May 2008 Archives

Being the open-minded and amiable boyfriend that I am, I asked Edie what she's like to do while in Taos. I admit I was a bit surprised/intimidated when she came up with things like Helicopter Rides and White Water Rafting! But out of my great love for her (apparently a love which knows no bounds of self preservation) I swallowed my anxiety and made reservations for us with the Los Rios River Runners.

Los Rios offered a variety of rafting options ranging from the placidly tame to the outright DareDevil. I thought it best to opt for the middle path and chose "The Race Course" which on most days is a Class Three (moderate waves to exciting boulder-strewn whitewater). Little did I realize that due to the earlier weather (which we experienced in Colorado) and subsequent run-off our little rafting excursion would be on Class Four waters.

ANYWAY, after driving to the pick-up point, we piled on the bus with the other eager rafters and headed south to our departure point. The group divided into teams of six, each of which would board a raft alongside a raft leader. I admit I was feeling pumped up and excited, so when it came time to volunteer to take the point position at the head of the raft I foolishly raised my hand.

After several ominous warnings about falling out of the boat we set out, practicing our rowing directions at the command of the leader. Things started off very smoothly and I was thinking to myself "wow, this isn't hard at all". And then the leader told us we were about to enter the "race course" (which apparently I agreed and paid to ride). They weren't exaggerating on the part about the "white" water. It was fast, furious and VERY cold. As our veteran rafter barked out commands we paddled hard right, then left, then backwards, then left again, all in the hopes of avoiding the major boulders and watery plummets ahead. We indeed missed a few, but hit plenty of others.

On one particularly steep drop, yours truly found himself staring the raging river in the face and as the raft popped back up out of the foaming divot, so did its plump point man -- up and OUT of the raft!! Finding myself suddenly alone in the frigid, violent waters, I was surprised at how calm I was. I wondered how man other great men have perished by similarly falling out of a rubber raft. At the time, I couldn't think of any. Thanks to a burly, young police officer who happened to be honeymooning in our raft, I was safely pulled back in to all our wide-eyed astonishment. It was then that I opted to let a much younger lad take the point for the remainder of the course.

After our adventure was over, the veteran rafters all patted me on the back and congratulated me for being a new member of the elite Rio Grande Swimming Team.

Well, one things we learned quickly was that the Native Taosians love their roads au naturale, as in unpaved and bumpy no matter how steep or dangerous. We found this out the hard way on what was supposed to be a short relaxing drive to the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs for a day of massages and relaxation.

We took what appeared to be the shortest route, that of "Highway" 567, which cuts across the Rio Grande south of Taos and heads due west toward the Springs. I put highway in quotes because while it is marked as such on maps, it is in fact nothing but a small, narrow, bumpy gravel road which switchbacks up the sheer cliffs of the Rio Grande. I referred to the drive from Colorado to Taos as "white-knuckled and scenic". This, however, was solely white-knuckled as my poor little Honda, even in its lowest gears, barely chugged up the steep inclines we found ourselves on. At one point as we faced a very sharp bend followed by an exceptionally steep climb, I confessed to Edie that I was more than willing to "turn back" (as if that were even possible). She thought it wise to press on and so we did, eventually reaching the top of the cliff. We were both hoping that the mineral springs exceeded their reputation for healing and relaxation, as we both were rather pale and wide-eyed from the drive. I've added some images of the so-called "highway" 567 below.

The Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs has been a popular gathering spot for nearly 1000 years. First used by the Native American Tewa tribes, it later became a favorite location for the Spaniards in the 1500s. In 1886 a sanitarium was constructed and the spa became nationally renowned for its healing waters. Today it consists of 10 pools each with differing types of minerals and ranging in temperature from 80 to 104 degrees. Some are located in rock-hewn grottos while others are expansive outdoor pools. The variety of pools include: The Lithium Spring, the Iron Spring, the Soda Spring, the Arsenic Spring and the Mud Pool.

This was indeed a very relaxing spot and we made as much use of the various springs as time allowed us. Edie and I also got massages at the spa complex and then sat under a star-filled sky in our own private hot spring and kiva fireplace. Very romantic!

From Taos to Ojo Caliente:

No driving today!! (Woo Hoo!)

