I may have had the Rio Grande Gorge all to myself on Memorial Day weekend but the rim was beset with motorcycles. I’ve always liked bikers – they’re generally kind and generous to fellow travelers – but I have a low tolerance for noise. So I headed somewhere I’ve long wanted to go, somewhere I knew would be quiet, even on a holiday weekend: the Valle Vidal in northern New Mexico.
The Valle Vidal – Spanish for “Valley of Life” – is a stretch of no man’s land between Costilla and Raton in northern New Mexico. Home to the largest elk herd in the Southwest and all manner of fanged, furry and flying creatures, the Valle Vidal is stunningly beautiful: high open meadows ringed by aspens and ponderosas, lorded over by Costilla Peak.
This place was once home to a number of remote ranches and homesteads, the ruins of which are scattered throughout the region on either side of forest road 1950, which runs for 60 miles from Amalia to near Cimarron. Sure enough, 60 miles of dirt roads were enough to keep out the holiday weekend warriors. I just about had the whole Valle Vidal to myself!
After a rainy night at the McCrystal Campground, I set out for the McCrystal Ranch. This remote outpost was once one of the crown jewels of the Valle Vidal. My hiking guidebook said the main house was still standing but I guess a stiff wind blew through at some point since the book was published in 2001.
As I approached the ruins, at the end of a long, overgrown road, I spotted two coyotes in the field in front of the house. They didn’t notice me; they were occupied hunting prairie dogs. One would dig at the end of a burrow while the other lay in wait at the other entrance. I didn’t point them out to Dio, but when he noticed me watching intently, he followed my gaze and found them.
As soon as Dio saw them, both coyotes stopped hunting and looked right at us, as if Dio had sent them some kind of psychic canine message. Then the two coyotes trotted over to the edge of the trees and lay in the shade, watching us, watching them. While I circled the ruins, I had to remind Dio a couple of times to stay with me; he wanted to go meet his coyote cousins, who I could still see through the trees. Once we returned back to the road, the coyotes came out of hiding and resumed their hunt, unfazed by our brief intrusion.
For more bones, check out my post Bare Bones, Skulls & Skeletons. I do love New Mexico, but it’s time to head farther afield. Next up: southern Utah!