Tiptoeing the backroads to Taos…

I am on my way to Taos, New Mexico from Massachusetts. I don’t have the time to stay more than one night at any given place but I also want to experience slices of life along the way. Freeway hotels, though convenient do not speak to me of neighborhoods, animals, and family, so I choose to drive off the thruways and find places to stay away from the conveniences of fast food and cookie cutter hotel rooms.

The first night I found a bed and breakfast inn near Chautauqua Lake in Mayville, NY that had historic charm, a miniature donkey, a draft horse mare and her two week old foal, chickens, ducks, goats and Herman, the black barn cat who stole my heart and came running when I pulled into the driveway. Seeing those little flopping black legs bounding my way after being seven hours in the car melted all the weariness away. 

I was also greeted by the owner and shown around my home for the night. It was a lovely place built around 1850, with gorgeous rock fireplaces, overstuffed furniture and seven bedrooms for guests. Another perk of being willing to drive down a backroad, besides being at a working farm with a farm-to-table breakfast, is that I was the only one in residence and had the place to myself. I could lounge on the sofas with a book and pretend it was my own home. And all of this for less money than I’d pay at a Holiday Inn Express.

I needed some exercise before settling in for the night and took off down the road to the Chautauqua Institute and a beautiful walk along the lake and through the town. I wrote about Chautauqua when I went there in a previous blog post if you’re curious, (How you look in the glow of evening…).

It is now day four and I am settling into the rhythm of spending 6-7 hours on the road. Meeting people I would not normally interact with is one of the pleasures I find in traveling. I pull into a Casey’s Gas Station in Dodge City, Kansas, made famous by Wyatt Earp of wild, wild west lore. The place was packed and I parked in front of the only open gas pump to find that it was not working. I chatted with the man across from me while I was washing the bug guts off of my windshield, told him my pump was not working and I would pull to a different one. As I circled around without finding one empty he waved for my attention and saved the spot at his pump so I could pull in before someone else took it. It was a very kind thing to do and I eased into his place with a grin and wave back. 

Inside the gas station there was a long line of people, all men, just off of work waiting to pay for their six packs of Friday night beer while I stood waiting with my water and gum. Rather than get small and intimidated I took a breath and asked the man with four little black braids in his beard standing behind me if he lived locally and he responded succinctly, “Since 2020.” I asked him if this was the center of town as I was passing through and wanted to see the area that was connected to their history. He said, “Yeah, this is it, the Wyatt Earp museum is right across the street.” Right then, I was tapped on the shoulder from behind and a man in a neon orange t-shirt proudly said, eyes twinkling, “I’ve lived here since ’74 and you should go up this road and when you see the working cones (pointing to his shirt indicating that he was involved in the construction), take a right and keep going on up the hill and you’ll come to the casino. It’s small but it’s really nice.” Now I have absolutely no interest in casinos but I was very touched that he cared enough about his town to brag about it to a stranger. He said, “It’s a great town, I’ve been here since 1974, left a few times but always come back.” I have a feeling he was emphasizing his years in residence with a competitive spirit, implying that he knew much more than the other guy that had only been here since 2020. Had it been 1875 guns may have swung at his hips to prove his superiority and he’d call me “little lady” with a swagger.

So there you have it, I did not go to the casino as I was on my way west and didn’t have time for another pit stop but if you ever find yourself in Dodge City, Kansas, take a right at the road work and head on up the hill and you may just win a few bucks!

Oklahoma to Kansas

When I went to bed that night in Ulysses, Kansas it was 85 degrees, and I woke up to sunshine, stepped outside to find it a freezing 35! Today I drive along at 80mph on flat endless, roads with dry, brown fields, then go through a half an hour of snow and ice, then break out into the high desert of Colorado with gorgeous snow capped mountains in the distance and absolutely no cell service. It’s strange to be confronted with those dot…dot…dots of no bars and think about what might happen if I broke down. But it only lasted for half an hour before I was back to cell coverage and a warm 55 degrees. Driving into New Mexico from the east I was met unexpectedly with high elevation mountain passes, stunning rock formations, trees and lakes. Not at all what I was expecting but just my cup o’ tea!

I arrive at home base in Taos, New Mexico for a five day writing workshop. Before it starts I head out to Taos Pueblo and see the village of native lands where heritage is preserved and shared. I listened to a volunteer tour guide explain the life of the Puebloans from the past to today. They opened up their community to visitors in the 1920’s and a lot of their income is from the tourist trade as they charge to enter and sell their artistic wares throughout the village. The village is kept in their traditional ways with only about fifteen families still in permanent residence without running water or electricity. I played with a few dogs by the river, the pup jumping all over me with his muddy paws. I didn’t mind one bit. We matched, his gray and black spotted fur with my similarly colored tie dye dress was the perfect camouflage for dirt. I wandered and visited with the people that opened their homes, admired their art work and felt a friendly welcome. It was beautiful. 

I encourage you to get out of your routine, away from your people and see what others have to show you even if it’s only in a gas station convenience store. We are truly very much alike even though our tastes differ from Shakespeare to casinos. We all love our towns, our animals, and our homes. Cookie cutters were meant for making identical cookies, I think I am here to break the mold.  

Photo by Andrea Scher

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