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 piñon 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.

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