I feel at this point it would be difficult not to know this because most people get here either from Instagram or Facebook, but I recently relocated from Marfa, TX to Santa Fe, NM. It’s been an interesting week, to say the least. I’ve interviewed for a few jobs, talked to a lot of strangers, read books in a couple bars, and been catcalled almost as many times as I was in Peru (who knew that was a thing here?). I started a part-time job today, so Monday was dedicated entirely to feeling more normal.
Moving interrupts you. Even if you’re leaving a place where you felt lonely, moving somewhere new renders you entirely alone. There’s a huge distinction between the two. I’ve been experiencing a lot of ups and down in the last week, and so, having Monday entirely free, I decided to do something to feel like myself again. I went exploring.
I’ve been doing a little of that here in Santa Fe, but yesterday I wanted to finally get up to Taos and see what all the fuss was about. And while it wasn’t the hippie fantasy dreamland I expected, it was still a hell of a day.
I drove into Taos through a mountain pass that twists and writhes along the Rio Grande, at times mere inches from the edge of the gorge. Around the last turn, the landscape opens up into a wide vista that allows the viewer to see for miles, over distant mountains, the gorge a shadowy depression along the left side of one’s field of vision. It’s difficult to capture with words or photographs how breathtaking it is. I believe my words were, “WHAT?! *giggle* NO WAY ARE YOU SERIOUS?!”
I found free parking north of the touristy plaza and set out exploring (and buying small gifts for my various penpals and a few friends around the world, just for fun). I found a bookstore–let’s be real, I found it before I drove to Taos and it was honestly my goal–but surprisingly was unimpressed with the offerings.
Taos is charming and beautiful. There are flowers and flourishing shade trees everywhere, which are a relief from the relentless sun. Buskers sing in secluded squares, and surprising treats hide around every corner (hi, have you every had a goat cheese chocolate truffle? if not, you should try it).
Once my feet grew tired with wandering, I made my way back to my car and ventured over to Taos Mesa Brewing company. Their lager, pilsner, golden ale, altbier, and porter are all spot on. I especially loved the lager (the lightest) and the porter (the darkest, but it didn’t sit heavy in my stomach like many dark beers do).
Inside it was stiflingly hot, so I took my flight of beer out onto the patio and enjoyed the desert wind and my book. There were two massive Great Danes traveling with their friendly mom. She and I began to talk, in addition to one other solo traveler there to enjoy the weather and beer. He was from Wisconsin, she from Portland, and me from I don’t even know where anymore. She is traveling across the country in her CR-V with her two giant dogs. I can’t imagine how cramped that car must feel during the hours of travel. The gentleman we were talking to gave me a recommendation for a hike that was only about half an hour away, and here we come to my favorite part of this day.
The Williams Lake trail leads to Williams Lake (duh?), which lies in a valley in the Rockies at an elevation of roughly 11,000 feet. The incline of the hike itself isn’t incredibly difficult (a little over 1000 feet), which means my little car had to struggle to get up the mountain so I could start. The first quarter mile of the trail takes one through a quiet and darkened ski village, largely unpopulated in the summer months, and past a ski lift that doesn’t take anyone anywhere at the moment. The trail proper begins in earnest soon after leaving the village, and along its right side gushes a torrent of snowmelt that is, frankly, one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen or heard.
The trail eventually leads away from this stream (waterfall? I know it’s not a river, but I’m not sure what it’s called) and winds up the mountain, soon leading the walker through snow. At first in patches, but then…THEN. There is an open patch of ground where I met some fellow hikers on their way down, and I asked them some questions about the trail. They helped me by telling me two things: 1) Most of the last mile would be entirely over snow, and 2) I needed to follow the blue dots on the trees and the footprints in the snow to stay on the trail.
I can’t even express how excited I was to see so much snow. It was everywhere. The odd thing was that it wasn’t even cold, so I wonder how it stays on the ground when it’s so warm out. Being from a place that is about as opposite from mountains as it’s possible to be, I don’t know anything about how they work. I was wearing a tank top and was still nice and toasty warm. In any case, snow there was, sometimes several feet deep, lying in small hills one had to venture over to keep moving. I most definitely ate it at one point, face planting in the snow and losing my glasses. It was rather amusing, but I’m glad I was alone, so no one could witness my defeat by frozen precipitation.
It was at this point that an alarming thought entered my mind: are there grizzly bears in this part of the range? OH GOD ARE THERE?! And once I thought this, I was completely unable to put it from my mind. Google was not an option, as I’d left cell service far behind, and I stopped every 30 feet, convinced I’d heard something. Eventually, I put it to myself that I could either go on and see something potentially life changing, or turn back in order not to die at the claws of an angry, hungry bear. I finally talked myself into believing there were no grizzlies in the area and kept on. The other hikers I met on the trail convinced me it was worth it.
Oh heavens, was it ever. I wish I could hold on to the feeling of turning a rocky corner and catching my first sight of the lake, after struggling over slippery snow in wet boots with soaking, cold socks, in fear of my life at the mercy of imaginary bears. I’ve never hiked through snow, nor have I ever been that high up under my own power, I think. My lungs were screaming and I’d bent my left knee backward more than once (ow). But it was all, all, all, ALL SO WORTH IT.
As I started this hike fairly late in the day, it started to get dark on the way down, which worried me. Having never been anywhere this remote by myself, nor in a mountain forest with trees this tall, I didn’t realize that the sun seems to disappear earlier than it does on clear land. So though the day was not nearly advanced enough to be considered anything close to sundown, behind the mountain and in the forest, it looked like twilight. At some points, I could barely see the blue dots on the trees, and the footprints were much easier to see on the way up than they were on the way down when it was darker. At one point, I swear I heard a bear, though you may think I was imagining things. Regardless, I made it down the trail much faster than I made it up (in part because I was slipping on snow a lot of the way down).
Fortunately, the only animal I saw was this one.
I spent a very happy drive home in the dusty, golden dusk, the mountains layers of blue paper in the distance, listening to the smokey brogue of Alexi Murdoch, my heart singing with trees and mountains and snow. I think this day was one of the best of my life. Whether my fears were real or imagined, the feeling of forging ahead on my own, in spite of those fears, left me feeling powerful and confident. I want to hold on to the memory of this day forever.