We visited the nearby Pueblo de Taos, the oldest continuously populated communities in the USA. It was settled by the Pueblo Peoples nearly 1000 years ago and they have remained there since. The architectural structures date back to between 1000 and 1450 A.D and consist of two large complexes. A third structure, the San Geronimo (St. Jerome) Chapel dates back to 1850. It its a rebuild of the original chapel dating back to 1619 which was destroyed in the US-Mexico War in 1847. The Pueblo has played a significant role in history and was the seat of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680

Approximately 150 people still live in these building with a much larger population of Taos Indians residing in the nearby area.

One Day 5, we set out toward our primary destination, Taos, New Mexico. My intended route was to take CO-82 through Aspen and "Independence Pass" at an elevation of 12,000 feet, but the pass was still closed due to snow. So we chose a new, unchartered route heading due south from Glenwood Springs taking CO-133 through the mountains and the CO-92 and Interstate 50 through Morrow Point Resevoir and Curecanti National Recreation Area. From there we followed Interstate 285 out of Colorado and onto Taos.

CO-92 and Interstate 50 provided some of the most scenic, white-knuckle driving of the entire trip. I am a very able and confident driver in heavy urban settings and even on fast-paced highways, but Illinois is FLAT, very flat. Driving at the heights these roads took us through, with sheer cliffs at the pavement's edge with no guardrails whatsoever took every ounce of concentration and cool exterior I could muster. The experience was grand and I wouldn't have traded this route for a more placid one. But at the time there were definitely moments of repressed anxiety. Ive added some photos of the road's wandering, cliff-side path below. I would've taken some photos myself, but I couldn't pry my hands off the steering wheel.

In all, the trip from Glenwood Springs to Taos took about 8 hours and covered 375 miles. The change of scenery, from the lush green forests of Colorado to the gradual browns and reds of New Mexico was marked. This was undoubtedly the most beautiful and amazing drive of the trip.

We got into Taos well before sundown and were able to take a brief look around. We then headed to the nearby town of Arroyo Seco where we had rented a Casita for a few days. The place was quaint, clean and beautifully decorated. It was a wonderful place to "come home to" after our four day trek thus far. We had a very nice dinner at Sabroso in Arroyo Seco and then headed back to the Casita to enjoy a night in the hot tub under the stars.

The route from Glenwoods Spring, CO to Taos, NM:

I had originally intended to leave Estes Park via Trail Ridge Road (CO-34) which traverses through the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park and reaches the impressive elevation of 12,000 foot. But following the weather of the day before, the road was closed due to snow. So we headed due South through the mountains via CO-72 and CO-119 and finally reached I-70 which we took West to Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The drive was beautiful and the final stretch through Glenwood Canyon was perhaps the most outstanding view (from the driver's seat) of the entire trip.

The trip from Estes Park to Glenwood Springs was a relatively mere 4.5 hours and 200 miles. In Glenwood Springs, we stayed at the Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge which boasts "the World's Largest Hot Springs Pool". And indeed it was HUGE and HOT. The hotel itself left a little to be desired, but we were hardly there anyway. We were lounging down at the hot springs until we both were shriveled, prune-like and very, very relaxed.

The hot springs are divided into two pools. The larger is 450 feet long by 100 feet wide and is kept at a temperature of 90 degrees. The smaller, hotter pool is 100 feet by 100 feet with a temperature of 104 degrees. The water is mineral-rich and comes from the Yampah Spring (also on the hotel grounds) which the Ute Indians named meaning "big medicine". The springs are open year round and undoubtedly offers some stunning views in the midst of winter.

Perhaps this was akin to taking a detour to see the world's largest yarn ball or the world's oldest fossilized tree stump, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

May 26th, Memorial Day, was the first day of the season opening for Rocky Mountain National State Park. The weather was nice but there was still plenty of snow on the ground, especially at these high elevations. The 12,000 foot high Falls River Pass was still impassable due to the snow, so we decided to check out the Sprague and Bear Lakes hiking trails.

