Have I Got a Gorgeous Gorge!!!!

Rio Grande Gorge, outside Taos, New Mexico surprised me. I have been through Taos many times in my life but NEVER on the road that crosses this bridge. On both sides are vendors of all kinds — mostly Native Americans selling silver jewelry. And then the bridge and then the view. Since my trips to Taos are usually NOT tourist jaunts, I have yet to get out of the car and walk across the bridge. That’s kind of all right with me. I’m more than a little acrophobic. But, I have a plan to visit Taos on my own sometime after Christmas when all the hub-bub has died down, and Taos returns to the sleepy town of 1930 paintings. I’ll stop and cross the bridge then.


I love the geologic song of the river here as it chisels its way through the slowly uplifting layers of the east edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It’s a view into time.


“My” Rio Grande as it passes Monte Vista

I love this river. Yesterday walking beside it, listening to it, looking through the clear water, enjoying the promise of ice on the sides, already growing, I thought again of how lucky I am to have moved here more-or-less accidentally.


Beautiful Day

I’ve been in Colorado Springs visiting and it’s been great, but we’ll head home today. Yesterday we went to see the Paint Mines near Calhan, Colorado. I know I’ve written about this before, probably in 2014… First we went to visit horses at a small horse ranch where my friend leases a pinto named Scoot.



The horses are friendly and beautiful, they like people. I like horses and I enjoyed being around them very much, being followed by them and patting them and all the stuff that isn’t work and isn’t riding. 🙂 Then, on a simmering impulse, we drove another 24 miles to the Paint Mines.

I love this place. It’s beautiful and mysterious. It’s in the middle of the beginning of the Great American Prairie, everything’s comparatively flat grassland, but suddenly there is a small canyon of colored clay.




Photos by me, Lois Maxwell and Adriano Vasco


Three Posts in a DAY????

Took the sore hip and the two big dogs out for an adventure. It didn’t look at first like it was going to happen. The parking lot of our usual spot had too many cars in it for me to take a walk in my condition with Dusty T. Dog “El Barquero Grande.”

“Dammit, guys,” I said to the two hopeful canines in the back of my car. Then I saw a dirt road that has at the end of it a restroom and, last time I was there, a camping trailer. A hunter. But today? No camping trailer. No hunter.

Which isn’t to say there weren’t any hunters. It’s water bird season. I dressed Dusty in his hunting vest, I put a red bandana around Bear’s neck, and I was already wearing a red shirt. At this point I can walk a mile, then I hurt. I’m using my trekking pole like a cane. I hate it but it’s not nothing. I’m walking 1.27 mph which is also not great, but I have learned that the important thing being OUT there where you can SEE something. It’s not about how far or how fast you go. Try telling me that 25 years ago. 🙂

I took a trail/road through a part of the slough that was new to me. I chose it because it was new and because it would be across wide open land, far better this time of year than wandering among the trees. I like a wide horizon, anyway. It was GORGEOUS. It would also be a great bike ride.

Lots of cranes in the distance — some I could see grazing in a fallow field. A farmer in the distance was dragging a plow through a potato field. A frog jumped in the murky water. The screech of a hawk broke the sky.

Sometime last night I gave up, literally surrendered. I came to understand something about Goethe I had not understood before, what he meant by “renunciation.” I get it. I accepted that the only way I’m going to be able to do the things I want to do all the time is if I get a substantial amount of joint surgery. A new knee, a new hip. Maybe I’ll get by with just that. I hope so.

Instead of fighting it, I realized I should just be glad I live in a time when it’s possible to do this. Not long ago I looked at a photo of my granddad. For some reason, I looked at his hands as they rested on his cane. They were gnarled and twisted with arthritis. During the five years of my life that intersected with the years of his life, he was usually in bed. I remember that walking was very hard for him, and he leaned hard on that cane. He spent a lot of time down in the cellar — it was a cellar apart from the house, down a little wooden sidewalk — sorting screws, nuts, bolts, etc. into egg cartons. I thought of my neighbor who knits and crochets (masterfully!) partly as a way to keep her fingers nimble. She has arthritis in her hands. I figured out that’s pretty much what my grandpa was doing.

