Heron Lake SP

Nice campground with hookups and quite a bit of weather

Monday we drove down the mountain and through the narrow ancient streets of Santa Fe one last time as we continued our journey up north. Had we followed our original plan, we would have doubled back down south to get to Heron Lake. Now we got to see Highway 84 as it entered a very beautiful part of New Mexico.

Echo Amphitheater – Very pretty part of New Mexico

We stopped for lunch at a place called Echo Amphitheater. This is a striking sight just off the highway, with a primitive campground at its feet. There was no water and the bathrooms were closed, but there seemed to be sites available as first come first served. We spotted a New Mexico Whiptail Lizard and enjoyed the view.

The state park campground at Heron Lake has huge sites that are spaced generously far apart. We had electric and water hookups so we could live it up a little. Although honestly, the solar and lithium battery system on Dory2 has been outstanding. Barring the ability to use the AC, there has been nothing we can’t do in terms of power. We got another lightning storm that night, continuing the theme of “monsoon season” in the southwest.

Though my foot was looking and feeling decidedly better, I was not aiming for paddle time in the lake. Had that been part of my plan, it would have been a long drive and/or walk down to the water line. Instead, we planned our full day in the area to go out and see some of the land made famous by the presence of Georgia O’Keefe. Richard started off with a ride south on 84 and a meetup spot at about 20 miles. From there we drove down toward Abiquiu.

“Ghost Ranch” Resort

One of the places we passed on our way up was called “Ghost Ranch,” and I was curious about what that was. The land around it looked as though someone had come out and painted a giant mural depicting the quintessential southwest scene. That, combined with the little cabins and archway made out of antlers at the start of the entry road, made it all seem not quite real. As we continued down the drive, we came to a guy stationed under a shade canopy, who seemed to be a combination security checkpoint and information person. The gist the place seems to be that it is a spiritual resort if you want to rent a cabin, or room, or campsite. You can do restorative activities, like yoga or meditation, or adventurous activities like try the ropes course or explore the wilderness. Or you can check out the archeological museums. Georgia O’Keefe left her mark there by spending a couple of summers there to paint landscapes. That was enough to satisfy our curiosity, so we drove back out.

Road 554 heading to Plaza Blanca

Our real point of interest destination was the Plaza Blanca, but we stopped and had a look at the Georgia O’Keefe information center on our way. That is a very upscale, fancy building where you can watch movies and take tours and learn about her life and work. Just a bit south of that is the way to the Plaza Blanca, where she spent a good deal of time. Continuing down 84, if you turn onto NM 554 to cross the Chama River, and then turn left onto a small one lane road, 155, you go about three miles before you come to a big gated archway with the words “Dar Al Islam.” We expected to be able to go through this, but it was securely closed with a large, yet decorative, metal gate. Off to the sides, there were cameras and an entry keypad, powered by two mounted solar panels, all very high tech. Taped to the gate were instructions for how to “register” in order to enter the area. You can do this online, over text, or over the phone. Richard followed the directions and got an immediate text response.

The land is owned by Dar Al Islam Mosque and Islamic Education Center. They have apparently always welcomed visitors into this special place, but are now requiring registration and an agreement to follow their rules. All of the rules are straightforward: you must be older than 18, groups of no more than 6, no climbing rocks or straying from the trails, no vehicles past the parking area, promise to keep area clean, etc. It all seemed aimed at protecting the land, so one assumes there have been jerks out there. Now they have to be more carful with whom they let in. They also ask that you do not share pictures on any kind of social media, so sorry, you’ll just have to use your imagination.

Once Richard was texted the key code, he punched it in, and the wide metal gates started slowing swinging open. It was exciting, like an Indiana Jones adventure. A short way up the dirt road, we came to another gate. It took the same entry code and swung open just like the first one. It was a short drive to the dirt parking circle where I was able to see a great deal of the canyon. Sadly, at this point, I was not recovered enough for the quarter mile hike down into the canyon proper. But I had a nice view where I could wait while Richard did it. He took lots of pictures for me, but I can’t post any of them. Womp womp.

The best way I can describe the canyon is that it is like a bone white version of a mini Bryce. It’s a very short and narrow canyon, with hoodoos cut by rain runoff. You can tell composition of the rock is very delicate and must erode quickly with every rainstorm. What is left behind is an intricately sculpted valley, where some of the patterns on the walls have a spider webby look. There are deep notches, and wind holes, and impossibly balanced layers, just waiting to come crashing down. I highly recommend finding this place if you are in the area. It’s a short walk, but somehow the magical gates made it even more exciting.

Such a beautiful part of the country

We only had two nights in the area, but this day trip was well worth it and about an hour’s drive south from Heron Lake. We got this tip, along with the plethora of other tips, supplied by Rhea and it was a great one! Definitely the highlight of this stay.

Total miles: 109.2, 19.7 mpg. Site 56 in Blanco campground. Electric and water hookups. Good LTE for both. Good dump but no water for rinsing or for filling fresh tank. Gas station right at highway before turnoff to state park. Boat launch somewhere but we didn’t check it out. Deep gravel for sites and campground roads.

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