Monday, September 23, 2013

New Mexico & Colorado

I recently had the pleasure of traveling through northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. The trip was planned as an odyssey to Mesa Verde National Park and the cliff dwellings which date to the 1200s. Though Mesa Verde was the genesis for the trip, I found the travel was particularly interesting because of the variance in landscape and experience encountered. In that spirit, I've compiled a list of the top ten delights of the trip. 
Heading north to Mesa Verde
1. Being in a National Park
Sadly, I've only been to a handful of our U.S. National Parks. There are many more I'd like to visit than the ones I've actually explored. There is something about the experience that feels really special though. I feel a certain sense of national pride that we have chosen to preserve these places which feel sacred, and am honored to benefit from a history of investment in those places historically by the Civilian Conservation Corp and today by the care of park rangers and other park employees.
Hiking at Mesa Verde National Park
2. Mesa Verde Dwellings
I'm embarrassed to admit that until recently, I didn't really know that a place like Mesa Verde existed in the U.S. In touring the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde, I was captivated by the completeness of the stone dwellings which remain, the dramatic presentation given by our park ranger guide, and the breath-taking views from the cliff's edge.
Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde
3. Going through small towns
The majority of our travel was on small two-lane highways which wind through the small towns of New Mexico and Colorado. it was a delight to glimpse these small towns. Some like Durango were thriving with the liveliness of a local college and others were struggling to remain vital. They had the ruggedness of a rural western town, but the favor of beautiful surroundings.  
Sunset at Chama, NM
4. Visiting Ghost Ranch 
As a painter there is always something inspiring about visiting the places which have inspired great painters through the ages. It was a pleasure to visit Ghost Ranch where Georgia O'Keeffe spent part of her life and to readily recognize the landscapes which inspired many of her paintings. 
5. Marveling at the varied natural beauty
I was a bit surprised by the variety of natural environments we encountered in traversing a relatively short distance from as far south as Albuquerque to as far North and West as Mesa Verde. The landscape changed from brushy arid desert to the dramatic hills and endless pine trees of the San Juan and Carson National Forests, to the beautiful red rock desert near to Ghost Ranch.
Charming building in Chama, NM
6. Visiting the echo amphitheater
This particular trip didn't offer the opportunity to visit too many road side attractions, we didn't stumble upon the world's largest ball of twine or a house made from beer cans. The best roadside attraction we found was a naturally occurring one. Just north of Ghost Ranch, there is a naturally occurring rock formation, which serves an echo amphitheater, reflecting your words back at you. It was really fun to speak, shout, and sing into the amphitheater.
7. A sandwich at Bode's Mercantile General Store
Part of the delight of a road trip are the places you stumble upon in driving from one destination to another. Bode's was one of those hidden gems, a general store in existence since 1890, Bode's is that fantastic combination of a place where there is a message board advertising goats for sale and also a lunch counter offering really fantastically delicious sandwiches.
Scenery near to Ghost Ranch
8. Staying in an Old Style road side motel
In traveling from Mesa Verde to Santa Fe, we spent one night in Chama, NM. Chama is home to the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad (a national historic landmark) and is dotted with roadside motels. We stumbled upon once such motel, which retained the charms of an earlier era. The rooms were once separate cabins before the current owners made the addition of a single roof and infilled between the cabins. 
9. Downtown Santa Fe
I had never been to Santa Fe before and was bowled over by it's charms. The downtown has the old world feel of small European cities. The adobe buildings are flanked by colonnades, the heart of the city is a beautiful plaza park and the the city is home to the oldest Catholic church in the U.S. It was an entirely delightful place to visit and meander about. 
10. Making Paintings
When traveling making a painting is always among my greatest pleasures. On this short trip, I had the chance to make two. One of the Spruce Tree House at Mesa Verde and one at Ghost Ranch. Stayed tuned for the next two weeks to see those paintings. 
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