But it’s 2017, not 1957 and I could be walking farther and faster (not that I care, right?).


First Snow

Three years ago today I was living in South Fork waiting to move into my house. Dusty T. Dog and I took a walk in “our” field and a few flakes landed on his black fur. I thought, “Wow. I’m really back in Colorado.”

Right now, though, I have no doubt. Gotta’ go dig out my boots and take Bear out to revel in her bliss…

October 9, folks… Could be a LONG winter… And those poor people in Santa Rosa. Wow. One of the most beautiful spots in California now on fire 😦 Maybe our president will toss water bottles at the victims.

Butterfly Sanctuary, Quotidian Report #35

That elastic spring in my step is gone, I mean LONG gone. But…I think maybe elasticity of mind is as important.

Yesterday, after my adventure at Great Sand Dunes, there wasn’t much elasticity left in the joints in my legs, but I took the dogs out anyway. It was a beautiful day for a walk and they were happy. Me too, though, honestly, it hurt most of the time.



Snow is forecast for Monday and the first “real” freeze, so I spent this morning out in the yard explaining to all the little plants why they have to be pulled up or cut back.


I hate working in the yard in front of my house in the summer. First, it’s a south facing house, which means it’s BLASTING hot. Second, it’s on a major US highway, so there I am, a little old lady in shorts, bending over to tend plants. No. This is not to be born. At a certain point, a couple months ago, I just stopped. I didn’t want to be on TV. As a friend pointed out, you never know when Google Earth is going to come by.

This morning was very cool (bordering on frigid), and the summer traffic is done, making my street just a street in a town. I cut the grass and, simultaneously, using the same tool, “raked” leaves. I cut back plants that will go dormant and pulled out stuff that will die. I found the sunflowers had given me seeds. Most wonderful of all, my neglected lawn — invaded by Piñon asters — was full of Painted Lady butterflies. I did not mow their little sanctuary. They need what the flowers give them more than I need to mow…



P.S. I did not take the photo of the butterfly. I tried, but whenever I got near, they flew away. I took it off the Internet.


Dusty of the Dunes

It was difficult to make the right fashion choices today because the itinerary had to remain fluid. My neighbor and I have been wanting to go on an adventure to the Sand Dunes (Great Sand Dunes National Park) since April and have not been able to work it out. Today was the last chance we would have for a long time so we seized the day.

We tried yesterday, but the weather got really ugly — or dramatic — depending on your point of view. Of course, when we gave up the adventure, the weather cleared, but that’s Colorado…

It’s potato harvest — slowed down this year by inclement weather — so there were potato trucks to watch out for. They are immense, heavy, loaded with potatoes and often driven by guys who never had a license or have lost the one they had. One such truck recently tangled with a train in broad daylight (trains being hard to see and hear). The train won. The potato truck driver was hurt and the truck was damaged.

To get to Great Sand Dunes National Park from Monte Vista you take country roads. It was beautiful in every direction. Busy farms, trucks, potato barns open, constantly changing sky. AND we got lost in a conversation and then lost on country roads. But the whole area is flat, it’s a grid, and going east is the Sand Dunes, sooner or later and somehow. Back on the right road, straight ahead, was Mt. Blanca coming through the clouds like a dream.

The first sight really does take your breath away. At the moment, the aspen are at their last extremely brilliant burst of color and on a gray, humid day they seem lit from inside.

I got to use my brand new shiny Senior Pass. I was a little worried because my ID was in the very back of the car in my pack with Dusty, but the Ranger took the pass and asked me my name. She had a twinkle in her eye, so I said, “Whoa, uh, uh…” and she cracked up. I told her my name. 🙂

There is a seasonal stream — Medano Creek — that runs between the dunes and the not dunes. In summer it’s literally “the beach” and kids body surf on it. Usually this time of year there is no flow, but it was flowing pretty good today. We struggled for a time to keep our feet dry and then gave up. Dusty T. Dog — without his sidekick, Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog — felt pretty special I think. Anyway, he’s tired now.

