Blue Lake

Saturday, June 18

Black Lake is one of the most spectacular places in RMNP. I came to that belief very early in my exploration of the Park and I continue to feel this way having visited over half the named lakes in the Park. Only now I expand upon that thought: the upper part of Glacier Gorge, everything above the outlet of Black Lake, is simply incredible.

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Black Lake

When the Rocky Mountains were named, is was for places like this. Standing on the shores of any of the lakes in the area – Black, Blue, Green, “Italy”, Frozen – you are surrounded on three sides by vertical and nearly vertical slabs of solid rock, hundreds of feet high. The western flank of Longs, Keyboard of the Winds, Pagoda, The Spearhead, McHenrys, and Arrowhead all tower overhead; desolate, massive, beautiful.

I didn’t encounter much wildlife on this hike. Near the end of the boardwalk section just above Mills Lake I came across two elk – a cow and her calf – just ahead of me on the trail.

At the little waterfall, where the outlet of Blue Lake crosses the trail to Black Lake, I paused to install the microspikes. Quite a few hikers were on the trail, but only a few were properly equipped. I wouldn’t have gone much farther than here without the spikes, but I’m an admitted lightweight. In any case, the hike was a snow hike pretty much all the way from here to my destination. Only the higher reaches above Black Lake were snow free; above treeline and well bathed in sunshine.

Black Lake is still half frozen over. Climbing the trail along the main inlet to the lake it’s interesting to see how the snow clings to the steep walls of rock. Occasionally, large slabs of snow break off, slide down the rock to the steep snow and eventually come to rest in the meadow below.

The entire area is alive with flowing water. A ribbon of water, perhaps forty feet wide, pours down the sheer rock below McHenrys. Much of the water running to the valley below is heard but still unseen – flowing beneath the snow.

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Blue Lake

The weather today was unbeatable. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky all day. I’d say it was calm, but that’s not quite true. There was only just enough of a breeze to prevent the surface of the lake being a perfect mirror. Normally, with it this calm, the flying insects will be a nuisance but today there was no problem with mosquitoes or flies.

Increasingly, over the last few years, I’ve felt that I need to go farther from the trailhead, farther off the trail, to find any solitude. That certainly wasn’t the case today. I take the “Fire” trail to bypass Alberta Falls and save some distance. As this trail isn’t on maps or signs I almost never run into other hikers. And today I didn’t meet anybody above Black Lake until I was on my way down. There I met a group of four who were asking if there is a lake above us. “There are four lakes. But you won’t find any of them without a map.” They elected to stop where they were and enjoy the view.

Timings Up Down
Trailhead 08:38 AM 03:41 PM
Fire trail Jct 08:48 AM 03:30 PM
Mills/Loch Jct 09:13 AM 03:02 PM
Mills Lake 09:28 AM 02:45 PM
Black Lake 10:48 AM 01:17 PM
Blue Lake 11:35 AM 12:25 PM

Exhausting Work

I started planning a trip to California back in November. This trip will be centered around a track day with Golden Gate Lotus Club at Laguna Seca, one of the nation’s premier race tracks. I’ve made a number of reservations, and have already paid for track days at Thunderhill and Sonoma. One of the first interesting tidbits I learned when I started this plan is that both Laguna Seca and Sonoma have noise restrictions.

Laguna Seca Raceway was built back in 1957. In recent years, however, people have been building homes around the track. And, of course, nobody wants noisy race cars in the neighborhood, even if the noisy race cars were there first. We see this sort of thing all the time, usually with airports. “I built this house knowing an airport is right next door, but it’s too noisy. Can’t we do something about those noisy airplanes?”

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Ugly exhaust

Laguna Seca has a number of days where they’re allowed to run without noise restrictions, but most days are limited to 90 dB. I asked the folks at GGLC if my after market exhaust would be okay. The consensus was that an Elise running with the stock exhaust would pass, but most after market exhausts would not. At least, not without some modifications. Many people resort to welding odd attachments onto their cars to direct the noise away from the detection station. Google “Laguna Seca exhaust” images and you’ll get a bunch of things like the picture at right.

