We had it all plotted out with precision timing. Olivia and I would pick up Marci, Elliot, and Cor around 4:30 PM — and then zoom south down I-25 towards New Mexico. I thought we may even make it to the Great Sand Dunes of southern Colorado just in time for the sunset. What an epic way to start off our meandering, three-states-in-three-days road trip to a family reunion in Texas!
Unfortunately, Marci and the boys were delayed in their air travel. It was closer to 9:00 PM before they emerged from baggage claim. We hit some pretty gnarly construction traffic just north of Colorado Springs. And then, when the road finally started to open up in front of us, we needed to stop for a bathroom break.
I was frustrated.
After our bathroom break, we merged back onto the highway and I calculated the remaining time and distance would make it around 1:00 AM when we finally made it to our hotel in Alamosa. Knowing the state of exhaustion in our family, I reluctantly decided we should bypass the Great Sand Dunes altogether, since they would have added almost an hour and a half to our journey. But I didn’t like it one bit.
It occurred to me that travel is almost always like this. Delays. Frustrations. Complaints. Irritations. Why do we do this to ourselves?!? Is it really worth all the time, money, and stress?!? When we finally got to bed in Alamosa, we were all annoyed with each other and exhausted.
The next morning dawned bright and beautiful, but also hot. As we drove south, the temperature climbed. We set our sites on Bandelier National Monument, near Los Alamos, New Mexico. And while we enjoyed the views of the mountains stretching into high desert with intermittent plateaus, we weren’t exactly having fun in the car. We finally made it to Bandelier in the early afternoon, to see the ancient cliff dwellings carved out by the Pueblo peoples. But even though we’d finally made it to one of our “fun” destinations, the kids were whiny and lethargic.
The parking lot was full. The sunscreen was greasy. The shuttle was slow. We completed the primary loop that’s been plotted out for tourists like us. We waited our turn to take pictures of us inside the cliff dwellings. And it was fine. But not transcendent.
It’s tempting to just post the pretty pictures and make it seem like we had an enchanted afternoon in New Mexico. But that just wasn’t the case. After our time in Bandelier, we drove to Santa Fe and promptly got lost, trying to find the historic city center. It felt like an insurrection might be brewing in the back seats of the family minivan.
We had to eat, though. So we pressed on, trying to find a suitable place to suffer through a meal together. Of course, parking spots were hard to come by in downtown Santa Fe. But we eventually found a spot by the public library and then wandered around until we noticed a rooftop cafe, marked by turquoise table umbrellas. We looked at the sample menu they’d posted street-side, and the kids argued about their ability to find anything enjoyable. In the end, we decided to give it a try. And I’m glad we did.
The Coyote Cafe turned our evening around.
The view from the rooftop terrace was charming. The evening temperature was just right. The wait staff was friendly and efficient. The food was delicious. And we finally got to relax together, as a family. It was fun. I was so glad for the opportunity to experience that meal in that setting together with those people.
When we learned that the remainder of our drive after dinner would take one hour and forty-five minutes (not the forty-five minutes I’d estimated earlier in the day!), we actually laughed it off and settled in for a drive across the plains. We rolled into Santa Rosa, New Mexico, right around sunset — and we drove directly to a spot we’d heard about called the Blue Hole. It’s a natural spring in town: 81 feet deep, 60 feet wide, with a constant, cool temperature of 61 degrees Fahrenheit. It had looked intriguing to us when we were researching our trip back in Ohio… but once we made it to the rim of the Blue Hole, it looked and felt kind of cold. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go through with it.
But God bless my wife! Marci sized up the situation and said, “I think you guys should just change really quick and do it now.”
So we did. And we leapt into the Blue Hole several times, from several different jumping points. The water was very cold, and the encroaching darkness made it difficult to see very far down into the water. Still, we had fun splashing and playing in the dusk. We stayed for about twenty minutes, and then we decided it was time to get to our hotel.
As we drove away from the Blue Hole, my arms shivering from the cold, my swimsuit soaking the driver’s seat of our minivan, I looked in the rear-view mirror and smiled broadly. “This is why we travel,” I thought to myself. In spite of all the headaches… in spite of the delays and complaints… in spite of the sweat and tears… we sift through the mountains of dust and dirt to find the sapphires, shimmering faintly in the darkness of the desert. So we can swim in them and make memories as a family.