Thursday, October 28, 2010

Road Trip

Ruins at Chaco Canyon

A few weeks ago our good friend Diane came into town from San Fransisco. She loves to bike and have adventures more than we do, so we took a week off of work, loaded up the bikes and camping gear and headed north. Our first stop was Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The weather was beautiful and, as you can see by the photos, the sky was an incredible shade of blue. We arrived in the late afternoon and available sunlight restricted our hike to about 4 miles. We saw ruins, petroglyphs and some interesting lizards.

The thing which most surprised me was that the buildings were not made of adobe brick. I had assumed they were because that is what is predominantly found in and around Albuquerque. True, Chaco Canyon is not anywhere near Albuquerque, but I had become accustomed to that building style. The Chaco buildings were, in fact, built of rocks with what resembled an adobe-esque mortar. They were stunning and I wish we had seen some truly great great houses which are present in the park. Our time was limited and we are definitely planning another trip back. Although camping was allowed at the designated campground, it was far busier than we expected so we continued to Durango and made camp in the national forest.

Bright and early the next morning we broke camp and headed out of town. Desintation: Fruita, Colorado. Fruita is renowned for it's miles and miles of singletrack mountain biking. It is in the high desert with incredible scenery and the people who live in Fruita are welcoming to cyclists. The drive took us through golden aspen forests and old mining towns until the landscape began to change. The aspens gave way to red rocks and sage.  Here is our campsite, which was just a few pedal strokes to several trailheads.

This was Diane's first time on a mountain bike and she was fantastic! She even rode clipped in. As would become our routine, we arrived at the trails around 3:30. With daylight running short, we made the most of it, getting in about 10 miles and returning to camp just as the sun set. After a meal of homemade pita bread and commercially made Tasty Bite Indian, we crawled into our sleeping bags and slept soundly, dreaming of more rolling singletrack with sweeping vistas.

The next morning we drove over to the Kokopelli trail system just outside Fruita. This was some of the most incredible riding I have ever done due to both the scenery and the quality of the trails. The Kokopelli trails are right along the Colorado River, atop and within red rock canyons.

My newish digital camera is on the fritz, so I brought along my old camera that has seen better days. Of course a point and shoot can never capture the true beauty of a place. The first few trails we rode were undulating and pretty fast. Pure fun. Diane felt more at ease on the bike and Lane and I could not keep up with her. 

Here she is about to take off toward the canyon wall.

As the hours ticked by, the sun rose higher and we started to cook. This trail system is very exposed and luckily we had enough water to keep us going. Unfortunately, the glaring sun was no match for my point and shoot and all of the gorgeous views became washed-out.

You'll have to use your imagination.

Although we saw several riders and the area is popular with bike tours, the trails were not crowded. We did encounter a few international riders. The cross country team from France were as equally dumbfounded by us on our antique rigid bikes as we were by their matching racing kits. We also brushed shoulders with denizens of the UK, New Zealand and Australia.   With so many trails to choose from, it was rare to run into anyone and, if you did, it was a brief passing.

Although Fruita was fantastic, the road called. We broke camp and headed east. After a few hours' drive we decided to camp at Black Canyon National Park. Never heard of it? Neither had I. It is pretty small, by national park standards, but is packed with beauty. The Black Canyon rises over 2,000 feet off the floor of the Colorado River. The river continues to carve it even deeper each year. Early the next morning we walked the interpretive chasm trail to Painted Rock and the canyon's edge.

Thanks to the interpretive brochure, we learned that the metamorphic rock of the canyon walls was formed by two volcanic events. The first created the black rock. The second was of a thicker lava that squeezed in the cracks like toothpaste. It is pink and crystalline, sort of like granite. We watched the canyon change as the sun rose.

Can you tell that it was cold? Temperatures were forecast to be around freezing.

