The beautiful highway 518 brought us straight into Taos, NM. These little artsy, historic towns hold a lot to see for the average tourist, we opted however to skip the tourist trap and head towards something that interested us much more. Just outside of Taos is the first Earthship community; Each home is built to be 100% self-sustainable with water collection, solar energy, and indoor gardens. A short tour was all it took to convince us we wanted something similar for ourselves in the future; It adds a bit of fun to the adventure to imagine our little home into each attractive landscape as we drive by.
On the way to the Earthships we got to stop off at the Rio Grande Gorge, New Mexico’s Grand Canyon equivalent, and ponder over the difficulty ancient people must have had before such a bridge was built. The layers of rock cascading into the river far below brings a certain respect for nature’s determination to continue on it’s course no matter the time or effort. Feeling we should at least give Taos a fair chance, we ate lunch in the plaza and tried out a couple of breweries. More than anything this just made us ache for Austin’s beer and quality queso; New Mexico knows its chile, but cheese doesn’t seem to be anyone’s priority.
We wandered through the rest of northern New Mexico taking the most scenic routs possible. Not stopping for anything in particular, we moseyed along 64 and 38 soaking in the snowy peaks and green valleys of Angel Fire and Eagle’s Nest. A noteworthy stop was the Vietnam War Memorial outside of Angel Fire. Pulling off on a whim, this memorial is incredibly well put together and has a great view of the city below. As you wind down toward Red River, it’s hard to keep your eyes off the rusty cliffs hanging over the road and town. definitely one of the best stretches of road we had driven so far. Unfortunately the same can’t be said about the final stretch into Colorado from Questa.
As you drive into Colorado from 522, the long fields of dust and ratty weeds is a bit anticlimactic. Something in us thought the border would be a great wall of snow, and mountains as far as the eye could see. Despite the initial disappointment, our first Colorado National Park far exceeded our expectations.
The Great Sand Dunes only found a place in our itinerary by being the only thing in the area. We are so glad they came to our attention. This bazaar congregation of dunes seems almost like a prop set in front of the snowy mountains above. The prevailing winds trapping hundreds of feet worth of sand in this valley makes for something truly awesome. Another of the many “pictures don’t do it justice” sort of places. We walked about half-way up the dunes watching people sled down the steep sides before giving up and just staring at the absurd landscape around us. A shallow river cuts down the mountain and along the edge of the dunes where families gather to play in their own little beach among the rocky’s. The day was accented by the best sunset so far; Camped in a flat field of BLM land just outside the park, we watched the clouds morph between dozens of colors, the last bit of light leaving the horizon around 10pm.
Already psyched about Colorado so far, we pressed on the next morning in high spirits. It’s funny how sleeping in a van will get you going early; By 10am we had already eaten breakfast, packed up camp, driven through Walsenburg and Colorado City, picked us some ice and groceries, and dove straight into the San Isabel National Forest for new spot to set up. The San Isabel turned out to be another pleasant surprise. We were just coming over a hill after traversing Ferdinand down multiple dirt roads in search of the perfect camping when a strange structure loomed above us. A castle certainly wasn’t what we were expecting to find in the National Forest and when we pulled over to investigate things got even stranger. Anti-establishment and strongly political signs little the driveway. Groups of people can be seen scaling the walls and peeking out windows. Crooked turrets poke into the sky confined by wire balconies. Bishop’s Castle is a one-man project started in 1969 by Jim Bishop. Originally intended as a family cabin, his building inspiration and plans went askew. Happy to share his creation with the world, Bishop has been in legal battles over the structure for the majority of his life, yet the castle remains open the public. It took all the courage we had to step out the door onto the swaying balcony dotted with leg-sized holes and climb to the top of one of the spires. The chances of the stones deciding to finally tumble after all these years is pretty slim i’m sure; That fact was hard to believe while standing near the top with no rails to keep you in and the wind slowly swaying you from side to side. A tribute to the capabilities of a single man left to fulfil his childhood dreams, Bishop’s Castle was such a cool stop.
The San Isabel continued to be good to us, eventually providing a great pull-off right near the river along a secluded dirt road.
We left the forest the next day to hunt down a shower and glance around Colorado Springs. Before leaving Austin, we decided to sign up for a Planet Fitness membership. This way we can enjoy hot showers when we are in bigger cities. After freshening up, we headed over to The Garden of the Gods. Similar to many other destinations on our trip, these red rock formations seemed otherworldly in the setting at the base of the Rockies. From there we meandered up to the neighboring Manitou Springs to revel at the naturally carbonated water that flows through the town. Although a quant tourist town teeming with cabins and hotels, the surrounding forest offers no easy camping and the sites in town are no more than glorified RV parking lots. Exhausted from searching and nervous about the prospect of city camping we caved for the first time and got a hotel room.We felt like kids sprawled out surfing through movies and playing with the microwave. The king sized bed seemed comical after sleeping in Ferdinand but was a welcome, restful nights sleep. we are just dipping our toes into what the state of Colorado has to offer and becoming comfortable in our daily routines. We can’t wait for the Rockies to throw themselves at us full force.