Santa Fe, NM. May 26, 2016
The free continental breakfast at the Budget Host was discarded in favor of breakfast 42 miles away at the St. James Hotel in Cimarron, NM. The St. James was built in 1872 when Cimarron was home to the Wild West and it still has bullet holes in the dining room to prove it. It is stated that at least 26 people lost their lives in the saloon or hotel. The Earp Brothers, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Jesse James were all outlaws who visited here. The hotel is still operating, run by one of the owners of Express Ranches-a major cattle operating company with two large ranches around Cimarron. We came for the food, though, and breakfast was worth the drive.
The 42 miles were on a road where cattle, pronghorn, and bison were roaming. The bison were probably part of the stock being raised on the Vemejo Park Ranch of Ted Turner. We passed by the ghost coal mining town of Dawson. The 42 miles were an easy viewing sight of plains on either side of the road with mountains to our west. This part of the day was a prelude to the mountain driving to follow after breakfast.
Most of the day’s journey was through mountains-usually with (my words) “real” trees instead of the scraggly piñon we were used to seeing. We drove through Carson National Forest, Rio Grande Gorge, Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and also passed the site of the Chevron molybdenum mining operation.
I had thought we would pass closer to the snow-capped mountains we had seen in the distance during our Wednesday late afternoon drive but no such luck. Evidently those mountains were in Colorado. There was snow in scattered places on a few mountains but nothing for a photo opportunity. The rivers and streams we passed were running strong, but lakes were obviously well below their normal levels.
Taos NM was to be the host of a motorcycle rally this weekend. Red River, one town on our route and on the “circle tour” of Taos, was preparing for them with scads of vendors setting up their tents and wagons. It was a little early for the mass arrival of motorcycles but a sprinkling were observed throughout our journey.
One highlight of the drive was seeing a Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. These animals have been one of the most difficult for us to spot. This Bighorn was spotted when we drove in to the Carson National Forest visitor center. We lucked out, when we came out of the center it was no longer in sight.
The molybdenum mining operation was also overwhelming even though we could not view its entire operation. As we drove along Highway 38 east of Questa, we came across an immense mountainside that looked like it had been bulldozed and terraced. It was dramatic and we had no idea what it was. When we reached the Carson Forest office, the staff member indicated it was a molybdenum mining site and was being reclaimed. Molybdenum is a critical ingredient in making steel alloys. Mining had been open-pit, now was underground, although actual mining depend on mineral prices and whether it is economically viable to run the mine.
Before writing this post, I did a quick check on the Internet and according to Amigos Bravos, an environmental watchdog, the site has been placed on the Superfund list, the mine has excavated 360 million tons of acid-generating waste rock that cover more than a thousand acres around Questa, the Red RIver is unable to handle the amount of acid mine drainage, local wells are contaminated, etc. The whole story is complicated but seems to me to indicate once again our inability to control necessary mining operations without causing damage for future generations.
Enough of the depressing stories. We continued on to the Rio Grande Gorge bridge. This bridge carries highway 64 over the Rio Grande River. Usually we see the Rio Grande in the Albuquerque NM area where the water has been siphoned off for irrigation and municipal drinking water. In addition, the river is much wider in Albuquerque. Up here, the river runs faster in a narrow channel and has historically carved a deep and wide gorge. The views from the bridge bring bus loads of people to view the gorge and take pictures.
Just north of the bridge is an operation called Earthship Biotecture. This was started by a guy named Michael Reynolds over forty years ago. In their words: “Earthships heat and cool themselves passively, produce their own electricity, collect their own water, treat their own sewage and grow a significant amount of their own food.
So, for instance, in our tour of a demonstration home, the foundation is made from recycled car tires with rammed dirt inside of it. Walls are concrete with bottles and can used to decorate and provide filler. Rain water is collected from the roofs into cisterns and re-used for toilet flushing, to irrigate food bearing plants, etc. The operation trains people from around the world on the process of building homes in this sustainable environment. There are three different communities in the Taos area in which homes designed by them have been built.
Our last stop was to take a hike in Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. This National Monument was just created in 2013 and is operated by the Bureau of Land Management. It encompasses 240,000 acres of land owned by the BLM. We went hiking along a trail that overlooks the Rio Grande. Later on our way back to Jude’s, we saw a group of rafters going down the river.
Ed and Chris