July 23, 2020
Hi there! This isn’t going to be a typical New Adventure, New Opportunity episode. I recently posted some pictures from C and my trip out to New Mexico and a friend commented that he wanted to hear more about it. A blog post seemed like the best way to tell a compelling story about this AMAZING trip. This is going to be a long one, and I apologize for that. Feel free to pick and choose what you please, based on the pictures. Let me rewind the clock a little bit and tell you about how this story came about.
Late last year, C started asking me what I wanted to do to celebrate my big 5-0 birthday this summer. I had a personal plan underway and that was how I intended to celebrate, but C wasn’t ok with that. She considers birthdays something that need to be marked, and she wasn’t letting this one go by without something special. Under one of our interpersonal agreements, that normally means travel.
Right after the start of the year, she let me know that I needed to clear a week to take off and travel. She shared with me that, having listened to me talk about my teenage trips to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico for years, she had found 2 places that we could go to share a similar experience. After coordinating our schedules and clearing things at work, we scheduled a trip to Geronimo Trails Guest Ranch in March. We were scheduled to depart on March 15th.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. The 2nd week of March, we spent most of our time putting together our response to COVID-19. On Thursday, we stood up Unified Command for the City and I informed the Mayor that I was still planning on making the trip. On Saturday, after listening to the most recent updates and the increasing travel restrictions, C and I decided to cancel the trip. I called the Mayor and let her know. That Monday, COVID-19 resource management became my full-time job. At the time, I couldn’t envision how long that would last.
By late May, we had reached a point where we thought that it was safe enough to consider making the trip again. C reached out for the Ranch and found out that they could accommodate us in the 1st full week of July. She booked the trip and on March 31st, I rebooked the flights. During the last week of June, the uptick in cases in FL and TX caused us to rethink the portion of the trip to Dallas. I modified the flights again, cutting out that leg, and we got ready to go.
After COVID-19, protests and rallies, and a contentious budget process, by July 1st, we were both ready. We really needed a get-away. I don’t think either of us realized how appropriate this get-away would prove to be.
On July 5th, we headed out on what proved to be one, amazing ADVENTURE!
July 5, 2020
Sunday was our travel day. Our 1st flight wasn’t too early, but our itinerary was convoluted. We had 2 connections and a hellacious long layover, but all-in-all it was a good travel day. We made it to Albuquerque by early evening (local time) in time for restful evening, a quiet dinner in the hotel restaurant, and a full-night’s sleep to prepare for the next day.
July 6, 2020
Monday was the 1st official day of the trip, but we had all day to make it out to the Ranch. It turned out that we were going to need it. Albuquerque to the rural area of Winston, NM that we were headed to was a minimum of a 4-hour trip.
We took our time clearing out of the hotel, headed back to the Sunport to get our rental car, and got on the road. In the interest of full disclosure, I screwed up and was negligent at this point in the trip. C had asked me to drive (which is highly unusual), so she was handling the navigation. As a result of that switch, I did not do my usual map studies. This was a mistake…and it would nearly become a big problem later in the day. She did share with me that part of the written directions read, “Don’t be disturbed by the sign that says ‘No services for 121 miles. We’ll be glad to host you.”
Once we had the rental car, we headed south out of Albuquerque on Interstate 25. I had made this drive once before, when I was headed to Socorro for training at the EMTRC, and I remembered it as beautiful country. C had never been before, so we stayed in the slow lane and took in the beautiful scenery. Being from the Northeast, this type of high desert is like being on another planet. C took plenty of pictures from the passenger seat.
Instead of taking the exit onto Highway 181, we took a little bit of a detour and continued south to Truth Or Consequences, NM (ToC). We needed to grab some lunch…. Plus, we were still in the market for western (cowboy) hats per the Ranch’s packing list. We found a great little Mexican cantina for an authentic, regional Southwest lunch. Those may have been the best tacos that I’ve ever had. After lunch, we hit a couple of stores looking for hats. That search was unsuccessful. However, we did have success stocking up on adult beverages to supply our cabin. After this pitstop, it was time to get back on the road and push onto the Ranch.
We headed back north on Interstate 25 to the junction of Highway 181. 181 took us out of the City, past the Truth Or Consequences Regional Airport. Seeing that should have snapped me back into the need for my map studies. Despite the clues, it did not occur to me that we this was the last civilization that we were going to see…for several days.
