My friend Larry without his other brother Darryl was saying that in a year or so, after his wife retires, they’ll likely get out there and do some traveling, maybe in the West. So, I asked if he had been out that way very much, and he said he had not. So, I volunteered to tell him about a few of the places I’m familiar with, and I chose to do it in this way. I don’t claim to be well-traveled, by any means, but there are a few places I’ve been that are worth recommending. So, on to the blog post proper! And, these are not presented in any order, other than pointing out highway connections if you should go where I told you.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park http://www.palodurocanyon.com/ This is the Grand Canyon of Texas, located near the town of Canyon, Texas, just south of Amarillo. No, it doesn’t rival the real Grand Canyon in size or depth, but it’s very scenic and it’s just a nice place to visit while you’re in the panhandle of Texas. There are camping areas, or you can just drive around and enjoy the scenery. Also, I highly recommend allowing enough time to attend the musical “Texas” which is performed during the warm months, right there in the canyon. Like Bar-B-Que? They’ll have that for you there, if you’re hungry – show up a bit before the musical starts and dig in!
Capulin Volcano National Monument http://www.nps.gov/cavo/index.htm From Amarillo, head north on Highway 287 to Dumas, TX, then head west out of Dumas, which will take you through Dalhart, then on across the state line to Clayton, NM. It’s about this time you first start to see the mountains of the Sangre de Cristo range, a southern extension of the Rockies. From Clayton, head northwest toward Raton, NM, and a little over halfway to Raton, you’ll come across the turn to Capulin Monument. It is visible for many miles from the main highway, and has a distinctive cinder cone shape. Arriving at the dormant volcano, you’ll go through the visitor gate (might be a small fee), then drive the circular road which spirals up to the top, giving a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. There’s a visitor center inside the cone of the mountain where you can find lots of information about the formation of the area, and there’s a nice informative film. And, if you read the first chapter of James Michener’s Centennial, you’ll learn about the volcanic action that built this entire area. It’s fascinating!
Raton, NM – There used to be horse racing in Raton, but I believe it has gone away. It’s a nice little place, high elevation – the wife and I had considered moving there some years ago, to enjoy the slower pace of life. Raton is a gateway in my little tale – you may head either north or south. North takes you up I25 toward Denver (we’ll talk about that another time), or south, toward the sleepy town of Springer, NM, which is in itself a gateway to the beautiful high mountains of northeast New Mexico, and the village of Red River!
Cimarron, NM – Driving west out of Springer takes you to the little town of Cimarron, NM. It’s not much to see these days, just a few curio shops, a couple of restaurants, and a small community hugging the main road. But, in days past, oh, what a history! Ghosts, gunslingers, outlaws at the St James Hotel! Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._James_Hotel_%28Cimarron,_New_Mexico%29
For those of you involved with the Boy Scouts, you might be interested to learn of the sprawling Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron. http://www.scouting.org/sitecore/content/Philmont.aspx
Cimarron Canyon, Eagle Nest, Red River – As you head west on Highway 64 out of Cimarron, you will soon find yourself in beautiful Cimarron Canyon State Park. It’s a delightful, winding canyon road which takes you through the pine forest and its wonderful, cool, scented air. There is a beautiful mountain stream flowing through the canyon, and you’ll find yourself criss-crossing it numerous times as you make the canyon passage. Stop, have a picnic, take some pictures at the Palisades – an imposing rock formation in the canyon. Test the water…. brrrrr, it comes from melting snow high up on the mountainsides. The road climbs and climbs, fairly gradually, until you go over the pass and find yourself descending into the Moreno Valley, elevation about 8400 feet. If you are on this drive in the autumn, after the tourist crush is over, you might pull over at the top of the pass – get out of your car and just listen. Hear that? It’s pure, unadulterated SILENCE! You may hear a breeze through the pines, but nothing else. Remember it later, when stress levels are high, you’ll treasure the experience!
