In the 23 months that we have lived in Albuquerque, our family has enjoyed exploring the natural beauty of our surroundings. Here in town, we have hiked the foothills and taken the tram to the Sandia peak many times, viewed the ancient Petroglyphs, and walked along the Rio Grande. Just outside the ABQ, we have visited Acoma Pueblo’s Sky City, Bandelier National Monument on our first Santa Fe getaway, and Tent Rocks National Monument with dear friends from Chicago. Downstate we have sledded down White Sands National Monument and descended into Carlsbad Caverns. Just across the state borders we have walked through the Petrified Forest, Grand Canyon and red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, as well as climbed the Colorado mountains in Durango.
Jumping for joy at White Sands National Monument
Living here has produced in us a sense of adventure that begs to be satisfied by the numerous outdoor options at our disposal. When faced with an open weekend, our restless spirits long for new explorations. No doubt this is a result of living in the Southwest. Had we still been in Chicago, we would have been more than satisfied with staying put. Our adventures would have mostly been in the creative culinary world of Chi-town. Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale alone would have filled this past weekend for me! Much to our budget’s delight, we have traded our shopping and eating for breath-taking views and hiking. This time we decided to head north to Taos.
Saturday morning was drizzly and dreary. We knew we were risking a rainy day that could foil all our outdoor plans. We packed a kimbap lunch and determinedly headed out. Driving out of the city, I took it as a good sign that the bison on Sandia Pueblo’s buffalo preserve made an appearance and the Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere” was playing on the radio. Mike did not seem impressed that I could still correctly rap 90% of those unwholesome lyrics, but I knew it was going to be a great day right then and there.
As if to challenge that positive prediction, we saw many of these signs the closer we got to our destination:
I have seen those signs before even in Ohio where I grew up. However, interspersed among the many warnings were actual rocks IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. With all the recent rainfall our state has had, there was also evidence of mudslides that we had to veer around to avoid. I found myself talking to God somewhat earnestly. We continued to where all other traffic and signs of life ceased to exist as the pavement turned to dirt gravel and the road was so bumpy that we felt like we were riding on a jack hammer. Not only that, we were climbing up a steep mountainside with NO RAILING. I could not even look out my window at this point and God heard from me A LOT.
Finally we made it to the top and then to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. We enjoyed our lunch overlooking the steel beauty.
Then we ventured across the bridge.
View of the Rio Grande from the bridge
The sidewalk was only 2-people wide, but Ethan found himself more often walking closer to the road than the railing. He said, “I just discovered that I’m afraid of heights!” It was definitely daunting being up there; I found myself weak in the knees at different times. Connor, on the other hand, was jumping up and down, sticking his feet through the railing and trying to climb up so that Ethan and I were constantly telling him to stop.
Ethan discovers his fear of heights
I felt queasy taking this pic of Mike on the middle lookout
From there we drove to Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. We stopped at the Wild Rivers Visitor’s Center where a kind grandmotherly volunteer gave us a map of the area. She pointed out the most popular stopping point, the La Junta overlook. When Mike asked if the kids could do the trail there, she said without hesitation that it would be too hard for them. We decided to stop for the view anyways.
Overlook of where the Red River & Rio Grande merge
We went to look at the difficult La Junta trail. It was a steep 800 feet zig-zag descent into the gorge. It starts where we were and ends where the rivers meet (see above picture). The only siding was at the very beginning where a tiny rock wall as tall as Connor’s knees would still not prevent a topple down to death.
At the beginning of the trail
We started to walk down a little ways until all sidings disappeared and the trail’s danger forced Mike to scout ahead. He returned agreeing with the grandmother that this trail was probably not safe or doable for the boys. Connor and Ethan loudly protested. They insisted they really wanted to hike it knowing it would be difficult. How could we stifle their adventurous spirits? Even with the possibility that we would be carrying them back up, we decided to honor their admirable (or crazy) desire to try.
There were times Ethan held my hand and Mike forced Connor to hold his. There were times each of us slipped a little. There were times Ethan sincerely stated variations of this sentiment, “I hope we make it out alive!”
Just inches away from death off a cliff.
We all had long sleeves and pants in anticipation of a cloudy, rainy day. It was sunny and warm. Ethan was determined to go all the way to the river because he wanted to dunk his sweaty head in it. However, when we got to the river’s edge, I would not allow the boys that dunking. Most parents would probably tell their kids to be careful near the strong current of rapids. My dramatic self had to shout, “IF YOU FALL IN, YOU WILL DIE!!” They had to go one at a time just to wet their hands and wash their faces in the cool water while Mike held firmly onto them. We sat respectfully by the Red River and let the loud sound of its rushing waters quiet our souls while we rested.
The rapids are deafeningly loud yet calming here.
Two GoGurts and apple squeezers later, we started the real challenge of going the 1.2 miles back UP. Staring at the top of the gorge from where we were, I seriously wondered how we were going to make it back. To add to my paranoia, there was no cell service in the entire area so we could not call for help if anything happened. We told the boys that we would stop and take a break at every shaded area. Every other shaded area would be our water break. Some may think the boys slowed us down, but they actually allowed us to soak in the beauty more. Connor was amazed at the roots of this tall tree at one shade stop back up the steep climb.
Majestic trees like these are less seen in our desert neighborhood.
At another point we saw two soaring birds flying near us. They were probably circling us and thinking, ‘There is our dinner once those losers die trying to get back.’ Even if they were hungry predators, they were gracefully beautiful.
They flew close enough to grant us spectacular views of their soaring bodies.
With about a third of the way left, we noticed dark storm clouds gathering by the trailhead. At first Ethan thought it would feel great to get rained on until Mike said the lightning would not be so great. Ethan then wondered aloud if it would be better to die by burning in a lightning-induced wildfire or plummeting to death off the side of the cliff. With such pleasant thoughts in mind, we tried to make those shade stops a little shorter.
Finally, we finished! I was so impressed by these little guys who braved against the odds and conquered a difficult trail. That incline up was no joke, and they hardly complained as they breathed heavily and commented on their rapid heart rates.
So proud of these hiking champs!
While we were driving out of the park, the ominous clouds delivered their promise and water drenched the whole region. We were thanking the Good Lord for the perfect timing. During the drive into downtown Taos, the boys were completely silent having no energy for their usual lively banter. At Doc Martin’s inside the historic Taos Inn, Mike and I rewarded ourselves with a draft pint and glass of red. I inhaled the entire plate of my blue corn crusted chile rellenos platter. It may have been my first time wearing yoga pants and workout clothes out to dinner, but that elastic waistband sure came in handy. Mike devoured his rabbit and rattlesnake sausage dish. The boys’ reward was their after-dinner apple-blueberry pie and vanilla ice cream. We drove back to Albuquerque fully satiated. During the vast open stretch between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, Ethan was psyched to see the Big Dipper brightly within reach outside his car window.
Doc’s blue corn-crusted chile rellenos
Mike summed up the day by saying we almost died several times. Our bodies were exhausted. We bonded with nature. We surprised ourselves with what we could endure. We saw gorgeous new sites. In other words, it was a great day.