My wife Abby and I haven’t had an anniversary vacation since 2016, and were excited as this one approached. Our plan was to find and drive roads that we’d never seen before, particularly winding mountain roads, and our plan worked exactly as we had imagined: we saw things we didn’t expect, and which made great pictures.
We travelled well under blue skies, with Summer the Chihuahua often sleeping in Abby’s lap.
I stopped and rephotographed the Texas Panhandle “peace park,” an art installation I photographed once before, in 2014. It has since been painted in a mostly rainbow theme.
As always, Abby and I were just happy to be on the road together. We rolled into our motel parking lot on Albuquerque’s west side after dark.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and Quarai Mission Ruins
Abby was tired from the driving day, so she sent me on my way. Without a plan of any kind, I got out a map and first drove to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, which is known in some seasons as a bird photography paradise, but I was more interested in the landscape and a potential hike or two.
My first hike of the day was the 2.5-mile Canyon National Recreation Trail, which I had entirely to myself. It was the kind of desert hike I really love, winding deep into Solitude Canyon, then up some steep switchbacks to an overlook from which I could see many miles.
I drove both sections of the auto tour loop, getting out and hiking a number of short trails. Nice color, nice images.
Sadly, the town of Moutainair itself is in the final stages of being destroyed by poverty.
The Quarai Mission site is north and west up a narrow, shoulderless, winding blacktopped state highway, and well hidden from view. It features a short trail and the beautifully preserved Mission church surrounded by ruins. I prowled around the structures in the clear afternoon light, making pictures.
The drive back to Albuquerque was an adventure in bleakness, from the dozens of super-long trains loaded with cargo from China, to the seemingly endless sprawl along the I-25 corridor south of the City. On the way in, I got Chinese food for us from Panda Express.
The High Road to Taos, Driving through Northern New Mexico, and San Juan Riverwalk at Night
Per our rather unspecific plan we grabbed a map and pointed to some roads neither of us had ever taken, and almost immediately it paid off when we accidentally joined the “High Road to Taos Scenic Byway.”
This route was particularly resonant with us because our first vacation together was called The High Road.
This route was dotted with small towns, hairpin curves, bright autumn color, beautiful churches, and not much traffic. The town of Cundiyo had a particularly narrow, winding section of the highway through the community.
In case you were wondering, this route is called the High Road to Taos because the low road from Santa Fe to Taos follows the Rio Grande.
Our route took us northwest out of Taos toward the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, where Abby and I had bought some jewelry from vendors in 2010. This time, though, either it was too cold, or vending had been prohibited, as there were none in the vicinity.
Continuing to Tres Piedras, we stopped at the Old Pink Schoolhouse, which at one time was the home and studio of artist Ken Nelson, who I met briefly there in 2007.
Arriving in Pagosa Springs, I got Abby and Summer settled in for the night and drove to the heart of the town, the San Juan Riverwalk, in hope of making a high dynamic range image of the lights and the river.
It was cold, in the 30s, and I wore my warmest polar fleece pullover, and I was chilly. I took a second look when I saw people in swimsuits down by the water. Soon, however, it occurred to me that all those people were in the water just where the hot springs flow into the river.
Treasure Falls, Wolf Creek Pass, Lobo Overlook, and San Juan Riverwalk
Abby again wanted to relax at the hotel, usually reading, crocheting, and playing with Summer. She told me to go have some fun.
I drove north from Pagosa Springs, hoping to explore sites in the area of Wolf Creek Pass. I’d driven back from Utah through the pass lots of years ago, and this time I wanted to give myself enough time to explore.
My first stop was Treasure Falls, which I had only glimpsed the last time I passed through. There is a large, well-marked turnout, and a short trail to the falls, which I found were mostly frozen. I was early enough that I just barely beat the crowds, who were blundering up the trail just as I was coming down.
I continued toward the pass. I came close to hitting a large buck that leapt into the road right in from of me, but I was climbing and in a 45 MPH speed zone, so we avoided each other.
At Wolf Creek Pass is a three mile road that leads up to Lobo Overlook, which is at 11,731 according to our GPS. The unpaved road had no guardrails, and was packed with snow on the shadow side of the mountain, but it never challenged me or the truck. The view from the top was beautiful, but the midday light was flat, and I only made a few images.
Driving back in the direction of Pagosa Springs, I stopped to make several more images of the amazing scenery.
I drove back to Pagosa Springs and grabbed a veggie pizza at Mountain Pizza and Tap Room. I took the Riverwalk again, and made a few images of the water, but what really struck me as beautiful was a small, apparently unoccupied, church on the road out of town to the south.
Pagosa Springs Steam, South through New Mexico, Lunch at Madrid, and the Plaza at Santa Fe after Dark
Driving through Pagosa Springs on the start of our drive to Madrid, we saw a single hot air balloon in a cold, grey sky. Then, as we got to the center of town, I could see that in the cold and stillness, steam coming off the hot spring water made the town look a little bit like it was on fire.
We stopped for lunch in what I would say is Abby’s favorite place in the world to visit, Madrid, New Mexico. Madrid is very dog friendly, and full of art galleries and arts and crafts stores. We fell in love with The Hollar, a mostly outdoor restaurant right in the middle of Madrid, so we have lunch there every time we are in town. I had a veggie burger on a biscuit with sweet potato fries, and Abby had a bowl of potato soup. When the meal was over, neither of us wanted a big dessert, so we shared The Hollar’s legendary whiskey cake.
I decided to take another crack at photographing Santa Fe’s historic Plaza at night, this time mostly with my 50mm f/1.4. I shot it at night once before on our tenth anniversary trip, A Perfect Ten. This time, though, I wanted more of a “street photography” feel, and I hope I achieved that.
It was disconcerting to see more than one beggar on The Plaza.
The Flying Tortilla, Clines Corners, the Plague Town, and Russell’s Truck Plaza
We had an amazing breakfast at Flying Tortilla in Santa Fe, and were so happy to be there.
Down the road a bit, we found a few turnouts and landscapes. We also stopped at the former Frontier Museum, which I historically referred to as the “Plague Town,” which has almost entirely been taken back by the desert.
There were several spray painted poems and sayings on the wall, tagged @poetrybyboots, which I was able to find later on Instagram (link) with a statement saying “I write poetry while traveling, photographing, & putting up my poems in abandoned places. Published author.”
I fluidly moved between my Nikon D7100, my Fuji HS30EXR, and my iPhone. For most of the phone images, I used a Moment 18mm (equivalent) attachable lens, which gave me rather stunning results.
The most perishable information ever for us is hotel room numbers. The second we leave, we forget them. We don’t even know the room number from our wedding night.
For a couple of years now, Abby and I have debated about the possibility of traveling with Hawken, our Irish Wolfhound. He is a huge dog, but well-behaved, and we would love to have him along, but in the end, we just didn’t have the room or the patience to deal with a 160-pound dog. For this trip, our generous next door neighbors, the Nipps, took care of him for us.
Abby and I travel well in our Nissan Frontier pickup, using the bed, which has a rolling, locking cover, as a giant trunk.
We drove about 2250 miles.
The Frontier averaged exactly 20 miles per gallon on this trip.
Our Nissan Frontier LE 4X4 Crew Cab pickup not only has a romantic model name, it seems to be absolutely right for us on these trips. It is roomy, quiet, small, comfortable, and has excellent off-road capability.