I gained another hour as I drove into New Mexico so, even though I took all day getting to Clayton, I was still in time for dinner in the Eklund's beautiful dining room. This is a 100-yr old hotel that has had just enough updates to make it pleasant to stay in (like bathrooms in your room) but has so much old charm. A family that has local roots has just bought it and they had been open for two months. Such nice people and they had great plans ahead. First I met Jeanette at the front desk and later I met her husband and her brother at the huge, old bar in the saloon. They were serving wines from New Mexico which were "interesting" shall we say. This was after dinner and I discovered a piano which I immediately sat down and played. Most of the dinner guests were gone but, when I got done with the song, the entire staff from around the hotel came in and started clapping. They ended up comping my meal and offering me a gig next summer. REVELATION! I could be an itinerant musician and maybe even pay for some of my traveling. My little set list suddenly took on new meaning.
The next morning Jeannette printed out some Google maps showing me all kinds of scenic routes and side roads on my way to Taos and then on down to Gallup. First stop, Springer, NM where I had fabulous huevos rancheros at the Brown Hotel, another really old edifice from the West. They had fantastic photos of the local cowboys on the wall and a cute little lunch counter and dining room. That meal lasted me all day.
The next stop was Miami but I would not have even known I was there except I saw the Miami Fire Dept sign. It was right at the edge of the plains and the mountains were on the horizon. It's not on a main highway but I could tell there was an active community, especially when a kid on a motorcycle came out on the road. Abandoned homesteads and a store that didn't look like it was operating. That was about it. Around the bend was Miami Lake, which was basically a watering hole for the cattle. Then I started to climb up into the Cimarron Range, part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains which are the lowest part of the Rockies.
Now, here was a place that I could have done a little research on before I arrived and where I could have stayed for a few days exploring. I was driving on the old Santa Fe Trail route and the town of Cimarron had all kinds of history with outlaws and such. One of the Phillips brothers (Phillips Oil) had a huge estate there with an incredible adobe villa. He had donated a huge amount of land to the Boy Scouts and they had a camping/hiking center there that sees up to 22,000 scouts every summer. The St. James was another historic hotel, bigger and finer than the two I had just visited. But, I can't do everything, so I drove on to Taos over Cimarron Pass down to Eagles Nest Lake then a took a loop up to Red River, a ski area, and then back down into Taos, another area I knew little about. What I did know was that I probably couldn't afford to stay there or buy the art from the many galleries lining the little streets.
I'm not big on tourist meccas and my first drive through Taos confirmed that. Lots of folks walking around, no parking, fancy motels with beautiful grounds. I just kept on driving but was pretty tired so I thought I'd just plug in some place nearby on my GPS when I drove by the cutest little motel you've ever seen.... I turned the car around and drove right in. The Inn On the Rio (I did not know that I had been driving by the Rio Grande river) was a restored motel from the 50's - Route 66 era and I ended up staying there two nights, spending most of a day at the pool. Incredible breakfasts, wonderful people and a comfy room.
In the evenings I went into the downtown area, which turned out to be very small and quaint and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Taos is basically like every other Western mountain ski town. I bought sage and juniper sticks for the car and headed south the next day. Not before I met Tim, from northern Wisconsin, who had a 1967 Chevelle with a 515 and talked me into driving it! I could barely see over the steering wheel but I could reach the clutch and run the gears and had a gas driving it to the edge of town and back. What a lot of noise! It's for sale if you are interested.