It’s something to see. It’s a truly remote spot but there were tourists from Switzerland, Germany and China and possibly places I don’t know. Fashionable footwear? Wet, sandy shoes, soaked socks and damp, sandy jeans.


“Where are we? Am I going to run FREEEEEEE????”


Fall Color


Medano Creek


The wet dunes


And if you ever get a chance to have a REAL Colorado potato with butter and whatever fixings you like, jump on it!


Delicious baked Colorado potato!!! 🙂


The New Leaf

Three years ago day-before-yesterday I first arrived back in Colorado to stay. Was it a new leaf?

Yes in that I no longer get up before dawn to drive to Mexico (or nearby) to teach people basic English skills at the college level. I no longer must bend the knee to some guy who doesn’t know anything about what I teach. I no longer have to deal with any of the dark sides of teaching.

But, of course, I’m still the same person and a new leaf beyond the obvious and mechanical is pretty unlikely ever. That’s one thing I’ve learned. “I yam what I yam.”

I also came here imagining I would want to put my energy into writing and marketing books — and I did — but the upshot of that is bitterness I’d rather never to have experienced. That damned tree of knowledge. 🙂

While there’s no going back to the Garden, it came with an understanding of myself and that, after nearly four decades of “performing,” I don’t want to perform any more. I don’t want to be “invested in an outcome” and get someone’s approval and recognition. That’s something I didn’t know when I arrived here three years ago carrying a half-finished novel. I no longer even want to be a famous writer. It’s too late for me to be completely unknown, but I think I can still achieve a decent level of obscurity.

Three years ago my dogs and I were in a small cabin in South Fork, Colorado. I knew I was glad to be here, but I had no idea where I would live and that was very stressful. I was exhausted from months of packing, the stress of selling a house, a terrible summer class. I wanted to sleep, but Lily T. Wolf (RIP) — my Siberian husky — always heard sounds in the early morning and had to go outside, so out we went at 4 or 5 am every day. There were coyotes and bears in “our” field, and after seeing bear scat, I began taking a flashlight. I loved the sound of the river in those dark, silent walks and the stars seemed so close and so bright. For the first time in 30 years I watched the aspen turn and felt the air turn chill with fall.

Yesterday one of my neighbors joined us for a walk at a wildlife area beside the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande) which is now looking like the Rio Cansado (Tired River). Two days earlier, I had disturbed a great horned owl at his/her lunch, and yesterday my neighbor and I saw two owls — a male and a female. The larger of the two — the female — watched us. The smaller was only interested in us for a few seconds then off he flew.


The female great-horned owl

The leaves in town have started turning. The aspen in the mountains have been at it for a week or so. Everything according to its right time. When I left Colorado in the mid-eighties, I wasn’t as “involved” with nature as I am now and didn’t notice the clock of the four seasons, but it is quite precise I’ve learned here in the San Luis Valley.

Today is the official first day of fall. Daytime highs will (rather suddenly!) drop ten degrees during the coming week. Frost will hit the tomatoes, the flowers and even the sacred zucchini. For a brief time, snow was forecast for Sunday, but that’s been changed. This is a very beautiful season here — and it’s a full three months long. It’s no “transition;” it’s something in its own right.


Beautiful Hike <3

Yesterday marked the three year anniversary of my return to Colorado. We celebrated by taking a walk along the Rio Grande in one part of the Rio Grande State Wildlife Area, basically across the street from our usual little loop. It was very beautiful and verdant, and we saw a great horned owl at lunch. He was on the ground with his mouse, vole or bunny sandwich and the vibrations of my trekking pole startled him, so he took flight leaving a crumb or two behind. I don’t think we would have seen him at all otherwise. Later my pole startled a snowy egret and later on a little green frog.