I really want to run at Laguna Seca, and it wouldn’t be any fun to do a two-week trip around this event and end up not being able to participate because I’m too loud. And I’m certainly not going to weld some ugly-ass pipes to the back of my car. Luckily, I happen to have the stock exhaust in the attic. When I bought the car, the previous owner included it and I had to have it shipped home. It’s been in the attic ever since, and I never had any intention of using it.

So yesterday Michael and I went about swapping the exhaust. I’d been told by the GGLC guys that it would be possible to rent an exhaust for the day. How hard can it be to swap, then, if somebody is willing to do it twice in one day, to make it stock in the morning then put it back in the afternoon? Of course, those guys probably have done this operation a number of times and have it down to a science. Michael and I, on the other hand…

It took us nearly four hours.

When I had it shipped all those years ago, it was packed up in a box full of packing popcorn. Those things got everywhere. Before we went to put it on we shook it pretty good and managed to get about three dozen of the things to fall out. We thought we got them all. When we finally had everything put back together and I started it up, a few more popped out.

It had just started raining when we finished so I didn’t get a test drive in until this afternoon. The car is much quieter. The burbles and pops I like so much are gone. And I think the radio is usable now. With the 2bular exhaust the car is just too loud to listen to the radio unless you’re stopped at a stoplight.

I probably should have snapped some pictures of the process, but that wasn’t real high on my priorities. I did manage to remember to weigh both pieces. The stock exhaust weighs 26 lbs and the 2bular is a feather light 10.5 lbs.

Two Rivers Lake

Sunday, June 5

For the first hike of the year, my latest first hike in eight years, I headed toward Lake Helene. Either Helene or Two Rivers. I figured this would be an unremarkable hike. This is the third or fourth year in a row I’ve hiked this way at this time of year. Familiar territory and conditions.

It’s a short hike, probably the shortest I’ll take all year. That meant I could have a leisurely morning and didn’t need to arrive at the Bear Lake parking lot until about 9:30. I arrived pretty much on schedule to a nearly full lot. I parked in the third or fourth spot from the bottom of the lot. I was on the trail by 9:45.

My first encounter with other hikers was a bit of foreshadowing. Four young women were at the trail sign at the start of the Flattop/Odessa trail. Their discussion sounded a bit confused. I asked if they had things figured out. They didn’t. They were looking to go to Nymph Lake. I showed them Nymph on the map and told them how to get there, as that trail wasn’t on this map. They had no idea where they were and couldn’t make sense of the map.

Shortly after ten I arrived at the Flattop-Odessa trail junction. I stopped and put the spikes on. There was more snow here than any of the last few springs. About the only snowless patch from the junction on up is at a rock outcropping with a view of Bierstadt. Not far past that there’s a meadow. On winter hikes I’ve sometimes had trouble finding the route – the blowing snow erases most of the footprints. Plenty of steps to follow today, and here’s where we deviated from the summer route.

The summer trail crosses over to the flank of Joe Mills Mountain but the snow trail stayed on Flattop side. I soon caught up to three hikers: mom, college aged daughter, junior high son. Mom was in sneakers, none had spikes.

The daughter told me, “We’re going almost to Odessa. I was there yesterday and dropped something. We’re going to look for it.”

“You don’t have spikes? You made it to Odessa? I won’t go to Odessa this time of year even with spikes. Too steep.”

She confirmed that she’d been to Odessa.

A short while later I met a young couple coming down the trail. They didn’t have spikes and also said they made it to Odessa. The next hikers, two guys, said they wanted to go to Odessa but when they got to an overlook decided “no way.” They didn’t have spikes, either.

