The Ultimate Road Trip: THE SILVER SNAIL : A solo woman's full-time RV adventure
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Madrid, NM

elevation: 6,000 ft.
The land of make-believe...Madrid is a tiny, ramshackle mountain town with about 500 people living there. It started as a coal-ming town, then developed hippie roots, and is now an artist's community where a sense of freeness, and creativity flourish. It feels raw, with remnants of the old coal-mining era scattered about. Seems like there's a dog for every two people, and the dogs have their own rich community structure, as most of them roam the village, hills and streets freely. Surprisingly, these dogs of Madrid never get hit by a car. For an only child, Riley did pretty good meeting the pack, sometimes one-on-one, sometimes in groups and never a fight broke out. In fact, all the dogs we encountered on the trails and dirt roads were fun and friendly. Fuzz, especially. A true country boy, Fuzz was our constant guide and companion in the village and hills. I'm pretty sure his attachment had something to do with his obsession with Peyote, the untouchable mystery plaything that lived in our trailer. Fuzz belongs to Kathleen and Joshua, who generously offered the parking area in front of their house. Kathleen and I had been roommates years ago in Portland. She and Erik, another friend from Portland, moved here 7 years ago. Now they are all working at Joshua's gallery, Range West, making stunningly beautiful, natural stone fountains. It was really great to see those guys again and have an inside scoop into this never-neverland where almost anything goes, as long as it's not hurting anybody.

The village is fairly condensed, and it's an easy hike up into the hills where you could walk for miles. Surrounded by mountains and expansive vistas, my hikes with Riley and Fuzz looked something like this: Riley very carefully watched his step and lagged behind, moving slowly for fear of stepping on a sharp prickly cactus (which there were many of) while Fuzz rooted in the bushes for rabbits then chased them at top speed over hills and valleys, not a care in the world. At times I would see him running joyously in the distance, three hills over, the size of a rabbit himself. But he always found his way back to us. Poor Riley - the sharp pricklies were new to him and unlike the other dogs, they made him miserable.

Oh yeah, another little tidbit about Madrid, is that this is where the Disney film Wild Hogs was filmed a few years ago. Haven't seen the movie yet, but now I want to, just because of Madrid.


elevation: 7,000 ft
Heading north on Highway 14, from Madrid to Santa Fe, my first introduction to the city of Santa Fe was Cerillos Ave, which was another typical American vision of sprawl. Traffic, big box stores, fast food chains. I was sorely disappointed, but made my way to Canyon Road, a shady lane where the high-end art galleries lived. It was nice, but Riley was with me, so it wasn't the best time to go gallery browsing. I found a Whole Foods, did some grocery shopping, then was happy to make the trip back to Madrid. i couldn't wait to get back to the little village. Traffic and sprawl are a couple of my least favorite things. I had heard so many good things about Santa Fe - what was all the fuss about?

Later, I gave it another try and this time headed for the Plaza area. NOW I get it. Santa Fe is pretty cool, when you get away from Cerillos Ave. and the ubiquitous sprawl. It's lively and on a human scale - walkable, i mean. Not a lot for music and nightlife, but a leisurely place to stroll and enjoy some museums, great restaurants and outdoor cafes.

On a day trip to Taos, I took a long way to have a look at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs. Before heading to the baths, though, Riley and I went for a hike in the hills behind the spa and just happened to pickup Zoe along the way. She apparently lived there and was thrilled to have someone to play with. Obviously a desert dog, she would sprint through the sunshine to the next shady spot and nuzzle into the coolness of the bush while Riley and I caught up on the exposed, sunny trail. Riley never figured out the trick of the shade bushes. These desert dogs were constantly one-upping him.

It was a relatively cool day. I had parked in the shade with the windows mostly open and left tired Riley, watered and fed, in the car while I checked out the mineral springs. THIS was the kind of mineral spring spa I was looking for. Landscaped to blend in with the natural environement, there were a number of separate outdoor pools with four different types and combinations of mineral waters (lithium, iron, sodium and arsenic). And a mud pool, where you slather mud all over yourself, then bake in the sun, and when it's good and crunchy, rinse it off in the pool. I didn't stay very long, but tried each of the mineral water pools, and the mud bath twice. It was great. Really wonderful.

elevation: 7,000 ft.
After my luxuriating mineral baths, I continued on my way to Taos and took a side road, which brought me to a steep, twisty dirt road that wound down to the Rio Grande River. I find myself having to double check if I am towing the trailer and assuring myself that these kinds of roads are perfectly fine with my 4x4 4-Runner. It was like finding gold, this precarious road. Not only fun to drive, but incredible vistas.

When I got to Taos, I drove through the center of town and continued two miles north to Taos Pueblo. With only an hour left before they closed the pueblo to visitors, I paid my $10 entry fee, plus $5 camera fee and roamed around. It felt a little invasive, wandering around this sacred, ancient primitive village where people have been living for a thousand years and still do, with no electricity or running water. While only part of the pueblo is open to tourists (much of the land and way of life is sacred and private), many of the ground level doors were open as shops, selling crafts or breads.

To wrap up my mission to Taos, Riley and I wandered around the plaza, got a coffee and window-shopped. It's nice here, this little town in the mountains, surrounded by the Carson National Forest. I decided to take the high road back to Madrid, through artsy Truchas. Breathtakingly gorgeous. White-capped Truchas Peaks in the distance, rolling green meadows and forest in the foreground. Fresh mountain air. I wanted to sing "These hills are alive.....with the sound of music...." One day was not enough time up here.


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All images and words © Sharon Pieniak
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