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Road tripping: Taos and Farmington

Itís time to get roaming!TSA lines and airfares wonít be shrinking anytime soon, so load up the car this summer and hit the road. Whether your ideal vacation includes back-country camping or a comfortable bed at the end of the day, there are options to fit everyoneís interests within half-dayís drive from Falcon.TaosLast month, my husband and I took a spontaneous road trip. Our first destination was Taos, New Mexico, known for inspiring countless artists with its natural beauty and adobe architecture. The town sits smack dab in the Rio Grande Rift Valley, surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east and Carson National Forest to the west. Whether youíre interested in art, geology, history or anthropology, Taos has it all.Itís been a number of years since we visited Taos, so we were shocked by the heavy mid-day traffic in town. Although it wasnít time to check in, we decided to park the car in the motel parking lot in order to explore the town on foot. Taos accommodations can be found in two areas: Older motels and bed and breakfast lodgings are close to ìOld Town,î with more modern hotels south of town. We opted for a place near Old Town because itís an easy walk to shops and restaurants.As we walked to Taos Plaza in the center of town, we passed buildings covered with murals and small alleys decorated with pottery and flowers. The plaza has served as the townís marketplace since Spanish settlement time; its shade-covered areas are as welcoming today as they were in the 1600s. Numerous art galleries, shops and restaurants are either in the Plaza or nearby.While my partner deemed all the art ìoverpriced,î I noted that ìlooking is free.î I neglected to mention that his comment is exactly why many women like to visit Taos without their male companions.After lunch, we headed to the Taos Pueblo, a World Heritage Site and National Historic Landmark. The Native American site, with its multi-story pueblo, has been occupied for more than 1,000 years. It was a trade center for indigenous people even before Europeans arrived in the area. In 1680, it was at the heart of the Pueblo Uprising, when Native Americans rebelled against the Spanish invaders.While most of the indigenous people live in modern homes surrounding the pueblo, a number believe the best way to keep their traditions and culture alive is to forego the comforts of running water and electricity and continue living in the pueblo. Be sure to ask permission before taking photographs of native peoples.The next morning, we drove to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, about 7 miles west of town on Highway 64. It claims to be the second highest cantilever bridge in the country. Park in the rest area just west of the bridge; then, if youíre not afraid of heights, walk to the center of the bridge for a view of the Rio Grande River, flowing in the steep canyon 650 feet below. To get the best photos of the bridge, walk down the trail located directly behind the rest area parking lot. Take note of the rocks that make up the canyon walls and try to imagine the massive volcanic activity that created them.We took our photos and continued hiking the trail for a few hours. While the surrounding area looks like nothing other than sagebrush, take a closer look. You will find interesting flowers, bonsai-looking bushes, evidence of elk and Indian artifacts created centuries ago. Just remember, ìTAKE ONLY PICTURES!îBack in town, our next stop was the Taos Art Museum, once the home of Nicolai Fechin, a Russian artist who moved to Taos in 1927. While his art is impressive, itís his woodcarving and furniture-making skills that set him apart from other artists. Look closely at the staircase, doors and molding – Fechin created it all with hand tools. The house, a mixture of Russian, Spanish and Pueblo architecture, was converted to a museum in 1981. It features Fechinís paintings and rotating art exhibits.FarmingtonHeading for Los Alamos the next morning, we planned to visit Bandelier National Monument. Who knew all the hotel rooms in Los Alamos would be booked because it was graduation weekend? So much for spontaneity; sometimes it pays to book ahead.We were off again, taking a route we have never traveled to get to Farmington, on the western edge of the state.The size of Farmington was another shock. We do need to visit these places more than once every 25 years! What was once a dusty little town is now one of the four major metropolitan areas in New Mexico. While itís still dusty, the larger population means there are ample places to stay and eat in close proximity to many interesting sites.Early the next morning, we drove to Chaco Culture National Historical Park, about 78 miles south of Farmington. It is one of the least-visited national parks in the country, and I believe itís the condition of the entrance road that keeps people away. But donít let it stop you! Chaco is a fascinating place. Having said that, if you wear dentures, remove them before bouncing over the last 4 miles of washboard that the park service has the nerve to call a road!Alright, youíve made it! Check in at the visitor center and then begin to explore the remains of a massive ancient site. Building began here around 800 A.D., with a 400-mile network of roads radiating out of Chaco. Archeological evidence shows this was a major trading center, with goods from as far away as central Mexico. Using extraordinary masonry techniques, the ancient Pueblo people built multi-story great houses, used for ceremonial purposes. Pueblo Bonito is the best example with numerous kivas and a giant plaza. As you walk along the short trail between Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl, youíll see many petroglyphs etched into the cliff. Two panels of glyphs can also be seen on the Una Vida Trail, behind the visitor center, but that climb isnít suitable for young children or the faint of heart.I recommend devoting at least a full day to exploring Chaco Canyon. Itís also a great place to camp; just make sure to bring an ample supply of food, because you wonít find any concession stands in Chaco. What you will find is endless opportunities to gaze and wonder about the culture that made this canyon home.Since our camping days are over, we headed back to Farmington. Before leaving the area the next morning, we visited Aztec Ruins National Monument, 15 miles northeast of Farmington. Archeologists believe it was settled by people from Chaco Canyon. The site was most likely chosen because of its proximity to the Animas River, allowing farmers to irrigate their crops.In 1934, archeologist Earl Morris rebuilt the Great Kiva on the site. A knowledgeable park ranger pointed out many of its unique features, including flat, oval limestone rocks found under the major pillars in the kiva. While there is an ongoing debate, itís believed they were used as ìshock absorbersî to limit damage to the building during earthquakes. While people may scoff at the idea of ancient peoples having the architectural knowledge to construct such items, I believe we always underestimate the intelligence of those who came before us.Sadly, a spring snowstorm was on the horizon, and it was time to make our way back home. Our short road trip was fun and relaxing. Best of all, it reminded us that there are many great places to explore close to home.

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