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I started home by way of Creede, Summitville, Platoro.
It is a desolately beautiful 60 mile drive up dirt roads from Southfork over Stony Pass down into Platoro. The road is rough but passable for my 27 foot fifth wheel. Four wheel drive is very useful to control the jittering wheels.
I had a near miss when an old Bronco came round a corner like he was on a turnpike, skidded up on the mountain side, and proceeded on in a cloud of dust like nothing had happened. I met 6 vehicles in all on this road. All the rest were more circumspect.
Winter is serious business here. The entire valley of the Conejos River is abandoned from Highway 17 to Stony Pass. I suspect, though I do not know, that the EPA project on the other side is moribund then also. In winter this would be an area of a thousand square miles, with nothing but snow, rocks, and trees.
The Elwood Cabin sits right in the middle of it.
Better drag a sled. If you run out of something, there ain't no more. No fish in the creeks. Toxic metals from the Summitville mine did them in.
Bet this would be a great place to give up cigarettes.
I went back down to Chama again, ate at Vera's, stayed at the Rio Chama RV park. There is a sweet smell in the air here, almost like honeysuckle. It seems to come from the cottonwoods as they give up their leaves.
Traveling, you get used to having only temporary relationships. The waitress at the Skyline lodge in Platoro, who was so pleasant and brought me breakfast though it was almost time for lunch, the guests I laughed with over fish stories from around the world, all are far away now, and further tomorrow. Might as well be in another universe.
They are not, though. They remain in my recent memory, as much a part of me as the scent of those trees coming in the window. They travel with me as long as I remember them.
On the way south towards Taos I turned off to see Heron Lake. The Chama River has been dammed there, and the result is picturesque. It is a wide lake, beneath high bluffs, and the water is a peculiar turquoise that seems lighter and darker in places. If I were further north, I would suspect that a glacial milt stains it, but there are no glaciers here.
It must be some dissolved mineral welling up from the drowned canyon. There is a state park here, with a couple of dusty, empty campgrounds. A typical desert setting, apart from the lake, with bushes and sandy soil, a few slender trees.
At Tres Piedras I decided to skip Taos once more, and turned right on 285 toward Espanola. After about 30 miles I rolled into Ojo Caliente. There's a nice spa at the hot spring. There are thirty RV spaces, $18 for full hookups, but only $10 for camping. They have various pools named for different minerals - the iron pool, the arsenic pool, the lithium fountain - but I suspect the same water flows through all of them.
Currently the hottest is the iron pool, and two hours in there was just what I needed. It was there I met Michael, a 60 year old unreconstructed bull hippie with braided gray hair, who is currently living in his own sort of RV, a Volvo station wagon. Michael used to work as a photographer for CBS in Washington covering the Interior Department, but now blends part time work on Public Radio in Santa Fe with occasional chores. He rebuilt the dining chairs for the hotel restaurant, and was paid in free soaks and meals for a while.
He recommended the salmon baked in a paper sack, but I ended up with the stuffed portobello. It all looked good to me.
The best thing at the spa besides the waters is the front porch of the hotel. Many of the guests lined up there on a varied group of benches and rockers. It was fine to sit and watch the light fade from the sky, listening to people talk. It's odd how people can fight and be gentle with each other at the same time.
Somewhat later, about half way through my second ale, a full white moon rose over the trees.
Next morning I walked up to Don Chiaspe's for huevos rancheros con chile verde, and then pulled out to start the trip back home in earnest. I crossed New Mexico that day and half of Texas the next.
I slept in a roadside park near Roswell. Bright lights and a rumbling in the air above woke me up around 3 am, but it was only a diesel tractor coming in. No UFO's this trip.
I rolled into Georgetown about 7 pm on the 3rd.
I have traveled all over the world outside of Asia, and have always looked forward to that feeling of coming home, the end of scheduled sights and tours, the beginning of emptying the detritus of travel into closets and washing machine, resuming the habits and stability of home, little ceremonies that made me ready to just be myself again.
This time was it was different. As I drove up in front of the house, it might have been just another camping place. I could easily have crawled into bed in the trailer, but I made myself unload a few clothes, a few groceries, go into the house. It was bizarre.
Could I really park the trailer, after almost 2 months travel out of the last three? Or was I only a visitor here? The familiar shelves, furniture, paintings, all of it felt like something rented from a store. Returning home was more like getting a leased life than a lease on life.
I guess in a few days I'll get used to everything again. But should I? When I look out these windows, the landscape never changes.
How strange that is.
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