Highlights: Rio Grande Gorge, Los Alamos, Bandolier National Monument, Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, Sedona and the Sinagua Cliff Dwellings.
The last of the drive from New Mexico to Arizona was magnificent, although two hours up and down winding, two-lane mountain roads with heavy wind blowing made for harrowing driving. The views (which only I could see since Allie was so carefully watching the road) made up for everything – miles and miles of mountains, red rock nearby and black towering peaks on the horizon, topped with low hanging clouds.
As we drove along the Rio Grande Gorge with white water and mountains on both sides, marvelling at each new aspect of this wonderful river, I fell in love with New Mexico. We were fortunate to see it all before the terrible drought plauged the west. When we thought nothing more could surprise us, three huge hot air balloons floated over the desert looking like multi-colored lollipops. Though man-made, they fit into the scenery as if they belonged there.
Because of our natural obsession with getting an early start, we arrived at Los Alamos at 8 a.m. when not another soul was stirring. Nothing opened until 9, but we managed to spend an hour in that incredible town. There are 7,000 employees at all the facilities and research areas so they and their families make up the town. There’s a school, a medical centre, a hospital, and all the housing necessary for the employees. We couldn’t find our way out, even with Sally Mae (we are so friendly now that we named the GPS lady) giving us instructions over and over. Finally we found a man in uniform who said, “You’re in the wrong place, your vehicle is too big for this road, and how can I help you?” He got us a police car, which escorted us out of town. No more talk about the Wild West; it’s the Accommodating West.
From there to Bandelier National Monument, a tribute to Mother Nature and to the Pueblo Indians who lived there thousands of years ago. The walking tour we took was about a mile long (thanks, Rebecca, my personal trainer, for getting me ready), but it was so hot and the altitude so high we had to stop frequently to sit on the log benches and catch our breath. The pueblo was still beautiful, complete with a Kiva, the community area.
TIP: If you plan to do any hiking at all, get your body into shape. Go to the gym, see a trainer, or take long walks every day to get used to exercise. A walking stick or, even better, two, are a good investment. We each had one, and they saved us many a stumble.
The GPS lady continues to be great. She’s patient, she repeats often, and she rings a bell when it’s time to make the turn.
TIP: Do not leave home without a GPS, and it pays to get a good one. It gets you where you’re going and eliminates intra-marriage warfare. If you get lost, you just get mad at the GPS lady who never fights back. She just keeps talking and ringing her bell.
After a day of rest, laundry and shopping in Taos, NM, we drove to Holbrook, Arizona, which, being desert, is arid, clear and cold. Forty-five at night, fifty in the morning, and as the sun gets higher the temperature goes up, and up. By noon it was up to 90. A bit like Maine: cold at night, jacket in the morning, shorts all day, bundle up at night. Only Maine is green and not quite so extreme. Our Unity was parked in a patch of desert, but the AC is terrific, as is the heat, and we were able to put up the awning and sit outside to enjoy the evening breeze as the sun went down.
TIP: If you are just buying an RV, opt for the most efficient air conditioning and heat, even if it means you’ll have to buy less space. You can accommodate to space; you can’t accommodate to drastic temperature changes without help.
Wide-eyed at 6:30, we got up and made breakfast, only to discover that Arizona is on Mountain time but doesn’t do Daylight saving, so it was only 5:30. Since it was a short ride to the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert, we took our time leaving. Musing – why does petrified not only mean dried out but also mean terrified?
The drive was on a road carved into the desert, with beige dried grass, two lonely steer, a pair of antelope, an occasional sad cottonwood, but, just as we were losing hope, there was the Petrified Forest. The museum was closed (too early), but the wonderful 28-mile loop around mile loop around the Park was wide open, with no hint of traffic and dozens of lookouts to stop at. Each had an explanation, some had short walks to the lookout, and some had hikes for the young at heart and feet and backs and knees. We stopped at most, overwhelmed with the beauty, grace, and unworldly petrified rocks, conical rock tepees, and striated flat mesas. The Painted Desert was just that. The desert came to life in the delicious colors of beige, cream, toffee, magenta, caramel, tangerine and raspberry. Acres of red desert carpeted the area, with a view horizon to horizon.
When we said hasta la vista to Holbrook and ole to Sedona, we travelled from the ridiculous to the sublime through endless desert and strong winds, an occasional herd of cattle, one or two green fields, one row of tall cottonwood, and more miles of sagebrush. We were on the Hashknife Pony Express Route to Sedona, with little towns dotted with churches. No adobe here, very few buildings at all, but those we saw were Spanish, not Indian. Finally the mountains, from 12,000 feet altitude to 7,000 feet altitude, with hairpin turns all the way. We drove through Tonto and Coronino National Forests, tall green trees which seemed to go on forever, and then to Sedona. We landed in a lovely RV park, shaded, groomed, and filled to capacity, with the added bonus of finding a man to guide Allie into the backup spot, since there are no pull-throughs here.
On our first evening in Sedona, which never ceases to be beautiful and inspiring, we took a Pink Jeep Tour called Broken Arrow which describes itself as “holding on tight on the heart-pounding descent on the Road of No Return.” Surely an exaggeration, we thought in advance. Not so. The “road” consisted of boulders only. Exhilarating, kookie, fun. The next day we took another Pink Jeep tour to the Sinagua cliff dwellings. A half a mile hike up the buttes and pinnacles of the monoliths (right out of the book) to discover the cliff dwellings. That people found a way to live, to eat, to sleep, to grow food, while tucked into a mountain of rock, was inspiring. It made the RV look like a spa. The hike down reminded us of Machu Picciu. As always, I was grateful to my grand provisioner for bringing our walking sticks. A young man named William (and why not?) became my second walking stick and we arrived down the path, tired but delighted with the trip.
A quick lunch in town and then back to the Sabel for an afternoon of relaxing on the chaises, reading the Sunday Times on the Nook, and picnicking on our picnic table for supper. Next we head to the Grand Canyon. Mr. Gospel, our AAA maven, had warned us not to expect too much. But how could we not, having heard of the Grand Canyon our whole lives? We’d find out.