A Tenth Anniversary Vacation for Abby and Richard
The Drive West: Haboob, Hat and Hoodie
Abby and I packed our Chihuahuas, Max and Sierra, and the rest of our travel gear in her truck and headed west toward our first destination, Santa Fe, New Mexico, on a trip to Moab, Utah, where we got married ten years ago.
At the New Mexico border, we stopped at a travel plaza called Russell’s, which replaced a “Café Motel” ruin I photographed many years earlier. Russell’s included an extensive gift shop, where Abby found and bought a new hat and hoodie, which she ended up liking so much she wore both for the rest of the trip. Russell’s also included a surprisingly large free car museum.
As we rejoined I-40 westbound, we were greeted by rain and a powerful windstorm, which generated several dust storms that resembled haboobs. At one point, we were forced to slow to about 35mph and turn on our hazard flashers.
We rolled into Santa Fe well after dark.
Taos Pueblo, Fry Bread, Quail and the High Country
Taos Pueblo was first in my agenda. I recall that on my 1999 vacation, Villanueva, I was discouraged by the price of admission, $16, and the littered appearance of the entrance, but this time I felt it was worth a look, and I was glad. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Taos Pueblo is northeast of Taos, New Mexico. Despite crowds of tourists and photographers like myself, the people of the Pueblo were friendly and eager to tell their stories.
The only place you can go at Taos Pueblo that you aren’t allowed to photograph is inside the Catholic Mission (Abby and I discovered this same policy 11 years ago at Acoma Pueblo), which has several boldface signs in the atrium warning that anyone taking photos risks having their equipment confiscated. The reasons for this policy are a bit nebulous to me, but I respect it.
I bought and tried some fry bread after seeing two women emerge from a shop claiming it “just melts in your mouth.” Their assessment was correct, though I found that fry bread might be the least nutritious food I’ve ever consumed.
I saw some small, hand-carved birds on a vendor’s table. The vendor told me they were quail, a bird my wife hunted since she was a child, so I bought her one.
I drove farther north to the Taos Ski Valley. At 9200 feet, the air was clear and cool, which reminded me of many years of skiing in the area, including at Taos and nearby Angel Fire. The aspens were turning deep yellow in the midst of pine, and made several excellent images. I also scoped out a trail head for a future trip to hike Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico.
Driving to Moab, Delicate Arch, Hurrah Pass, Wilson Arch and Looking Glass Rock
I have photographed Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, many times and in many varied lighting conditions, but never at sunrise. When we rolled into Moab the night before and I told Abby and I wanted to be on the trail before sunrise, and that it would be about 40ºF, she wished me well and told me she and the dogs would sleep in.
I arrived at the trail head about 90 minutes before the official sunrise time of 7:25, and was a little surprised to find I was alone. In addition to sunrise, this would be my first time at Delicate Arch by myself. I blasted up the trail at my usual impatient pace. There was a waning half moon, so I only needed the red beam from my headlamp, which preserved my night vision well.
As I rounded the last few corners of the trail, I saw the sky start to take on color, so I muttered to myself, “Push, push, push, push,” and halfway ran the rest of the way to catch the light. It was a good call, since I was able to started shooting right away, and I feel like I made some of my best Delicate Arch images so far.
At one point, a chipmunk approached me, hoping for a handout. It was so tame it actually stood on my shoe and tasted my hand before scurrying off.
On the Arches National Park map of the area, I noted a very interesting outcropping of formations just north of the immediate Delicate Arch area, which I saw and photographed many times, but never explored, so I vowed to check them out this time. It was an easy jaunt, with some fun up and down moves, and a little bit of route-finding. There is a largish natural arch in the midst of it which, according to the kiosk at the visitor center, is called Echo Arch.
I decided to take our Nissan Frontier, whose off-road credentials had only been tested in the snow (which it owned), west on Arches’ Willow Flats road, where it did just fine. After lunch, I took it on another off-road jaunt, up Kane Creek to the Hurrah Pass road. I took it to the pass and turned around. It took the road without a single complaint. Aside from me and a Nissan Xterra, there were Polaris Razor four-wheelers, and a Jeep full of drunk guys. One of them told me, “Dude, this road is very mellow.”
