Taos – Part 3

The altitude hit me pretty hard. I think this was my first trip to anything higher than the ski hills in Wisconsin since Colorado in 1995. The rental process went fairly smoothly, although I had trouble finding a boot that fit. Once I settled on something, I had the binders set up for me and off I went…10 feet to the cafe to sit my dizzy self down because…altitude.

Sat at the bar of the cantina and was pleased to find interesting items on the menu, such as pots of organic teas. I got a pot of tea, and a crock of vegan tortilla soup that was house-made and fantastic. I asked the bartender for Cholula to add to the soup; she offered me Tapatio instead. Long story short, I’m now a loyal Tapatio consumer. (Delish on pizza, too, you’ll thank me for that tip.) I also chugged two pints of water.

Finally feeling refreshed and lucid, it was time to actually SKI. I noticed that even though they had recently received quite a bit of snow, a number of trails were closed – including many green runs. I always like to try something easy as a warmup – ESPECIALLY in completely different equipment than I’ve ever used! I found some wide blue runs that seemed suitable enough and stayed with those most of the day. I took some turns on a few black runs including some mogul hills, to keep things interesting. Actually, the blacks I skied weren’t all that tough, in that the snow was better quality and not all skied-out and icy.

The snow was soft and deep here, really a fun run.

Most of the folks I met on the lifts were from Texas. I chatted with one fellow from Lubbock, a civil engineer who, like me, saw the news about the snowstorm, and made a hasty decision to come. Unlike me, however, he drove the whole way straight through. He said that one of the things that’s most important to him about skiing solo is the time it allows for contemplation, whether at the peak, drinking in the awe of God’s creation, or just on the scenic roads to the destination. I absolutely agreed with him. Also met some very polite high school students from Midland, TX. The “Yes, ma’am” stuff won me over, what can I say.

I skied pretty much until last chair, then gondolita back to the parking lot. I did make a brief pit stop, first, into The Blake, the modern lodging/dining facility. A mother walking into the ladies’ room with her children was horrified to see me stooped under the hand dryer trying to undo the violent case of helmet hair I had been sporting prior to my impromptu blow dry. I just smiled. Geeze, it wasn’t like I was pooping in the bidet or something! (No there was not a bidet, but it was, otherwise, a rather fancy restroom.)

I was impressed with this whimsical take on traditional lodge decor in the restroom

Rather than have to rush Sunday morning, I hustled back to the casita in town, washed up, and headed to Saturday evening Mass at the beautiful adobe church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I was so glad I did. It was a cross-cultural liturgy and setting. Some of the hymns in English, some in Spanish. The ushers wore beautiful handmade stoles of colorful felt and were very welcoming. The priest offered an insightful and passionate homily, and the liturgical music was expertly preformed.

After Mass, I lit candles for my family and admired the handmade quality of much of the artwork displayed throughout. It was a beautiful liturgical and spiritual experience.

I wanted to be able to walk to dinner and not move my vehicle again, so I ambled over to a Mexican restaurant that had decent reviews online. It was a cozy restaurant although, the meal (plus a well- deserved glass of Cerveza Pacifico) was not particularly memorable. It suited my needs and was not expensive.

My final stop of the evening was to a dollar store to pick up shampoo (B&B had none, for some reason) and epsom salts for a soak in the bath. Back the casita, and a cozy evening in, despite not lighting a fire in the cute little fireplace.

I don’t usually eat a big breakfast but one was included, and I overheard the owners whisper-squabble in the kitchen while preparing it, so I felt sort of obligated to partake. It was a little bit awkward as the owner hung out to talk with me (she didn’t know I overheard her scolding her husband 30 minutes prior) but it was a pleasant setting and they had birdfeeders on the patio so I watched some beautiful birds I usually don’t see in the Midwest. The food was pretty good, and so I was set for my drive back to the mountain for another ski day that I planned to cut slightly short in order to make it to Ojo Caliente mineral springs and spa, a place that had been on my radar for years. When the B&B owner heard of my plan, she mapped a route for me that took me over the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

I drove back to Taos Ski Valley, and despite it being a Sunday, for some reason there was more traffic than on Saturday. I had to park further away but at least now I knew where to go. Another crock of that tasty vegan soup and a pot of tea, picked up my rental gear and hit the snow for a few hours. Unlike anywhere else I’ve ever skied, Taos is unusual in that for the most part, you never see the bottom from the top; not a town, or a road, or body of water, nothing. It seems like a valley to nowhere is below you, or at least to the middle of another mountain. It emanated a sort of spooky quality that way; enclosed, hidden.

The Gorge Bridge was a marvel and I’m glad I got a chance to see it. There is a parking and picnic area on one side that was nicely maintained. The drive to Ojo Caliente was gorgeous but absolutely one to be completed during daylight hours. I’d also not rely solely on GPS/Google Maps because it is a remote area. It was a beautiful facility although, really crowded which put a damper on being able to experience serenity. After soaking in the various pools for awhile, I browsed the gift shop, which, thankfully, also sold house-made sandwiches and other snacks. I grabbed some iced tea and a wrap sandwich for the road as I wanted to make it back to Albuquerque before dark.

Two things that struck me driving through that swath of New Mexico was how unique the landscape was, and how much poverty I saw. I have seen rural poverty in Central Wisconsin, downstate Illinois, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Montana, Colorado, and Maine. I know it’s a part of our country, but it’s something you rarely see on tourism websites or Instagram accounts. I don’t turn away from it. I wonder what life would be like somewhere with a beautiful view, fresh air, but no central heat/air, poor water supply, no access to healthcare or groceries.

But that New Mexico landscape…it is both inspiring and intimidating.

My return to Albuquerque was uneventful, but the chain motel I checked into before my flight back was awful. I felt unsafe, it was run down. I echoed these sentiments to the site with which I booked the stay and was refunded my money, however I didn’t get much sleep so the next morning was a hassle. The hotel shuttle hustled me to the airport at 5am and I hopped on a totally packed Monday morning flight to Chicago. I remember reading a book, and then nodding off. I landed and then hauled butt to get to work on time.

Would I go back? Yes, maybe, but would stay somewhere closer to the mountain with kitchen facilities, bring my own equipment, and give myself more time.

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