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Posts Tagged ‘roadrunner’


On a day that would eventually caress eighty degrees the early morning chill forced me to don a jacket for the first time since leaving the UK to visit the breakfast room for coffee and load the car. The local Albuquerque based TV station announced it was on “drought watch” predicting a “sea of sun for the next few days”.

With another 200 mile journey before us we filled up with gas, sharing the forecourt with two hefty Harleys and a monstrous Winnebago. We had resolved to explore “historic downtown Durango” before hitting the road – am I alone in finding that the use of “historic” to describe so many places in the US as a tad ironic?

Durango’s biggest tourist attraction is the “historic” (there I’ve used that word again) Durango & Silverton Railroad that chugs 45 miles to the mining town of Silverton through the breathtaking scenery of the San Juan Mountains. Sadly, our itinerary did not allow us to experience it on this occasion. The journey takes three and a half hours each way and we had only a couple of hours at our disposal. We did, however, see the early morning departure trundling out of town as we searched for a parking space.

And besides, breakfast was our priority. We alighted upon the Carver Brewing Co. and walked into what was clearly “where it was at” on a Saturday morning. We  managed to grab a table in the large brew pub and restaurant before a lengthy line developed outside. The steady hum of conversation inside was only intermittently stilled to enable the interrogation of ipad and mobile phone screens before the backslapping and debate on sport and politics resumed.

Durango resembled Moab in that it had a cosmopolitan, high-energy vibe that was alien to the towns we had visited in the earlier part of the trip. Mountain biking and river-rafting are equally as popular as in its Utah counterpart. It also has a small ski resort, formerly called Purgatory – I can understand why they changed the name!

In addition, it felt now as if we were “out west”, unsurprising in that the town had been founded in 1880 as a rail junction for the Gold Rush community of Silverton.

Our guidebook had claimed that downtown Durango was the “liveliest urban area in the Four Corners” and “worth an hour or two of anyone’s time”.  And indeed it was. Gift shops, outdoor clothing emporia and coffee houses gave it a youthful, vibrant feel. And the brilliant sky and slowly mounting temperatures made for an agreeable stroll along its streets.

We were impressed too with the free trolley service that connected downtown with the outlying areas and which had transported us back to our motel the night before.

We could not leave the town without visiting the railroad musuem and wander among the vintage steam trains and huge model railway layouts.

Everybody we met during the trip, on hearing that we had been to Durango, asked whether we had taken a ride on the railroad, so it sits high on a list of things to do when we are next passing by.

We finally dragged ourselves away from Durango just before noon, joining the US-160 East towards Pagosa Springs.

Once we had passed a series of out of town plazas, stores and malls, the scenery reverted to the same look as we had encountered the day before – rolling hills with periodic farms and homesteads, embraced by the San Juan National Forest. The occasional yellowing of the trees that we had observed more than a week before in Utah was becoming more widespread as we drove through Bayfield and Chimney Rock. A raccoon in the middle of the road was added to the growing list of animal species we had seen splattered by passing traffic.

We were scheduled to turn south at Pagosa Springs onto US-84  a few miles north of the New Mexico county line, but as with so many spread out U.S. towns, it was difficult to establish where the centre was. Dubbed “The Best of Colorado” it seemed to go on forever! But just as we were about to concede that we had unaccountably missed the turning, we reached downtown (we think), took the opportunity to avail ourselves of the restrooms of a local bar (me) and gas station (Janet), and check the map. In fact, the turning was visible around the next bend. My map reading reputation was intact!

In view of our substantial breakfast and late departure from Durango, we agreed to kick on and take our chances with lunch. This part of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico was undoubtedly cowboy country as the profusion of ranches  (Squaw Valley, Crowley Creek and Spring Creek to name just a few) indicated. We even saw a large head of cattle being herded into a field by a group of men in full western regalia.

We were welcomed into “New Mexico: The Land of Enchantment” with spectacular lightning strikes over the mountains ahead, though these amounted to nothing. With Santa Fe still more than a hundred miles away we pressed on through the distinctly Mexican sounding communities of Los Brazos, Los Ojos, Ensenada and Tierra Amarilla. Even the majority of stations on the car radio were now playing mariarchi music and the advertisements were in Spanish. We were still in the US but…………….

The San Juan National Forest had given way now to the Carson National Forest to the east and the Santa Fe National Forest to the west. At Cebolla we encountered a stray dog sauntering along in our lane – at least he was alive, and remained so after we had swerved round him (I’m assuming it was a him though I didn’t check the gender). Much more exciting was the sight of a roadrunner scooting in front of us a little further on. It would appear that he had already shaken off  Wily Coyote (no change there then).

I have already embarrassed Janet once in this diary about her being caught short so I will not mention the unscheduled stop we had to make 50 miles short of Santa Fe to allow her to make the acquaintance of a (very) small bush in an otherwise unoccupied picnic area.

Placitas, Abiquito, Chamita, Espanola, Arroya La Madera and Medalanes were left behind as we targeted a 4pm arrival in Santa Fe. Lunch had been forgotten in our quest to get settled at one of the stops we had most looked forward to. As we approached the town we experienced heavier traffic than we had been accustomed to all vacation. Nevertheless, we found the El Rey Inn without too much difficulty.

Built in a traditional northern New Mexico adobe style, the El Rey Inn opened in 1936 with just 12 rooms, since expanded to 86. The rooms and suites occupy 5 acres landscaped with trees, shrubs and flowers. Each room is unique, decorated with southwestern-style furniture and antiques. The inn itself boasts paintings, murals and sculptures from around the world.