Continuing to follow the steps in the snow I soon arrived at the outlet of Two Rivers Lake. The trail stopped here in the rocks that will probably be under water in a matter of days. A few skiers had traversed the slope on the south side of the lake, and there were a couple sets of footprints, but this was the end of the line.

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It finally clicked – all those people who said they went to Odessa had no idea that they’d only been to Two Rivers. No official trails go to Two Rivers or Helene; they’re not on any signs. The only lake on any of the signs they’d seen was Odessa. Of course they thought they were at Odessa. Only about a third of the people I’d met had the slightest idea where they really were.

I managed to take only a handful of photos with the SLR before the battery died. I was disappointed, but not surprised. It’s been a while since I used the camera. It was breakfast before I thought to charge the batteries. I only charged one battery for a short time. But it’s not like I don’t already have pictures of place, no big deal.

I found a nice log to sit on, got comfortable, tucked into lunch, and proceeded to watch the world go by. Before long, a small bird arrived on a branch very nearby. Small, gray with a white head and black collar. Black stripes on the eyes, not horizontal like a raccoon but vertical. I don’t know my birds; I think this was a White-throated Sparrow. She sat on this limb and fluffed and preened. Spread our her feathers, rearranged a few with her beak. Birds never pose that nicely for me when I have a working camera. She flew off after a while but did come back later. She spent a lot of time on the ground looking for food.

Also notable was the mated pair of ducks that were feeding in the shallows. They motored past me to the outlet where they ran their beaks back and forth under the surface and occasionally went deep, putting their butts up in the air. They were the only two ducks at the lake.They eventually worked their way back past me, occasionally bobbing their tails up.

I stayed at the lake for forty minutes, had the place all to myself. The weather was great, bright sunshine, scattered clouds, calm. As the clouds moved eastward they darkened a bit, incipient scattered showers.

When I started back, I found it easy to exactly retrace my steps. I saw no other hiker using spikes, so my prints were obvious. That lasted until I met a couple hiking up. They were “just going to the lake”, Odessa presumably. Between the two of them, they only obscured about a third of my footprints. Then I met the hikers who had spikes.

As expected, I crossed paths with more people as I progressed down the trail. At the clearing, where our route regained the path of summer trail, a group of snowshoers were just leaving the trail and beginning to head up the side of Flattop. Just before seeing them I passed a couple of women who were switching to hiking boots, one from skis the other from snowboard.

I stopped and enjoyed my plum at the Bierstadt overlook. The plum was nearly perfect – skin still crisp, the flesh at maximum juiciness. Sweet and flavorful.

A group of five young guys approached the Flattop trail junction from Bear Lake as I got there from Two Rivers. They turned to go up Flattop wearing flat soled canvas shoes. “You’ll be hiking on snow from here on, and you’re a long way from any kind of view!” But they were undeterred. I wonder how far they went before they turned around.

In the end, I didn’t get the expected “unremarkable” hike. It was another beautiful day in the park. Even though I’ve been through this area repeatedly, the snow cover and altered route breathed freshness into this visit. I found solitude after a short, easy hike and enjoyed watching the birds.

Santa Fe, Day 4

Tuesday, May 24

At dinner last night we discussed an 8:00am departure. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but Mike’s tour guide called for an 8:30 exit. This caused a bit of confusion. We didn’t hit the road until more like 8:20 and still managed to abandon one car. Thinking we were seven cars, we were immediately split up at the first intersection. Four made it, three didn’t. We three quickly caught up.

After driving north on US 285 for a short while, we switched to a series of New Mexico state highways that make up the High Road to Taos: NM 503, NM 76, NM 75, and NM 518. The low road to Taos follows the busier routes along the rivers while the High Road goes through the hills and valleys of the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. It’s a much more circuitous route, pine-scented and cooler than river bottom desert path.

Through one small town, the road is quite narrow. Signs warn “No Center Stripe Next 1.5 Miles”. There is no center strip because the road is essentially a single lane. I’m not sure what we’d have done had we encountered oncoming traffic. A few towns later the road revealed dramatic views of what I believe is North Truchas Peak, its rocky summit still sporting a fair amount of snow. These peaks are not as dramatic as the northern Sangre de Cristos but may be the prettiest mountain views in New Mexico.

