Chapter Four: Pueblo and Taos and We Weren’t Murdered in a Teepee
Thursday, July 20
Up kind of early, a visit to Starbucks for caffeine, then a quick side trip. My friend Barb worked in Pueblo for several years when she first graduated from vet school and the veterinarian she worked with (and loved working with) was still there. Barb asked me to stop by and give her a hug. So this random stranger (me) wandered into a vet clinic in Pueblo, CO, leaving a car full of people in the parking lot to ask to give another random stranger a hug. When I explained that Barb had sent me to give her a hug from TN, both the doctor and the staff were so excited. Just so we are clear, I wouldn’t have done that for anyone but Barb, and maybe, like 2 other people.
Once I hugged a (now former) stranger, we got on the road again. This time toward Taos, New Mexico. We had planned to spend a night in a teepee in a small town in NM — found via AirBNB. So we took a bit of a detour to Taos, because I’m not sure why — but we did. We had fun there and ate LARGE portions at The Gorge. Taos was pretty and really touristy but I bought an awesome mug from a local artist, G got some animal figurines and we got J a super neat steampunk-y light switch for the den. Oddly enough, J met the best friend (M) of the niece of the lady who owns the teepee. She told us that the road there was really rough, but that they would shuttle us there if we needed it. What a coincidence! (or the set-up of a horror movie. Hard to know.)
We headed off toward the teepee. The drive was absolutely beautiful. Mountains and trees and green (not the dry, brown mountains we had been looking at). We turned off the highway and onto a gravel road, following the directions. The phones had no reception at all. We passed gates and ranches and I was dodging deep holes and ruts and washouts like crazy in my little Mazda 5. We barely forded a stream without bottoming out on the other bank. Then, the gravel road turned to dirt. And the ruts got a lot deeper. I was having to control my breathing and say prayers to all the gods and straddle tire-worn ruts to make sure I didn’t rip out the bottom of the car in the middle of nowhere NM. I might have almost cried. If we had needed a shuttle (or a tow truck or the police), we couldn’t have called the people to come get us!
We turned through a gate and dammit the road got worse!! How can it get worse?!? It did. Now we added large rocks, a steep grade and a drop-off at the right side to the ruts, washouts, holes and deep tire tracks. Yay. My knuckles were white when we made it to an abandoned, crumbling stone house. I pulled into the grass, partially to figure out where to go next and partially to catch my breath and get my blood pressure back to a normal-ish level. An old, beat-up, rusted out Ford pickup truck sloooowly made its way down to us from a house about 1/2 mile away. We thought maybe these were the people who were meeting us. Thank god they were not. Two twenty somethings with dreadlocks, chokers, dirty clothes, barefoot, and a suspiciously distracted look in their eyes got out and started at us for a minute before they said cars smaller than ours had made it up there before. Oooooohkay. Thanks! They got back in the truck and headed on down the road. We think they might live in that house, actually. That’s fine and all. Anyone who knows us knows we don’t judge people and as long as they’re not hurting anyone, they’re cool with us! The thing about these two was that creepy vibe. We weren’t sure they haven’t hurt anyone…
We could see a woman a little further up, working on her four-wheeler. I took a deep breath and we slooooowly made our way on up to the house. C met us and was super nice. She said “Welcome to paradise!” We looked around and completely agreed. We were surrounded by mountains and blue sky and light clouds and trees and a creek. A border collie and two Pyrenees ran up to meet us. It WAS paradise. She hopped on the four wheeler and led us further along a dirt path. About another 1/2 mile down the trail, we came to a clearing with a large field. There were about 10 cows who were super excited to see the four wheeler. C sighed and said she didn’t think to bring them any cake this time. Lila, the border collie, tried to herd them but mostly she was just trying to show off for the new people.
