After our tour of Casa Bonita, Gwendolyn and I returned to her apartment, and a few minutes later Aunt Joan showed up with French-dip sandwiches. My cousin Bill, Joan’s son, and Gwendolyn’s brother arrived shortly after. Both Gwendolyn and Bill had spent time living with my family when they were growing up, but by that time I’d been away at school. There were a few other cousins in Denver I didn’t have a chance to look up on the trip, the children of my Uncle Gene, who’d passed away two years after my father. All the patriarchs were gone now. Only the women remained.
After Joan and Bill left, Gwendolyn and I kicked back on the couch and watched Netflix. Later, I crashed out on it, telling her I needed to leave around eight. Instead, she came downstairs around six and I left then, hugging her as I almost ran out the door. The idea was to drive to New Mexico and probably camp around Taos. The 285 looked like an interesting way to get there since it went up into the Rockies, close to Breckenridge, before heading south. The leaves were yellow, which were particularly compelling on the white aspen trees.
Before long, I was driving through the mountains at a high elevation. The temperature outside was in the 30s. It started to rain, which then turned into snow. All of a sudden, I was driving through a snowstorm. What turns wouldn’t this trip take? In Alamosa the road became Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic Byway. A black locomotive sat covered in the white snow. Only ten minutes later, the snow turned back to rain again.
On the outskirts of Taos, there was a mural of an Indian with a flaming heart, holding two plant spirits in his hand. My wish was to visit the Taos Pueblo, but for the first time on the trip I was turned away because of COVID. Most of the reservations in New Mexico are called pueblos. Although I’d been to the Taos Pueblo before, I was still disappointed and the freezing cold rain that kept falling made me wonder if my trip had finally run off the rails. Was my luck about to run out when I needed it the most? What would all of my journeying accomplish without a strong finish? I couldn’t even go there.
There were doing major construction downtown. I managed to find free parking and dash over to the Kit Carson home. Carson was a hunter, trapper, guide, and soldier, who, like Buffalo Bill, grew famous based on dime novels and the exploits attributed to him. As an Indian fighter, his strategy was to destroy their sources of food, just as others had slaughtered the buffalo. The adobe home that serves as his museum, was where he lived with his Hispanic wife and seven children before moving to Colorado.
Whatever I thought I was going to do in Taos, wasn’t happening in the rain, which continued to fall, cold and unrelenting. I decided to just move on, and after multiple detours because of the construction, got on the 68 heading towards Santa Fe, by now my irritation flaring.
I’d put twelve thousand miles on the Mountain Bluebird by now, and that was causing me some concern. It was due for an oil change, but as had been the case in Duluth, I went looking for an independent operator, afraid that if I pulled into an Avis agency, they’d snatch the car back before my trip was finished. At a pueblo called Ohkay Owingeh, I came across a Jiffy Lube and pulled over to check with them.
They needed an hour to change the oil and had some problems getting to the filter. The whole time I sat in the waiting area with my laptop, tense with paranoia, waiting for the Avis police to kick the door in and haul my car away. Whatever the fine print on the contract had been, I didn’t want to know. If they grilled me later, I’d produce the receipts to prove I hadn’t totally neglected the engine. Beyond that the strategy was just to play dumb.