Some time before arriving at our pit stop in Taos our straggler caught up. At the pit stop we parted ways with the group. We had been over most of the roads on Mike’s route and elected to tread new ground and head east on US 64. The first section, from Taos to Angel Fire, is a nice twisty Lotus road without much weekday traffic.

The road crosses Palo Flechado Pass (“arrow-shaped trees”). A hundred years before the Louisiana Purchase, this area was the scene of some tensions between the Spanish and French over trade. In 1719 governor Valverde heard intelligence form the Spanish viceroy in Mexico City that six thousand French troops were moving up the Arkansas River. He sent a scouting party of forty-two soldiers, sixty Pueblo Indians, and a thousand horses to check the report. After battling snow, bears, and poison ivy, the group crossed the pass and made it as far as the site of current North Platte before meeting their end at the hands of the Commanche. The few stragglers that returned to Santa Fe admitted that there was no sign of six thousand Frenchmen.

Our crossing of the pass was much more comfortable; no snow, no bears, no poison ivy. At Angle Fire we enter a broad, windswept valley. There’s a Vietnam Veterans memorial here and today the road was lined with American flags for a few miles on either side. At Eagle Nest Lake the road climbs out of the valley. It’s twisty enough to have quite low speed limits; several miles of 35mph with a bit of 25mph as well. This is Cimarron Canyon State Park.

At the exit of the canyon, the land flattens to low, broad mesas and the road straightens passing through the burg of Cimarron. The road turns to the north east and runs past the NRA facility at Whittington before reaching its junction with I-25.

The remainder of our trip was on I-25 and thus deserves little discussion. We did see the remnants of our group stopped at the KFC/Taco Bell at Walsenberg. We weren’t ready for lunch yet and proceeded to Pueblo. While stopped there Genae got a Red Alert on her phone: we were about to get some very nasty weather… at home.

From the time we put wheels on I-25 until Colorado Springs we kept a steady speed a few miles an hour over the posted limit and were passed only twice. North of the Springs, driving the same speed, we were nearly the slowest car. Even travel trailers and semis passed us.

To avoid the potential of running into the weather that generated our warning we took C-470 and looped around the west side of town. This also had the benefit of missing most of the bad traffic through the center of Denver. We had no signs of bad weather until we got within a mile or so of the house. At the golf course, the fairways were covered with hail and rivers ran down the cart paths. The streets were littered with shredded leaves torn from the trees.

Michael had kindly shoveled the hail and leaves from half the driveway, clearing our path. The rain came down so hard and fast our little solar tube over the stairs leaked badly, soaking the carpet. Shredded leaves were everywhere, the raspberry bushes were transformed into denuded twigs, and the windshield of the Chrysler is cracked from top to bottom. We were quite happy to have not been caught in this in the Lotus.

2016-05-24 16.17.58sWe had a nice trip, enjoyed the company of good friends, and took pleasure in exploring a good portion of northern New Mexico.

Finally, a tip of the hat to Mike for all his effort in putting this trip together – scouting much of the route, inspecting the hotel, and ensuring that our visits to the various parks would be worthwhile.

Santa Fe, Day 3

Monday, May 23

Today is the optional day; about half the cars departed today by the route we’ll take tomorrow. Today’s route takes us southeast and east so we will have fairly fully explored Santa Fe’s environs, hitting all the major roads except I-25 south.

We got a more leisurely start today, on the road at 8:30. We enjoyed visiting with folks and tucked in to the potatoes again, and a strictly verboten (half) cinnamon roll. We hit the road on schedule with no drama and 10 cars: 5 Elises, a Europa, an M100, a Triumph, a Boxster, and an Evora.