Hurrah Pass is particularly significant because Abby and I have looked down on it from the Anticline Overlook on Hatch Point several times (most recently in 2009) and vowed to one day drive on it.
I wanted to shoot something at sunset, so I headed south and ended up at Wilson Arch, an easy to visit but beautiful feature along U.S. 191 south of Moab. I made nice late-afternoon images of it until a tour bus disgorged a number of iPhone photographers, when I bailed. With a few more minutes of light left, I raced across to nearby Looking Glass Rock (which I last photographed in 2005), where I made it in time to shoot about three minutes of golden moment light, which was enough. The results were very satisfying.
The Road East, Cattle Drives, Aspens and Echoes
Abby and I chose a more northern route, through Durango and Pegosa Springs, from Moab to Santa Fe. Along the way, I spotted a cattle drive making its way down the middle of the highway in Mancos, Colorado. Abby was asleep, but I quickly woke her, and we both leapt out of the truck to chase it down to photograph it. The leader was a young blonde woman in a red cowboy hat. The cowboys made the classic whistles and yips like in the movies.
Farther along, south of Pagosa Springs near Chromo, Colorado, I spotted some nice aspens and cottonwoods turning yellow in the clear autumn light. The spot was quite close to a similar shoot Abby and I made on our first anniversary trip in 2005.
We made several more stops, but one of the most unusual was a feature in the Chama Valley called Echo Amphitheater. I don’t know how I missed it year after year, but I’m glad I finally spotted it. It was just us and a nice family from Austin, Texas, who I photographed with their cameras, and who photographed me with mine. The echoes in the amphitheater were like the echoes you hear in the movies.
Santa Fe Plaza by Night and Day, and Lunch at Madrid
I decided to photograph Santa Fe’s historic Plaza at night, and found the experience very satisfying. Despite the Friday crowds, it made pictures. I arrived before it was fully dark, so I had some nice deep blue skies to accentuate the dazzling lights of the attractions.
The next morning Abby and I returned to The Plaza with the dogs, who wore Abby’s handmade sweaters. Max and Sierra are always popular, but with a festive Saturday morning crowd, it was pretty amazing. There must have been at least 20 people who commented or admired them, some of whom wanted to pet them. The dogs seemed to do just fine with the attention lavished upon them.
Also popular were Abby’s cowboy boots, which looked very Santa Fe-esque, but which she bought at our home in Oklahoma.
Another item on our to-do list was Loretto Chapel, home to a famous spiral staircase. The dogs were welcome as long as they were leashed. A popular wedding spot, Robert‘s sister Deb (who hiked with us in 2011) was married there. When planning our visit, we discovered a made-for-television movie about it called The Staircase, which we ordered for $3 on Amazon.com. The movie was waiting for us when we got home.
By two in the afternoon, we were in Madrid, New Mexico, which I photographed early one morning in March. I predicted Abby would love its shops and galleries and its small-town appeal, and I was right. At one point she said, “I would love to live here.”
We had lunch outdoors at a place called The Hollar, which included free bowls of water for our dogs (and plenty of other people’s dogs), and a dog menu. Abby had fried okra and sweet potato fries, and I had one of the best chili rellenos I’ve ever enjoyed, stuffed with plenty of green chiles.
South of Madrid about ten miles in Golden, New Mexico, I spotted a small, meticulously preserved and/or restored Catholic mission called the San Francisco de Asis Church. Another couple and I were photographing it from outside the gate when a man approached and said he’d let us in to take pictures if we would put something in the donation kiosk. It was a lovely spot in wonderful afternoon light.
By evening we were in the Clines Corners, New Mexico, gift shop, which is Abby’s favorite place to buy souvenirs. To emphasize my sense of celebrity, which I embrace, a couple across the store said, “You’re from Ada! You’re the picture guy!”