Wild Rivers Recreation Area – Rio Grande del Norte NM

Northern New Mexico (and nearby southern Colorado) is a place that has long fascinated me.  The scenic beauty mixed in with the history, blend of cultures, the art, the food… It is so very different from the rest of the places I typically go in Colorado or the Rockies in general.

Wyoming and Montana may be less populated than Colorado. But the mountain areas feel remarkably similar even in terms of the culture: Brew pubs in tourist towns, old ranchers/farmers in areas, vacation areas, rural areas on the plains, etc.

Northern New Mexico and parts of southern Colorado? Somewhere south of the old Mexican-American border of the Arkansas River there is a subtle shift. The architecture is different. The pace is more laid back. The light does indeed seem a little bit different.  Pinyon and juniper dominate. And Spanish places names become common over Anglo ones.

And if Colorado is mainly an area of new transplants, esp in the Front Range, then southern Colorado and northern New Mexico is  a place where the roots are deep.  The family names go back to before there was a United States and an old dialect of Spanish is still spoken and where nations have been in the same places for nearly 1000 years.

It is a beautiful area. It is not a place for EXTREME activities.  A place where there are multiple lists to check off for accomplishments or where the mountains become a glorified gym. Rather, it is a place to look at the setting sun over the horizon. Or to go far in the backcountry without seeing people. And perhaps stumble upon signs of people who lived in the valley five hundred or more years ago.

I love this area. And always enjoy visiting.

someone feel similar, which is why I think we have so many fond memories of this place.

Due to an issue with the family cat, someone missed Memorial Day Weekend. She still wanted some outdoor time. So we made plans for this trip ,  left Friday afternoon and made the drive to Rio Grande del Norte National Monument – Wild Rivers Recreation Area.

A newer national monument created in 2013, we had been there back in 2011.

After making the suggestion to some friends to visit this place, and hearing how much they loved it, I thought it was time to return.

Our return trip did not disappoint.

We arrived at night with the Milky Way splashed in sharp relief across the dark sky. Once our tent was pitched, someone went straight to bed. I was too keyed up after a drive. I sat down and admired the night sky while listening to the rush of the Rio Grande below.

The following morning, we realized that our campsite was one with amazing views and we were  off by ourselves.

A short walk along the trail brought us to a fantastic overlook.

We followed the trail over the volcanic plain and stopped by the ranger office.

The cactus wildflowers were in full bloom.

We continued to follow the trail and then descended into the gorge.

The Red River was raging.

We made our way to the confluence of the Red River and the Rio Grande.

Whenever I am at the confluence of two rivers, I think of the poem where water comes together with other water by Raymond Carver:

The places where water comes together
with other water. Those places stand out
in my mind like holy places.

With the late spring melt, the water was full of life and energy. So different from the placid place where we visited over four years ago.

At this point, someone had enough of the heat and hiking. She hiked back to the trailhead with its shade, water and picnic tables. I told her I’d hike on to complete the loop back to our campsite and pick her up…air conditioning on full blast!

She was delighted with the idea. And I’d get in my longer hike.

The trail meandered along or by the bottom of the gorge. The Rio Grande was more calm further upstream.

I soon reached the climb out of the canyon, but made an ~one mile round trip excursion to some Ute petroglyphs. Well worth the side trip.

I then climbed out of the gorge, meet up with someone and we then made camp for the evening.

Towards the end of the day, all we did was admire the sunlight from our camp…

And the setting sun over the New Mexico landscape.

A fitting end to a wonderful day.

We were content and happy.

The following morning, we broke camp and went to some last overlooks before making the drive out of the area.

Now it was time to play tourist a bit in Taos.

Another place in particular we have enjoyed over the years.

There is still more we wanted to see in this town.

We made it to Taos by mid-morning. The Mrs did a little shopping (I, along with other significant others it seems, were placated by looking at our phones. 🙂 ) and then we made our way to the Blumeschein house. 

Taos is as much about the art as the native and Spanish culture. And it was nice to see another facet of it on this visit.

LeDoux Street

After playing tourist a bit, we went to a local brew pub for a pint.

Sitting in the shade of the cotton woods, relaxing and drinking a cold beer, I really did not want to leave. I (only half) kiddingly suggested we call in sick Monday, spend a night in Taos and not go home until later the following day. My more pragmatic Central European born someone kiboshed that idea quickly. 🙂

After admitting that perhaps we did have to leave and bring the weekend to a close, we went to a favorite restaurant at the outskirts of town (technically outside of town, really).  No website, a simple black and white menu that is laminated and fresh, delicious and reasonably priced food that was worth the trip. Eating it outside on the edge of a 200+ year-old square? Simply fantastic.

Afterwards, we could not pass up seeing what is one of the most photographed churches in the United States.

Not only did we, unusually, have the plaza to ourselves..but the church was open, too.

There was sense of grandeur and reverence present in this old building. The old statues, tapestries and paintings were impressive. And having been raised Catholic,  familiar feelings from my childhood were evoked. A sense this place was not just an old building, but the center of community where heritage, faith and devotion go back many generations and was linked by ritual and traditions that went deep into the past.   As I’ve quoted from Martin Scorsese before: “I’m a lapsed Catholic. But I am Roman Catholic — there’s no way out of it”

But it was time to leave. Our little mini-vacation was over. We headed back to Colorado and passed the many small towns that make up this area.  Eventually we reached I-25 and the Front Range sprawl was encountered again. The trip was over.

New Mexico will always be a wonderful set of memories for us. And we hope to have chances to make new ones.

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