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Trip Report Durango, Mesa Verde, Taos, Santa Fe, and Lots of Fun

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Thanks to all of you who provided information that helped with our trip. May this be useful to people lucky enough to be going to this area in the future:

ABQ to Farmingdale: After our flight, we (me, DH, and daughters ages 18 and 21) drove to Kokopelli’s Cave B&B (www.bbonline.com/nm/kokopelli). It was a splurge for us, but what a great and different place to stay! It’s a man-made cave in the side of a cliff (and so, completely dry) that’s been outfitted as a spacious one-bedroom apartment. We enjoyed grilling dinner on the terrace and watching first the beautiful sunset (the cave looks west over the Four Corners area and Shiprock) and then a ringtail cat eat outside our window. Sleeping in a cave was cool (literally and figuratively), and we loved the stacked-stone waterfall shower. The kitchen has Cont bfast and lunch fixings.

Durango: Here we enjoyed an afternoon of walking around town and poking our noses in shops and galleries. We especially liked A Shared Blanket, packed with reasonably priced art, gifts, and jewelry near the train station. Dinner at the Cyprus Café was yummy, and the Comfort Inn--what you’d expect: a clean, well-kept chain link--was fine. We couldn’t splurge every night.

Next day was the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The scenery, especially after you climb out of Durango and get up in the mountains away from the road, is beautiful. A gorgeous gorge, beautiful alpine rushing river (snowmelt), elk. The ride is especially good for train-lovers, but it’s long (3 ½-4 hours each way) and pricey, not counting the souvenirs they hawk. Our solution was to split two tickets. One daughter and I took the train up while DH and other daughter drove (which took much less time). We met for lunch in Silverton, a touristy old mining town, then swapped places for the return. It was perfect. If you have a car and can split your group, I highly recommend it. Stop at the overlook at the top of the pass for a beautiful view.

Mesa Verde: We stayed at Far View, a pretty standard aging NP lodge, but it’s worth it to stay in the park, assuming you’re not doing MV as a day trip, which I think gives it short shrift. We allowed 1½ days so we could do all 3 ranger tours: Cliff Palace and Balcony House on day 1 and Long House (on Weatherhill Mesa, a good drive away) on morning of day 2—plus time for extra exploring. For us, it was just right. The history of the Ancestral Puebloans is fascinating. At times I wondered if the rangers were stating speculation as fact, but I’m not sure it matters. The cliff dwellings are remarkable, and climbing the ladders and squeezing through tight passages was fun, even though I’m normally afraid of heights. Book the first tour of the day, so your group has the site to yourselves, if only briefly.

Taos: This was our longest drive but through some beautiful landscape. It’s slower going than you expect, up and down and around endless curves, so don’t be in a rush. Coming into Taos, we passed the funky Earthship community (we were too late to tour) and drove over the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge—both wonderful in their own ways. My family walked over the bridge, but here my fear of heights kicked in.

We stayed at Casa Europa (www.casaeuropanm.com), a charming B&B outside the center of town with great hosts/owners, our own casita with full kitchen, and the friendliest B&B cat (Mrs. Dash) you’ll ever meet. Apparently, guests frequently offer to take her home.

Taos day #1 was spent at Taos Pueblo and the plaza area. The pueblo is much more interesting than I expected. Included in admission is a short tour, led by a pueblo member, covering a little history, religion, and adobe architecture. The people were friendly, and we did buy some handcrafts.

“Taos” day #2 was spent north of town on the Take a Llama to Lunch trek. It was unquestionably the highlight of our trip. The llamas are cute and expressive. Two people share a llama, who carries your extra clothes, water, and the yummy healthy lunch that Wild Earth (www.llamaadventures.com) provides. We loved hiking up along a stream, through aspen groves and meadows, accompanied by these funny creatures that occasionally make noises like Chewbacca. Stuart, the owner and guide, enthusiastically shares his love and knowledge of the area. If you like the outdoors and unusual experiences, try this. For photos, see link below.

Santa Fe: We stayed at Inn of the Governors based on forum recs and it was great, only a couple blocks from the plaza. Our room was comfortable and spotless and had some nice local art/crafts. In addition to the usual breakfast and afternoon sherry, we got a special deal, $25 credit for the pub, which goes a long way. All 4 of us had dinner for $25 each night. The down side was that we didn’t sample other SF restaurants.

SF day #1, we wandered around the plaza area, looking at art and crafts at shops, galleries, and street vendors. The different Native American pottery styles were especially cool. Since we’d watched the movie Georgia O’Keeffe beforehand, we were looking forward to the GOK museum but were disappointed at how little of her art is on display. The main exhibit was mostly other artists. Away from the plaza, we checked out Kowboyz and Double Take (a large consignment store with lots of cool stuff) for used cowboy boots. We didn’t buy any—and neither place was a bargain—but it was fun to look. We loved the pottery at Rainbow Gate, on Sandoval. Amazing colorful glazes.

SF day #2 we went to Tent Rocks (also based on forum recs). The odd cone-shaped formations make it another of those “Wow, I’ve never seen anything like that” places (for photos, see link below). Though very cool, this place was very hot—much hotter than SF. We should have gone early in the day. Some of us didn’t have it in us to make the strenuous hike to the top, so we stopped before the big climb and hung out in the slot canyon, which was cool and breezy. If you go, go at least that far.

Our last morning we stopped at the interesting International Folk Art Museum on our way back to ABQ. Note: there is cheap gas at pueblo stations along I-25.

Some general comments:

Altitude and humidity: There was plenty of the former, not much of the latter. Always have your ChapStick handy, and yes, drink plenty of water. We brought a Camelbak and used it constantly, even when we weren’t hiking. It made drinking easy, and we didn’t leave behind all those plastic bottles. I was prepared for being more winded than at sea level. It feels like someone hid the oxygen. I was not prepared for my intermittent weeklong nosebleed, though, something I never had other summers I spent out west. We were all happy to feel moisture in the air when we landed back in Philly.

Landscape: It surprised me how much the landscape changed. Leaving ABQ, I was disappointed by the bland, gray scrubbiness (I loved the colors of a previous trip to Zion/Bryce/Grand Canyon), but as we gained altitude it got prettier. The beauty of the desert can be subtle (small blooming cactuses, a camouflaged lizard) or spectacular (an amazing sunset). In CO and on the way to Silverton, the landscape grew lusher, the Ponderosa pines taller, and the snow-capped mountains more majestic.

All in all, a terrific trip. For photos, see https://picasaweb.google.com/103678208962269505756/ColoradoNewMexicoTrip?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCMT4osPL2ZaBfQ&feat=directlink

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