A short journey on 181 brought us to the junction of New Mexico State Route 52. We were going to be on 52 for about 37 miles…all through the back country. The whole rest of the drive was open range, with wildlife in abundance and cattle roaming right out into the road. Not quite 30 miles later, we reached the “town” of Winston. Since the ranch is “in” Winston, in my mind, we were nearly there…not the case…and another reason I should have done my map studies. Had I looked at the directions, I’d have known that we were still nearly 50 miles from the ranch…mostly on secondary and tertiary roads. This was going to become an issue shortly. We passed through town and continued on another 9 miles to the junction of NM 52 and NM Route 59. This is where the sign that I mentioned above is posted.
As we made the turn, I saw the sign, checked our fuel status, and started doing math in my head. No matter how I calculated it, I couldn’t make it work. We had about 78 miles of fuel to empty. Adding the estimated distances up in my head, we were about 40 miles from the Ranch. We could make it in, but there was no way we could make it out. There clearly wasn’t going to be another place to fuel up before the Ranch. In my mind, the nearest fuel was back in TorC. I started to panic a little bit. I told C that we had to turn around and find fuel. She was pretty nonchalant about it and readily agreed.
I turned the car around and retraced our steps. I was watching the gas gauge and trying to remember where I’d seen a gas station in town. I couldn’t recall. I was certain we’d make it to a gas station, but I was also sure that we were going to be late for dinner. No way we recovered all of those miles and still made it on time. I wasn’t exactly happy. A short 9 miles later, we were back in Winston. As I spun past the Winston General Store, I saw something that I hadn’t caught the 1st time through. There, right on the corner of the store was a fuel pump. I pulled into a driveway and looked at C. As soon as I did, I realized that she knew there was fuel there the whole time. No worries.
I went into the store to make sure they had fuel. After confirming that they did, I took a look around. In addition to provisions and sundries, they had a full gun store…AND…high quality western hats. This was indeed a fortuitous development. I filled the tank, parked the car, and we went hat shopping. We both like the hats that we chose. Hats in hand, we got back on the road and back on track for our trip to the ranch.
Back to 52 and 59, then onto 59 for about 40 miles. We Entered into the Gila National Forest. We were surrounded by Ponderosa Pine and wildflowers. Cattle roamed everywhere. There was plenty of other wildlife on the ground and in the air. The road switch-backed on itself frequently and we spent a lot of time in low gear, dealing with the steep grades. There was no shoulder. A breakdown out here was going to be very problematic. At some point in here, we crossed the Continental Divide. Just past Beaverhead, we ran out of pavement. NM 59W continued as a “well maintained gravel road.” After a ½ mile, the directions indicated that 59 would turn to the right and that we “DO NOT TURN.” We continued straight toward Wall Lake.
Several miles later, we crossed the bridge over the outlet of Taylor Creek from Wall Lake. According to the directions, we were almost there. 1 mile later, we were at the Ranch.
We found the driveway and pulled past the gate. There were cars, pickup and horse trailers along the drive, but no one in sight. We stopped among the buildings and took a look around. In a couple of minutes, our hostess came walking out of the Ranch office. Meris approached the car and introduced herself. She pointed up the drive and told us to follow her to where we should park, and she’d show us to our cabin. The Ranch was beautiful, and the cabins were gorgeous. Meris pointed us to the left half of a 2-unit building. Our cabin was called “Apache.” It would be our home for the next several days.
Once we got settled in, Meris introduced us to her husband, Seth, and asked him to take us for a quick tour of the Ranch. At this point, we were the only guests in residence. We took a walk around and Seth introduced us to all of the horses in the herd. He also gave us the lay of the land as far as Ranch operations. Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch is totally off the grid. They run the diesel generator twice a day, from 8-10 in the morning and again from 8-10 at night. During the day, they draw power from the solar panels, the panels and the generator charge a large bank of batteries. Charge your devices during the day or when the generator is running. Unplug everything before you go to sleep. Try to take your showers after 8 AM while the generator is running. Breakfast is at 8:30, lunch whenever possible between riding, dinner is at 7.