As you come to the bottom of the pass, you’ll soon drive into the little village of Eagle Nest, NM. A piece of personal history here – I worked at one of the local tourist traps here, my first summer out of high school, WAY back in 1961. A marvelous summer, wonderful memories! Eagle Nest is another of those gateways I keep mentioning – it is part of the “Enchanted Circle”
http://www.legendsofamerica.com/nm-enchantedcircle.html and you could easily drive to Angel Fire http://www.angelfirefun.com/ , or to Taos, NM http://taos.org/ a smaller version of Santa Fe, NM. Anyway, those are stories for another time.
From Eagle Nest it’s about 18 miles to Red River, NM, just follow highway 38, up and over Bobcat Pass, then winding down and down, leading you to Red River. More history from me – I first experienced camping in those mountains way back when I was maybe 5 years old, then later, when I was married, wifey and I went camping there, also.
Red River is a popular destination for folks living in hot, hot, HOT Texas and Oklahoma. In the summertime, there’s an almost constant flow traffic into town, camper rigs with Texas/Oklahoma tags, occupants hanging out the windows, panting, enjoying the COOL breezes! And, there’s just something special about the place; can’t explain it, you just have to go see for yourself. It has a strange and wonderful attraction! 🙂
I wanted to introduce Kate to the magic which is Red River, so a couple of years ago we put together a trip which included two of her daughters, Maya and Ananda. And, as I could have predicted, all three of them fell in love with Red River, and are ready to go again, ANYtime! Red River, NM, the Mountain Playground – that’s how they bill themselves, and I think it just might be true!
Assuming you have visited Red River, next you’ll want to head west out of town, making it down the canyon to Questa, NM, then turning south on Highway 522. This will take you to Taos, NM http://taos.org/, definitely a nice place to visit. They have wonderful shops to browse for things Southwestern, and some really good restaurants (be sure to try Michael’s Kitchen – combination restaurant/bakery). The famous western scout Kit Carson is buried in Taos, and you can visit the Kit Carson Museum. You can also take a side trip in Taos to see the Taos Pueblo http://www.taospueblo.com/ . Pretty neat! Have YOU seen a pueblo dwelling before?
South of Taos, just outside Espanola, NM you’ll find the Puye Cliff Dwellings http://www.puyecliffs.com/ It’s amazing how many different types of evidence you’ll find of early civilizations.
Heading south, you’ll make your way down to Santa Fe, which is like Taos in many ways, but larger. There are many art galleries there, some good stuff on their walls.
Just west of Santa Fe is the Bandelier National Monument http://www.nps.gov/band/index.htm – good place to soak up information about early dwellers in that part of the world.
As you leave Santa Fe, you can pick up I25, which will take you to Albuquerque, and from there head west on I40.
Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park, Meteor Crater, Grand Canyon – As you get into Arizona, you’ll find many more neat attractions on or near I40, as I have indicated in the header for this section. They are all interesting and worth visiting. I won’t try to go into detail about most of these, but regarding the Grand Canyon, I do have one observation to make. Like you, I had seen many many photographs and films showing the wonders of Grand Canyon, and I wasn’t expecting much, really. I had seen the pics, over and over, how neat could it really be? Well, let me tell you – standing there on the South Rim, gazing down into that vast canyon, was (to use that special word), ineffable. I truly cannot say anything other than this. GO SEE IT! Teddy Roosevelt was right – he said, “It’s the one great sight all Americans must see!”
Las Vegas, Zion National Park – Las Vegas must be seen to believed. If you only stop in to a casino long enough to drop a few dollars into a slot machine, if you only wander around, looking…. it’s another world! Drive the Strip, see the amazing things they have built there. I’m betting you won’t forget it!
North out of Las Vegas on I15, you can drive into Utah to see Zion National Park http://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm Beautiful rock formations, great beauty… if you’re that close anyway, you should go!
San Francisco – yes, it’s a long haul to get to San Francisco – you may want to fly there instead of making it a road trip. But, however you do it… GO! I could make you a long list here, all the things you should see and do, but I think you should just go there and explore. Breathe the scented air, soak up the beauty, walk the streets. You’ll thank me!
So, think maybe you can do all this in a weekend? Nah, just kidding. But, if you have a chance to go, maybe to visit 30% of what I have scribbled here, you’ll feel greatly rewarded. I mean, after all, you’ve got *MY* personal recommendation, right? How can you lose??