Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sand Dunes & Taos camping

Now that I'm employed by the State of Colorado with lots of free time on my hands, I decided to enjoy a month of vacationing. It's been 15 years since I have been able to take more than a week off, so I'm proud that I'm taking this time. I'm not gonna lie, it is NICE. I had thought of doing a long road trip to Idaho, San Francisco, LA (via Big Sur), Yosemite and finally to Burning Man... but wow that's a lot of driving, a lot of gas and I would be alone! So, since camping is basically the cheapest way to travel, and I wanted to see more of the surrounding area, I headed off to the Sand Dunes with Shaya (likewise self-employed).

Turkey wrap made out of nori (seaweed paper) with pepper jack cheese and other goodness. YUM. We found some cilantro mint pesto in town the next day and that made these outstanding.

Love the cheap solution - $12 shelf and $6 sterno! It's takes a wicked long time to heat things up but it was basic and cheap!

We got an incredible campsite, nothing like waking up to this amazing natural wonder.

The dunes are really incredible. These particles of sand wash down from the surrounding mountain, then the winds meet them and keep them in place. There's a large creek that runs through here earlier in the year, but it was long dried up. The hike up to the top is pretty intense, image hiking straight up in beach sand! Day two morning hike was assisted by poles which made it much easier.
After you go up and down the Dunes, it's a bit of a been-here-done-that experience. So we looked at the map, saw Taos, NM was only 70 miles away and off we went.

Wild Mustangs. So cool.

Taos was definitely not what I expected. I would say it's a smaller scale Santa Fe, but more run down. HOWEVER, sometimes a human being can be the magic of the town, and magic we met!
We wandered into "Horse and Feathers), and immediately I was distracted by the shiny silver object - a saddle formerly owned by a performer and covered with mirrors, jewels. Etc. The owner of the store was a delightful, truly "gentle" gentleman. Lindsay kept our attention for probably two hours. He runs a store full of used cowboy paraphernalia, namely used cowboy boots.
I took this picture for my dad (doesn't Lindsay kind of look like him?). It cracked me up. The Kearney family has a special relationship with beans.
Lindsay is a master boot-fitter, and as soon as we would try a pair on he would say "nope" or "perfect fit" within seconds. I have been looking for a good pair of boots for YEARS, and to find some cool, stylin, good quality worn-in boots made the trip for me. They were too big and needed to be re-soled, but a steal at $45.
On Lindsay's recommendation, we met up with his best Friend "Big Al" for a horseback ride. Big Al lives ALL the way up at the top of the valley, and wow it was gorgeous up there. It was cold and rainy but very fun.

My new hat and boots!

This was my horse Freckles, and that's Big Al. Check out the duct tape on his boot. Although he considers himself a boot connoisseur (he has 80 pairs in his closet), he hurt his foot and had to cut off the front to make room.

On the ride down the mountain, he suddenly hopped out of his truck and re-appeared with this mushroom. I can't remember what it's called but it was supposedly the first he had seen in the season and kept saying it would be worth $60 in any grocery store. We sauteed it up with some butter and it was indeed quite delicious.

Shaya and I have the same taste in food - aka healthy - so having such a huge fresh green salad for our first course was just part of the camping experience.

This was our A+ campsite, right in the Taos valley and next to a creek that had such a soothing quality. I have never slept next to a creek that dims all other noise, and I most definitely fought panic and fear our first night there. Shaya and I were sitting outside our tent playing scrabble, and I tried not to say I was scared of some weirdo that had been watching us for hours come to pay a visit. After a while we both admitted we how spooked we were and hid out in the tent. The second night was easier because we met one of the neighboring campers.

The drive to our next destination was gorgeous. We were thinking of doing a fourth night of camping somewhere around the Royal Gorge. However, waiting until almost 3pm to stop for lunch was a bit of a mistake. I had been planning and thinking of the lunch I was going to eat for hours - hotdog with sauerkraut, tomatoes, mustard and red onions). By the time we stopped at the info booth to find out about the coming attraction, and found a picnic spot, I was crashing. We set up the sterno and I thought, crap, this is going to take awhile to heat up. I struck the lighter and the sterno wouldn't catch. Strike again. Again. AGAIN AGAIN OH MY GOD THE STERNO IS DONE. Freaking out, I decided to start a fire on the picnic grill. Then saw the fire ban sign with a $5,000 fine. Shaya tried to save the situation by proposing we cook off her camping lantern. Genius! I didn't think it would work but after some careful rigging, 15 minutes later I was chowing down.

Next stop we hit up the Royal Gorge.

Pretty awesome, except it cost $25 and they basically made it into a Disneyland attraction. We rode the aerial tram across the massive canyon, and on the other side was greeted by a slew of kiddo activities, including a petting zoo (disturbingly small pens). We walked back over the bridge but I got really freaked out by the somewhat rickety feeling. Since we arrived too late to go rafting, we decided to go home that night, with a pit stop at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. Last stop was dinner at Adams Mountain Cafe in Manitou Springs (*highly recommend*! All in all, a fine trip. Next up, San Francisco & Seattle.

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