First on the agenda was Sandia Crest, via NM 14. This is the route Jerry and I took when returning from the balloon fest back in October. Although we didn’t do the fourteen miles to the summit then, I had gone there the first time I attended the Balloon Fest. Today being a Monday, there wasn’t much traffic. There was, however, paving in progress near the summit. With only one lane open we had to wait for the escort truck. We were first in line both on our way up and on our way down, so we had open road in front of us.

2016-05-23 10.26.51sAlbuquerque is about a mile above sea level and Sandia rises about a mile above the city. There’s a spruce-fir forest on the top of the mountain, above roughly 9,200′. It’s an 800 acre island of forest surrounded by desert. The mountain gets as much as ten feet of snow in a season. There’s a ski area here which is accessible via the tram from the city side.

2016-05-23 10.14.04sThe Rio Grande side of the Sandia Mountains is 1.4 billion year old Sandia granite on top of a 1.7 billion year old metamorphic layer. The earth’s crust is separating along the Rio Grande Rift; the eastern side lifting and the western side dropping, the river filling the lower side with sediment.

We retraced our route nearly back to Santa Fe before heading east to Glorieta Pass and Pecos. We’ve driven I-25 many times without realizing it crosses the pass. There’s no marker, and this part of the road doesn’t appear any higher than any of several other parts. Glorieta means “hub”. In a Spanish town, the central square is called a glorieta. This is an apt name for the pass, as it served as a hub of trade and culture for nearly a thousand years.

The area was first settled at about the year 1100. By 1450 the pueblo here was a fortress five stories tall and housing two thousand people. This location commanded the trade path between the farmers of the Rio Grande valley and the hunters of the plains. Many goods passed through here – hides, flint, shells, pottery, textiles, crops, turquoise, and slaves. The inhabitants of Pecos grew rich from the trade, and their culture borrowed elements from both valley and plains.

In the autumn of 1540 the first Europeans crossed Glorieta pass. It was a party of twenty two Spanish men detached from Coronado’s army. Coronado sent his captain of artillery, Hernando de Alvarado with sixteen cavalrymen, four crossbowmen, and a chaplain to explore the area. In Pecos, de Alvarado met the “legendary Turk”, a Plains Indian held captive by the villagers. Turk told de Alvarado about a city called Quivira. Quivira, Turk said, was much richer than the Seven Cities of Cibola. This was misdirection: the Pecos people had the correct idea that the Spanish had come up from Mexico to rob them. The myth of gold in Quivira would lure them out into the Plains where they might get lost.

2016-05-23 14.01.45sThe Spanish searched, but didn’t get lost. They returned and, in the early 1600s, built a large mission complex. There was a revolt in 1680 that got rid of the Spaniards for twelve years, but they returned and rebuilt. The population declined until 1838 when the final inhabitants migrated to Jemez pueblo (near where we picnicked yesterday). Today, the Spanish mission is being restored amidst the ruins of the pueblo on the grounds of the Pecos National Historical Park.

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Adobe blocks for restoration made on-site

We began our visit with today’s picnic lunch, then we watched a short video before embarking on the self guided tour. I thought it was somewhat less interesting than Bandelier. The emphasis here seems to be more on the Spanish history than that of the Pecos Indians. This was a much bigger, clearly more important, settlement than at Bandelier, but seems a much harsher place to live.

With nothing on the schedule until dinner tonight, we were left to make our own ways back to Santa Fe. As we were leaving I had a short chat with a fellow who asked about our club. He’s a member of the national Hudson car club. He told me they had their 2015 national meet in Colorado Springs (what a coincidence). They had over two hundred cars show up, and seated over four hundred people at their banquet.

Only a few miles from Pecos there’s a historical marker on the side of the highway. It was erected in 1961 and commemorates the Civil War battle of Glorieta Pass. The sign says the battle is often referred to as the “Gettysburg of the West.” I’ve never heard it called that, but I’m certainly no expert on the Civil War. Rebel troops from Texas captured Santa Fe in March of 1862. Colorado Volunteers met them here, burned their supply camp and slaughtered hundreds of their horses and mules. The Rebels fled New Mexico within two weeks.

