Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Magical Trip Through an Enchanted Land (Continued)

Last week, I took you through the first leg of the journey my friend J and I took three weeks ago. On the second segment of the trip, we entered the Jemez Valley, a place that has seen human habitatation for something like 4,500 years. You understand, of course, I cannot vouch for that personally.
J's Photo of some of the fall colors
We departed San Ysidro on NM Road 4 and almost immediately encountered what was the first of our stated goals: New Mexico’s vivid fall colors. Mother Nature displayed some of her finest raiment for us, especially along the Jemez River bottom off to our left. The gradual (but continuous) climb to Jemez Springs was a pleasant drive on a gently curving paved road. We knew we were getting close when we passed Jemez Pueblo, from which the town of Jemez Springs takes its name. This Towa reservation (Traditional Name: Walatowa) is a closed Pueblo. Outsiders are allowed on the reservation only during feast days, which are announced with a minimum of fanfare. The tribal authorities welcome visitors to the Walatowa Center, but claim they do not have facilities to accommodate tourists on the Pueblo, itself. The tribe is known for its excellent distance runners. One of the Jemez Runners won the race up Pike’s Peak several years in a row. 

My family and I once attended the wedding reception for the niece of a woman I worked with in one of the Pueblo homes (by invitation). My sons were small at the time, and I recalled them being excited at the prospect of seeing some “real Indians.” While we ate delicious home-cooked native dishes, my elder son, Clai, went outside to play with some other kids. Later, we looked out the window and saw one blond head amid a host of dark-haired children. As we were leaving for home later, Clai complained he hadn’t seen the Indians we promised. When we told him he’d been playing with them all afternoon, he wrinkled his nose. “No, I mean real Indians with feathers and flowers in their hair.” 

And speaking of hair color. One young man at the reception took a fancy to my late wife, Betty…or probably Betty’s bright, coppery hair. As we pulled out of the driveway he walked beside the car holding onto her hand and staring at her wistfully.

J and I pulled into Jemez Springs, a peaceful village spread out along the Jemez River. It is a place famous for hot mineral springs. The Catholic Church has placed its imprint on the town with the presence of the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete and the Handmaids of the Precious Blood. Among its other functions, the Congregation is said to receive and counsel errant priests. The Kiowa author, M. Scott Momaday, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel, House Made of Dawn, maintained a retirement home here until 2011.

Soda Dam on Jemez River

We drove through the town to Soda Dam, where a centuries-long buildup of minerals has virtually blocked the Jemez River and formed a waterfall. I used to stop there with my wife and sons so the boys could explore the area and watch venturesome swimmers slide down the waterfall into the pool below. Then we would soak our feet in the hot sulphur spring across the road before either leaving for home or proceeding into the mountains to our cabin.

J's Photo of the prow of Battleship Rock
Farther to the north of the dam, we rounded a curve and caught a glimpse the impressive Battleship Rock. It truly does look like the prow of a mighty sea vessel…probably of a warlike nature. The picnic and hiking area J wanted to visit was at the base of the Monument. Unfortunately, I parked in the wrong place and we had to walk down a pretty steep trail to reach the area. Readers of this blog will recall I had a back operation to repair a herniated disk and to relieve my severe stenosis of the lower lumbar region about two months earlier, so I was still walking with a cane. My doctors and physical therapist would have been horrified when I tackled some steep steps made of stacked railroad ties (with no handrail), but I maneuvered them without mishap. When we reached the bottom, the area was as enchanting as J had said, but the thing that caught my immediate attention was the paved road snaking through the park.

J's Photo of her favorite picnic and hiking area at the foot of
Battleship Rock
This was our second goal, and it was as worthy and rewarding at the first. Peaceful trails meandered up either side of the river rushing down the mountainside. We walked (J much farther and faster than I) along the trails and among picnic tables and covered pavilions with fire places. We had the park virtually to ourselves and enjoyed the gently swaying trees, a few squirrels and birds. We watched a fascinating play of reflected sunlight dapple a black basalt rock at the riverside. My contentment with the place was marred only by the thought of mounting those rough steps on the way back. In the end, we elected to follow the road which met the highway a quarter of a mile or so to the south of our parked car. I was tired and leaning on the cane more than usual by the time we got there. But it was worth the effort.

Then we headed north to accomplish our last goal.

Next week: Valles Caldera


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