BRRRRR!! It’s cold up here. Just a few weeks ago we were much warmer……. but now from where I write it is much warmer again in the high desert!
Our last few days in Arkansas found us in a quiet campground by a small lake on the outskirts of a town called Eureka Springs. The small town was somewhat of a focal point for us since someone told us about it in North Carolina so we wanted to check out the ‘Hippy Drop-Out’ town and see if the mystique fit the reality. In many ways it had, but in others it seemed to go the way many of these ‘Artsy’ places go after the money has sniffed them out and changed the vibe. Eureka Springs straddled both worlds well, and coupled with the wonderful surroundings it didn’t disappoint. Friendliness seemed to be the catchword to describe Arkansas and the people who ran Leatherwood City Park fit well into that category, as did the fellow campers we met. One couple were from Chicago, but they had recently moved to the Dallas area. They were traveling with their nine year old daughter because they took her out of school for a week to come back to one of their favorite campsites which was where we met. Late night chats at their campfire were interesting and with the looming presidential elections it’s not hard to guess what subject crept up every once in a while. Johnny, Sue and Cecilia were a welcome addition to our last nights in Arkansas.
Just before crossing to Oklahoma, a visit to Bentonville, Arkansas found us in an art museum called Crystal Bridges. For those of you who don’t know it, Bentonville is where Walmart’s corporate headquarters are located (and a Walmart museum, which we skipped) the art museum was free to enter thanks to Walmart. I am not becoming a Walmart convert, but with the occasional free camping, and now a free museum, it seems like it is a hard multi-national to ignore in the hinterland of America. I recount in my book, Cycles of a Traveler, my first glimpse of a Walmart in little Rock Arkansas in 1987 thinking wow, this business model will leave people little choice for shopping anywhere else in 40 years. Well they beat my timeline by a decade, but it some places that random thought has become a reality. Oh yes, back to the voyage.
With the plains behind us now we are surrounded by the beauty of the Rockies. The road from Arkansas flattened out, so to spice it up a bit we zigged and zagged through a few different plain states; Oklahoma, Kansas, back into Oklahoma, then the panhandle of Texas. We have stayed off the big Interstates, which to those non-Americans reading this, are the big highways which cross America in North-South and East-West directions. Sticking to the sometimes scenic byways has brought us through small town America which does still exist, and we stayed in interesting named places such as Attica, Oklahoma, and Las Vegas, New Mexico. The latter actually historically being an important town and one of the largest in the west for nearly one hundred years. The ‘other’ Las Vegas as referred to by some of the locals, was actually founded after Las Vegas, New Mexico. Las Vegas, we also learned, means, The Meadows.
The roads in New Mexico also led us to Taos, which is another one of those famed places for communes, hippies, the birthplace of solar technology, as one local informed us, and home to Mike Reynold’s original earth ship communities. Earth Ships being interesting houses made from old car tires, bottles, earth, and all sorts of interesting re-used materials. The sustainable off-grid living actually got Mike stricken from the USA Architectural board in the eighties I believe, to be asked back in again after his stellar work rebuilding devastated communities creatively in the wake of the tsunami devastation in Asia back in 2004. Watch this movie if his work piques your interest. The Garbage Warrior.
The alternative vibe in Taos found us receiving free food for our family after being beckoned to park near a Thrift store by a woman holding up a big sign stating FREE FOOD HERE! While waiting on line we met another woman who told us of a Hindi Temple in Taos. We found the Hanuman Temple and Ashram where Angie and I ate a small lunch as the kids were out riding the South Boundary Trail, known as one of the top off-road mountain bike trails in the country! They were riding with the local bike shop owner’s son. We met the family as Louis sniffed out a bike shop for us to find out about some local rides. The owner of the ‘Gearing Up’ bike shop had a thirteen year old son named Aidan whom he took out of school the next day so he could shuttle Louis, Chessie and his son to the top of the two hour plus downhill ride. The previous night we met the owner just before closing and he generously let us park up Janey-Rae in his parking lot warning us that there would be early-morning traffic as one of the best burrito stands in Taos did a brisk morning business selling breakfast burritos. Yes, the burritos were delicious! The night ahead would hold a whole different vibe for us to experience.
After the kids got down the mountain we all said our goodbyes to our friendly hosts and headed back to the Ashram where we shared an evening meal with the community and volunteers running the Temple, small farm and occasional in-season campground for those who would seek it out. We spent an enchanted night under the stars in a Hindi Ashram in the middle of New Mexico. We woke up to warm chai made with fresh cow’s milk and a light breakfast of Indian fare as well. Did I forget to mention we were able to make use of the hot showers too? We met such welcoming an interesting people living or volunteering in the community in some capacity. All these lovely connections were making Taos a hard place to turn the key in the ignition and head further west, but in the end we did.
On the road towards Colorful Colorado we were in full stride; Janey-Rae’s lights were now working properly thanks to meeting the right people once again, her engine was roaring like a lion up the mountains and Angie’s tooth was sorted as well (a small niggle taken care of in Taos). Next stop Pagosa Springs, Colorado where I knew a guy that Louis and I met on the bicycle path in Toulouse back in 2012. We helped him pick glass out of his touring bike tire, and remained friends ever since. It took two days from Taos to get there which was perfect because he and his wife were getting back on the Friday from visiting family in Denver, and we would be arriving on that same Friday. Val assured us that wouldn’t be a problem arriving so close to their arrival. When they said they lived a little out of town it was an understatement. Twelve miles up a dirt road later, nestled in a small enclave of wooden houses over 9,000 feet up in The San Juan mountains of The Rocky range, we had a reunion with our friend Val whom we last saw in Toulouse, France. Terry, his wife, was there to greet us as Val was still en-route. I must say the surroundings were quite dramatic. Val’s dad was a WWII vet and we met Val on a tour where part of his journey included following the route of his dad in 1944-45. So when we arrived and saw the American and French flag in front of his house we knew it would be a nice weekend ahead of reminiscence.
I turned 55 years old with my family, Val and Terry, “High up in The Rockies, under the evergreens”, as Billy Joel once sang in his famed song, ‘New York State of Mind’. What a journey it has all been. Did it all really start out on those streets in The Bronx? Yes it did, and to have had the absolute privilege to spend most of my adult life mingling with the good people of our world amongst the physical beauty of our planet thrown in, I just want to remind all of you reading this, that no matter what kind of craziness is going on in the political world right now, (today is election day here) please read my blogs and pass them on to spread the word that at least 95% of the people out here are just looking to be kind and to share wonderful moments with others on this big wonderful journey we call life.
It’s hard updating the blog with occasional wifi. I fall behind and want to say how wonderful it all has been. So much has happened since our time in The Rockies. We keep meeting such interesting young people out here living life differently, creatively and with a passion for the outdoors; hikers, cyclists, rock climbers, just out and out folks on the road exploring. We have been in the Moab area of Utah with so many wonderful National and State parks to ride in, hike in, camp in, etc.. We have stayed in free BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campsites mostly.
They say pictures speak a 1,000 words, well I’ll end with these wonderful photos of the areas we have been in. They don’t do justice to the spectacular scenery. The crowds are gone, but the weather has been perfect. Enjoy this wonderful eye candy.
See ya up the road.
Sing it Billy!