The last day of our friend’s visit brought us yet another taste of adventure with finishing notes of peace and gratitude. Our friend had an unasked-for upgrade on her rental car for her visit. It was a beast of a vehicle, with high clearance and 4WD. How could we NOT take advantage of the opportunity such a contraption would allow?
We had read about middle-of-nowhere Ute Mountain, sitting alone at the northern edge of the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, brushing up against the border of Colorado. Ute Mountain is an extinct volcano, its cone top long rounded out and smoothed over by time and the elements. It has historically been an important location for Native Americans. It has long been a place noted for the peace it engenders within, between, and among those who stand within her shadows or upon her slopes. She sits alone, off unpaved roads and at the end of misguided directions from map apps. It takes effort to get there. And a vehicle better designed for rough roads than a Hyundai Sonata Hybrid doesn’t hurt, either.
Upon leaving the maintained and paved portion of the National Monument, we punched in our desired location, Ute Mountain, on the map, and I pointed the nose of the beast down the first dirt and gravel and rocky road, with the mountain sitting in the distance beckoning us onwards, looking tantalizingly within reach. We bumped along stretches of grasslands and fence rows, past occasional adobe or faded and worn wood structured houses. And landed, after a time, at a gate, with a sign warning against trespass and indicating Chevron’s rights of ownership. Yet, clearly, the map app indicated we go just this way. Nothing to do but turn around and opt for an alternate route offered in the faded blue lines on the map directions.
More bouncing, more jarring, more testing of bladder strength and a couple more turns brought us past this:
A piece of art in the desert that apparently also served as somebody’s home, and with a wide view of Ute Mountain in the distance. Who lived there? Better yet, who designed and painted such a brilliant splash of color out in the middle of almost nowhere?
The road (of sorts) led us by other creative, architectural marvels, though I’m not sure these others would qualify as art. Like the house someone made from a short bus built out to create extra rooms. A hybrid of sorts between a school bus and a wooden home. Quirky and fascinating. Creative and amusing in its clever use of materials. Maybe some would call it art. A short distance beyond the bus house, it looked as if we were nearly to the final turn that would take us to the road leading to the north side of Ute Mountain. But, in reality, it led us to another dead end, at a house this time. With bones hanging from a fence post at the end of the driveway. No other warning needed. Time to turn around again and seek out that third alternative route.
The third route took us all the way back out to the highway, down a stretch, and at last onto the unpaved road that appeared to take us to the turnoff we needed to reach our destination. But, in this case, the third time was not a charm. We would hit one more wrongly indicated turn that led into the gates of someone’s ranch. Perplexed, we drove on, thinking maybe it wasn’t for us to reach the peaceful grounds of Ute Mountain. We were all satisfied with the exciting drive and succumbed to the idea that we might just have to give up and head back. We opted first to cruise down State Line Road as a last-ditch effort, for which we were rewarded a few miles down the road when the BLM sign rose into view. At last!
We turned into Monument territory and wound around until we hit the place where the road continued up, and onto surface where nothing more than high clearance 4WD would do. Not another soul around. No cars. No people. I stopped the car at the place I felt no longer brave enough or skilled enough to drive. We got out and climbed up. There is supposed to be a trail, of sorts, heading to the top. It isn’t an official trail, and it is one that is necessary to bushwhack for each person who happens to locate it. We did not locate the trail, and just made our own way up through low lying sagebrush and other desert plants. We did not go into the trees, where the way gets harder and the path gets steeper. That would have to save for another day. Instead, we climbed to a rise about a third to half way up the side of the mountain.
Looking back from where we started, the beast had become an insect, the rock-strewn road simply a trail drawn out behind the insect’s path through the dirt. The quiet up there bound us to the mountain, to the earth beneath our feet, the air drifting across our faces and arms on its way up the slope, and the sky above, with dark clouds forming a moving edge leading from the distance up to just above our heads. Yes, there is peace up there. A peace you can feel resonate from the mountain itself. A peace that speaks of a place’s long history, of all she has witnessed over the millions of years of her existence, of all the heartbeats and breaths of the people and animals who have sidled up to her sides and across her surface, of the secrets she would whisper in your ear if only you’d listen close enough.
We peeled ourselves off of the surface, reluctantly, when the first drops of rain dropped languidly from the clouds beginning to drift overhead. We saw our second rainbow of the day when we reached the insect-turned-beast again, gave a moment’s pause to take it in, before climbing in and heading out again to State Line Road to begin making our way back. Except that we weren’t quite finished yet. From on the mountain, Gail had spotted what we made out to be the canyon that held the Rio Grande on this northern edge of the National Monument. We had turned right, to head back, but began pondering whether or not we could reach the rim if we turned around and followed the road west. We could not resist this temptation.
Much to our delight, the road ended at a path that led a short distance to the rim of the canyon. We stood on its edge, in a place that felt far from everywhere. The wind was less than gentle here, serving as a reminder that nature ruled, and if you did not heed the caution in her roar, you could be taking a quick trip to the bottom of the canyon. The power of nature is palpable here, and while you know that she can quickly dash you to the bottom to meet your end, she also makes you feel alive in her energy. And she continued to deliver as we made our way back down State Line Road. Rainbows began revealing themselves to us along our way. A full double rainbow spread itself from a distance on the north side of the road to a distance on the south side, linking New Mexico and Colorado in ribbons of color so vibrant touching them seemed possible. We saw so many rainbows, we lost track, each one reflecting back to us the joy felt at the turns of this day. The peace offered up by Ute Mountain and our gratitude for this offering, and the opportunity to experience it together, three friends bonded now by a mountain, with a canyon to remind us we are all alive, and ribbons of rainbows wrapped around the whole package.