Sprague Lake is a shallow, 13-acre lake at an elevation of 8200 feet. There is an easily traversed hiking path of less than a mile around its circumference. The wind was a little nippy, but the sun was out and the sky was crystal blue behind larger white clouds. As we got about a quarter of the way, we saw a large female moose with her two calves headed through the shallow waters directly toward us. We had seen literature on what to do should we encounter a bear or cougar, but were at at loss as to what the protocol was for a ravenous, man-eating Moose. We decided to stand still and let them leisurely lumber by. I was able to get a couple good photos of them which you can see below.

Bear Lake sits at an elevation of 9,450 feet and also has some easily traversed hiking trails around its circumference. The snow was still quite deep in some places along the trail and we occasionally had to make our way atop snow packs four feet high or more. The scenery was absolutely beautiful, but as the day wore on the weather began to change with an incoming storm front. From the photos below, you can see how drastically the sky had changed between our visits to Sprague and Bear Lakes.

After our afternoon of hiking, we headed back to Estes Park and had dinner at Wine and Cheese, a very interesting and satisfying restaurant specializing in, well, wine and cheese. We had the Melange Platter and finished off with Belgian Sipping Chocolate. Yum!

After a restful night at the Grand Island Ho Jo, we headed back onto I-80 West toward Colorado. Around Julesburg, Nebraska we got onto I-76 to Fort Morgan and from there took CO-34 due West through the towns of Greeley and Loveland, then up into the Colorado Rocky Mountains. This day's journey was relatively shorter than the day before. We drove for 6.5 hours, covering 475 miles.

We left Chicago at 9 a.m., taking I-55 to I-80 and from there due East for the entire day. I've driven this stretch of road a number of times in prior years on drives to California, and it indeed lives up to its reputation for beings a very boring, flat and virtually scenery-less drive. Vast stretches of flat farmland followed by... more vast stretches of flat farmland.

The drive took us through Des Moines, Iowa, and Omaha and Lincoln Nebraska, our excursions into which were limited to an Arby's restaurant and a couple gas stations were we refueled and replenished our supply of Red Bull.

After 10 hours of driving and a distance of 640 miles, we arrived in Grand Island, Nebraska (100 miles West of Lincoln, NE) where we spent the night in a rather monstrously sized Howard Johnson's replete with the classic indoor swimming pools and a large banquet hall in which a very loud, alcohol-fueled wedding reception was in its final throes.

For some reason, the setting struck Edie and I as rather odd. I'm not sure if this was due to having suddenly found ourselves in a very rural setting or our curious on-looking at the weary, inebriated wedding celebrants as they made their way out from the reception to the parking lot filled with pick-up trucks. In any event, we were glad to have arrived after a full day of nothing but driving.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
[Nejimaki-dori kuronikuru]


Genre: Zen-Like Contemplative Japanese Fiction
Author: Haruki Murakami (1997)

review in one breath

After losing his cat, the laid-back and unemployed Toru Okada embarks on a bizarre adventure which not only jars him out of his mundane existence but calls into question the fabric of his waking Reality. If you're reading this you are likely interested in cutting-edge contemporary Japanese Horror and Superstition. I don't claim to be a literary critic, but from what I know and love of this genre I truly want you guys and gals to consider reading some of this stuff as its crests in Western literary circles.

Flowers From Hell (Jim Harper 2008)

Flowers From Hell: The modern Japanese horror film

Genre: Thorough Exploration of Contemporary Japanese Horror

Author: Jim Harper (2008)

review in one breath

Penned by our good friend Jim Harper, Flowers From Hell offers a highly readable and detailed exploration through the labyrinthine corridors of Japan's horror cinema. In contrast to many recent books on this topic, Harper wisely avoids the "catalog" approach and instead offers readers a thorough, engaging and often humorous discussion of J-Horror's chronological and topical developments. Fans of Japanese Horror, whether nOOb or veteran, will easily find this book both entertaining and educational.

Real World (Natsuo Kirino 2008)

Real World [Riaru Warudo]

リアル ワルド

Genre: Urban Youth Culture - Crime Drama

Author: Natsuo Kirino (2008)

review in one breath

In an urban Tokyo neighborhood, the world of four high school girls is turned inside out when an acquaintance brutally kills his mother and flees using one of their bikes and cell phone. Progressively told from the perspective of each of the four girls and the killer himself, this novel plumbs social and relational depths facing contemporary Japanese youth. This is the latest novel by author Natsu Kirino to be translated into English.