Sometimes you just have to get out of town. Seriously, miles away.
In just such a frame of mind, I looked forward to a camping/running trip a couple of weeks ago with eager anticipation. I was going to meet my sister in the Jemez region of New Mexico – specifically, in the neighborhood of the Valles Caldera Preserve. She had heard about a half-marathon trail race, aptly called “Run the Caldera,” that sounded like fun, so our plan was for her to drive down from Colorado and for me to drive over from Albuquerque, meet roughly in the middle, camp out on Friday night, then run the race the next morning.
I had never been out to the Jemez before, but had heard nothing but rave reviews about the region’s beauty. Plus, I don’t get to visit with my sister too often, and I was tired of dealing with wildfire smoke in Albuquerque. If I was going to smell smoke, I at least wanted to do it somewhere new. Taking all that into consideration, who could blame me for my optimistic feelings?
The drive was lovely. From point A to point B, it was about two hours – the perfect duration for a weekend road trip! Admittedly, I was sorely tempted both going out and coming back to lengthen the trip the tiniest of bits by turning off at the sign that said “Winery This Way,” but I held strong. I was tempted again by the town of Jemez Springs. It’s one of those towns where the speed limit plummets from 55 to 25; the town seems to beg passersby to get out of their cars, slow down, mosey through shops and eateries and art galleries, and soak in the gorgeous environment (or in the town’s hot springs, heh heh). But, another time.
As I drove along Route 4 towards my destination, I savored every drop of my wooded, water-dotted surroundings. Trust me, when you live in the high desert, it just about takes your breath away to travel someplace with liberal amounts of tall trees, ponds, and rivers that are more than a trickle. I didn’t even harbor that much ill will towards the cars cruising placidly ahead of me on the 2-lane highway.
It’s been years since I’ve gone camping, so I wasn’t certain how that would go, but the Jemez Falls campground proved easy to find and a welcome respite from civilization. Smoke from the numerous wildfires around the Southwest had concerned me a little going into the weekend, but luckily the winds blew in our favor, and the only scent in the air was that of the ponderosa pines blanketing the campground.
After completing the crucial task of scouting out the nearest bathroom [my sister, smart woman that she is, had picked a campsite very close to one], we pitched our tents. All I can say is, thank you, advancements in camping engineering and design! It didn’t take us long at all to construct our temporary homes, and after a tasty picnic supper (no campfires allowed), we took a walk to check out the waterfall for which the campground is named. It was a truly pretty sight to behold, especially for a pair of aridity-dwellers like ourselves.
We strolled by other campsites where kids darted around and families cooked their suppers, and we toyed not-so-briefly with the idea of inviting ourselves to one site where we sniffed garlicky goodness in the air. We took a peek at a campsite where just a couple of weeks before, someone had the bright idea to flick a cigarette and spark a miniature wildfire. Luckily, only a few acres burned, but nothing reinforces the lesson of “Be Careful!!!” like an eyeful of unnecessarily blackened forest.
Eventually, we made it back to our campsite to get some good (ok, well, good for lying in a tent) rest before our race the next morning. My re-introduction to the world of camping was a success. Now all I had to think about was running 13.1 miles around a prehistoric volcano. Couldn’t be THAT hard.
Next Week: The Gentle Art of Trail Racing.