Taos, New Mexico
When I think of Taos, I think of mysticism. The few times in my life when I looked to astrology to provide some profound answers to life's questions, I seemed to find some connection to this area of New Mexico.
Before I left Miami, upon the advice of a friend, I had a natal birth chart read to determine exactly where the planets and stars were the very moment I entered this world. I did not take the next couple of hundred ($) steps further to have it interpreted, so unfortunately, I don’t know what any of that means. A physical journey trumped a spiritual journey at this point in my life. I wonder if I had gotten the report if I would have come on this same adventure?... Yeah, I think I probably would have.
An important lesson learned on this camping trip was the relativity between temperature and altitude. It's obvious to me that temperature changes with altitude, but when you are looking up the forecast for a particular town and your campsite ends up being 15 miles outside of town, this can mean a 20-degree temperature change. The campsite was around 8,000 feet of elevation. I went from expecting lower 60's to 40! I was chatting with my mom and brother on the phone, my tent was set up, the fire started, and the steak (from my awesome friends and Texas Tech) was on the grill when the sun began to dip, and I could see my breath for the first time.
The next morning as I got into town, I quickly made my way to the nearest thrift shop and stockpiled fleece. The campsite hosts and I had a good laugh later that day over the couple camping next to me that cold night. Apparently they went to their car and turned on the heat around 3 am. They did not stay the second night. I was proud – and thankful for my 30-degree sleeping bag! To me, it was almost like a rite of passage to be on my own (even in a tent in a secluded section of the RV park), slightly uncomfortable but thrilled to be alive.
The campsite hosts warned me about the elk and coyotes in the area when I asked if I should be worried about any bears. I saw lots of cute little prairie dogs (especially along the roadside) but no large animals. However, I heard one of the most startling sounds one night laying in my tent. I awoke from the howling of a coyote, and I soon heard them in surround sound as they talked, pack to pack, along our little mountainside. It was magical.
For my hike, I decided to originate from Taos Village ski mountain because it seemed the most challenging and I hadn't been doing much as far as exercise for a few days. It was the Williams Lake Trail which is in Carson National Forest (this 1.5 million acre forest also surrounded my campsite just East of Taos). It is also home to the highest peak in New Mexico, according to the Forest Service http://www.fs.usda.gov/carson/. Fortunately, I had a couple of maps because each slightly contradicted the next on where the trail would start. I used AllTrails, an app on my phone, but the local Forest Service map described the parking area in more detail. Unfortunately, it did not explain it clearly enough. But after contemplating it in the lower lot and then wisely ignoring the comically large sign that said "NON-FOUR WHEEL DRIVE VEHICLES PROHIBITED," I eventually found the upper parking lot. Don't worry mom(s), as I passed I could see the sign also said from “November-May” in small lettering underneath. Regardless, the road even without snow was terrifying. Loose gravel, switchbacks, potholes, and what I would deem to be unwise inclines all made me question every second of it. When I got to the parking lot, there were a couple of other adventurous sedan-driving folks parked there too. YOLO (you only live once).
The hike was challenging. AllTrails claims it to be 3.8 miles out and back with an elevation gain of 1,013 feet. Taostrails.com http://www.taostrails.com/williams_lake.html says the top lot starts at 10,191 feet above sea level. For my non-active friends and family reading this, all of this stands to mean a very out of breath and tired girl from sea level. Once again, it was all worth the effort and stressful drive. The trail was a spectacular start for my first "out West" hike. For the difficulty, I was surprised at how many people were on the trail. It was B-U-S-Y. And, as an animal lover I feel kind of bad for even saying this, but there were too many off-leash dogs. At the top of the trail, as I sat snapping my pictures and eating my PB&J, two dog owners got in a fight over leashes, and one threatened to pull out his gun. I was a little bit frightened for the other guy, and it detracted from the serenity of a beautiful alpine lake I worked my ass off to have the pleasure to enjoy.
Taos itself was an interesting town and a unique landscape compared to my previous journeys. Alas, I didn't have amazing artwork or jewelry alongside the local jerky and coffee on my shopping list, so I decided to skip the stroll downtown. I also didn't want to get stuck driving back to my campsite in the dark. There was a lot of talk about Elk in the area and a story of a couple of locals who recently took a turn too fast and flew off the road. One couple I met at a bar in town while having dinner told me that the tow trucks don't even bother to retrieve you or your car from the ditches in many of those cases. I have no idea if they were telling the truth, but it seemed like a logical story… and interesting enough for me to share. They may have just been enjoying too many prickly pear mojitos!
I enjoyed my time in Taos, but it didn’t seem like a place I needed to linger. So after two nights, getting reacquainted with car camping and some awesome time enjoying the outdoors, I headed toward Colorado.