This was one of the few trips we've taken since we bought our first Corvette that we flew to our destination rather than drive. I could only get a limited number of days off from work, so we had to maximize our time.
We flew from LAX since it was cheaper, and more importantly, we could fly non-stop to Albuquerque. It was so much cheaper in fact, that we rented a limo to take us to LAX. The limo, longer than some buses, arrived bright and early (no bull, at dawn) and took us to LAX and the Southwest Airline (cattle car airline) gate where a decrepit 727-100 awaited. The plane lurched drunkenly into the air and slowly headed for New Mexico.
Upon arrival in Albuquerque we rented a Lincoln Town Car. Big mistake. It handled like a sinking tug boat. We drove to Santa Fe where we were booked at the Clarion El Dorado hotel. We had stayed here before on a Los Alamos National Laboratory business trip. It had changed hands since then, for the worse.
The Lincoln proved to be too much of a hassle to drive fast on the two lane country roads we prefer, so we drove from Santa Fe back to the airport in Albuquerque to exchange it for a Mustang convertible. On the way back to Santa Fe it rained like hell, preventing us from lowering the top.
Day Two - Bandelier National Monument
We set out for Bandelier National Monument with only light clothes under a morose sky that threatened rain. It was chilly so we purchased sweat shirts in the gift shop. What a shock: we made it to the gift shop!
Bandelier, named for the man who found the Anasazi ruins that form the heart of the monument, is on the Pajarito Plateau southwest of Los Alamos.
We viewed the major pueblo ruins that are most frequently featured in photos of the monument and we also climbed thousands of feet (at Jane's insistence) to view the Grand Kiva. Every Anasazi ruin has a Grand Kiva, it must have been de riguer for the Anasazi to have one. See the photos for an idea of how far we climbed to reach this.
After a pleasant day amongst the ghosts of the Anasazi, we motored over to Los Alamos for a look see, now that the cold war is over. The lab looked deserted, as did the town. We went to a cool bookstore and bought shirts, books, and other assorted memorabilia. We are good for the economy.
We returned to our hotel and, after a leisurely dinner, we walked around the square in Santa Fe.
We motored north to Taos, taking the opportunity to lower the Mustang's top. As the day wore on, and thundershowers threatened, I suggested to Jane that we should raise the top. Jane disented strenuously and, much to my chagrin, we were caught by a thundershower of Biblical proportions just outside of Taos. Fortunately I was able to raise the top allowing only minimal water to enter the car. We continued west and crossed the Rio Grande at the Gorge bridge. The river is a trickle here in summer but the gorge is very deep.
We again motoerd north (top down once again) toward the town of Chama, with the goal of driving the route of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway that has its southern terminus in Chama. The other end of the line is in Antonito, Colorado. Along the way we took a comfort break at a lake which I am guessing is named Hopewell.
We stopped in Chama, had lunch, and toured the rail yard and station. We then continued north along New Mexico 17 route (which becomes Colorado route 17). We stopped at Cumbres Pass Summit (elevation 10,022 feet) to admire the scenery and take photos. This spot is in Colorado and it is incredibly beautiful. Off in the distance we heard a train whistle and decided that it could only be the Cumbres & Toltec train making its afternoon run back to Chama. We waited for almost an hour and were rewarded by the sight of the historic train, packed to the gunwhales with tourists, lumbering by our vantage point. We had left the Mustang's top down and it was starting to sprinkle. I debated decending the two thousand feet to where the car was parked but thought better of it: this was, after all, a rental car.
We continued along Colorado route 17 to the town of Antonito which turned out to be a depressing little berg that has obviously seen better days. We retraced our path, passing once again through the town of Chama, but turned onto New Mexico 84 at Tierra Amarillo.
With the top down we motored through some beautiful country in the late afternoon. We stopped briefly (and I mean briefly) at the Echo Amphetheatre, which is a natural amphetheatre cut from the red sandstone. We then continued down route 84 and returned to Santa Fe.
We returned to Albuquerque and stayed at the Mariott Hotel. We drove to a state park near Rio Rancho which has hundreds of petroglyphs. It is located northwest of Albuquerque and they are building a housing development right next to it. It probably won't last long. Intel has a fab plant in Rio Rancho that is absolutely humongous.
It was extremely hot during this period.
We drove south to Socorro to visit the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array. The VLA is actually 52 miles west of socorro on route 60, in the middle of the Plains of San Augustin. It is a large collection of Radio Telescopes. These instruments can be made to work together in such a way that they function as one large telescope. While we were out inspecting one of the telescopes, a giant thunder storm developed and the sky grew ominous.
We spent several hours touring the facility under threat of more thunderstorms. We then returned to Albuquerque.
We drove south to visit the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument which has three units: Quarai, Abo, and Gran Quivira. Jane insisted that we visit all three, which resulted in our nearly missing our flight home. After we left the Gran Quivira unit, I drove like a wildman through more thunderstorms to Moriarity, and then on to the airport. It was a matter of "A Bridge Too Far", if you get my drift.
We flew back to LAX but our limo, which was to pick us up at the baggage area, never showed. We took a taxi, which was a monstrous mistake, since the third-world-illegal who drove the cab over-charged us to the point of highway robbery. He actually charged us more than the amount that the limo would have cost.
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