Via a series of 15 mph switchbacks, we’d just come over the rim of the Valles Caldera at 9,100 ft. A few more curves, and the road dropped into the Valle Grande. The broad flat valley is protected and shelters a considerable number of elk. I stopped at the first place I could. This was part of my birthday trip. For some reason, I’d never been to the Caldera before in 14 years of living 90 miles away, a deprivation now corrected.
Everything changes above 8,000 ft. Green grass, flowers, heavy forest, and it’s never ever hot. We could see elk herds in the distance and watched one with binoculars for a long time.
To get to this place, we drove through the canyon of the Rio Grande, through several Indian reservations, past a sacred mountain, and climbed 2,000 feet to White Rock near Los Alamos. A local Wiccan group sponsors a stretch of highway there. Everywhere we went, the views were stunning. Except for the north side of Española, there was hardly any traffic. A few miles from this spot on the way to Jemez Springs, we saw a mountain lion cross the road in front of us! (That makes three in my lifetime so far: one on a cliff in Olympic National Park, another loping across a grassy hillside in the Navajo Nation, and now this one getting the hell away at noon.)
A fellow told us we’d missed seeing a bear not two minutes before. You want me to keep on going, or should I just shut up?