Overland Expo to TBEX: The Road to Taos

In this episode of Overland Expo to TBEX, the Camp Granola crew starts the haul back east… the long way.

Exiting California…

After getting a west coast education from friends in Santa Monica and Topanga, the boys and I geared up for a driving day. Before we could bid farewell to California though, a couple of matters needed to be addressed. First we needed to score what would be our westernmost geocache and second, Fred and George needed to stick their feet in the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

Like mother, like son. George lost the battle with Pacific Ocean waves and was drenched in moments.

Turns out we managed the latter first. A fairly convenient spot was available along the Pacific Coast Highway, right near a geocache we were hoping to nab. Great right? Knock out both at one stop and get back on the road. Not so much though.

Fred and George took a short stroll on the beach and were quickly satisfied they’d gotten a little Pacific Ocean on themselves (or in George’s case, a lot!) With that knocked off the list, we put ourselves to the hunt for a moderately difficult geocache. Only we came up empty-handed. I wish I could say I was all zen and groovy about it but I was really hoping for a quick smiley and to get on the road. We were aiming for Holbrook, Arizona which was a long haul away and I was feeling a bit pressured by the time frame.

Before we could move on to another cache, the whines set in with George. His salt-water-soaked pants were making him itchy and uncomfortable. Not knowing exactly where and when we’d be stopping next, I figured I better address the issue right away so I rummaged around to drag out a change of clothes and performed the mom gymnastics of holding up a towel by the car door on the windy California coast so he could get dry and un-whiny without the morning commuters getting flashed by a ten-year-old.

Blubaru soaking up the west coast view.

The whining had pushed my unhappy button but, reminding myself not to let these little things spoil the fun, I collected my “happies” and moved on to another cache down the road. This one happened to be at a state beach and after forking out the $6 parking fee for the 10 minutes we’d be there we set our sights on the cache, determined to come away with a find so we could move on down the road.

It’s position at the end of a muggle-heavy bike path almost proved to be a deal-breaker. We hung around a bit but there were several cyclists relaxing on a bench a few feet away from the cache and they did not have the look of people who would be leaving any time soon! So we assumed tourist mode, pretending to gaze out at the beach, hoping they’d get inspired to leave. They didn’t.

Time for Plan B… the cache happened to be in a Bird of Paradise plant so we down-shifted into pretending to be gaga over the pretty flowers. Sure enough we found the cache, cleverly hidden on a long stick right in the middle of the plant. A quick surreptitious log-signing and we were on our way with our westernmost geocache under our belts.

Oh, and those pesky cyclists? They decided to leave just as we did. *sigh*

George victorious after grabbing the geocache in spite of nearby cyclist muggles.

Pit stop in Arizona…

With the delays that morning, we pushed hard towards Holbrook where we had reservations at the KOA. This is a newer trick of mine to save funds but still stop for a quick overnight rest. Rather than fork over for a hotel room and a bunch of amenities we don’t need for the 6 hours we’ll be there or have to stop driving early to set up camp, we opted for a KOA cabin for the night. All we needed was a place to sleep and a shower so it turned out to be a reasonable compromise.

Once morning came around though, I realized that after a week on the road, the boys needed some clean laundry. I delayed our departure to catch up on domestic duties since the KOA facilities were so convenient. I didn’t know when we’d have such easy access to laundry facilities again so I opted to take advantage. To the boys dismay, I figured I could be efficient and at least get some work done while we waited… which meant they had to get some work done too. They hadn’t tackled their math while they were in San Francisco and fun-time was over. As you can imagine, the notion did not go over well at all.

The very awful, terribly bad morning…

So yet again we were managing to find ways to delay ourselves. By the time the mad-dash of the laundry was complete is was approaching lunch time. In my frenzy I’d fed the boys breakfast but not myself. I hadn’t even had my coffee yet, which those who know me will attest, is the ideal recipe for grumpy Val. On top of my lack of fuel, the boys were in an uncooperative mood, dishing out disgruntlement over the math assignments. You can see where I’m going with this right? Travel bliss, it was not.

George looking quite small in the big Painted Desert.

Realizing my folly, I flung the laundry in the car and whisked us out of the KOA to the nearest food and coffee, a little doughnut shop. Great! Coffee was in hand and I bought a little happiness from the boys by treating them to a sugar high. And bonus… there was even a geocache to be had!

I wish I could say it was all sunshine and daisies at that point but alas, no. In the course of grabbing the cache in a rush, I dropped my coffee. After some rather strong language on my part, I shuffled back inside the shop to get refilled. Initially the cup looked fine, I was just without coffee. Reality gave me a lovely wake-up call though as I went to refill the cup and coffee spewed all over the floor of the shop because, while the bottom looked intact after its ordeal, it was most certainly not.

I must have had the “Calgon, take me away!” look on my face because the lovely ladies in the shop jumped into action. They graciously cleaned up the mess I made and with many kind, encouraging words got me a nice fresh cup of coffee that I guzzled like the caffeine-addict I am. Their compassion went a long way that morning in helping me regain my composure as I faced a long drive. Kindness and sympathy… it matters folks!

Feeling ambitious…

Having gotten a grip on myself and not wanting to set a rushed tone so early in the trip, I decided to detour through the Painted Desert just outside of Holbrook. Even though it was only a short stop it was a worthwhile one. It had the desired effect for my Camp Granola crew as we jettisoned the last remnants of our ugly morning and got back into our travel groove.

Fred, who as a newly-minted teenager, is tough to impress in general but he was drawn in by the landscape here which reminded him of Tatooine from Star Wars. George was suddenly hot and bothered about identifying every flower he found. And I couldn’t help but whip out my converted infrared camera. Happiness all around…

George was quite tickled that we parked right in front of a fellow Atlantan while we were all the way out in Arizona.
In Fred’s mind, visiting the Painted Desert is like being on Tatooine.
A happy George at Painted Desert.
Our mid-day visit to Painted Desert made for a groovy IR opportunity.


And course that all took way longer than we really had time for in pushing towards our campsite in Taos. As it was we were going to be hard-pressed to make it and get the tent pitched but it seems I managed the added bonus of perfect timing for Santa Fe rush hour. Awesome! (Really not…)

Couldn’t have timed if better if I’d planned it. Santa Fe rush hour meant a very late arrival in Taos.

All I could do was laugh at myself as dusk was beginning and we were parked on the road outside Santa Fe. My efforts to relax the pace had completely backfired. I’d instead set us up for a ridiculous and hectic night. At that point I simply warned the boys we were going to be pitching in the dark and that we’d be having a very late dinner.

Keep in mind that the northern New Mexico/southern Colorado area is at the top of my favorite paces in the world. As we sat in that traffic jam, I obviously had time to noodle on the situation and I finally got around to accepting it for what it was. Having no idea when we’d get out of the traffic, I realized the worst case scenario was that we would have to get another hotel for the night and the situation didn’t seem as daunting. Not ideal by a long-shot but not the end of the world either. And as we worked our way through the traffic and began the stunning drive into Taos, I had to make the decision that I wasn’t going to let the situation ruin my time here.

So with a renewed sense of humor and having regained my zen-traveler composure, Camp Granola finally rolled into Taos. But that’s a story for next time…

And now for your moment of green…

A worthy stop in Arizona.