A birthday kiss
Did I mention that this was the morning of my birthday? After a breakfast of hot coffee and meusli the car was packed up yet again and pointed east. In the early afternoon we arrived in Salida, CO. Salida is a sweet little town. Their economy depends to a degree on tourism from outdoor enthusiasts yet, despite this, the town has a very authentic vibe. Some other Colorado towns that cater to tourists go for the "old west" theme or are covered in gift shops. Not Salida. The downtown is thriving with a variety of businesses that are for locals and tourists alike. For a town this small, they can support 5 cafes and 4 pizza shops! They also have a restaurant that fed us the most delicious meal we had all had in a long time (and I don't mean since the trip started. I'm talking about the best meal in months.)

My birthday dinner was at the Laughing Lady in downtown Salida. Many of the dishes used locally-sourced items and all of it was incredibly delicious. We started with a lightly dressed salad since we were all having nutrient withdraw. Road food tends to be heavy on the carbs, low on the greens. A duck eggroll appetizer with a light and spicy dipping sauce was just the right amount of crispy, spicy and sweet. Diane sweet talked our server into a side of the hot potato and green bean salad that was covered in soft goat cheese and swimming in garlicky butter.  Lane had a buffalo burger with homemade shoestring fries. I had a pork chop with creamy mashed potatoes over an ancho-squash sauce with grilled vegetables and a cranberry apple slaw and Diane had the chicken papparadelle pasta that had a rich, garlicky broth and roasted squash. We felt ok with this meat fest since all of their meat comes from humanely-raised, local farmers who feed their animals the way nature intended.

This meal came after a long day on the road and a great 6 miles of singletrack on part of the rainbow trail. With our bellies full and our down parkas at the ready, we climbed into bed along Bear Creek, hoping the eponymous creature wouldn't make an appearance.

With frost on the ground and a need to warm up we hit Cafe at Dawn, a former auto shop, complete with roll-up garage doors, for a very strong cup of coffee. After consulting the trail guide we decided to take a jaunt north to ride an abandoned rail road track that serviced the silver mines. Most of our rides began after 3pm and this one was no different. The drive to the trail head passed by a ghost town. We were excited to check it out but once we arrived were incredibly disappointed. The "ghost town" was privately owned and in various stages of being renovated. There was a small hotel and an oddly large number of tourists. We had hoped for authentic ruins but would have to find those further up the road. At various points on the drive we passed by what remained of the mining industry, including a building that leaned very precariously into the road. We couldn't figure out what kept it from falling into the canyon.

This was the view that greeted us at the trail head. Note the snow.

This may have been a view of a peak in the Collegiate range. Many of these mountains are over 14,000 ft.

This trail was supposed to be an easy ride complete with interpretive signs describing the railway and the mining industry. What we experienced lived up to those expectations but what we didn't anticipate was that the trail would also be covered in snow. Initially we thought that was because we were in the shade but the snow continued, sometimes obscuring the remains of the wooded railroad ties. The ride was slick and it's never a good idea to ride on wet ground as it can cause ruts. So, feeling slightly defeated, we headed back after 2 miles and had a delightful picnic watching the moon rise.

In desperate need for a shower we thought about hitting one of the many hot springs in the area. The two spots we called were a bit pricey and in a resort-type environment so we headed back to town to give the Salida Hot Springs Community Aquatic Center a try. This was not a disappointment. The Aquatic center pipes in water from a mineral hot springs about 7 miles away and has been in operation since the 1930s. Part of the building originates from that time. Truly a community space, this felt better to us than some touristy resort. The showers were fantastic and the soak in the large pool was even better.

After another cool-night's sleep we started our journey back to Albuquerque. At around 3:00 we started the slog up Aspen Vista and miraculously made it to the car before sunset. I say miraculously because the start of the trail was clogged with leaf-peepers and we stopped near the top to help someone with a flat. His companion was incredulous that we don't have "modern" mountain bikes at home. Truth be told, after 7 miles uphill on a rocky, gravelly road and 2 fast, steep miles down similar terrain, I was starting to think he had a point.