At the edge of the clearing was a perfect teepee. Inside was neat as a pin (sidenote: wth does that mean? neat as a pin? are pins extra neat? how would you know? they’re so small… and it really all depends on where they’ve been. whatever) There was a really soft bed, two bedrolls, a low table with lots of blankets neatly folded, a larger table holding a jug full of water and a basket full of of cute, flower patterned dishes. There was a cute fire pit in the center of the well-swept floor. M’s business card was next to a vase of flowers. Lil and Lay were really excited to put pics on Instagram but were disappointed to find that phone service wasn’t really much of a thing there in the teepee field. We unloaded our stuff and hung up our hammocks in the nearby trees. G came running over to say, “The cows are licking all our stuff!” Sure enough, the cows were licking everything sitting next to the car. And parts of the car. I walked over and said, “Hey. What are you doing?!” One black cow tilted her head and stared at me, her tongue mid-lick. I repeated myself and she backed away from the car. I think she snorted in a pissy manner as she walked off. She kept looking back at me like I was the asshole here. A couple of horses wandered into the field a little later, but they didn’t lick any of our stuff.
We made a fire and ate PB&J for dinner since we didn’t bring veggie dogs or s’mores stuff. Lay tried to toast a piece of bread on a stick, but oddly enough, it doesn’t really work. The bread just falls into the fire or catches on fire while falling off the stick. But I had to let her try. Learn from experience, right?
C and Lila came by again to check on us. I told her that this place was great and that had we known, we would have planned to stay more than one night. “Most people are only here one night,” she said.
Does it feel like I am setting up a horror movie? Because it started to feel that way to me… I mean, we are a family on vacation. Just a regular old, innocent vacation. We find this great place online. It’s a deal at only $50/night! We drive out into the middle of the mountains where there is no cell service and the road is almost impossible to navigate in our family car. (Imagine trying to escape down that road in the middle of the night. Or any time you have to drive fast… Not going to happen. That undercarriage is gonna be sitting 50 feet behind the rest of the car at some point and you’re going to be stranded.) We meet some weird, off-putting people on the way in. Everything seems perfect at this little teepee. C tells us that people only stay one night. And we met a friend of the family in a town an hour away. Her card is even in the teepee. Like she’s a scout or a helper or something. Once we start dozing off next to the fire, we all (except G) come to the same conclusion that we were lured here to be murdered.
I slept with my glasses and headlamp on, with a pocketknife and a spray can of bug repellant (because that shit hurts if you get it in your eyes!) I knew that I would push G between the teepee wall and the bed to hide her and that no one better mess with us because between the threat to our kids, his Army training and brute strength and my dangerous red-headedness, we would be pretty damn formidable. Just thinking about the audacity of anyone trying to kill us made me so mad! How dare they?! J was originally sleeping in the hammock outside so G and I could have the bed, but he started thinking that if something happened and he was lying out there in his mummy bag sleeping bag, he would probably just fall out of the hammock and be totally useless. So he came in and squeezed into the bed. For our protection, of course.
It turns out no one tried to murder us. I still haven’t decided if that’s because they are nice people who would never think about murdering a family of vacationers or if they were going to but changed their minds either because they didn’t want to kill such sweet kids or because they thought we would be too much to take on. Jury’s still out. But we’re not dead, so that’s good. None of us had said anything to each other the night before, because we didn’t want to scare G, but it turns out every single one of us had been thinking the same thing. We watch waaaay too much TV.
Despite the terrifying description above, it really was great. C was super sweet and the teepee was perfectly kept. Even the outhouse was nice! I would love to go back and spend more than one night there. (But in a 4 x 4)
We all woke up early and packed aaaaallllll that shit back up. Lila and the pyrenees came to visit us when C came by to check on us. She wished us well and said that we were welcome any time. We finally got everything into the luggage bag and the back seat. I really regretted not bringing instant coffee as we started back down the road from hell. I made J get out of the car for a few of the especially treacherous areas. Everyone else got out before I forded the creek and this time I didn’t even scrape the car at all! It was still a tense drive back to the main road and I’m pretty sure we all cheered a little when we hit pavement and the car was still in one piece.
