Thursday, November 11, 2010. It was Veterans Day and the National Park Service would be waiving entrance fees. I ran across this item late on Wednesday and immediately decided to take the next day off for an adventure at Bandelier National Monument. It meant staying late at the office to get ahead on Thursday’s work, but every adventure has its price.
This adventure yielded a bonus — two adventures for the price of one. The planned adventure was a day of exploring Bandelier. The second, unplanned adventure was getting to the destination. It happened like this …
Over breakfast I looked up suggested hikes at Bandelier in my hiking guide. The book also provided directions on how to get to Bandelier from Albuquerque. There are two suggested routes: on NM4 through Jemez, and I-25 through Santa Fe. The Santa Fe route was a little further, but I selected it because the Interstate should be faster than the winding 2-lane road through the Jemez mountains. Distance was a little over 100 miles.
I dropped Richard off at school and took off for Bandelier. On the way I got to thinking . . . the route would take me through Santa Fe to Pojoaque and off on a road with which I was not familiar. I had lent my Garmin Nuvi GPS to Sandia View Academy as they were going to an acrobatics meet in Tennessee, but I had my iPhone and called up a routing to help make the correct turns. Imagine my surprise when it told me to get off at the next exit and take a side road past Cochiti Lake. Distance was 32 miles. I had been to Cochiti Lake before. Sure, the road was just two lanes, but the shorter distance would more than make up for the speed limit of 55 vs. 75 on I-25.
There were clues that this would be an adventure. The iPhone said the time to travel 32 miles would be 1 hour 18 minutes “with traffic”. Also, the hiking guide said the distance Albuquerque to Bandelier was 41 miles in a straight line, but there was no way to get there, hence the 100+ mile routing. I did not remember seeing any roads on the atlas, but I was not looking for any. The clues went right past me as I took the exit.
It was just me and one other car, 55 mph all the way to Cochiti Lake, where, for some reason, there is a golf course at which he turned off. I kept on going until the road ended. Well, it did not actually end, but the pavement did, there was a gate, and there was a sign that the next 3 miles were on private property. Well, OK, I reasoned that the public road would pick up again after the 3 miles. There seemed to be no other way to go.
It was a rough dirt road for half a mile or so, then portions were surfaced with asphalt. Apple orchards in the canyon belonged to the Dixon Apple Farm. I kept on going until the road dead-ended at the Tent Rocks Ranch. A glance at the iPhone map showed I had strayed slightly off the marked track. In front of me was an open gate and a two-track that seemed to be headed in the right direction to join up with my road again. I could try it — but I was not really sure where that 2-track went, and it was private property. Reluctantly I turned around.
I had attributed the discrepancy between my GPS position and the marked route to imprecision in the online map. Now I expanded the scale as I backtracked and looked for the point of divergence. The map and GPS position was accurate, leading me to the turnoff I had missed. It looked like a pasture road — just a gate (open) in the fence with a 2-track beyond. “Well, Blaze, shall we try it?”, I asked my trusty steed. “I may not have have 4-wheel drive, but that doesn’t scare me!”, he replied. So we were off.
At first it was just a rough road, with spectacular scenery. Some of that scenery was worrying me, though. I refer to the vertical cliffs that appeared to be directly in our path. Sure enough, the road started to ascend. Before long we were hugging the side of the mountain on the left, trying to stay as far from the drop on the right as possible. I won’t say I suffer from Acrophobia, but standing on the edge of a cliff gives me an uncomfortable feeling. (I don’t like roller coasters, either!)
I had no fear that Blaze had enough power to climb the cliffs. I had two other worries. First was the Blaze would bottom out on a high rise rock or a deep rut. That fear was unfounded. Blaze is a high-clearance TrailBlazer after all, and handled rocks and ruts with ease. The other concern was that the rear tires would lose traction on a steep section with loose sand or gravel and I would have to back down the mountain on a narrow road with no place to turn around. (I was not going to go fast to build up momentum, not with a cliff a couple feet away!) Fortunately this did not happen either. Four wheel drive would have provided more peace of mind.
At last the cliffs were conquered. Though the road continued to ascend, it was not as steep. I was still on the route presented on the iPhone. It directed me onto another forest road, this one was full of rocks and looked like it had never been graded. A truck was coming the other way, and as we carefully maneuvered past each other I asked the driver whether this road would take me to Bandelier. “Almost”, he replied. “It stops at the edge of the wilderness area, and you’ll have to hike about 0.8 miles.”
“Can I get to the Visitor Center?”
“No. 70% of Bandelier is Wilderness Area. You’ll have to go back to NM 4 if you want to drive in.”
Once I found a place to turn around, the drive up to NM 4 was not bad, barely qualifying for part of the adventure. At least NM4 was paved, though it did curve around a lot. Bandelier visitor center was reached without any noteworthy events, and Part 2 of the days’ adventures was ready to begin.