After a brief walk around the grounds, we prepared ourselves for what would be a long overdue meal in town. As the trolley had stopped for the day, this necessitated a taxi ride into the plaza.

Having barely eaten since breakfast we wasted little time in selecting where to eat. Santa Fe’s most famous hotel, La Fonda, has an award winning dining room, La Plazuela, at which we were fortunate enough to arrive when a table was about to become vacant. Just off the lobby, the restaurant is in a lovely conservatory style setting with two trees filled with lights and a small central pond sharing the space with the solid, beautifully decorated wood dining furniture.

Delicious enchiladas (again), excellent service and a warm atmosphere made for one of the best dining experiences of the trip.

The  evening was capped off with a single dollar taxi ride back to our hotel, an arrangement that I’m sure, dear reader, you would like to see replicated in your town. We were even regaled with stories of the “mob” in Las Vegas by the driver who seemed to have several “buddies” with connections – well worth his 500% tip!

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Recently my wife and I did some house sitting for friends. It had been a welcome short break for us too – leaving our three bedroom terraced house in town for a spacious five bedroom detached cottage deep in the Kent countryside, with ten acres of land and nothing on the horizon but trees and the occasional oast house.

Our duties had not only been confined to the “country pile”, but a minor menagerie too. Firstly, we were asked to attend to the needs “on demand” of the family cat, a deaf, sixteen year old with the onset of dementia and the personality of an East End mobster. Then there was the cacophonous collection of ducks, moorhens and pheasants that hung out together around the pond, and the mass of birdlife, including woodpeckers, assorted tits and finches, wood pigeons, thrushes and others at their feeding station.

And finally, there were two shetland ponies, one palomino and the other chestnut, whom, for the first 24 hours, we were responsible for steering into their stables in the evening and out of them into the field the next morning.

Originally, we had been expected to look after the elderly black labrador dog too, but she had been unwell of late and travelled away with her owners. Disappointing though this development was, it did allow us to walk a lot further, which we took full advantage of.

But let’s return to the cat. We were told to feed him “when he whines”. That sounds easy – until you discover that he whines at least once an hour as he stands over a dish that, a short while ago, was gleaming with cat food, steamed with such delicacies as tuna, salmon and sardine. Periodic bowls of prawns completed his exotic, and clearly delicious, diet.

Once replete, his “demand” then extended to standing by the back door, insisting, in steadily increasing volume (remember, he is deaf), that, despite the fact that he could use the cat flap designed for the purpose is located in the front door, he be let out via that route (only to return by the cat flap, of course).

His life appears to be a constant cycle of eating and sleeping – which he did for hours on end, usually curled up by the side of the sitting room T.V.  Just occasionally, he would ordain that he be stroked for a few moments, but not for long enough to engender sentimentality or diminish his street credibility. And, after all, we needed to know our place.

Now, I know his alternately independent and needy manner is only his cat nature, but it was the way in which he articulated the latter that was particularly alarming, and not a little scary. Dependent, I presume, upon his level of dissatisfaction at being ignored when he “whines”, he has an extraordinary range of sounds, from the traditional miaow, to a cute, lamb-like bleat, a remarkably human conversational tone and, ultimately, a hair-raising growl – the last usually doing the trick (crikey, where’s his food?).

Despite repeated staring competitions, and raised voices on either side, I’d like to think that, by the end of the weekend, whilst not becoming great friends, we had at least arrived at a tenuous understanding, though which of us was David Cameron and which Boris Johnson, I would not presume to guess.

And then there were the ponies. As their stables had already been “mucked out”, and their food and water prepared, our duties on the first evening were merely to guide them from the field into their respective stables, with the reverse operation the following morning. Now I’ll confess that we were not a little anxious about this.

Would they – especially as were strangers – take this opportunity to make a run for it when that gate was opened at 5.30pm? Or would they attack us, annoyed that they had been obliged to wait so long for their evening meal (despite the fact that they had each eaten a ton of grass during the day)? Or, perhaps, even worse, and I acknowledge that this would have been the least likely scenario, would they refuse to budge at all?

So we prepared very carefully for the ordeal.

Gate to outside world and freedom firmly closed?

Check.

Stable doors open to receive residents?

Check.

Route to compost heap cut off by strategically placed wheelbarrow (and male human of advancing years)?

Check.

Here goes – gate to field opened.

What happened there?

Within two seconds, and in a whirl of dried mud, hay and galloping hooves, they were ensconced in their respective stables, muzzles in their buckets of feed, hay and apples, oblivious to our concern as we picked ourselves up from the stony path.

For details of the following morning’s similar stampede, just read the foregoing account in reverse order.

Piece of cake then – or, perhaps, bowl of hay might be a more suitable metaphor.

The entertainment provided by the animals aside, it was a glorious weekend with warm spring sunshine throughout.

Fine weather helps of course, but these few days have confirmed that country life agrees with me. The only sounds were delightfully natural ones – the ducks greeting the dawn which, unfortunately, for some, appears to have broken at 2am, the diversity of birdsong, the calling of woodpeckers across the valley, and even the whinnying and kicking from the stables as the ponies became impatient to be released from their overnight custody.

As I finish this piece a pheasant scoots across the meadow in a hilarious audition for the role of the roadrunner in the re-creation of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. A squirrel clambers clumsily onto a bird feeder, only to be ganged up on by a crowd of coal tits. I will, however, gloss over the shenanigans in the vicinity of the pond where three male mallards chase and ultimately pin down a single female. Spring has undoubtedly sprung.

I would write more but I can hear the cat whining again.

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