Chapter 5: Santa Fe is amazing but the Texas Panhandle is meh and driving is exhausting
We headed to Santa Fe and found out that this capital city is beautiful! We ate at the Plaza Restaurant, which is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Santa Fe, then walked around the plaza. We saw the Basilica of St. Francis — beautiful and sacred — and viewed an art installation in the park. Then we shopped. A LOT. The girls went shopping together and J and I went shopping together. The girls found some really pretty jewelry and cute stuff (and took lots of selfies). J and I bought a print from an artist who loves rescue dogs and cats. This particular print was commissioned by a family with 5 rescue dogs, all with distinct personalities. The artist, Victoria de Almieda, showed us how she portrayed each personality in the painting and why she placed each dog where it was in relation to each other. She also showed us how she always puts her grandmother’s house somewhere in each painting. I looooove buying from artists. I am no art collector or art connoisseur by any means. I buy things that make me happy. When I get to meet the person who put their heart into something that makes me happy, it is even more meaningful. You all should definitely check out her website. ( http://www.victoriadealmeida.com and buy her stuff at her Etsy site)
Then we took our happy art into a cocoa store and bought fancy coffees and a big block of single origin 60% cacao with pistachios. It was intended to be for a friend, but we ate it. All. Sorry, Barb.
We really could have spent days (and a lot more $$ if we had any) in Santa Fe and we will be back, I’m sure. But we had to get home and still had many, many, many miles to go. We drove east. The rest of New Mexico was pretty, then became just desert. We crossed into Texas without really noticing. The Texas panhandle is… not appealing to me. It’s dry and dusty and flat. We ate at 575 Pizza in Amarillo, then continued the trek east. The Western Hotel in Shamrock, TX is right on Route 66 and is right next to the iconic Conoco Tower (apparently that is a famous landmark of some kind). Our room was pretty perfect for us, with 2 separate bedrooms; it looked like a dorm room. We had a regular (not electronic) key and the hallways smelled like the Sunday school rooms in an old Baptist church. You know that smell. You know exactly what I mean if you grew up in the South. G said, “It’s too hot to relax! I can’t sleep.” The words were barely out of her mouth before her head hit the pillow and she was snoring. We were all tired,
Saturday, July 22
Up at 9:30. Breakfast at McDonald’s (for some authentic cuisine, obviously), then more driving east. A few bathroom stops, then lunch at Taco Bueno in Sallisaw, OK. (We also apparently crossed into Oklahoma at some point without noticing and I was super disappointed because I had my “Oklahoma!” soundtrack all cued up and everything.) Oklahoma is pretty much like Texas and Kansas, but with a few more trees and worse drivers than Kansas. (Shout out to Kansas drivers. Y’all know how to get the hell out of the damn left lane and not just cruise along in that passing lane like it’s your own personal road. Huge appreciation to you.)
Late, about 10:30 Central Time (I hate losing an hour), we stopped at Red Robin in Jackson, TN. We sang “Jackson” as a duet, even though it’s not the right Jackson, then J drove the rest of the way home because my freaking feet were swelling from not changing position for 12 hours.
We got home around 1:30 AM to two very upset cats and quite a dramatic mess to clean up before J and I could fall into bed.
It was a busy, chaotic, unpredictable, exhausting, sometimes scary, sometimes boring, sometimes really exciting and always completely amazing trip to see parts of the country we have never before seen. It’s easy to forget how HUGE the USA is when we’re going about our daily routines. Part of me was glad to get home and get back to “normal”, but the rest of me wants to see more. We’re going to look into a 4 x 4 if there are any more backroads in the future (spoiler alert: there will be).
Thanks for sticking with me and reading my travelogue. (I had to write it down because my memory is such that even though this was an amazing, memorable trip, I won’t remember the details in a month. <– this is a curse and a blessing. It’s getting much harder to hold grudges as I get older too.)