning strikes. In fact, we found out that New Mexico is second only to Florida in lightning strikes.
A few more views of the day. Well worth the drive.
Bosque River Tour
Time for another bicycle rental. Pat has his eye on the trails again, so we head back to Old Town ABQ to get our wheels. Armed with a map of the Bosque River Trail, we’re on our way. The last time we did this was in Anchorage. Maybe we do it in all towns that start with ‘A’? I must say, this bike ride was nothing at all like Anchorage. Of course we weren’t expecting it to be that scenic, but we were expecting some Rio Grande River views. The name would imply that, don’t you think?
No, you don’t pedal beside the Rio Grande as the name and map seem to indicate. What you do pedal past are a series of irrigation ditches. Well, ok, we did see three elephants through the fence behind the zoo, the Bug-arium at the botanical gardens, and two duck/fishing ponds. Other than that, it was a lot of UN-scenic trail. We thought we might get a glimpse of the river right over that berm next to the irrigation ditch, so we pedaled off the paved trail and through the gravel. Pat turned around at a huge pile of what looked like broken auto glass and I had to swerve to miss the sad looking stray dog that suddenly appeared. In fact, I draw the line at a certain amount of burglar bars and razor wire. Actually, ANY amount of razor wire. I’d actually never seen the stuff quite so up close and personal before. That’s when we turned around.
The redeeming factor for this ride was the short detour to Sonic for slushies. We finished them off at the one developed spot by the Rio Grande that was actually paved and free of theft deterrent. And we got some good exercise.
We celebrated Easter Sunday on our last day in ABQ. There was a nice church close by in Bernalillo, and we managed to dig out our dress clothes. A skirt and heels for me and dress pants and dress shirt for Pat. Turns out Pat doesn’t have dress socks anymore, but as long as he remains standing, the Adidas logo won’t show. (I’ve been corrected during proofreading. He does have dress socks, just didn’t choose to wear them.)
Pat read for the afternoon and I made more cards. I’m now all set for a special birthday in April (someone’s turning 24!), and Mother’s Day in May. The graduation cards for our friends and family grads are also well on their way to completion. Our final dinner was supposed to be stir-fry, but neither of us was inclined to cook. Back to the Range Cafe we go. Pat had a chicken burrito with the red chili sauce on the side (good call on his part), and I sampled the pork loin I had my eye on during the previous visit. Both were oh so good! I highly recommend this place if you’re ever in the area.
Just like that, two weeks have passed. Next up – Cochiti Lake Corp of Engineers campground for a few “out of town” days, with Santa Fe close on its heels. See you on the way!