We were back to the hotel by 3:15, with plenty of time to rest and clean up before dinner. Tonight we had reservations at The Shed. It was an excellent choice. I had the enchilada/taco plate. Blue corn tortillas, cheese and onion enchilada, green chili turkey sausage taco, served Christmas style (half red chili, half green). In my experience, the green chili is typically hotter than the red. I started with the red. A few bites into it I feared I might spontaneously combust. Here, red is definitely hotter than green. Instead of flour tortillas to sop up the extra sauce, they serve garlic bread. An unexpected but good choice.

During dinner Genae’s phone rang. Too loud in the room to hear, she let it go to voice mail. It was a call from Ann. They had suffered a flat tire after crossing Raton Pass, the group’s third mechanical incident of the trip. Luckily, it sounds like they quickly had a fix and were back on the road.

We rode the hotel’s shuttle to get to The Shed but decided to walk back in an attempt to burn off a few calories. We were back to the hotel before dark, and turned in early after another full day.

Santa Fe, Day 2

Sunday, May 22

Our first destination today is Bandelier National Monument. There’s very limited parking at the visitor center. If you don’t get there first thing you have to park at the White Rock visitor center and take a shuttle bus. Shuttle buses aren’t how we roll so we planned on an early start. We wanted to leave the hotel by 7:30. They don’t normally start breakfast service until 7:00 but Mike had arranged for them to set up a half hour early for us.

The breakfast buffet isn’t the greatest spread I’ve ever seen, but we did enjoy their potatoes – diced, with generous portions of red and green peppers, onion, and bacon. Scrambled eggs, fruit, cereal, juice, and coffee were available as well.

We hit the road on schedule. Today’s caravan included the same cars as yesterday, less one Elise but plus the Z06. We have to make two left turns to get onto US 285 from the hotel. We were immediately split into two groups at that first light, a couple hundred yards from the hotel parking lot. They didn’t catch up to us until we were parked at the visitor center; Mike’s fine directions got everybody where they needed to be.

We arrived at the entrance station before the park opened. There’s a kiosk there that we ignored. Three miles past the entrance we found ourselves at the visitor center. There is parking for only a couple dozen cars. By the time the second tranche of LoCos arrived we had pretty much filled the place up.

2016-05-22 08.59.24sThe visitor center is at the bottom of a small canyon. The rock looks like sandstone but is actually tuff – rock formed from volcanic ash. A stream runs through the canyon all year long. Based on its meager flow this time of year it must be really puny in the depths of summer. The canyon is situated in an ecotone – the transition between two biomes. This provides an abundance of flora and fauna, which was probably key to ancient peoples settling here.

2016-05-22 09.11.54sWe took the one hour self guided tour. There are only three miles of roads in the park but over seventy miles of trails. The self guided tour covers about a mile and a half but visits the largest of the ruins. On the floor of the canyon are the ruins of a circular pueblo that probably contained a couple hundred rooms. Additional structures were cliff dwellings. These weren’t high up the cliffs like the ones at Mesa Verde but were on the bottom of the canyon and used the cliffs as part of the structure.

Next on our agenda was a picnic lunch at the Walatowa Visitor Center, south of Jemez Springs on the Jemez Mountain Trail Scenic Byway. Jerry and I took this road all the way to San Ysidro back in October when we went to the Albuquerque Balloon Festival. The drive transitions from subalpine evergreen forest to red rock desert. We initially thought it was a shame to pass all that comfortable shade and end up in the desert but Walatowa turned out to be a pleasant place for a picnic. The only hiccup on this part of the drive was when Tim ran his TR-6 out of gas. Operator error, rather than a malfunction.

