Saturday, May 30, 2015

2015-11 Chama New Mexico


poppies in Chama New Mexico

Northern New Mexico

Heron Lake State Park

Campground:  Heron Lake St Pk.  Water and Electric (30 amp).  Numerous campgrounds along the lakeshore.  No over-air TV stations.  Weak Cell phone signal.  Cost:  $4 for elect. As I have the New Mexico Yearly camping pass.

Distance Traveled:  93 miles

I’ve left the plateau and mesas tops behind me as I head out on Memorial Day for my next campsite.  Along the way, I stop in the small town of Espanola to pick up a medication from Walgreens.  It was the closest Walgreens drugstore from where I’d been staying.  Though Los Alamos is a wonderful town, built around much history and the Los Alamos National Labs, there are virtually no commercial/chain stores or restaurants in the town.  Except for the one McDonalds and a very large Smiths grocery store.  I’ll miss this perfect little town with nary a vacant store anywhere.  Clean streets well maintained shops and office buildings and not a homeless person in sight.  Good museums and tons of paved biking trails and hiking trails along the edges of the mesa tops and down in the deep canyons.

My backyard view this week
at Heron Lake state park
I’m traveling along hwy 84 a well paved two lane country road with many sections having very wide paved shoulders.  The scenery keeps changing with dramatic mountains and large uplifts of red rocks, chalk and multi colored layered rock formations.  Forest are more prevalent up here as well as a number of reservoir created lakes many being filled by the Chama River.

Heron Lake after years of drought

My destination is Heron Lake State Park.   Some call it Heron No-Lake as the water level has dropped dramatically over the recent years of drought.  Heron Lake is about a 25 minute drive to the little town of Chama, home to a great scenic train ride, The Chama and Toltec Scenic Railroad.  One that I’ve taken in the past and will probably do again.

I’m thinking of this as my little monastery retreat for a week as I expect it will be a quiet experience having arrived after the holiday weekend.  Weather is expected to be in the 65-70 degree range during the day and 40 degrees at night.  Cool for this time of year and this location.   One of the decisions I need to make is, which direction to head in over the next couple of months.  Usually I have a basic plan for the summer but things have conspired to make me want to possibly go in a different direction this season.

After enjoying a few days of quiet-tude, hiking along the old Heron Lake rim, going into the town of Chama for a visit with a shop owner that’s friends of a friend of mine, having lunch and just enjoying the drive through this high country, I’ve signed up for the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad ride.

Antoinette at Cruces de me Corazon
Gail's friend

one of her creations

Artist from Santa Fe

Antoinette's truck, the true Chama experiance

Travelers hint:  Go to the Visitors Center to sign up for the train ride and get a 15% discount.  It’s the best deal available. Even with the discount on the upgraded ride it cost around $120.00

train ticket

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad 

Chama train station

I’ve done this trip in the past, approx. 9 years ago and since it has been a while, I thought it would be a great ride to take once again.  It’s a narrow gauge train meaning the distance between the rails is only 3 feet.  It’s the longest and highest in elevation narrow gauge train in the U.S.  and is a quite spectacular train ride.  Hugging the edges of the mountain passes, winding around canyons and deep gullies, crossing bridges and going through mountain tunnels I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend a day.  The train winds it’s way back and forth across the New Mexico and Colorado boarder numerous times climbing to a height of 10,015 feet.  I took the ride that starts at 8:30 in the morning with a bus trip to the other end of the line, with the return trip taking the majority of the time as it returned to Chama New Mexico.  Completed in 1880 the train was originally use for hauling mineral ore, timber, cattle and sheep and even had a first class passenger car.  The train stopped operations in 1967 after years of struggles to keep afloat and became a tourist ride in 1970.

2nd class seating, pretty nice

I enjoyed a train car that had dining seating with snacks and light breakfast fair, a full turkey dinner awaited midway along the trip at one of our rest stops.  Large windows in the cars provide great views from inside and an open air car is available for outside viewing which I took advantage of off and on throughout the train ride.  Glad I wore my heavy leather winter jacket as it was pretty chilly way up there in the mountains.

Loved the ride through pine and aspen forests, following the narrow ledge along the mountain rims.  The views were like seeing the world from the highest of vantage points.  The broad valleys with mountain streams running through them, the Cumbres gorge with it’s rushing river cascading and tumbling through it.  The alpine pastures throughout the valleys dotted with cottages in remote secluded locations with no utilities except for what the home owners provide in the way of propane, generators or solar for electric power.  Some the valleys being completely isolated without a single sign of human habitation.  Patches of snow remaining between many of the forests and northern slopes of the mountain range.

it's way, way down to the bottom

the train is so high up on the mountain
that the cottages look like tiny toys

all these cottages are off the grid, they
must provide their own fuel, solar or generators

Well, that was enough excitement for one week all rolled into a ride that started at 8:30 and ended at 4:30 in the afternoon.

Back at the campground, I invited Jodie and John over for a little happy hour and we were able to celebrate Jodie’s birthday.  A couple very much in love having gotten married about 5 years ago.  They kayak on the lakes in the area and have started camping in their new travel trailer.  Life is good when your retirement years arrive, especially when you have so much to look forward to and new adventures to experience every day.

I’m heading up to the visitors center this morning (Saturday) for coffee and muffins with a camp host, ukulele lessons, nature hike, a class in nature inspired art and later in the evening they are going to have a movie night.   This state park knows how to put on some entertainment for the campers on weekends.

young family home schooling their child

our ukulele teacher

coffee with the camp hosts

crafts at Heron Lake state park

A few notes on Chama New Mexico

Two trails go through Chama, one is called the Old Spanish trail, it was added to the National Trail System in 2002.  Originally described as the longest, crookedest and most arduous pack mule trail in the history of America.

The second trail called the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail was so designated in 1978 by Congress.  It is 3,100 miles long and goes from the Mexican boarder to the Canadian boarder and travels along the Rock Mountains.  Many hikers and horseback riders travel this route.  Many hikers taking all  summer to complete the trip.  The Chama post office informed me that many hikers receive “care packages” from family members as the hikers (often just out of college) travel this route.  I’ve also seen long distance bikers traveling through this area as well.

Snowmobiling is a major winter sport in the area as a number of the log cabin motels and even one Rv campground are open year round.

Enjoy your day, where ever the trail leads you.

more pictures on PICASA

1 comment:

walterterry said...

Doug, you find the neatest places. Good job!