Hearts and Bones: a leisurely meander along the Sangre de Cristos

20160518_173259_resizedOh, sweet desert rain. That smell of water evaporating off of sagebrush is intoxicating. They say that scent can evoke deeply ingrained emotional memories and, standing at the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge, the sweet mist swirls around me in the stillness and silence, conjuring what I can only describe as love. I know this response is nostalgic; some of the best times of my life have been spent in the high deserts of this country with the people I love most in this world. Central Oregon, Eastern Utah, Northern New Mexico… desert rain on sagebrush brings it all back.

Rio Grande Gorge
Rio Grande Gorge

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, like many New Mexico destinations, is a hidden gem. The Rio Grande, here still wild and relatively unrestricted, cuts a deep gorge through basalt and the desert plateau, plunging almost a thousand feet below the rim. The Red River joins its flow in this gorge, creating a peninsula-like mesa above. We were fortunate to have the place to ourselves this week, with no other campers in the entire campground, and only one group of hikers and llamas on the Arsenic Springs trail for a couple hours. Other than that, our two days in the monument were still and silent, with dramatic storm clouds racing across an expansive sky.

Between intermittent thunderstorms, we hiked down into the gorge and to the Rio itself. The Rio Grande holds some sort of sacred place in my heart that I cannot describe; plunging my hands into her milky chocolate-colored spring flow felt like a pilgrimage. I pressed the red clay beneath my feet, closed my eyes as the sun came out, and listened to the lonely calls of ravens and desert songbirds. And there was that smell again. Just like that, I was home.

As lovely as Colorado can be, I’ve discovered that I miss  New Mexico quite a lot.

Storms across the San Luis Valley at Great Sand Dunes NP
Storms across the San Luis Valley at Great Sand Dunes NP

Before crossing into New Mexico, we (me and my best friend Jessica, along with two of my dogs) visited the lovely Great Sand Dunes National Park. Here, centuries of relentless winds have pushed sand across the San Luis Valley, piling it up against the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Over time, these winds have deposited the tallest sand dunes in North America. It’s a strange sight, enormous sand dunes against a backdrop of snowy peaks.

We camped up at Zapata Falls, a primitive BLM campground 10 miles south of the National Park and at 9,000 feet. From there, we could see across the entire valley to the San Juans, as well as the entire dune field. Again, thanks to stormy weather, we had the place almost entirely to ourselves. The camp host, Jim North, was just settling in for the season, and there was one other party of campers at the other end of the campground loop.

First thing in the morning, we made the short hike from the campground to the waterfall. While initially there was a group of hikers there, they quickly left and we had the place to ourselves to record sounds and footage for our collaborative project. How I love the quiet when other people are not around.

In fact, that mostly what this trip is about. We are, in large part, chasing silence. This is for two reasons:

  1. Jessica and I are working on a couple related creative projects, for which we are recording sounds and video footage. More on that soon.
  2. After two years living in the Denver-Boulder metro area, I am getting a little claustrophobic. I am accustomed to open space, quiet places, and an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. In Colorado, it can be hard to escape the throngs. Even in the mountains, you are surrounded by all the other “outdoor enthusiasts” from the city who have come to do the same thing. There are just too many people. So this trip is providing some much-needed quietude for me to recharge, especially before I head to the Northeast next month. Talk about contrast.

You might be thinking “Wait, weren’t you going to Montana?” And the short answer is yes, we were planning to head to the American Prairie Reserve this week instead of New Mexico. But Mother Nature had other plans. We were informed last week that the reserve was flooded, roads were washed out, and the clay would be difficult to navigate for a while. So we made the decision to drive south instead.

Plans change, and you just have to roll with it. I’m not at all disappointed to be back in The Land of Enchantment.

It’s so nice to be home, even if only for a week.

So today, in Taos, I eat my green chile burrito and breathe deeply in the high desert air. Tomorrow, we might be in Angel Fire, or perhaps Los Alamos, or maybe even the Jemez.

We will see where the sun takes us.



One thought on “Hearts and Bones: a leisurely meander along the Sangre de Cristos

  1. Reuben May 21, 2016 / 12:23 am

    I feel you on point #2, I’ve been feeling it for a while now. Gonna need to make it up damn soon. Enjoy your trip!


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