Cochiti Lake, Santa Fe, Albuquerque & Roswell NM

Trip Start May 01, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Conchiti Lake and Dam

Flag of United States  , New Mexico
Saturday, June 28, 2008

We left Red River to find a Federal Park as they are much cheaper....  after checking around and calling a few places we decided on Cochiti Lake as it was close to Santa Fe and not far from where we were but a much more reasonable $6 a night!

The landscape was totally different much more desert plain like, which is what we expected New Mexico to look like. The elevation was still 6500ft above sea level. Cochiti Dam is the 11th largest earth dam in the world. We checked out things to see and do in Santa Fe on a Saturday and discovered it was "Pride on the Plaza" festival. We headed into town to see the old town plaza, a Spanish colonial settlement much like Taos. The festival was in full swing so we watched some of the performances  as we toured the town. Santa Fe is much smaller than we expected with only a population of around 50,000 even though its the state capital. The main reason the town never grew was the coming of the famous and still operating Santa Fe Railway in the late 1800's. When the tracks were being laid the civil engineer in charge decided that it was too difficult to run the tracks into the town and eventually by-passed Santa Fe by about 10 miles. Causing a newer urban center to spring up, leaving "Old Town Santa Fe" to remain as it was complete with original adobe style building. That night we headed into Albuquerque to sample some local night life and ended up in a cowboy country and western style bars which was to strange for words because at 11pm they switch gears and became a Latin dance bar..........

On Sunday we visited the Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks, a National Monument of amazing rock erosion. Several layers of volcanic rock were deposited here and and the layer have eroded the harder one at the top are left standing and the lower rocks eroded faster creating cone shaped rocks with what looks like boulders balanced on top.

Toby had asked the Park Ranger if the road thru the park was open so we could cut off quite a distance on the way to the Bandelier National Monument, we knew it was an unpaved road........ which was fine we are in the Beast. As we started the climb into the Jemez Mountains we passed a sign telling us that the road was not maintained and to take care, the road deteriorated quite allot into a very rutted track.

Just as we were thinking to turn around another vehicle came from the other direction. We pressed on thinking that it couldn't get much worse....  how wrong we were! After 30 more minutes Toby checked the GPS system and it informed us the "Highway" we were on was the 290 and that we would be at our destination in about 15 minutes, so we continued thinking it would be better than going back. We were now on tracks similar to the tracks in Oman that climb thru the mountains except with lots of pine trees. As we bounced and jolted over the rocks the GPS kept adjusting the arrival time to keep pace at 15 minutes to the end of the road.........  Another 30 minutes later we rounded a sharp hairpin bend scrabbling for grip (the Beast is not 4x4 just rear drive). A flash of lightning stopped our hearts dead, we looked up to see a huge dark cloud above us! This was bad, the "highway" was really just packed earth and gravel...... "Please don't let it rain" we said in  unison! Well guess what it started raining about 5 minutes later. We were in a serious situation.... we would not be able to return from where we had come, we knew some parts would now be unpassable without 4 wheel drive.

We continued on, taking a note of the 3 packets of chips and 2 small bottles of water we had with us. Shortly the rain changed to hail, what the hell was going on we are in New Mexico in the summer??? The road surface did not get any better but thankfully we started to go down hill, all we had to do was stay on the now muddy track and keep moving,  to stop would probably have got us stuck in the red goop that was meant to be the road. The rain stayed with us and the GPS kept telling us we were 15 minutes to the main highway...... This time it was right! We passed a sign in the opposite direction regarding the non maintained surface. The road improved slightly, all we had to do now was negotiate the gully's in the road the rain was creating, the Beast did us proud and refused to get stuck or slide of the mountain. We eventually made it to the paved road a breathed a HUGE sigh of relief! 

We followed scenic route 4 back across the Jemez Mountains, some of the most amazing scenery we have ever seen, the photos do not do it justice. Suddenly Toby saw in the rear view mirror a cop speeding up behind us... and thought "here we go again"! However the cop continued past lights and sirens on. We continued wondering what had happened, when crested a pass and the road was covered in what looked like snow!! It was actually hail that was collecting on the road, the road was steaming it was all very surreal. We had missed the storm but were driving just a few minutes behind it. We pulled up and got out, the temp gauge was reading 8C (42F) it was freezing, impossible to believe, it was 29th June in New Mexico and it was so cold that the hail was icing the road! Other people that had also stopped were local and they told us that they had never seen this type of weather.

The drive was extremely beautiful as we continued on and the weather dramatically returned to normal. We passed a place called Valle Grande, an old ranch that was now a research centre. There we saw our first Elk, we had seen may road signs warning us and Brent was desperate to get pictures. There was a male, 2 females and a baby. Suddenly out of the long grass a fox appeared and was after the baby! The male of the family charged the fox and chased it away from the baby across the valley.

Unfortunately due the off road adventure we missed the opening times to Bandelier National Monument, a shame since it looked like a spectacular plac.

The following day we pulled out and headed south for Roswell, the famous alien encounter town. The Beast appears to do more miles to the gallon at the high elevation going up and down the mountains than it does on the flat!?! Bizarre but true! 

We set up camp 20 miles outside of Roswell at Bottomless Lake state park (Named by cowboys of the past because the lakes are actually sink holes filled by a natural spring and thus alarmingly deep) and waited to be abducted by aliens. We visited the Museum and research centre of Roswell and sadly were a little let down. Roswell is quite rundown and so is the museum. We had fun in some of the shops and then returned to Bottomless Lake.

We head west again towards the Arizona State line provided we don't get abducted tonight...........

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