I like seeing animals and birds very, very much. But yesterday, in this place that was so sheltered and so quiet, I felt like an intruder. If I didn’t need the stick to walk and take pressure off my joints, I’d be far more Natty Bumpo about the whole thing and quietly make my way through the landscape.

The landscape itself has great things growing in it such as currants and wild asparagus. Yesterday I saw a little plant — Maianthemum stellatum —  whose fall appearance was new to me.


Hunting season starts in a few weeks — three weeks — and after that (ironically?), in March this side of the area is closed so that waterfowl can breed. It reopens on July 15, at the height of mosquito season.

It was a perfect anniversary party! 🙂


Rio Grande looking tired


“This is awesome, Martha!”


Mt. Blanca in the distance


The way through the woods


Ski Bum Revelation, II

Those of you starting out in life or making your way over the GREAT BRIDGE of life’s productivity, saving the world (I, for one, am grateful) well, maybe this post is not for you, but I think it is. I retired three years ago and moved back to the Rocky Mountains which I had missed more than I can ever describe for the 30 years I lived in someone else’s paradise. Don’t get me wrong. I was very happy in Southern California and found a Coloradoesque life for myself in the wonderful mountains that rim San Diego. I learned to see and love the coastal sage and chaparral, my great teacher in so many ways, but I always, always, always missed the mountains.

Once I retired and came back, I launched myself right into what I thought I’d want to do as retired person. I have arthritis in my knees, so I figured I needed surgery and/or I was a cripple. I never had enough time to paint, so I figured I was an artist. I had an unfinished novel, so I figured I was a writer.

Over the course of this three years, my understanding of myself has changed, shifted. Images of myself that I held up there peeled away. You might think it’s all about self-discovery when you’re young, but I’d say for me there’s been more of that in the last three years than any other time since, well, ever. I don’t have that stuff in front of me, all that “Que sera, sera,” stuff. A lot of my stories have ended and I know how they turned out. For example I know I’m not going to be anyone’s mom and I’m not going to make a million bucks or save all the people in an impoverished country. No one expects anything of me any more, except to creep inexorably downhill physically, to be more out of touch with technology than I am or ever will be, to be not all that bright. It’s funny, but after you do a pretty good job through your working years, there will be people (usually younger) that don’t realize that you once were where they are and YOU MADE IT THROUGH.

There was a point in life in which dreams turned into imperatives such as “Holy shit, do I earn enough to make my house payment?” I remember, sometime in my 40s, telling my brother that all I did in my life was “patch things up and hold them together.” He, for his part, was impressed that I could do that! 🙂

So now…the other day, riding the stationary bike and watching a movie, The Last of the Ski Bums, I realized that I was happier skiing than doing any other thing in my life, ever. And I wasn’t very good at it. That’s important. Skiing, in and of itself, was just great, sublime, exciting, beautiful. Snow, high mountains, speed. Wow. I decided then and there that in my next life no one’s going to hijack my aimless existence with their idea of purpose. No sirree.

Then… Well, I work out a lot. Simply being able to walk requires that the muscles of my legs are strong so my knees work like knees should. I don’t know what I was doing, but I found myself in a skiing maneuver. And I thought, “Damn. I can do this. Godnose that next life idea is unpredictable. I might come back  wombat or armadillo or something. Or a child in the tropics where there is no snow and no hope of any. I can’t hang my ski bum dreams on some next life. I missed out this time, but putting my money on my next life is really too big a gamble.”

So I did research. Lots of people ski with arthritis. Since I was never any good, I can probably have a pretty good time on the baby slopes, maybe even blue circles! There are braces people wear on their knees. Then I remembered reading something on the website of the local ski area, just 50 miles away and no mountain pass involved, Wolf Creek, (which, BTW, usually gets the most snow of any ski area in Colorado). Their ski school has classes for “Baby Boomers.” A lift ticket for “seniors” is $25. I might not be the only one living out their Late-life Ski Bum Dreams


Adventure to Natural Arch

The weather forecast was sketchy. “90% chance of rain, but that’s at 5 o’clock. We have time.” my friend, E, clearly, wanted to go. So did I. So did K. I’d even cleaned out my car and removed the dog proofing so people could sit in it.

