On the second day of our road trip, our goal was to reach Farmington, NM by early afternoon as we had something we wanted to do there. We also wanted to find a Starbucks (well I did) because it was Earth day and they were giving away free coffee to anyone with a travel mug, which I had clenched in my hand. There was no Starbucks in Santa Rosa where we had spent the night, but I did snag a half cup from the Days Inn we stayed at the night before. (They won out over the Travel Lodge since they offered waffles with their free breakfast and free Wi-Fi so I could bemoan the uncomfortable bed and the less than hygienically clean room on twitter.) We had two options available to go through Taos or Albuquerque. Even though Taos was a little farther, we decided that was our preferred route and we would end up only an hour and a half away from Farmington. I take full responsibility for what happened next. Not having a specific place in mind, I put “Taos” into the GPS and when presented with an array of choices for streets I randomly picked one assuming that we could adjust as we got closer. My bad.
Our GPS is nicknamed Maggie. It is a Magellan, and speaks in a female voice, so Maggie. Not very creative I know but that is what we call her. Maggie doesn’t understand concepts like take us to the downtown area of a city, or even take us to a city. She will guide you to the exact pinpoint on the planet that you specify. You have the option to choose fastest route, shortest route, avoid freeways and most use of freeways. I personally think that this particular trip was revenge for all the time she said, “Turn left here” and I ignored her. Maggie offered a street labeled Fifth which sounded pretty much like city to me. I also selected shortest route. For a while, we were on a narrow two-lane highway that was marked on the map as being not necessarily a direct route, but pretty much the only route from Santa Rosa to Taos. We passed through Las Vegas NM where there was some kind of long pilgrimage going on. We counted over 100 people all walking along the highway in groups for nearly 5 miles. This was very puzzling for a while until we remembered, belatedly, that it was not only Earth Day and Pesah, but that there were a few people who were celebrating that little known holiday – Easter. We weren’t sure of their destination but many were carrying crosses and other ornaments so we guessed it had something to do with Good Friday. (No radio reception in this area in English, so we were simply guessing.) Oh and by the way, there is no Starbucks in Las Vegas NM, which probably explains why everyone looked so depressed; the coffee at the gas station where we stopped was terrible.
Then, about an hour past Las Vegas, the trouble started. There was a point where Maggie told us to turn off from the highway we thought we were going to take for another 20 miles. Mike turned and I tried to pull up the map on the iPad only to discover that we were out of 3G ranges (Guess the few cows we saw weren’t considered possible subscribers.) There was a sign that marked the road we were turning on, but it was not marked on our paper map that we had brought as a backup. The road wound off behind a mountain and disappeared. We decided that since Maggie was still blithely tracking 15 satellites and following “shortest route” that perhaps she knew something we didn’t and after all what is a GPS for? “It’s an adventure,” Mike told me as we barreled off the highway and onto the new road.
The road was paved for the first mile. Lines, dashes, a shoulder all of that stuff that makes you think you are on an actual road. That was just to lure you in. It quickly turned into a gravel road, and narrowed down quite a bit. Maggie was still pointing in the general Northwest direction we thought she should, so we kept going. The gravel gave way to dirt, and the few houses we were passing disappeared. The trees were thicker. Still no 3G to check the map – in fact we lost signal altogether. The paper map and compass said we were headed in the right general direction. The “road” narrowed even further, it was barely one lane wide and in some places we had to ‘squeeze’ by since there were often steep drop offs on the side. (For those of you wondering how a truck manages to ‘squeeze’ on a narrow road like that, don’t ask, I am not sure how we did it either. I was getting more and more worried by the moment – Mike was having a ball. At one point (thankfully at a flatter spot on the road), it was so narrow our wheels were off the road on the grass to either side. Mike cheered our truck on and didn’t even pause to slow down when we had to ford across a stream that was going over the little bridge we crossed. His argument was we were only going 25 MPH anyway, why slow down. Mike reassured me by pointing out that our progress was being witnessed by cattle – and generally speaking, cattle aren’t wild, someone is going to round them up eventually so we really weren’t out in the ‘middle of nowhere’ as I claimed. Somehow, the idea that future leather seats were about to witness our plunge into a ravine wasn’t really very comforting to me. Maybe those placid looks that we were getting were really cow for “so that is Cousin George you have there on the front seat, serves you right to fall in the ravine.” I tried to remember it was Pesah (Passover) and that it was somewhat appropriate that we spent nearly 2 hours wandering through the wilderness.
I nearly squeaked with relief when Maggie announced that we were coming to a turn, and as we rounded the corner, we could see that beautiful ribbon of actual asphalt. There was even a house visible on the far side. We turned as directed and breathed a sigh of relief. This road was actually on our paper map, we knew roughly where we were and only 2 hours behind our loose schedule. Then about a mile down the road, Maggie started talking about turning again. What? We went to the maps. No 3G available to get the close up and again the road we would be turning on wasn’t on the paper map. Even the ever-adventurous Mike paused at this. We stopped to consider – the dirt road was little more than two worn wheel tracks. Cattle were standing to one side as if daring us to take it. We looked at Maggie. Fifth Street, Taos NM was still the intended destination. We drove a few more feet further and Maggie started recalculating. Ok, this was good, she was going to keep us on the paved road, and we liked that. Another 100 feet or so, there was another dirt track to the left and Maggie cheerfully announced, “PING-PONG, You have arrived.”
I can’t really tell you the response this got from Mike and me because it involved a lot of words that aren’t fit for printing along the lines of “What the **** and degenerated from there. I think even the truck joined in for a minute. We pulled over again, looking around. Two-lane highway, dilapidated barn, a few cattle, cliffs on one side, nothing but trees and ravine on the other. On the far side of the field with the cattle, there was what probably was a house, but this did not fit any of the travel brochures we had seen about Taos. Maybe the mailing address was Taos, but this was definitely not what we had intended. Mike decided to continue on the paved road on the logic that it was at least headed in the right direction according to the compass. I began digging in our stash of travel brochures for something that had an actual address in Taos that we knew was in the city itself. Maggie mournfully started recalculating, urging us to make a u-turn at the next legal opportunity and we put her on mute until we had some idea of what to do. Finally, I located a brochure for a winery that proclaimed the presence of its store in “downtown” Taos. I reprogrammed Maggie who now agreed that we were on the right road, and we arrived in Taos only an hour later.
Just FYI, there was no Starbucks in Taos either. We wandered around for a half an hour looking in overpriced boutiques that were clearly aimed at fleecing tourist money with very few actual handmade pieces and very little of the art that the area is so famous for. In one store, I actually saw clothing that was mass-produced in India with the labels still on being offered as handmade Native American clothing. While I am sure that there ARE actually talented craftsmen and artisans in the area, we didn’t find any and were pretty far behind schedule so we grabbed lunch at the local Burger King (which actually has passable veggie burgers) and headed onward.
We arrived in Farmington shortly after 6 pm, much later than we expected. Our first stop was the cemetery, but it was already too late for us to do what we wanted there, so we scouted out a hotel (the winner today was motel 6, which was just as uncomfortable and marginally hygienic as the night before). Nothing of interest really happened on the way there so we were just tired and after foraging for food, just went back to the room and crashed.
Estimated travel time for the day – 6 hours. Our travel time, closer to 9 hours.