farmington, new mexico, later the same day

Sunday, September 6, Santa Fe

Sunday turned out to be a bit of a bust, but it was great to spend more time with some family, and it couldn't have hurt to rest my ankle a bit more.

The brunch was spectacular, then we rested at our casita for bit. When we spoke to our host, we learned she was giving us the additional night at half price. She's clearly not going to have any new reservations on the Sunday of Labour Day weekend, and there's no possibility of walk-in traffic. (The casita is in a residential neighbourhood with no sign.) So she must have been glad to get our call, and we were glad to get hers.

We headed back into town and nothing worked out. We couldn't get an internet connection (bookstore closed, library closed, no freebies to pick up), then the historic sites I thought we'd see closed while we were searching for internet. We ended up driving around, getting tired, and just killing time until dinner.

It was a big dinner with a lot of wine and a lot of people. I was hoping for a high-end Southwestern-style meal, but unfortunately for me, my sister and her husband (our hosts) don't care for Southwestern cuisine, so we were at a steakhouse. The whole thing was nice, but also too much; I was very tired and a bit uncomfortable. But really, I'm not complaining. If we had left after the brunch as we originally planned, I'm sure I would have been too tired to do much anyway.

We collapsed right after dinner, and this morning we packed up and hit the road. Allan went off in search of a styrofoam cooler, so we can take food and cold water with us. We love not having to find a place for lunch, both for the self-sufficiency (especially in remote, sparsely-populated areas) and the budget. Once we had the cooler, we were all set.

Monday, September 7, Santa Fe to Farmington

We headed north out of Santa Fe, towards Taos, then took a small east-west highway though mountainous country, towards Interstate 550. Traveling west on this smaller road, the terrain became very dramatic. There were huge bluffs and rock formations in the near and far distance - tan and red rocks jutting up out of the scrubby desert land. I saw some strange rock formations that I thought might be human-made, possibly ruins.

We passed many ranches and houses, and sporadically saw cattle or horses grazing. It's hard to believe that people actually live in this land, surrounded by these dramatic cliffs and bluffs and giant rock formations. At one point the land flattened out, but we were still in the mountains - like an antiplano. We passed the tiny towns of Barranca, Gallina, Regina and La Jara, really just post offices and a general store, an address for the distant ranchers.

The scenery was so dramatic - and so unexpected. I don't know what I thought northwestern New Mexico would look like, but I didn't realize it would look like this. We stopped frequently to take pictures, so when I have them on Flickr, maybe this post will be more interesting!

Once on Highway 550, we were driving through a vast desert. The cliffs and bluffs were way off in the distance. There are tan earth and scrubby sagebrush as far as you can see, ending in distant mountains, and the occasional bizarre rock formation. The sky is enormous. Having grown up in the Northeast US, I find it amazing to be able to see so far to the horizon on all sides.

Almost all the land in this area is either Native American reservations or part of the energy industry (either oil or natural gas). Every once in a while there is a "trading post," a sad little grocery store with an elderly Native woman behind the counter. Northwest New Mexico is the land of the Navajo Nation.

We drove to Farmington, an energy-industry town, and the nearest large town to Chaco Canyon (formally named Chaco Culture National Historic Park). We unpacked the car and checked our email, the first internet connection we've had in days. The dogs are doing great! Our new dogsitter is having a great time with them. She even sent some pictures.

Out of Farmington we headed south towards the Bisti Wilderness Area, driving on a small highway cutting straight through the desert. Every so often there are turnoffs to dirt roads leading to churches or pueblos - reservation towns. And every so often, there is a shock of dark green, as you pass irrigated farmland. All around is brown earth and light green tufts of sagebrush, then suddenly that is punctuated by a large farm tract. I can't imagine how much water these farms use. But better to use all that water to grow food than for golf courses.

We found the turnoff to Bisti, and drove several miles down a gravel road to a small parking turnoff. Bisti is a "badlands" area of dry, barren land, baking sun and bizarre rock formations. There are no marked trails or facilities of any kind. We parked the car, put on plenty of sunblock, took our water and our camera, and walked out into the desert.

Here I realized that the rock formations I had seen on the way up, which I thought might be human-made, were hoo-doos, sandstone rock formations created by wind erosion. Some of them are charcoal gray, almost black, some are red, and some are yellowish tan. Many of the rock formations look like giant mushroom caps, or domes without buildings underneath.

The ground is very soft, like hard sand or soft clay. Closer to the rock formations, the ground is strewn with shards of red, black or white rock, and as you walk up or climb one, the pieces get larger - you're seeing the erosion all around you. I walked up a small, horn-like projection, and my boots sunk in as I climbed. I could pull up a handful of the rock, or kick pieces down with my boots, that's how soft it is.

In some areas, there are larger, harder rocks, falling all around each other like some collapsed cathedral town. We clambered around a little, and when it seemed too strenuous for my ankle, Allan continued up without me. Even on these hard rocks, you can see the effects of the wind, like a million thumbprints, or random pictograph etchings. We also walked in some dry creekbeds, where a little bit of water remains, making a clayey mud.

It was very hot and dusty. The desert stretches on in all directions. There was another car in the parking area, but we saw no one else as we walked. The whole area had a surreal quality to it. It's hard to believe something like this exists. As a child I saw the Badlands in South Dakota, and also Brice National Park, both spectacular rock formations. But having seen a bit more of the world since then, these things impress me even more.

Some good photos of the Bisti Wilderness are here.

We walked for about an hour and a half. I tried to be careful about my ankle, and my good hiking boots helped a lot. When it started to hurt too much, we headed back.

After stopping in the room to shower and change, we headed into Farmington for dinner. We had three ideas from the guidebook, and fortunately for us, the first two places were closed for Labour Day. The third was a true gem.

Three Rivers Eatery and Brewery is the kind of place every town should have, yet is such a rare find. The building itself used to be the town's pharmacy and general store, built in 1912. They offer a huge, varied menu - fresh, homemade food - fast and friendly service - and they brew their own beer! Beer comes in sizes from a six-ounce tasting glass to a jug or keg. We tried an amber ale, a raspberry wheat, a honey ale and a milk stout; all were excellent.

The food was outstanding. To me, there is nothing like very simple food, perfectly done. And it's a rare find. You might frequently order a salad, or a sandwich, or a burger and fries, and it might taste all right, but how often is it really perfect, every element of it is exactly right? That's what the Three Rivers does.

To top off this excellent dinner, the bill was minimal. (By New York or Toronto standards, it was downright cheap). On the way out, we were admiring these neat "growlers", beer jugs with the restaurant's logo, for sale in a cooler. I thought the jug would be great to put flowers in, or colored stones, or even pennies. We were obscenely full, so we couldn't even think of drinking the beer. Allan wondered if we could buy an empty one, so I went up to the bar to ask.

L: "Excuse me. Would I be able to buy an empty jug?"

Server: Quizzical look. You can take an empty one if you like.

L: I can?? Are you sure?

Server: Looks as if I am from another planet. Sure. G'head.

L: Thank you!!

Now I'm in bed with my foot elevated, a bag of ice on my ankle. Tomorrow is Chaco Canyon, probably the highlight of the trip, non-wedding category.

Sign seen in Santa Fe: "It started here. Let's end it here." Picture of mushroom cloud.

Some of our photos from Bisti are here.

Some general photos while driving are here.

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