- Where We Started: Santa Fe, N.M.
- Where We Ended: Durango, Colo.
- Miles Driven: 321 (8,664 total).
- New States: Colorado.
- States So Far: 16 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
When you drive the entire country, you see all sorts of different kinds of weather. There are bright, sunny days. There are rainy, gloomy days. There are days where black clouds loom ominously. There are days where driving snowstorms limit visibility. There are cold, crisp, windy days. And there are rare days where every one of those weather types makes an appearance. Sunday was one of those days.
It was, to say the least, an odd day on the FHMA tour. We encountered two significant snowstorms and areas of New Mexico that were completely blanketed with snow, and other areas that were green as far as the eye could see. The temperature ranged from 30 to 55 degrees as we moved up and down between 6,000- and 10,000-foot elevations. The sun came and went all day long, and just when it finally seemed to win the day, it set.
After lunch, we started our exploring by taking the High Road to Taos, a scenic drive from Santa Fe to Taos. It was merely drizzling when we left Santa Fe, but it wasn't long before we'd climbed to 8,000 feet and encountered our first heavy snowfall of the day -- and the trip.
The snow got heavier as we ascended, and I briefly considered turning back. But it was a fleeting thought, and so we kept on plugging. Eventually, the snow dissipated and we made it to Taos, where the weather was cloudy with light drizzle.
The next major stop was a repeat from the 2003 trip: the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, about 10 miles west of Taos. The bridge is the fifth-highest bridge in the United States, running 650 feet above the Rio Grande. In 2003, it was pouring rain when we reached this bridge -- we always seem to bring great weather with us to northern New Mexico -- so Joan never even got out of the car. I loved it, though, and wanted to go back.
Visiting the bridge is sort of a surreal experience. You can park on either side of the bridge and walk out on to it. Once you do, and you look either direction, this is what you see:
As if the mere fact you're peering 650 feet down into a rocky gorge isn't enough to get your hair on end, you also have to pay attention to the cars that are speeding over the bridge, mere feet from where you're standing, as the bridge is part of a relatively busy U.S.-64. Add in a little drizzle, and it made for an interesting experience, one not for the faint of heart. Because of all the potential distractions, we did not walk Fred and Hank out onto the bridge.
As cool as the view down into the gorge is, it's just as spectacular to look out at what is essentially the southern end of the Rocky Mountains.
As you can see from these photos, the weather wasn't great, but it wasn't raining hard and the temperature was in the high 40s. But, from the bridge, we headed west, and 45 minutes later, found ourselves in the midst of another heavy snowstorm.
The combination of driving snow, curvy roads and the approaching nightfall was a bit of a concern, but typically, as soon as we started to worry, everything changed again. Thirty minutes later, as rolled into the small town of Chama, N.M., this is what we saw.
The sun is out, and there's not a snowflake in sight as we pull into Chama, N.M.
Soon after leaving Chama, we crossed the border into Colorado and headed for Durango, a cool old mining town. And, thankfully, we experienced the 50 most uneventful miles of the day and reached out hotel around 9pm.
- Among the towns we drove through on the High Road to Taos was Truchas, N.M. It's a small town, and easy to miss, but has one main claim to fame: It was where Robert Redford's film, "The Milagro Beanfield War" was filmed.
- We reached a 10,000-foot elevation for the first time on the trip Sunday, hitting the five-figure mark in Vallecitos, N.M.
- I mentioned earlier that the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge -- running 650 feet was above the Rio Grande -- is the fifth-highest bridge in the United States. You didn't think I'd leave you hanging, did you? Here are the first four, according to Wikipedia: the Royal Gorge Bridge (1053 feet) over the Arkansas River in Colorado, the New River Gorge Bridge (876 feet) over the New River in West Virginia, the Foresthill Bridge (730 feet) over the American River in California, and the Glen Canyon Dam Bridge (700 feet) over the Colorado River in Arizona.
- We had lunch at Harry's Roadhouse in Santa Fe with our friends Nancy Chiriboga and her husband Doug. As we were eating, Nancy mentioned that Harry's was a favorite haunt of one of Santa Fe's most famous residents, actor Gene Hackman. Now I am a huge Gene Hackman fan. Whether it's "The French Connection," "Hoosiers," "Mississippi Burning" or "Unforgiven," I think he's among our finest and most versatile actors ever. He's comfortable in leading roles or supporting roles, and is willing to play good guys, bad guys and anything in between. So, for the remainder of the meal, I scanned the face of every guy who walked in, hoping it would be Gene Hackman. Alas, there was no Gene on this day. In 2003, we went to Clint Eastwood's place in Carmel, Calif., as we heard he frequently visited there as well. We were no more successful then.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "Moon Dreams," by Miles Davis. Jazz had not yet surfaced in the random song of the day, but now that it has, I'm glad it came courtesy of Miles Davis. This song is off the terrific soundtrack to Ken Burns' "Jazz" series. If you're not a jazz fan, but are looking for a primer, the soundtrack from the Burns show covers of wide range of jazz types and eras. My personal favorite Miles album is "Bitches' Brew," a groundbreaking work that invented the fusion genre. I'm also a big fan of "A Kind of Blue" and "In a Silent Way," two much mellower but equally influential albums. Davis was never afraid to experiment, which also meant he made some stuff that hasn't held up well, but that's a small price to pay for his accomplishments. My other favorite jazz albums: "My Favorite Things," by John Coltrane; "The Inner Mounting Flame," by the Mahavishnu Orchestra; and "Thelonius Monk Quartet With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall." Trivia note: Coltrane died in my hometown of Huntington, N.Y. in 1967, the year I was born.
- Most-Played Albums: We stuck with shuffle play most of the day, making the types of music we heard as unpredictable as the weather.
- Lunch: Harry's Roadhouse, Santa Fe, N.M.: Harry's is a Santa Fe landmark, and we met Nancy and Doug there. It's in a great location, at the foot of a mountain, and was jammed. Jim Nutrition Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5). This was my best meal in a while, as I had a cup of mulligatawny and a tuna salad sandwich. Restaurant Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5). My sandwich was good, as was Joan's chicken Caesar salad. Harry's Road House had a tough act to follow on dessert, since the coconut cream pie we had had the night before at The Plaza Cafe was so incredible. That said, Joan had no trouble consuming the enormous piece of lemon meringue pie that was put before her.
- Dinner: KFC, Durango, Colo.: There wasn't a whole lot to look at between the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and Durango, so by the time we got to Durango, we were starving, But being this was Easter Sunday, and it was approaching 9pm, we had few options. We chose KFC based on a one crtieria only: it was 100 feet from our hotel. Jim Nutrition Rating: 2 stars (out of 5). I got a one-piece breast, and added mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese as sides. The biscuit was stale and the chicken didn't taste as fresh as it could have. Good news: It was a pretty small meal. Restaurant Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5, on the fast-food scale).
- Quality Inn Durango, Durango, Colo.: At $59, this was the cheapest hotel room of the trip, and also probably one of the smallest. The bed takes up half the room, and the walls are thin. As I write this, I can hear the guy in the next room snoring. Having said that, the bed is perfectly fine, and we are parked right outside the door. Hotel rating: 3 stars (out of 5, on the budget hotel scale).
COMMENT OF THE DAY
- Today: The San Juan Skyway, and Mesa Verde National Park.
- Tomorrow: Four Corners, Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly.
- The Day After Tomorrow: Grand Canyon and on to Las Vegas.
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTO