The best part of doing a road trip out west is how quickly the landscape changes as you drive. It was a scenic ride down from Colorado Springs to our next Airbnb in Taos, New Mexico. Taos is an interesting oasis in the desert. Back in the day, a series of canals were engineered to water the valley. Today, a board controls the water, and residents of the valley can request a day to flood their fields. So while you can be up on a hill sitting in the sage brush that dominates the area, just below are clover, green grass, and apple trees. The house we stayed in was an old adobe farmhouse on the edge of the irrigated grazing fields, which allowed us to experience desert brush and cacti, as well as lush greenery. The adobe walls of the house were two feet thick, and the view from the backyard was magnificent. It was a perfect hobbit house.
New Mexico has its own unique culture and food. Mrs. Crazy Kicks fell in love with New Mexican cuisine during a college summer spent in Los Alamos. The food at its basics is Mexican, but what makes it New Mexican is the red and green chili sauce. A burrito here is simply a tortilla filled with meat and smothered with your choice of red or green chili, with lettuce and tomatoes on top. Prices are reasonable – a plate of enchiladas or a burrito with rice and beans cost ~$8. We did not eat out much on our trip in general, but we did have to stop a couple of times for red chili enchiladas in Taos and Santa Fe.
Taos is multicultural and has many artists and galleries in the area. Our host, who is also an artist working on an area TV production set, told us about an interesting exhibit in Santa Fe which he said was one of the best he had seen. The House of Eternal Return by Meow Wolf is a massive installation made of works from dozens of local artists. It is essentially an entire Victorian house built inside a warehouse with different portals into warped dimensions – a huge funhouse. This was our most expensive activity for the entire trip, costing us $15 each. The experience was worth every penny. The installation is very impressive and the art is spectacular. It was a lot of fun and I walked away with some new ideas for cool projects.
On the way to Santa Fe, we did fall for one tourist trap. There were signs along the road for different kinds of beef jerky. Elk jerky, buffalo jerky, pinon nuts, “Free Samples” and “Free Hugs.” Mrs Crazy Kicks did warn me that it was probably a tourist trap, but we stopped anyway. After the free samplings, the prices were revealed – $16 for a couple ounces of elk jerky! We got away with giving him $12 for a few sausages. When we got into Santa Fe, we saw a less touristy stand selling gallon bags of jerky for $10. Oh well. We were had, but at least the sausages went well with the local beer. On the way down to Taos, we took the low road which gave us views of the Rio Grande. On the drive back, we took the high road through the mountains. The views in both directions were well worth it. The landscape changed from mesas to densely packed ponderosa pines in the mountains.
On our last day, we packed up, made some sandwiches for the road, and started heading toward Colorado. Our host had mentioned that we should stop to check out the Rio Grand Gorge. It was on our way, but the immense scale was unexpected. We got to see rafters floating down the river, hooting and hollering as they went over the rapids under the bridge. In the photo below, they are only a speck.
After we crossed the Gorge, we saw something popping out of the desert that we had not expected – Earthships! We had seen the documentary “Garbage Warrior” a few years ago and I have been fascinated with these self-sufficient buildings for some time. Well, we had just inadvertently stumbled upon their main building site. There were dozens of private earthship homes, experimental buildings, and even a visitor center inviting us in.
An earthship is basically a home built with mostly recycled materials in a way that makes the building fully self-sufficient. They have their own systems for collecting and storing solar power to provide all electrical needs. There is a greenhouse on the front where food is grown. This same greenhouse also provides for passive solar heating with windows that are angled to capture heat when the sun is lower in the sky during winter. This heat energy is tempered by the rammed earth walls made of dirt-packed tires, which keep the buildings cool in the summer and store the sun’s heat in the winter. For water, there is a catchment system for collecting rainwater, and the buildings are plumbed such that the grey water from sinks and showers are used to water the plants inside the greenhouse. So no energy bills and virtually no impact on the environment!
While we did not spend much money, we saw and learned a lot during our time in New Mexico. I think this stop was one of the most inspiring of our trip. We got to experience really beautiful scenery, amazing art, and even got a bonus tour of an earthship and a different way of living. This is a place I could spend some more time in the future, but for now we were back on the road and headed for Pagosa Springs, Colorado.