Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sante Fe arrival and a daytrip to Taos

May 10-13, 2013
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Trailer Ranch RV Resort

We took three days to travel 690 miles to Santa Fe, our next destination after leaving Austin, with our first stop in Abilene and our second in Amarillo. After searching for Passport America parks, Harvest Host sites, or other decent and inexpensive campgrounds in the Abilene area, we spent our first night in a Walmart Supercenter parking lot. Vic went inside and requested permission and they told us to park anywhere that was out of the way. We were the first to arrive but ended up having a couple other campers and a few trucks near us.  To make it easier to walk the dogs, we parked next to a grass strip  and there was plenty of room for everyone even with our slides out.  Not my favorite experience overall especially when you arrive mid-afternoon, but we hunkered down and made it work. It helped that the temps were only in the high 60s, cool enough not to need the air, so we only needed to run the generator a short while. Fortunately, neither of us is bothered much by noise when sleeping so that was not a problem either. I guess my main concern was feeling safe and the well-lit parking lot with others doing the same made me feel fairly comfortable.

Our trip from Abilene to Amarillo took us about six hours (about 300 miles) with a stop at a rest area for lunch. Our intention was to stay at the Bar Z Winery, a conveniently located Harvest Host site in Amarillo, but when we arrived at the entrance the dirt road leading into the place was not something we wanted to deal with as the motorhome was relatively clean. I was disappointed as we have really enjoyed our “free” stays at wineries. (Vic says they are never free after I start wine tasting.) Plan B became an overnight stop at the Oasis RV Resort, a super convenient park Good Sam park on I-40 for the cost of around $30.

Day three of our little run took us from Amarillo to Santa Fe, 280 miles, mostly on I-40. Encouraged by the change of scenery from the vast open tumbleweed spaces of West Texas to more mountainous desert terrain, we started to feel closer to “home” even though neither of us had ever been in the state of New Mexico. For an RV park, we looked for one in close proximity to the downtown area.  I first start with the RV Parking App on  my iPad which is my favorite way to see a map listing of all the parks in a designated area. Then I often check other blogs and and RV Park Reviews to narrow down the choices. In this case, we settled on the Trailer Ranch RV Resort which is only four miles to town and fairly quiet for being situated right on Cerrilos Road, a major thoroughfare with lots of chain restaurants and stores. The price was a little high for our budget at around $40, the Good Sam rate for a premium site, but we liked the feeling here right away and decided it was a good choice for our exploration of the area.

Our site at Trailer Ranch RV Resort. There is a picnic table and grassy area behind the Jeep

The park has an adobe wall that surrounds it and the community center, office building, and even some of the few “park models” are all done in an adobe style. Nice touch.

Originally, our plan was to spend three days in Sante Fe and three in Taos, but after doing some research on the distance to Taos and the attractions we wanted to see there, we decided to make Sante Fe our home base and explore Taos from here. With weather reports looking iffy in terms of rain later in the week, we chose to take a daytrip to Taos the first day we were here. (Rain is something everyone is praying for as we learned New Mexico is currently the driest state in the nation with rainfall at 29% of its normal rate; consequently, locals have said the state is not as pretty as it normally is in late spring.) 

The campground office was very helpful with maps and suggestion for exploring the area. With their recommendation, we took what is called the “High Road” to Taos, a scenic route that takes you through several Pueblo Indian villages in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The drive reminded me of traveling in the interior of Mexico at times with the blend of indigenous architecture and art and evidence of reservation life poverty. One thing we didn’t do is stop at the many points of historic and cultural interest along the way such as churches, cemeteries, and art galleries as we were a little too anxious to get to Taos and check out the area. In retrospect, I would recommend printing a guide for where to stop and what to see as all I had was a map and my smart phone with limited reception. The scenic route took about two and a half hours without stopping in contrast to the main route which takes about a an hour and a half.

Our first stop in Taos was their outstanding Visitor’s Center—we have been to many and this one stands out for having an excellent staff, delicious samples of local coffee, beautiful examples of local art, and brochures and maps for everything imaginable. With their guidance for what we estimated would be a four-five hour visit, we chose to have lunch on the plaza, walk around the downtown square, take a drive out to see the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, and then head back south to Sante Fe along the Rio Grande with a stop at the Orilla Verde Recreation Area to see about possible kayaking and the BLM campground there. We had also intended to visit the Taos Pueblo site, a Native American community that has been inhabited for the past 1000 years, now designated a World Heritage site. We definitely would have gone here, but I neglected to mention that we took the dogs with us on this daytrip as it looked like it would be a long day. Dogs are allowed at the Taos Pueblo but the caveat is there are local dogs that run free and we did not want to deal with possible issues that could arise from this situation, so we chose not to go. If you do go, the cost is $10 per person plus $6 per camera including any cell phone—interesting--and also somewhat of a deterrent for us especially since our time there would be limited.

The Taos Plaza stage area for community gatherings

The square was quite charming and relatively small compared to Sante Fe. (The population of Taos is only around 6000 compared to about 70,000 in Sante Fe.) One of the things that really stood out to me were the lilacs planted all around the plaza. Most were not yet in full bloom and many were small, but they are my all-time favorite flower so this girl breathed in deeply.

