New Mexico: Where Everybody is Somebody
Like almost everyplace in the US, the Chicago area shut down in early March. By May we were getting pretty stir crazy, so of course we decided on the perfect, safe solution: Road Trip!
We threw a mental dart at the map and it landed on New Mexico. Having heard good things about the state parks there, we booked ourselves into a series of campgrounds that would assure an exposure to areas across state. We planned to hit the road by the end of May, and that remained our plan until New Mexico decided to close all their parks and cancel our reservations (minus booking fees, of course).
Damn the Torpedos!
So right before we picked up the RV from storage, the scramble began to determine where we could go in New Mexico, which was dictated by where we could stay. After searching for alternative camping accommodations, we came up with a semi-firm plan on places to visit, and then hit the road.
TomAndPeg vs. the Volcano
Our fist stop was the tiny town of Capulin, where we setup camp for a couple of days at the Capulin RV Park, a small, clean roadside campground that offered a friendly greeting and full hookups. There's not much else in Capulin, not even a gas station. (There is a small country store with a surprisingly nice gift shop.) But our campsite did feature an unobstructed view of the town's claim to fame (and the reason why we were there): the Capulin Volcano National Monument.
If you've never travelled up the cone of a volcano, Capulin is a must see. We visited the national park on a warm, crystal clear day, and it was quite the experience, both visually and vertically.
You can drive you car, truck or motorcycle most of the way to the top of the the 60,000 year-old dormant volcano.
The vistas from the car park are amazing. You also can gaze down into the volcano's crater. There is a hiking trail that descends to the bottom of the crater itself, and another trail you can climb to the 8,200 foot summit along the crater's rim -- if you're feeling adventurous, that is.
We're both retired seniors, so of course we did not hesitate to climb the summit trail. We obviously lived to tell about it.
To get some perspective of scale, below is the view of the Capulin Volcano from our campsite, with a portion of the summit circled.
Now reverse the locations. Below was our view from the summit trail, with the campground circled; it's some 5 miles distant and 1,300 feet lower in elevation.
You can see 5 states from the rim of the Capulin Volcano: Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and (of course) New Mexico. To say the climb and the views were breathtaking would be an understatement.
High and Dry in Taos
Our next destination was Taos. As first timers in that town, we really didn't know what to expect, although we were aware of Taos' reputation for being a laid back art colony. Over the years the town has also managed to entertain the likes of Kit Carson, Georgia O'Keeffe, D.H. Lawrence, Dennis Hopper, and Julia Roberts, to name just a few. Now TomAndPeg can be added to that list.
We setup camp at the Taos Valley RV Park, which is conveniently located just a short drive from the Taos Plaza, the epicenter of this 400+ year old Spanish settlement.
In a word, the plaza area was beautiful. And virtually empty; most of the galleries, shops and other attractions were shuttered due to the pandemic.
Be that as it may, we still enjoyed wandering about, poking our masked mugs into anyplace we could. We did manage to eat an excellent lunch served al fresco at The Bent Street Cafe located on one of the pedestrian boulevards radiating out from the plaza.
Almost all the folks we encountered in Taos, whether locals or fellow visitors, practiced good social distancing. The town lived up to its reputation as a relaxed, welcoming community steeped in history.
Charmed in Chama
Leaving Taos, we headed north to Chama where we stayed a week at the Rio Chama RV Park.
Adjoining a scenic rock and gravel trout stream of the same name, the campground offers both waterfront as well as off-water sites at very reasonable weekly rates.
Rio Chama turned out to be the ideal place for us to further unwind. The staff members were all nice, and the wooded grounds were very well-kept, including a huge fenced community dog park. (Signage in the campground was also a hoot.)
The RV park was also within walking distance of the town's claim to fame: the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad (that's their rail bridge pictured below). Unfortunately, the steam powered daily rail excursions were shut down during out visit, but we did follow the narrow gauge mainline on a drive up into the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado; the scenery was one picture post card after another, and promised to equal our previous experience riding the Durango & Silverton excursion train several years ago.
Even though almost everything in the town of Chama remained shuttered, we did manage to carryout some excellent hot wings and a huge plate of amazing nachos from Foster's Cafe located in an ancient hotel of the same name, right across the street from the Cumbres & Toltec RR depot.
Our Favorite - Santa Fe
Before embarking on this trip, friends had told us Santa Fe was an amazing place. We were not disappointed.
We setup camp in the Santa Fe KOA, a very nice RV park full of desert flowers located a 20 minute drive from Santa Fe's famous downtown plaza.
Historic architecture decorates the streets radiating from the plaza -- the very heart of the city -- in almost every direction. Even though the town was not yet fully open, we thoroughly enjoyed exploring those scenic boulevards.
Dozens of souvenir and specialty shops as well as eateries populated both the sidewalks and numerous storefronts. We also wandered into a camouflaged, albeit huge galleria, as well as the biggest jewelry store you will ever see. (Even the prices were big!)
Our first day we had an excellent lunch at Santa Fe's oldest restaurant, the Plaza Cafe, a vantage from which we couldn't help but notice municipal workers carefully cleaning defacements recently inflicted by vandals upon Santa Fe's controversial obelisk memorial. (Considering the extent of the damages, the repairmen did a very good job.)
The next day in Santa Fe, we enjoyed breakfast at the French Pastry Shop & Creperie, a quaint restaurant with a very sweet menu that is located just up the street from the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Even during a pandemic shutdown, Santa Fe rocks!
Along the Way
Driving from place to place in New Mexico was almost as fun as exploring wherever we set up camp.
For example, we climbed an extremely high pass between Taos and Chama on Route 64, where we achieved the highest altitude yet in our NewAire. Her Cummins ISB didn't miss a beat.
We even took a day trip from Chama up into Colorado to visit Pagosa Springs and see Treasure Falls.
We were presented with gorgeous natural vistas in every direction; so many, in fact, that we lost count.
But one of the most remarkable vistas we viewed in New Mexico were the crystal clear, deep blue mountain skies. What made those even more unusual was the total absence of contrails or vapor produced by high-flying aircraft engine exhaust; airline cutbacks were most apparent.
Once in a while, we would spot a lone cloud. We're still debating what this one looks like. We're open to suggestions.
So That Worked!
RVing through New Mexico certainly helped get our cabin fever under control. But is there a permanent cure for that self-inflicted malady?
The answer is a definitive NO, as evidenced by the fact that we are already planning our next excursion.
New Mexico was the first RV trip for the newest member of our family, Freckle the feisty Cocker Spaniel. She adapted very quickly to the journey, and she had a ball.
We submit as evidence the above snapshot, which shows Freckle crashed in our NewAire's co-pilot seat after a typically active day on the road.