In the book “Nightmares and Dreamscapes” Stephen King divides time into several classifications. One of them is called “Pretty Pony Time” and describes the good times, the times that will flee from you when you aren’t paying attention. It’s a good reminder to savor your enjoyment of those times, and it also carries additional meaning for me. Most of my road trips are spent in a “Pony Car”, the 2005 Mustang I inherited from my father after he died suddenly in 2011. Sitting behind the wheel of that car connects me to him and it’s one of my favorite places to be. I had one more full day of driving ahead of me as I headed out of the Land of Enchantment and back home.
As is tradition, I awoke early Sunday morning. Daylight Savings Time had ended overnight and by the time I checked out of the El Pueblo Lodge in Taos, the sky was already transitioning from black to deep blue. I poured myself a cup of coffee in the lobby, thanked the staff for their hospitality, and headed east on Highway 64.
The previous night at dinner, I struck up a conversation with a lovely couple that had recommended a drive along the Enchanted Circle, a scenic byway that originates in Taos and encircles Wheeler Peak. Although I didn’t have the time to take the entire circle, my journey east would allow me to enjoy the southern half through several canyons and the Carson National Forest. Although I’m about to describe my journey, please understand my words pale in comparison to actually experiencing this amazing landscape.
The two-lane highway weaves through canyons and alongside the Rio Fernando de Taos. Several campgrounds and small communities emerged from the forest as I rounded corners, though it was still too early for much activity. As the sun continued to rise, the clouds swirling around the peaks turned bright orange; it looked like the treeline had caught fire. The paved switchbacks were much easier to handle than the previous day’s gravel lanes along the Rio Grande. By the time I emerged into the Moreno Valley, the sun was barely peeking over the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the east. The town of Angel Fire was still shrouded in shadow.
My first stop of the day was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park. It opened in 1971 and was the first major Vietnam memorial in the US. It features a UH-1D Huey helicopter that saw service in Vietnam, a chapel, visitor’s center, a statue of a soldier writing a letter home, and a scale model of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in DC. It was also COLD! The temperature was around 40 F and the wind was gusting at 45 mph. I explored quickly before dashing to the car to thaw my hands on the cup that held the last remnants of my morning coffee.
The last leg of the Enchanted Circle took me to Eagle Nest and the lake it sat beside. There, I branched off east, drove around Green Mountain, and snaked through the Cimarron Canyon. It was another beautiful drive, this time alongside the Cimarron River on the old Santa Fe Trail. I can’t fathom the difficulty of getting through that terrain in a covered wagon. When I arrived in the town of Cimarron on the east side of the canyon, there were numerous historic markers dedicated to frontier days. I didn’t stay long, but I vowed to return and explore the area fully with Samantha.
The terrain morphed from the green forest and rocky slopes of the canyons to the golden plains of Colfax County as I motored towards my last major stop on the trip, Raton. The town had quite a collection of vintage neon signs and a great historic downtown district. I felt great remorse for packing SO MUCH into my weekend trip; I didn’t get nearly the time I wanted to explore. I did, however, take the time to grab a quick breakfast (and more coffee!) before continuing east towards Oklahoma.
Highway 84 took me through Capulin, Des Moines, and Grenville. These communities all had a population of less than 150 and were barely hanging on to incorporation. I stopped for gas in Des Moines and had a chat with the woman running the lone convenience store: they saw mostly long-haul truckers, utility traffic, tourists coming to the Capulin National Monument, and Santa Fe Trail buffs. The landscape was pretty desolate until I reached Clayton, which quickly returned to isolated countryside through the Oklahoma Panhandle.
Most people find that kind of drive boring. I can understand that, but it also provides a view into a way of life that is completely foreign to me. Cattle ranches, large farming operations, and rural living on a scale that I can’t quite comprehend. Life moves slowly in these parts, and I would probably learn a lot if I slowed down to observe more carefully. Like the rest of the weekend, though, I couldn’t dally. I had a long way to go yet.
I had left Taos at 6:30 AM and didn’t arrive in Tulsa until 6:45 PM. The odometer on the Mustang had surpassed 165k miles, with nearly 1,300 added over the previous three days. A long weekend of driving, sure, but there were so many moments of awe that I barely noticed the aches that came with that much time in the driver’s seat. I must budget more time and take Samantha to Los Luceros, the Cimarron Canyon, and the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. These places must be savored, and I hope those of you reading get the chance to do just that…and that it is your own Pretty Pony Time.