In an effort to capture the local flavor, I found myself taking lots of photos of the architecture and interesting art pieces in the downtown area. One brochure listed Taos as having 95 art galleries, 98 restaurants, and 5 bookstores—pretty amazing for the small town feeling you have walking around.

The blend of three cultures is apparent everywhere: the Pueblo Indians with their adobe buildings, the Hispanic culture with its Catholicism and religious items such as Dia de los Muertes icons, and the Anglo culture which made Taos the first art colony in the West.

Add to this mix the old cowboy ranching lifestyle coupled with those who come here for hiking, skiing, and other recreational activities. I think with a longer stay (and some new ski equipment), I could fall under the fabled Taos seduction that must have drawn Georgia O’ Keefe and other famous inhabitants to this magical place.

A Pueblo style--with rounded corners--adobe building in downtown Taos

After spending a couple hours downtown, we headed northwest of Taos about ten miles to see the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, a scenic site we had never even heard of before. Along the way, we wanted to check out Taos Monte Bella RV Park, a campground that another full-time couple stays at for the month of February ($475 + elec)  to go skiing at the highly touted Taos Ski Valley. The campground is only about fifteen miles from the ski village and is located in one of the prettiest settings we have seen at the base of the snow-covered Sangre de Cristo mountains. 

At the Visitor’s Center, we saw postcard photos of the Gorge Bridge and Vic was not relishing the idea of driving over it, but at least it was just in the Jeep and not in the motorhome. He actually covered the left side of his face to avoid looking out as he drove over the bridge on the return trip.

View of the bridge from the rest area on the south side

Vic blocks his view of the deep gorge below

The bridge is tenth highest in the nation, with a span and depth of 600 ft. above the Rio Grande River. There are parking areas for viewing on either side of the bridge, but the better view requires driving to the south side.You can also walk the expanse of the bridge along a sidewalk with a 3 ft.railing and several platforms that jut out away from the road allowing for an even better—and scarier—view of the deep gorge below. Unfortunately, this high platform has become a popular place for suicides, a dark consequence of building such a stunning architectural feat.

Another sad aspect of seeing this site was the stark evidence of the drought as the river levels were so low—at least three feet below average. Normally you would see kayakers and rafters from the view on the bridge, but there is not enough water for boating.

We learned there are hiking and biking trails from the bridge area to nine miles south in the village of Pilar, plus there is a scenic road you can take along the Rio Grande south to Pilar. We did not choose to take this road, but, again, it sounds like an interesting way to go. Here are the directions for doing so: About 4/10 of a mile after the bridge, where the green sign on the right side of the road says Pilar, take a left turn, onto Rim Road. Drive about 6 to 8 miles on this paved road, parallel to the gorge, until you hit the T-Junction.Take a left turn down to Pilar--slow down, and be careful: before you know it, it's a dirt road, and it drops down, rather steep, all the way down into the gorge. You don’t need a four wheel drive.

Ice cream bus at the Gorge Bridge adds to the ambiance

Our next stop was the Orilla Verde Recreation Area, a popular area for hiking, kayaking, and camping so we thought it worthwhile to check out. The  visitor’s center for the recreation area was already closed by the time we reached this spot, but we took the additional one-mile drive to the campground which we found quite a delightful place. There were only about five RVs in the Pilar Campground with about nine sites with hookups available. We felt confident the sites were large enough for our 36’ motorhome and the road in was easily accessible, so $15 a night (water and 50 amp) would be a good possibility for a future visit, especially if the water levels were higher for kayaking.

The drive from Pilar back to Sante Fe took another hour. We arrived a little weary, but excited for the rest of our stay in this area with the recognition that this is certainly another place where a month stay would be most enjoyable. We were also excited to look for the arrival of fellow bloggers, Lisa and Hans of Metamorphosis Road, whom I discovered would be staying at our same park!  Stay tuned for more news of our meeting and future Sante Fe adventures.


  1. 690 miles in 3 days makes me shudder. You are definitely hoofin' it. But there you go again posting gorgeous pictures from two places I really want to see. Thanks for all the tips. I love having you be my advance team. :-))

  2. I'm familiar with camera fees in Europe, but I think this is the first I'm hearing about such a fee here in the US. Thanks for doing the advance work for us on NM.

  3. WOW what a place. Great Place go for travel. i limke this place natural beauts....

    Book Bus Tickets

  4. I knew Hans and Lisa were on their way to Santa Fe. I was thinking as I was reading if you would be in the same park. Low and behold you answered my question at the end. They are terrific people. You'll have a great time. We are catching them in Durango before we head east. Tell them we said hello!

    Isn't Taos just the cutest place. Anywhere there is an eclectic group people living you find the most unique experience. The day we arrived on a motorcycle trip years ago, they were having a huge "Rainbow" parade. Quite an experience to say the least.

    Enjoy your stay in Santa Fe and connecting with blog friends!

  5. I love New Mexico! I always look forward to stocking up on red and green chilies and eating the unique New Mexico Mexican food....yummmmm.


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