After the tour, we opted for a cocktail on our porch, while we were waiting for the other guests and dinner. A short time later, our neighbor, Phil, showed up. He explained that he had gotten a little turned around on the way in and gotten a little lost. It was fortunate that he had, because the rest of the guests (one family) had also gotten turned around and he had found them. They both took the turn that directions said not to….DO NOT TURN!! A little while later, they arrived also. We all were on scene and ready for dinner.
In a nod to the current pandemic requirements, dinner was served outside, between the cabins. Each cabin or family unit was seated at a separate table, properly distanced, and individual servings were brought to each diner by the Ranch staff. This 1st dinner was our clue that we were going to be eating really well for the next 4 days. Our chef, Fred, apparently is an electrician and ranch-hand by trade, but his skill on the grill and in the kitchen are rather good too. If cooking isn’t his primary vocation, he must be a hell of an electrician. Grilled chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, and fresh strawberry pie. My god. The food here was amazing.
That brought us to the end of our NM travel day. It was time for a sundowner, a little reading, and getting a good night’s sleep to be ready for the real start of the adventure.
July 7, 2020
Tuesday morning, we were up early, and we decided to talk a walk back to Wall Lake. It was a beautiful lake surrounded by nature. We met the local herd of elk for the 1st time and got to see the sunrise in the valley. We got back and had plenty of time to enjoy coffee, get cleaned up and get dressed for breakfast. Breakfast was another masterpiece by Fred…plenty of fuel for the day ahead. We were going to need it.
Our riding day started at 9:45, with “ground school.” We needed to meet the horses, get some basic instruction, and go through the safety briefing. I met my 1st horse, Rooster, and C met her 1st mount, Blue. Ground school took a little while to get all 8 of us mounted and comfortable, but by a little before 11, we were headed out on our 1st ride. That ride took us out to the road, back up to the lake, and down into Taylor Creek Canyon. We rode along the Creek, back into the Canyon. It was a beautiful ride and a relatively simple break-in to get used to the saddle. We got back in time to take a little break before lunch.
Fred had lunch ready for us. It was a simple menu of fresh grilled burgers, mac and cheese and fresh fruit. It was delicious. Honestly, after the 1st ride and lunch, I’d have been happy with a nap. Fortunately, that wasn’t going to happen.
By 2, we were back in the saddle again. We switched routes with the other group and headed up into the high country for the afternoon. During this ride, we saw a Mimbres pit house and a cliff dwelling. Meris pointed out Mimbres pottery shards that has been collected on some boulders along the trail. This ride didn’t follow any water, so it was hotter and very dusty, but it was still a beautiful ride. It was a lot of fun. The ride wasn’t too long, but it was long enough to enjoy and to get comfortable on the horse. We were back by late afternoon and had time to get cleaned up and rest before dinner.
Dinner was a Caesar salad, fresh trout, Brussel sprouts, and rice, followed by the biggest serving of crème Brule that I have ever seen. Soooooo goooood! Cocktails on the deck, rest, reading, and relaxation. Time to recharge for the next day.
July 8, 2020
Wednesday was our 2nd full day on the Ranch. Based on Tuesday’s rides, Meris and Seth offered us the opportunity to have our lunches packed as a picnic and go out for full-day ride. We couldn’t say no to that. Breakfast was massive stacks of flapjacks with sausage and fruit. Lots of fuel for a full day in the saddle. We packed out our gear and got ready to. We were down at the corral and getting the horses by 10:30. C and I were paired with Philip again and we rode with Seth in the morning. We headed down to the road, and back up to Taylor Creek. This time we went upstream into the Canyon, headed for the picnic spot. After a good ride, we made it to the spot. The horses were tied out and the saddle bags were unpacked. The other group rode in right behind us. We had time to enjoy lunch, play in the Creek and stretch our legs. After lunch, Meris invited us to go exploring the Canyon. We went scrambling up the canyon walls to find some Mimbres cliff dwellings. She pointed out to us how they had been modified by the Basque shepherds that came after them with stone walls. We saw Mimbres pictographs and pot shards. The largest cave that we saw contained the remnants of a Basque fireplace, bedframe, and table. It was so cool to share these discoveries.
