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Posts Tagged ‘Cumbre Pass’

Fall in Colorado's San Juan National Forest -- Photo by Pat Bean

“If I had my life to live over, I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.” — Nadine Stair

Travels With Maggie

I thought I knew what route I wanted to drive today, but the travel gods knew differently.

Outside of Chama, New Mexico, I zigged instead of zagged. Never have I been more delighted for my lack of a sense of direction.

I had been at this same intersection several times before, but always when I was headed to Santa Fe. This time I planned to pass through Taos– so it just seemed logical that I would turn left instead of right. Perhaps I was distracted by that magical moment of sunrise that was happening when I reached the fork in the road. That fraction of a second when the world goes from a quiet gray that hides all details to a glowing glow that brings the world to life is my favorite part of any day. I don’t experience this moment often so when I do, I absorb it fully.

Cumbres and Toltec Railroad engine warming up at the summit -- Photo by Pat bean

Up where the air is thin.

For whatever reason, however, I didn’t notice my mistake until a road marker told me I was crossing back into Colorado. By this time I was driving through a landscape so fantastic that there was no way I would have turned around, even if it meant adding 200 miles to the trip.

In reality, it only made my day’s drive 19 miles longer. My error had put me on Highway 17 instead of Highway 64, and took me on a northern instead of a southern loop to Taos. My mistake took me high into the San Juan National Forest and over the 10,000-foot-plus Cumbres and Conejos passes.

At the top of Cumbres Pass, a Cumbres and Toltec Railroad engine was warming up for one of its scenic tourist expeditions that begin in Chama. I would have stopped to explore the train museum in Chama except it hadn’t yet opened when I passed through the rustic town. Seeing the engine here, with smoke churning from its stack as it sat on the narrow guage tracks, made up for that. Before catering to tourists, trains ran through this beautiful landscape to serve the area’s silver mines.

A view from Cumbres Pass -- Photo by Pat Bean

The best part of my day, however, were the golden mountain sides. Autumn was in full bloom – and I knew I was fortunate to get to see it because I was headed to Texas where fall is mostly a matter of leaves turning brown and falling off the trees. Of course there are exceptions, but nothing as vast and brilliant as what I was seeing this day.

By the time I got to Taos, which was late in the afternoon because I lingered so long in the high forest, I abhorred its trendy and crowded atmosphere and drove through without stopping. Mother Nature had fulfilled all my sight-seeing needs this day.

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