After lunch we retraced our route, back up NM 4. We were to stop at Battleship Rock for a group photo. The lead cars (we were 5th) didn’t stop. I don’t know that anybody behind us stopped, but given that it was midday on a beautiful Sunday it was likely there would be too many other cars there for us to get a decent group photo.

Next was a stop at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The four cars ahead of us passed the entrance; we followed them until we saw Mike make the turn. We turned around and followed everybody down a somewhat bumpy two mile dirt road. Having skipped Battleship Rock we went about lining up the cars for a picture here. Unfortunately, Mike’s car wouldn’t start – our second mechanical issue of the trip.

Photo courtesy of Peter Monson

Photo courtesy of Peter Monson

Unfortunately, most of the vehicles with empty seats didn’t stop. Mike needed to call AAA for a tow and he and Lisa found themselves in the back seats of the two Evoras for the return to the hotel. We later learned that the problem was just a flat battery and he was able to source one at an auto parts store that was open until 10pm on a Sunday night. I’m not mechanically inclined, but it doesn’t make much sense that his battery was fine a half hour earlier when we left Walatowa but wouldn’t even take a jump here.

In any event, this pause allowed us an extended stay in the caldera. The caldera is 24 miles across and last erupted about 1.5 million years ago. This was the source of the ash that formed the tuff in Bandelier. No trees grow on the floor of the caldera – the soil isn’t that great and in winter there is often a thermocline that makes the air here much colder than up the slopes.

Before the place was a wildlife preserve the surrounding slopes were extensively logged. One slope to the north had conspicuous horizontal lines. These were the result of clear-cutting in the seventies. When logging ceased the forest grew back to maturity, only to be severely burned a few years ago.

The last activity planned for the day was a stop at the museum in Los Alamos. We elected to drive through town but not visit the museum. In Los Alamos we failed to make a turn and led the others astray. When we finally got through town we arrived at the junction at exactly the same time as the two Evoras, executing a perfect zipper merge.

We made it back to the hotel just after four. Most of the group had dinner reservations but Genae and I were on our own. We drove downtown to the plaza and wandered around looking for anything interesting. There was a low-rider car show there earlier; all had gone except for two or three stragglers. We finally made our way to a pizza place and nano brewery – they brewed their beer in single barrel batches. Tasty pizza, refreshing beer. We were back to the hotel by eight, tired after a full day.

Santa Fe, Day 1

Saturday, May 21

It’s time for another long weekend trip with LoCo. We used to call these trips The Colorado Good, a riff on The Colorado Grand. This one’s entirely in New Mexico, except for the to and from. The participant list detailed twenty cars and thirty-five people. Mike organized the whole affair and sent out a nice Tour Guide with turn-by-turn directions and snippets of history for many of the places we’d be seeing.

On the way down, the first official way point was in Johnson Village. The Denver folks would meet up with the Springs people there. The Denver contingent planned to gather at The Fort and caravan to the rendezvous. However, we elected to proceed solo and were headed up the canyon on US 285 when the rest were scheduled to start their engines. We were allowing for a potty stop; we’d have been separated from the group anyway.

Going up Kenosha Pass I was collected by a short line of traffic. When I finally got a chance to pass them, a glance in the mirror revealed a string of skittles rolling down into South Park – the other Denver cars. Mike’s notes indicated we wouldn’t be going more than five to seven miles an hour over the limit. In South Park this is fiction. The first few cars in line flew past us at a great rate of speed.

Pete stopped at the junction with US 24 and we all stopped with him. Several people got out and inspected the bottom of his car. With things well in hand, we elected to continue to the rendezvous. Moments after we left, the Colorado Springs cars arrived at the junction. We couldn’t have gotten the timing any better if we’d tried. (Later, we learned Pete’s issue was a loose diffuser.)