After exploring, we opted to take the short ride back to the Ranch. We went straight back along the Creek, without climbing out of the Canyon. That put us back at the Ranch in time to brush down the horses, get cleaned up and relax before dinner. I took the opportunity to chat across the porch with Philip. He shared some of his New Mexico microbrew beers with me. It was nice to socialize with someone new. The other crew came in a little after us.
Fred outdid himself with this dinner. He prepared roasted pork shank seasoned with prickly pear cactus, spaghetti squash, and roasted potatoes. The teenage son of the family that was at the ranch with us was celebrating a birthday, so desert was chocolate birthday cake. SO… MUCH…FOOD!
After dinner, we sat at the tables socializing. The sun went down, and the stars came out. I’d forgotten how bright the stars are in the mountains of the southwest. Shooting stars streaked across the sky. It was a beautiful night.
July 9, 2020
Thursday was our last full day on the Ranch. C and I were up early again. We wanted to go see the waterfall between Wall Lake and Taylor Creek. We walked to the waterfall in time for the sunrise and walked down to the creek to take some pictures. On the way, we saw a massive herd of elk. It was so large; we didn’t see the beginning and the end at the same time. Then we headed back to the Ranch for another full day. Breakfast was organic fresh bacon, eggs, and hash browns.
We headed down to the corral and met our new mounts. I switched to Jasper and C switched to Casey. We headed back upstream in Taylor Creek Canyon. This time we pushed on and went through “The Narrows.” The Canyon pitched to the width of a room and the water in the Creek was almost up to the horses’ bellies. It was like being in an old-fashioned western movie.
Today was another picnic day, so this ride brought us to a sandy, shady knoll along the creek. The horses were tied off under a stand of trees. Meris and Seth broke out hammocks and strung them under the trees. We played in the stream. Some of the group did a little swimming. C and I carried our sandwiches across the creek to a flat rock under a shade tree. After lunch and cooling down, we climbed up to the top of the bluff to look up and down the Canyon in both directions. We could see the Forks of Taylor and Hoyt Creeks and the remote corrals from the neighboring ranch. The whole day was beautiful and serene. It was so much fun. After the picnic, our whole group rode back to the Ranch together. After we brushed down the horses, it was time to unwind.
We had time for a cocktail on the porch and to get cleaned up. This dinner was a massive steak with corn and a potato. Seth shared with us that all of the beef (this steak and the burger) is locally grown on the neighboring ranch. They barter services with their neighbor, and he provides them with beef in exchange. That beef feeds the Ranch. After dinner, it was time for a campfire with our fellow guests and the Ranch staff. It was beautiful.
Friday was our day to return to some type of reality. We slept in because we could. Once we got up, it was time for coffee and breakfast. Breakfast was incredible again. Eggs and beef hash. After breakfast, it was time to pack. We got all of our stuff together and back into the car. We were ready to get back on the road by about 10:30. We said our goodbyes and got under way.
We took our time, meandering back to Albuquerque. We stopped off in Socorro for a quick lunch and pressed on, back to the Airport Hotel. Once we got checked back in and settled, we had to go run a couple of errands. That night, we drove out of the City and went to visit with my Dad’s childhood friend. Tom and his wife Cyndi entertained and fed us and showed us some southwestern hospitality. After dinner, we got back to the hotel. It had to be an early night. We had an early morning coming up.
Saturday, we had to get up early. World Balloons was picking us up in front of the Hotel at 5:15. We met our ride and headed out to the edge of the City. We watched the Pilot and the Chase Crew assemble our balloon and burner and fill the balloon envelope.
By 6:30 we were airborne and headed off for a Sunrise Champagne Balloon Ride. We traveled over Albuquerque, dipped the Rio Grande, and rode the air current for an hour. After a peaceful and uneventful landing, we went back the start for mimosas, snacks, and a brief ceremony. It was a really fun morning. They brought us back to the Hotel. We had a nice breakfast, then headed upstairs to catch up on our sleep. That ended up being a long nap.
When we woke up, we went out for a late lunch and some local beers. Then we returned the rental car and headed back to the Hotel. We did our laundry, went through all of our pics for the week, shared some cocktails and put on the UFC. Then it was time to get some rest, so we could make our trip home.
Sunday was our travel day home. It was uneventful and we made it back safe and healthy.
That’s as quick and easy as I could tell this story. Sorry it is so long. Until next time…
Be Safe, Keep the Faith, Do Good Work, 1*