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Thursday, November 14, 2013


Steve Cole comments on his recent vacation.

For years, I have driven to the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary every October to be "Chef Steve" and prepare the wolf buffet for their fundraiser. Every year, I have practically begged Leanna to "take a few extra days and take a side trip and see something" before going home. Every year, she said "no" because she was tired and wanted to go home. It got to the point that I couldn't even remember what one was supposed to do on a vacation. (We considered going to Branson but could not find any shows we both wanted to see.)

This year, Jean wanted to go along and wanted the side trips. Maybe that's what convinced Leanna to take the extra time (and maybe that's what convinced Steven Petrick to tag along and do most of the driving) or maybe Leanna just wanted a decent vacation. We haven't had one since 2007 (when we went to Vegas to get married again to celebrate our 30th anniversary) but even that trip was a disaster as we got very sick and limped home driving a few hours a day before crashing in a hotel. We went to England a few years ago but that was partly a business trip (although Stonehenge and London were well worth seeing).

I did most of the planning in a general sense (the route) which began with the wolf thing and ended in Raton (both things I wanted to do). I let Jean and Leanna pick any stops along the route they wanted. They decided to stop and see the little dinosaur museum in Tucumcari on the first day, and I was quite okay with that. On the morning after the wolves, I ran Jean the 15 miles west to the Arizona border so she could see another state she had never visited. She came away disappointed that we didn't take a few hours to see more. Meteor Crater was within range, but not if we planned to see Albuquerque that afternoon.

I had allocated an entire day for Albuquerque but the ladies checked the tourist books and found nothing there they wanted to see, so we went to Los Alamos instead to see the (fascinating) nuclear museum. We didn't have enough time there before they closed and plan to see it again on a future trip.

We had plans for the day in Santa Fe that collapsed when the museum we wanted to see was not open. Instead, Steven Petrick stayed in the hotel to read while I went with the ladies to take a tram tour of the city, and walked over to see the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi and the miracle staircase at the Loretto Chapel.

We saw the museum the next day and then took the scenic drive north along the Rio Grande Gorge to Taos, then around the Enchanted Circle to Red River and Eagle's Nest, then through Cimmaron Canyon (where I spent most of my summers as a boy) and on to Raton. I should mention that we stopped at a national park office in the Rio Grande Gorge (just to use the bathroom) and the nice lady told us about a secret road through the deepest part of the gorge that led us to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge near Taos (a miracle of engineering I wanted to see again). Getting advice on secret scenic routes was something I have never done before, and it added a note of spontaneity to the trip (and saw some great scenery we'd have never known was there.) The trip through Cimmaron Canyon was somewhat upsetting as big parts of the canyon were full of junky human habitation that was not there the last time I was (decades ago).

On the way to Raton we saw a herd of well over 200 buffalo (also known as American Bison) but nobody had a camera out and (being the end of a long day of driving) it never occurred to anyone to stop the car, turn around, and drive one mile back to get a photo.

The next day we met one of my lifetime goals and drove to a spot where a few feet up a hillside you can touch the KT Boundary, the iridium layer from the time the dinosaurs died. (Creationists think this layer is the clay from Noah's Flood, which is when they agree that dinosaurs died.) It was a hands and knees operation to get past the boulders and the only way to actually touch the boundary layer was to lay down on the hillside (which was too unstable to allow anyone to simply walk up there and crouch down). Photos show me on my belly while Steven Petrick stands beside me, but even he admitted that he could not have reached down to touch the boundary without the unstable hillside coming out from under his feet.
We were at a loss what to do on "Raton Day." There wasn't much in Raton. We drove down the historical district (5 minutes) and did the KT thing (30 minutes). We were actually thinking of going back to the hotel to spend the afternoon playing a game that we had brought along. We decided to take an hour and run over Raton Pass into Colorado because Jean had never been there. We stopped a the State tourist office and a nice lady told us about another one of those secret sightseeing trails past lakes, forests, old mines, and interesting geology. That took a couple of hours and filled the afternoon quite nicely.

On the last day we stopped on the drive home to see Capulin Volcano, a perfect cinder cone you can drive to the top of. There is a paved trail around the rim, but it's pretty steep and has no handrails. The intrepid Steven Petrick completed the circuit but none of the rest of us felt like trying it. (Given my weak leg that has never healed, it was pretty much not going to happen for me.)

One aspect of the trip that was interesting was "adventure dining." Now, going out to lunch is a big frakking deal for me because I like food, but my idea of fine dining is pretty low-key (e.g., Wendy's). When Leanna and I travel, we rarely consider a local restaurant, preferring chains because of my food allergy problems. Jean, on the other hand, considers it a lousy vacation if she doesn't eat at places they don't have at home (i.e., no chains). This had mixed results, and we all had some good meals and some bad meals and chain vs. local really had no correlation. I had bad and good meals from chains and good and bad meals from locals. I have long since learned to include some substantial food in the snack cooler just in case I have to skip a meal at a restaurant.

The word "recreation" literally means "re-creating yourself" by clearing your head, resting, refreshing your spirit, and getting rid of some of the stress of ordinary living. The trip was a considerable success on every front, and we're already discussing plans for a future trip together.