Tired, we piled back into the car for the final stretch back home. While we love camping and a life on the road, it was great to be in our little house-with a kitchen, a shower, and a non-mesh roof over our heads. The next morning we couldn't see our breath after getting out of bed and could make coffee without wearing gloves. 

Life's little pleasures.

Diane, we miss you and hope you'll be back for more adventures this spring!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fall's Bounty

I love this time of year--cooler temperatures, the way the light hits the trees and the food. Now is the time for green chile and I can tell it's going to be my harbinger of fall. New Mexico is known for its chile ("Red, green or Christmas?") and for good reason--it's delicious. It also smells divine as it's roasted in large metal drums outside just about every grocery store and market. We live pretty close to a little grocers and when the wind is just right we catch a whiff of roasting chile. The charred skin and warm smell practically cause me to salivate.

This is what is used to roast a huge bag of chile. The drum is connected to propane and is rotated with a crank on the side.
(Photo courtesy of

It's a different feeling than when the General Foods plant a few miles away is making some artificially flavored fruit cereal. That smell is really nauseating, yet it brings back some sort of childhood memory. These kind of cereals were not allowed in my house growing up, so I'm not sure where that memory comes from, but it's definitely there.

Squashes are also flooding the market and it's finally cold enough to feel like I can roast one without sweating to death. Today I made a spaghetti squash "lasagne" with a fresh tomato sauce. It was so delicious with a side of tatsoi and a creamy carrot soup. Kabocha, acorn and delicata squash are filling up the countertop!

Peaches and plums have given way to apples and pomegranates. I spent the morning processing pomegranates into juice for future jam/syrup projects. It's pretty labor-intensive to extract the seeds and juice. I was reminded of saffron and wondered if pomegranates are the fruit equivalent. We now have 2 ice cube trays full of pom juice in the freezer. Maybe a pomegranate-prickly kombucha is in order...
Definitely the tastes of fall.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

What We've Been Up To

This is our view of Sandia on the ride home from the co-op.

Blogging was much easier before I started grad school and a new part-time job. While I'm grateful for the education and employment, I miss having the time to tell you about our goings-on. In addition, our  camera is on the fritz and it's just not as fun to write without accompanying pictures.

An update:

We've been getting out on our bikes most weekends and even a time or two mid-week. Our last cycling adventure was both thrilling and chilling (literally and figuratively). More details on that may follow soon. I'm attending New Mexico Highlands University in their Special Education graduate program. After this school year I will have an endorsement in gifted education and be 2/3 finished with my special education certification. All of my courses are online which provides a lot of flexibility and I'm learning quite a bit in this field. My new job is at Mountain Mahogany Community School, a lovely charter school. They are heavily influenced by Waldorf education and the climate/environment is great. They have a gardening teacher who I volunteer with once a week as well as a handworks teacher that does knitting, felting and sewing. I assist in the 5th and 6th grades with two wonderful teachers. In addition I will be doing a science club where I taught last year. They have a beautiful wildlife sanctuary on campus which will serve as the club's outdoor classroom. I may also do some other class trips to the sanctuary depending on budget. I'm looking forward to it!

The weather here is cooling down--crisp nights and warm days. The Balloon Fiesta begins this weekend and I'm looking forward to seeing the sky dotted with bright balloons. One (accidentally?) landed near campus a few days ago and was a very exciting beginning to the school day. We have planted four fruit trees (Green Gauge Plum, Wealthy apple, Garnet Beauty Peach and Chinese Apricot) and our acequia irrigation is up and running. Soon our neighbor's apple tree will be ready to harvest and I'll be putting up a variety of apple goodness. Stay tuned.

Next weekend a good friend of ours is coming in from San Fransisco. We'll take a week off from work to go into Colorado and around New Mexico cycling and camping. All is good in our world and we hope in yours, too!