I think we finally have the recipe right. After months of the nomadic living, we finally know how to plan a trip but allow room for serendipity. We went ahead and mapped out this leg from Tennessee to California with one landmark per dar that we explicitly planned to visit. It could be a museum, a park, or some other place of interest. We would camp the night before in some location convenient to visiting our landmark first thing in the morning. The closer we stayed to the next morning’s landmark, the better, but only if the lowest anticipated temperature for that night was greater than 20°F.
We’ve learned by now, that we can stand freezing, (Every night this leg of the trip has been below freezing) but not once it’s less than 20°F outside. So, when today’s target location was predicted to bottom out at 12°F last night, we thought better of sleeping in that town and opted for a little place called Albuquerque. Sure, that meant we still had an hour’s drive to get to this morning’s landmark, but it was still early enough to leave us the afternoon for adventure.
We had noticed that El Malpais was not too far from where we were visiting, but the park was big, our time was limited, and we weren’t sure where to go. Fortunately, rather than just hitting the road, we swung by an information center where the local ranger recommended visiting El Morro, instead.
Let me take a moment to recommend anyone driving around there to visit El Morro. This dramatic rock formation is one of the few spots with a reliable water source and has become a popular stopping point for travelers in this very arid environment. Best of all, over the hundreds of years that people have been passing through, they have left markings on the stone. It makes for the most densely interesting hike I have ever taken. Every new part of the trail either has a new vista, ancient carvings, or cliff dwellings. This three mile hike really covers all the high points of the rock formation in a one loop.
Afterwards, we felt entirely justified in gorging on some New Mexican cuisine in Gallup. And with our climate lessons learned, we vetoed bedding down in Flagstaff, AZ (6,910 ft elevation) in favor of the far more temperate Cottonwood, AZ (3,314 ft).