My car is not an SUV. It’s a simple Ford Focus with a sport package. For a Ford Focus, it’s hot looking. It’s metal-flake gray and inside the seats are leather, black and maroon. ¡Que suave! And, anyway, the roads up there are well-cared for gravel and dirt. What could happen?

The afternoon seemed hospitable enough. Blue sky, white fluffy clouds, but once we were out of town E looked out the window of the car and said, “There’s a storm building.”

“It’s building a big city down there, not a village,” I said. I’m so funny.

K had several pages of directions she’d printed off the Internet, one of which said, “It’s extremely difficult to find the Natural Arch.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” said K.

I had written directions on a piece of paper. I handed them to K, who sat in the passenger seat, and said, “Just read these to me as we go. It’ll be fine.”

I wondered how the guy who wrote the article got lost going out there, first because there are not many roads, second because the BLM had done a good job with signage. Still, it’s a pretty remote spot, wait, everything here is remote. My bad.

I drove, we talked, exclaiming over the landscape, the beauty of the rocks (my friends truly love rocks), talking about the geology and how we were driving across a giant ancient caldera.

“It hasn’t exploded for millions of years, but it could,” said E.

I didn’t actually think so, but what do I know? Am I in charge of cataclysmic geological events? No. I told them about the big earthquake I’d enjoyed (truly) when I lived in Southern California. A huge wave had passed under the feet of a friend and I while we were hiking. It was amazing and truly wonder-full. “Of course, there was an earthquake almost every day out there, I said.

“Did you feel them?” asked K.

“A lot of times I just heard them, a loud bang of thunder inside the ground, kind of a loud ‘boom’ in the wrong place.”

We reached the end of the road. I looked around for a trail that would lead to the Natural Arch and saw no trails anywhere.

Sunny day

Looking across the valley from the Natural Arch at the start of the adventure

“Where is it?” asked K.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Then K looked out the window, “It’s right there!” Sure enough, the arch loomed above us, a hole punched somehow in the giant caldera that is the La Garita Mountains. 

The day was still beautiful and sunny where we were, but the clouds to the south were dark and they were moving. There was a trail up to the arch, so we all headed up. I don’t mind uphills, but downhills are difficult with my severely arthritic knee. I think the big problem is I’m afraid of falling, not the knee. K and E each went up — E forged her own trail and K went up the existing trail. I followed as far as I was sure I could get back down and I turned around.

Meanwhile, the storm kept building, now faster, to the south. It was on the move, too. About the time my friends reached the arch thunder began to roll. I thought of my lower clearance vehicle and some of the ruts I’d navigated around on the way up. “Damn,” I thought, “we had better get out of here.” Lessons learned, no doubt, from Into Thin Air. (ha ha)

My friends had the same thought, so we all “hurried” down. We got back into the car as the storm struck.

The drive out was fantastic. The storm was wild, pelting the car with graupel and rain. The light changed constantly and the distant Sangre de Cristo mountains moved closer, magnified by the humidity. The road was a mix of small ice balls and gravel and I was glad. If the rain had come down like that, it would have been soup.


For me, that drive was the best part of the adventure. People might have found the storm inhospitable, but I thought it was a welcoming committee. And I got to see what my car can do. We passed some amazing rock formations, reconnoitered the location for a future adventure, and saw a stone and adobe ruin built against a small outcropping.

Tortoise rocks


The San Luis Valley has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years, and while that small building was probably built in the 20th century, it was essentially the same as you would find at Cañon de Chelly.

We weren’t ready for the afternoon to end, so we stopped in Del Norte for coffee and to plan future adventures.

Del Norte