My brother and sister in law from Massachusetts visited in early October for the annual Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We had to go to Sante Fe, of course. Every visitor has to do that. We took the direct route north on I 25. Stark mesas, distant mountains, empty desert spread out before us far and wide on the 45 minute journey.
I am always anxious when guests take the time and expense to visit. I love it when they come, but I also want them to see the beauty in the dusty brown desert and the mountains, kinder, softer than the Colorado Rockies. I want them to try the chili. I want them to be oohed and awed as I am when the Sandia Range turns coral at sunset and look like it could burn the night away.
Santa Fe was intriguing as always. Art galleries, boutiques, jewelry stores, the finest the Southwest has to offer, Santa Fe oozes opulence. I do not live there, I tell my guests, but I like to visit. We stayed long enough to soak it in, for me to purchase my first and long desired pair of western boots (75% off $350.00… a steal!), and left by 3 PM to take the scenic route home through the Jemez Mountains.
My brother Cliff, the driver of the rented Jetta, lives life on the edge and did not bring sunglasses to New Mexico. As we started climbing and experiencing the hairpin turns Cheryl and I hid our eyes from the blinding glare and the steep drops inches from the wheels of the car. Cliff followed the signs to route 4 skirting the edges of Los Alamos and Bandelier. Too late in the day to stop at these sights. As we rounded each curve we prayed the sun would hide itself behind a rock, a tree, anything. It pulsated relentlessly at us. Until finally, as we passed the last electric fence of a Los Alamos secret lab, it mellowed into the mountains to the west.
We climbed higher as the sun set. Pine forests and rock fortresses on either side of the road blocked mountain views until we came to an opening up of the earth, Valle de Caldera, a magnificent meadow carved out by the volcanic explosion thousands of years ago that created the mountain range. I have passed by the Valle Caldera several times, I expect it to be there, but I am always in awe when I see it. I did not warn my brother. He gasped when he rounded the bend and saw it laid out. The sky was bright coral over the dark outlines of mountains framing the meadow on the west. Cliff parked the Jetta, grabbed his camera and took the photo at the top of this post.
I had sold New Mexico. Cliff and Cheryl will be back with sunglasses to see the sites they missed. By the time we got to the Jemez Pueblo and the red rocks that stun you as you navigate up or down the mountain on Route 4, it was dark. The chili, well, it’s an acquired taste and hard on certain stomachs.