Stage 9: Kingston, NM - Taos, NM

As there was no threat of rain when we hit the sack at our little campsite in the Gila national forest, we pitched our tent without its rainfly to allow a little more ventilation. Without the extra shade of the fly, we woke soon after first light and started shuffling about. I fired up the camp stove to warm up some coffee in my thermos from the day before, and we each had a warm mug to sip from while we broke camp and prepared to head north. Since we drove in and made camp in the dark, we hadn’t been able to appreciate the beauty of the area we drove through to arrive there. Still in the Rio Grande valley, the area was mostly dry with some wild, rocky landforms, but our little campsite was on the banks of a feeder stream and was fairly well forested.

The drive across the vertical axis of New Mexico was a great deal less interesting than the drive across Texas, but was about half as long, and we made it all the way to Alameda before the voracious cravings for breakfast food kicked in. We found a little place, right on the main downtown street called the Fresh Tortilla Company that made its own delicious tortillas, salsas and such. We each got huge servings of delicious breakfast food and took them to go. We wandered the town for a while looking for a nice place to eat outside and found the campus of a small community college with some shady trees and freshly mowed grass. We gorged ourselves on the huge portions of eggs, beans, potatoes, sausage, cheese and salsa, and headed back out on the road.

The drive to Taos was fairly uneventful, but we made good time and pulled into town with plenty of day left to explore. We made our first stop at the grocery store to pick up some food for the night’s camping and lunchtime snacking, then on to the visitor’s center to try to find some information on local trails and campsites. We had already chosen a site in the Carson national forest that looked easily accessible from the highway, but since we came into town with some extra time, we thought we might explore a little, maybe get a ride in, and camp. Unfortunately, the episode to follow became one of the only misadventures of our trip so far.

The map we secured from the visitor’s center showed what appeared to be a fairly thorough overview of the trails in the Carson national forest, so we headed out hwy 64 in search of a particular forest service road that might take us to a worthwhile trail. It wasn’t until we were well into the climb up this bumpy, rocky, forest service road that we realized that all of the “trails” and “rides” listed on our visitor’s center guide were not singletrack, but dirt roads, and that there was no scale at all to the map. How far had we to go on this steep, sometimes rutted climb in our heavily loaded little car before we reached something resembling a mountain bike trail? Long before the road topped out, our frustration started to bubble up. We stopped, ate some turkey & cheese tacos, and reassessed the situation. There was no sense in turning back now, as we had to be getting close to the summit of the mountain we had been steadily climbing. We ate some food to calm our ornery hungriness, took stock of the situation, and decided to press our luck and continue up the mountain road. We eventually reached the summit and Garcia Park, an open area of campsites, grassy meadows, aspen groves and home to a herd of grazing cattle. After some debate and discussion over who wanted to do what, we decided to spend the night in this beautiful place rather than driving back down the mountain to our previously planned campsite.

The beauty of the place started to melt our stress away, and we decided to make a short two-wheeled reconnaissance mission of our surroundings. We rode some forest roads, some doubletrack,

found an Aspen with my sister’s name carved into it,

and took a chance on a section of singletrack trail that was not shown on our map and not marked at its junction with the forest service road. Maybe on another trip this one would be worth exploring more fully, but when the trail is littered with loose rock and tight switchbacks and you have to climb back up anything you descend and darkness is closing in on a mountaintop in New Mexico and the tent hasn’t yet been pitched and BEAR! A baby bear, not any bigger than a small, stocky dog ran across the trail less than 20 feet in front of me. I looked to the left where the little bear had run and saw what looked like a fully grown mama bear, lumbering off through the woods. India was far enough behind me to be out of earshot, so I sat still, listened and watched for any more noise or activity. By the time India rolled up next to me, I was fairly confident that we were safe and weren’t about to be sideswiped or attacked by a mother bear. We rolled on down the trail, down another corner that took us deeper into the area of woods that the bears had run too, and I decided it was time to turn back. We took a few detours on the way back, and returned to camp feeling much better about life in general, but a little worried about the bears. Hopefully the activity of the cows on our little mountaintop would help keep us safe. We pitched the tent,

started our campfire,

and shared a cup of tea before turning in under the beautiful stars with the jangling cowbells to lull us to sleep. I woke a couple of time during the night with tremulous dreams, and once when the herd of cattle was moving right through our campsite, even trying to chew on the corners of our tent! I kicked at the corner and yelled git! And the confused cow seemed to wander on. India nearly slept through it all and I eventually joined her in a deep sleep.