Approaching the summit of Trout Creek Pass a prairie dog darted out in front of me. He never had a chance; I don’t think my tires ever made contact with him, but no matter. In the hundreds of thousands of miles I’ve driven in cars and trucks before the Elise I’ve never killed any animals. I hit a deer in my Arrow but didn’t even knock her off her feet. But in the Elise I’ve now gotten four birds and a prairie dog. How does that work, exactly? When we stopped, I checked out the car. No blood, not even hair, and no damage to the car.

When we finally hit the road as a full group, departing Johnson Village, we were four Elises, two Exiges, two Evoras, two M100s, a Europa, a Birkin, a Focus ST, a TR-6, a Boxster, and a Miata. (In Santa Fe we added another Elise and a Z06 Corvette.)

We had a picnic lunch in Alamosa. The road through the San Luis Valley to Alamosa is one of the straightest roads I’ve ever driven on. Not exactly a Lotus road, but it gets a pass because I never get tired of looking at the Sangre de Christo mountains. We didn’t have a picnic lunch so we made a detour to Arby’s. Afterwards we refueled. Genae bought a candy bar. The cashier told her they were two for one so we decided to split one and save the other for tomorrow.

The drive from Alamosa to Antonito lacks the drama of the northern end of the valley. Ranch land instead of scrub, but centered in the wide valley and without a view. Unremarkable, except for the parallel railroad track. It’s a single line and for ten or twelve miles it’s an almost unbroken string of idle rolling stock. At the northern end it was all brand new tank cars. After the new cars it alternated stretches of hoppers, covered hoppers, and tank cars. An almost unbroken string, I say: gaps only at side roads and driveways. How many rail cars fit in ten miles? How many millions of dollars of capital equipment is that?

Leaving Antonito we finally embark on a road that is new to me. Rather than turn left to stay on US 285 in the Rio Grande valley we continue straight, the road now designated CO 17, following the Conejos River. This road takes us over La Manga (Spanish for “sleeve”) and Cumbres (“crests”) passes. The Cumbres crosses the divide of the Chama and Los Pinos rivers, both tributaries of the Rio Grande.

More than a century ago, Ernest Ingersoll described part of Cumbres Pass thus:

In the most secluded nook of the mountains we come upon Phantom Curve, with its company of isolated rocks, tall, grotesque, sunburned. They fill the eye, and in their fantastic resemblance to human shapes, seem to us crumbled images of the days when there were giants, and men of Titanic mold set up mementoes of their brawny heroes.

Much of the path parallels the Cubres-Toltec narrow gauge railroad. The road crosses the rails near the top; on the descent the rails are often visible, curling along the hillside below. The railroad turns are surprisingly tight. We didn’t see any trains running, but in Chama there were a number of sidings holding quite a few cars.

After we gassed up in Chama we were leading the group. I thought I might collect another bird when we came upon a murder of crows feasting on dead deer in middle of road. The birds were reluctant to leave their meal, not taking flight until after staring me down for a moment, making me slow down.

Our position in the lead didn’t last long. Lacking electronic counter measures we stuck to the 5-7mph rule. A few miles after the crows some faster cars passed us and we picked up the pace. The first car to pass did so just as an antelope was crossing the road ahead. There was only one; I don’t think the passing driver saw it. This section of road between US 84/US 64 junction and Tres Piedras is very nice. It features long sweeping turns on hillsides of piƱon forest. There was one particularly nice view of granite mountain that resembled Half Dome.

We were near the front of the pack and our group of cars separated from the rest. We didn’t see some of the folks until well after we had checked in at hotel. This was when we learned of Jeremy’s problem: a blown oil line. He shut the motor down immediately and was fortunate to have a handy place to pull off the road. This is by far the worst mechanical issue we’ve had on any of these trips.

Happy hour was scheduled at six, which gave us time to get provisioned for tomorrow’s picnic. We made a quick run to the grocery store and picked up sandwich fixings and some fruit.

We had adult beverages and chips and dip, cheese, and shrimp; a much better spread than we were anticipating. It was a long day’s drive, and many of us were happy to move the conversation to the next room and eat at the hotel restaurant.