HISTORY AND BEAUTY IN THE SOUTHWEST
It’s safe to say fall is on the way out and winter is just around the corner. Most of the leaves have disappeared and the weather hasn’t been able to make up it’s mind. One day we will be wearing t-shirts and then the next day we are bundled in warm coats and gloves!
We aren’t the only ones who know winter is just around the corner. This little fellow looks like he’s been working overtime storing up reserves.
Despite the erratic weather and dropping temperatures we’ve been getting out to explore. My parents came to visit and we headed to the Royal Gorge in Canon City, Colorado for a day of fun.
With granite walls towering 1000 feet above the river below, the Royal Gorge is one of the deepest gorges in Colorado and from 1929 to 2001, the Royal Gorge Bridge held the record for the world’s highest suspension bridge.
It’s quite an experience to ride in the gondola across the gorge.
The views from the gondola are incredible!
Much of the park was closed due to the off-season but we still enjoyed taking in the views, watching a movie about the history of the Royal Gorge Park, and, of course, walking across the bridge. We even saw wild sheep!
We actually love RVing in the off-season. It means less crowds, cooler temperatures in most parts of the country, fewer bugs, and quiet campgrounds. It also means open views are easier to come by and amazing spots like this one in San Luis State Park are plentiful.
San Luis State Park is situated on San Luis Lake surrounded by the Sangre de Crista Mountain Range. The Great Sand Dunes National Park is only a short 15 minute drive away.
It was a beautiful day to visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Rising 750 feet above the floor of the San Luis Valley, the Great Sand dunes are the tallest dunes in North America.
Hiking the sand dunes is not only a great workout (just when you think you may get to the top you realize you have a long way to go), it’s like being transported to another world with the seemingly endless sand.
A stop in the visitor center is a must to learn about this magnificent place!
Not far from the Great Sand Dunes is the town of Taos. We’ve been wanting to go there for years and the off season felt like a perfect time to visit.
Even though there was snow on the ground it still felt warm in the sun. Thing 3 enjoyed playing in our campsite with his big brother.
Native Americans, conquistadors, mountain men, hippies and artists have all contributed to the long and vibrant history of Taos, New Mexico.
Downtown Taos is as colorful as its history. Much of the activity is centered around the Taos Plaza which was originally built for defense by the Spanish 400 years ago.
At first glance Taos may look like a southwestern tourist town, but a closer look reveals quirky discoveries. For instance, wandering around the Plaza we ventured into the Old County Courthouse where we saw an old jail and Depression-era art created by early Taos artists.
Dried chilis are everywhere. Green and red chili sauces are a part of every menu. I learned that if you can’t decide which one to choose you can ask for “Christmas” to get both.
The locals in Taos are quite friendly! 🙂
Not far from downtown is one of the most photographed churches in New Mexico, San Francisco de Asis Mission Church.
San Francisco de Asis was completed in 1816. It’s a lovely blend of native and Spanish style. A beloved landmark of Taos, each spring residents re-mud the church. It’s not just residents who have a high regards of the church, it has captured the attention of artists like Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keefe who have included it in their work.
If you are looking for something off the beaten path, don’t miss the Earthships Biotecture Visitor Center located just northeast of Taos.
Earthships were designed by Michael Reynolds, the founder of Earthships Biotecture. They are self-sustainable off-the-grid houses built with natural, renewable, and recyclable materials.
Earthships use passive solar to maintain a comfortable temperature year round. Power comes primarily from the sun and wind. Southern facing greenhouses allow residents to grow their own food all four seasons. Water is collected from rain, snow, and condensation and channeled into a cistern before being filtered for use in the house. Similar to RVs, there is a grey water system and black water system. Filtered water is used for everything except flushing the toilet. Instead grey water (water that has already been used in the sinks) is used for the waste system.
The woman running the visitor center explained that this community has the only “official sustainable testing site” in the United States.
It’s a funky place, it’s fascinating what people can do when they think outside the box!
Also on our itinerary for Taos was a visit to Taos Pueblo. Taos Pueblo is a living Native American community. Unfortunately, it was closed for the day due to a funeral. We extended our stay another day hoping it would be open the next day but sadly it wasn’t. It will certainly be on our radar the next time we are in the area.
Next stop was Los Alamos, New Mexico. While Los Alamos may be a relatively small town, it’s big on history and outdoor activities. Los Alamos is most famous for the Manhattan Project, which brought Allied scientists from around the world to research and develop the atomic bomb. To learn more about this pivotal point in history we visited the Bradbury Science Museum.
Museums can be hit or miss with our older boys. This museum was a hit and they wandered around reading the signs and interacting with the exhibits without any prompting from me.
In fact, they wanted to stay longer than Thing 3’s patience would allow.
The woman at the front desk overheard me tell the older boys I could go on a walk with Thing 3 while they finished looking at exhibits. She asked me if we had been to the toddler play area located in the back of the museum! Somehow I had missed it. Not only was the museum highly educational and engaging but it was toddler friendly. Oh and it was free!
Thing 3 may not have found the science museum as engaging as his older brothers but he loved visiting the Los Alamos Nature Center.
The Nature Center opened this past spring.
It’s a beautiful building with hands on activities geared toward younger children.
Thing 3’s big brothers had fun taking him around to look at the exhibits and doing activities with him. Needless to say, Thing 3 had a blast! If you have kids the Nature Center is well worth the stop!
The highlight of our stay in Los Alamos was a visit to Bandelier National Monument.
Bandelier National Monument was established in 1916 and protects more than 33,000 rugged acres as well as ruins left by earlier peoples who inhabited the area.
Cliff dwellings, primitive masonry, and petroglyphs all give a glimpse into the lives of the communities that made the canyon home.
The “main attraction” of Bandelier is the, appropriately named, Main Loop Trail.
This easy trail leads through excavated archaeological sites along Frijoles Canyon. Along the way there are dwellings to explore and wonderful views of the canyon.
A number of deer were out foraging in the canyon. Clearly they were accustomed to people as most of them didn’t even lift their heads unless we rustled the grass to get their attention for a photo.
If you enjoy natural beauty and history put Bandelier National Monument on your itinerary when you visit Northern New Mexico.
Our busy week of sightseeing ended with a cozy Thanksgiving dinner in our RV. We made a turkey with all the trimmings right in the comfort of our RV while tucked away in the craggy hills of New Mexico.
With the year quickly winding down we reflected on the past 11 months and reminisced about the adventures we’ve had all over the country. There is just so much to be thankful for…so much!
Do you enjoy learning about history when you Go RVing? What about RVing in the off-season? Where did you spend Thanksgiving this year?