Travel Stories

“Rio Grande Del Norte”


"Rio Grande Del Norte"

“My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates.
You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump”

I sit this morning criss-cross-applesauce high up on a plateau surrounded by pinyon pines, juniper trees, some yucca plants and lichen covered lava rocks. I am almost 8,000 feet up in a desert landscape. Hundreds of yards below me, I can faintly hear the Red River rushing towards to the Rio Grande ready to join forces and travel farther south. In the distance, beyond the rocky walls of the gorge, mountains rise up from the mesa. Although early June, some peaks are still snow streaked. The sky is crystal clear with one lonely cottonball cloud off in the distance. The air is fresh. A light breeze blows against my skin. Besides the whispering river, the only sound I hear is the birds singing. It is pure peace. This is my home today.

Rio Grande Del Norte

We are in Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico. I try not to ever use the word perfect. Perfectionism can be dangerous. It results in a narrow mind, a fear of stepping outside the box, stifled creativity and limited growth. Like when doing art with my daughter, at times her fear of making a mistake or not drawing something “perfectly” has sucked her enjoyment out of the creative process. By example, I have been trying to teach her that there is no perfect. However, despite my dislike for the word perfection, I feel I have to use it now. Perfection is defined as the condition of being free from all flaws or defects. A million words come to mind when trying to describe my family’s experience at this National Monument, but I will make it easy and sum it all up in one word - perfection.

Maureen-Rio Grande
Maureen at Rio Grande

Our experience at Rio Grande National Monument was like opening a gift on Christmas morning and getting the most unexpected surprise. After feeding the large rainbow trout at the Red River Fish Hatchery twenty miles outside of Taos, New Mexico, we continued to head north with plans to spend the next few days working our way around the “enchanted circle”. We had a full cooler and a full tank of gas. We spotted a sign for the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument and decided to venture in, hoping for a visitor center, an opportunity for Sam to earn another junior ranger badge and perhaps a morning hike before continuing our drive north. That was four days ago, and we are still here. We have no desire to leave. Through experience and as a byproduct wisdom, I have learned that if you are enjoying what you are doing, why worry about what you are potentially missing. Someday when I go back to Europe, I will spend less time trying to see it all and more time eating croissants, sipping coffee and people watching along the River Seine. It is o.k. if I miss the Mona Lisa or the Arc de Triomphe. Enjoying the present moment is what truly matters.

Desert Mountain Views

The Christmas gift we received here included fabulous views that continued for miles, hikes high up on the plateau and other hikes leading us along multiple switchbacks and rock steps deep into the Rio Grande gorge. We discovered clear cold fresh water springs perfect for soaking our feet. We sat on a large rock in the river surrounded by swift rushing water and the steep canyon walls. We rode bikes along the canyon rim, accompanied only by peace and quiet. We made a campfire and told stories. We saw the milky way. We had popcorn parties and enjoyed an evening talking travel stories with the campground host over a glass of merlot and some cheese and crackers. What astonished us most about this place was the solitude. The stillness. Where were the people? If this monument was labeled a national park, people would be coming in swarms as the beauty here parallels any national park I have seen. The lack of crowds makes this area a true gem. Thank you to former President Obama for declaring this public land a national monument in 2013.  I can only hope this distinction and protection of the land remains.

Bike ride with Pop

During our first few minutes in the park, we met an artist perched high up on the canyon rim overlooking the Rio Grande River. He wore a large sun hat, had a long grey beard and skin darkened by the New Mexico sun. With his large sketch book, it was obvious he spent much time doing plein air artwork. In his view, he saw the steep rock walls open up from the horizon and the river spill directly towards him. The distant snow capped Colorado Mountains lined the horizon. It was a breathtaking and humbling view from his vantage point. He was making numerous small pencil sketches. Sam approached the artist and asked if she could take a look at his work. He said he was doing some drawings in an attempt to get the water and rocks to look just right before doing a larger oil painting. With his head lowered, he continued to sketch, remarking that he might paint from this spot for a week before getting one painting that looks perfect.

Talking to the Artist
Talking to the Artist

Sam replied, “You know, you don't have to add the water.”

The man quickly responded, “Well, but it is the main focus…”

Sam interrupted him and said, “You are the artist. You can do whatever you want.”

There was a moment of silence. The man stopped his sketch, lifted his head and looked at her. Slowly acknowledging the wisdom of a six-year-old he said, “You are right. I guess I can do whatever I want.”

As we walked back towards the van, the artist hollard to Sam. “Hey! I hope you brought your art supplies!”

“I sure did!” replied Sam.

Campsite View

The next day, Sam and I sat on our “patio” at our campsite creating art. Looking out at the landscape, we used pastels and enjoyed the process of mixing colors and seeing our image come to life. Was it a perfect depiction of the land and sky we were seeing from our picnic table? Of course not. Were we enjoying the moment? Of course. It was true perfection.