Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Chama, Pagosa and Horses!

Although we’d been planning a trip to the Jemez area this past weekend, controlled burns occurring north of Santa Fe caused us to rethink our plans and consider heading north towards southern Colorado instead. Since the smoke from the recent burns had thwarted our plans to enjoy the natural hot springs in Jemez, it seemed only natural to take ourselves to Pagosa Springs in order to soak our water-hungry bodies.

After a swim at Lake Abiquiu, the next stop was the charming town of Chama, where we ensconced ourselves at The Little Creel Campground where we had spent three lovely days back in May. The river was noticeably lower, but we were able to sleep all night with the sound of the nearby rushing waters, the windows of our rig open despite the temperatures dropping into the 40’s.

Saturday morning, we enjoyed homemade apple and blueberry pie accompanied by fresh decaf coffee at the nearby Elk Horn Café. Lined with wood paneling and filled with hunters in combat fatigues, the Elk Horn and the many nearby lodges all cater to hunters and fishermen looking for their autumnal fix of the outdoors. Pickup trucks filled the parking lot, and the testosterone level in the dining room was palpable as was the cloud of the overpowering scent of Tide detergent that sent us outside to eat our pie in peace.

Leaving the Elk Horn unscathed (bellies filled with quintessentially American coffee and pie) to the farm stand next door, we befriended the friendly Texan proprietor who gave us a sweet deal on some New Mexican gifts destined to be set aside for the holidays. A stray kitten appeared to fall in love with us, and even though the farm stand owner did his best to get us to take the cat with us, we pawned him off on the folks at the gift shop next door who immediately, began the work of finding him a proper home. Phew!

Moments after leaving downtown Chama, we spontaneously picked up a bright young Oregonian hitchhiker named Mary, and we enjoyed the gloriously unrolling landscape, enriching conversation, and a brief encounter with a herd of cattle being ushered down the road by a group of hardworking cowboys and cowgirls. (For all you Easterners, this video is well worth watching for the sheer novelty of traffic stopping for such a spectacle!) 

After dropping off our young passenger in pursuit of her next ride, the balance of this glorious autumn day was spent soaking in the waters at Pagosa Springs, where a downtown resort perches along the river and offers more than a dozen mineral pools ranging from 89 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as quick dips in the chilly river.

Luckily for us, a friend and neighbor from The Commons invited us to spend a few nights at a ranch where she periodically boards her horse, and we made our way deep into the San Juan National Forest to the very remote Snow Angel Ranch, a slice of Coloradan heaven on earth more than five miles from the nearest neighbor or paved road.

To share some equine history, our friend Ellen’s horse, Snow Leopard, usually boards at a stable located an easy ten-minute walk from our casita, so Mary has frequently cared for Snowy in Ellen’s absence. Having established a bond over the last few months, Mary and Snowy were ready to engage on a deeper level, and their relationship as horse and rider was established this weekend under Ellen’s very kind and patient tutelage.

Missing the splendor of October in New England, we were heartened to find one small imported sugar maple on the ranch, imported and transplanted by the owner to remind her of her years in Wisconsin. This lone maple was resplendent with orange and red leaves, and we breathed in the familiar color like kids in a candy shop.

After several days of horses, walking the land, and sharing delicious meals with Ellen and the ranch’s gracious homesteading owners, we returned to Pagosa for a few more hours of soaking before landing back at The Commons where Tina had been in the care of kind neighbors all weekend.

It was a wonderful weekend that took the notion of “Fun Friday” and stretched it into a 72-hour odyssey from the high deserts of northern New Mexico to the lush beauty of southern Colorado.