In Pilgrim Land

Part Four: Over the Mountains to Ranchos de Taos

This was one of our toughest days. We climbed the shoulder of Picuris Peak over an unnamed pass. The road was very rough and rocky and full of deep gullies. I have not yet introduced my faithful companion on the trip. You can see it in some of the photos. It is a hiking trailer made from an old jogging stroller. I hurt my shoulder earlier in the summer so carrying a backpack would have been difficult. All my gear rode on the cart and it worked very well. The one problem was climbing up steep and rocky hills. At the beginning of the trip, I was worried about it but it turned out fine. Going up hills was pretty rough in both senses of the word.

We gathered at Nuestra Senora de Dolores church which stands at the foot of the pass. When we were all together, we headed up the hill. The road was very steep. There were stretches of large rocks and stretches where the recent rains had carved out deep muddy gullies. I pushed my cart up over rocks and around fallen trees. I only had one mishap. I encountered a deep gully and decided to try to inch my cart along the edge. The edge was slippery. My cart and I slid down the side into the mud at the bottom. Fortunately, the cart was not damaged (and, more importantly, I was not damaged!) and I was able to haul it out.

When we reached the top of the pass, we rested in a beautiful meadow. We relaxed in the sun and watched the insects zooming over the tall grass. While we sat there, we saw a pickup truck grind its way past on the forest road across the meadow. ( This was one of only two vehicles we saw until we left the mountains. The other was an impossibly shiny vehicle that we passed along the side of a very muddy forest road. How it got there in such a pristine condition remains a mystery. ) We could hear the truck for a long time banging and rattling down the road. After we had rested, we collected our gear and headed off on the downhill road. The correct road was hard to find but fortunately, other pilgrims from our group had passed that way and we could find their footprints in the mud. They had also left occasional cairns of rocks and sometimes twig arrows for us to follow. The roads were an endless maze of paths, forest roads, and trails. None of them were marked and they intersected and twisted in a most bewildering way. Finding the correct road even with the help of GPS was often quite challenging.

The way down was much easier but much longer. We came to the top of the pass in the late morning but it took us the rest of the day to get down. The road was often very muddy so my cart soon had enormous disks of mud on its wheels. In more level parts of the road, there were often deep pot lakes full of muddy water. (A pot lake is a pothole so large that it takes up the entire road. We amused ourselves by giving the larger ones names.) We passed through varied terrain. First, we went through an evergreen forest with beautiful views in the distance and then through pinyon pine scrub, and finally through cactus and desert brush. In the late afternoon, we came out onto a dirt road and knew that we had returned to civilization because we saw cars and street signs. For the last few miles, we could see Taos in the distance and magnificent thunderstorms rolling across the distant mountains. We paused briefly by Capilla de Nuestra Senora del Carmen. We did not try doors since our destination was less than a mile away and we were eager to arrive.

When we reached Ranchos de Taos we stopped at San Francisco De Asis church. It was locked so I did not get to see the inside. We slowly dragged ourselves through Ranchos de Taos and gathered at a little Mexican restaurant. The crossing signals told us to walk. This felt rather ironic as I had just walked eighteen miles. By this point, I was feeling very beat, was covered with mud, and ached all over. We finally dragged ourselves to the Sangre De Cristo Lutheran Church and collapsed to sleep on their padded chairs! (I didn’t sleep very well despite the softness of the chairs. Maybe The Mexican dinner had something to do with it?) In the morning after some sleep, everything seemed much more hopeful. There was a huge zucchini cake for breakfast (made for us with love by one of the parishioners) and we only had to walk seven miles over the course of the entire day. After breakfast, I set off with one of the other pilgrims to explore historic Taos.

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