We were half an hour down the road at 10 to 15 mph except for crawling over black volcanic boulders. The Dakota’s V-8 chugged happily enough that in the smoother stretches, I had the brief sensation I was piloting a boat at low speed in the vast high desert sea. And then we saw the cliffs.
The route out there was utterly unmarked. I’d researched it online, however, and found a hiking website with an entry by a fellow who’d measured the distance to each turn: .3 mile, 4.5 miles, and so on. Dead accurate, as far as I could tell. No way in hell would I have ever made it on my own.
I pulled off the road—not to get out of the way of non-existent traffic, but to turn the truck 90° to face the river. We ate lunch in the cab and marveled at the quiet and the intensity of the sun. The wind was brisk, the temperature 58°F (14.5°C). I had to walk about 100 feet to find the view you see above.
The wildness, though. The terrible beauty that doesn’t need you. The “emptiness” is crazy wrong. Of course you pay attention. Why else are you here except to be burned up with spiritual fire?
The mighty Dodge Dakota took us quite a few miles into the outback yesterday. I’m happy to report that the expedition to the vicinity of Ute Mountain (Rio Grande del Norte National Monument) went perfectly. The truck had to crawl over boulders and in and out of holes and did so without scraping bottom once. High-clearance vehicle with expensive tires definitely recommended for this place. We didn’t see a soul for the couple of hours we were out there. Amazing, stunning scenery and wildness. I’ll post more pictures soon, and I’ve been tweeting them also.
Your gentle reminder that I photoshopped the fake license plate above
About ten days ago (?) we had a little snow. Just a few inches, and it was quickly gone. The drought-parched soil soaked up the melt water so fast, it was like the slush was only visiting. While it was here, though, the Dakota got “stuck” backing up the hill. The rear tires simply couldn’t get enough traction, and look at them! Undeterred, I turned the tiny dashboard switch from “2WD” to “4HI” (4WD, high range), teased the gas a little, and damn if it didn’t climb right out of there. That 100 foot stretch was the total extent of all the four-wheel-drive driving I have ever done and I am sold.
This is no ordinary 17-year-old compact truck. Purchased originally via special order, it came from the factory without any extra chrome or decals. (I didn’t know one could do that.) Nothing external screams “4X4!” or fanboy slogans, yet it’s actually a Sport Plus optioned to the gills. It has the 16-inch alloy wheels, for example. When I peered underneath to check the spare, I was astonished to see the fifth wheel was a pristine alloy one as well and sported a brand new, unused tire of the same make and vintage as the others. I’ve never in my life bought five new tires, but the last owner did. Usually the spare on a used truck is a bald piece of crap mounted on a rusty old steel wheel that never matches anything.
Speaking of rust, I’ve found some more. For a truck that lived in northern Illinois, you’d surely think so. The chrome plating on the tailpipes has a few brown spots, for example, but nothing I can’t live with. So the adventure is going rather well. Now I have the means to haul stuff from the moldering ruin in the background. This potential is going to shift some factors in our favor. Even if I’m wrong, it still sounds wonderful and I don’t care.
Not really a stampede, but they were a-hustling. We came across a large herd, I’d say thirty or more, attempting to cross U.S. 285 just south of San Antonio Mountain in northern Taos County near the Colorado line. Fortunately we and a single pickup coming the other way—he stopped—were the only traffic at the time. A few of them made it to the other shoulder, but as I pulled the truck a little closer, they got spooked and turned around. The main herd had already reversed direction like the ones above. A good thing, too. I’d probably never seen this many, certainly not walking in a line, and a lot of them looked young to me. Now I’m opining on the ages of the goddamn antelope. Anyway, it was a magnificent show.
Ssomething made me want to head up north, so of course I had to take the Dodge. The high desert primeval. The landscape is so brutal there this time of year. Mountain ranges on every horizon, jagged peaks like bright white teeth. The Dakota’s 4.7L V-8 singing through the dual exhausts is comforting at speed in these environs. The automatic downshifts on the hills in cruise control to maintain speed and holds it well. Nice to have the power! Humming along in cruise control at 65 to 70, the 17-year-old Dakota feels tight and strong.
We had lunch inside the truck after taking a public access road [not the one above] some distance into the boonies. We’d stopped there before but hadn’t gone nearly so far. I’ve always wanted to see what was over a certain ridge, you see, and now I could. For the record, the east side of the ridge is the same as the west side of the ridge, but now I know and I am better for it.
On the way back we came across a herd of antelope. There had to be at least thirty of them in a long line, moving toward the highway. About a dozen made it onto the road, but by then our presence on the shoulder spooked the others. The ones in the road high-tailed it back the way they’d come to join them. We sat and watched them for a long, long time.