Saturday, May 26, 2007

May 19 Jeep Trail Adventures in Our Volvo

We were nearing the end of our stay in Santa Fe and decided to do a day trip with the dogs. In our past trips to Northern New Mexico, we've explored areas northeast and northwest of Santa Fe. But this time we headed off to the Bandelier Mountains southwest of Santa Fe. As we left the lower elevations and climbed to higher altitudes, the views were breathtaking. Photos help tell the story but are never as good as actually being there.

We started out on the Jemez Mountain Trail. We drove through Las Alamos where World War II's secret Manhattan Project created the first atomic bomb and is still a national lab. We were surprised at how large it was. I must admit, I'd just as soon move on to higher ground. The dogs were on my side.

We continued on and discovered the trail to the lookout for the Valle Grande area which is one of the world's largest collapsed crater of a three-million-year-old volcano. Unfortunately the trail is closed to dogs so we veered off the main road and drove higher towards the ski area.
Always looking for an adventure "off the beaten path" Carl suggested we take a Forest Service road. It looks passable on our map. The gate is open with warnings: High clearance vehicle recommended and Beware of driving on wet roads. Do you suppose our Volvo station wagon is high enough? And were they calling for thunderstorms?
We stopped several times in open meadows to let the dogs run. Briar is a hunter and wanted to sniff at every shrub and hollow tree. Isha just wanted to run and play.

The deep woods jeep trail opened on one side to a view of the natural formations of the crater. I gasp as every new vista is even more amazing than the one before. We stop often and I did my best to capture the beauty with my camera lens. We drove, stopped, looked, photographed some more and let the dogs enjoy the forest. Time passed quickly and we realized we must keep moving to ensure not spending the night in this deep forest. We have no idea what the trail will be like as we descend.

Descending became increasingly challenging. Several times Carl stopped the car and walked ahead to determine the best sections of the road to traverse. The good news was, we didn't scrape the bottom. After what seemed like hours of very rocky and bumpy road upwards, we reached the top. Rounding the corner my heart is in my throat as I see a cliff drop-off just inches from my side of the car with the most incredible view of the entire day lying before me. There as if in a painting is a large valley with mountains in the distance. A river meanders through it. But all I can think of is not sliding off the edge. As we creep a little further towards safety and the downward trail, I realized I missed the opportunity for the best photo of the day. But there's no way I'm going back up there! At this point I think I've had about as much excitement as I can stand!

But it's not over yet. We twisted and turned through the many switchbacks and finally made it to the bottom and the large valley and same river we had seen from the top. And there was no bridge! For a moment I was sure we'd have to drive back the way we had come. But Carl found a fallen branch and tested the water for depth in several spots. He got a running start and we soon found ourselves on the other side with the only damages being a very dirty car and an almost empty tank of gas.