The mountains with the turning aspens. All photos in this story by George Morse
Autumn Road Trip: George Morse Hits The Road
By George Morse Sports and Outdoors
Last week, the urge to take a road trip was too strong to resist. I needed to see some country and do something different. Heading out up Highway 68 to Taos, then onto Highway 64 through Taos Canyon, I could feel my attitude change and my spirit open up as I anticipated what lay ahead as I headed towards Raton.
After leaving the Taos Canyon and going over Palo Flechado Pass, you drop down into the Moreno Valley. Angel Fire Ski Area will be on your right. Because it’s been such a warm and dry fall, there’s still no snow on the slopes. It gets cold here. Angel Fire is often the coldest spot in the state and sometimes in the nation.
Photo by George Morse
A little farther down the road and you’ll see Eagle Nest Lake. There’s good fishing here, but I was headed somewhere else. The setting is beautiful with the state’s tallest mountain, Wheeler Peak, on your left and Baldy Mountain at the north end of the lake.
After driving through the town of Eagle Nest and past the lake, you’ll drop down into Cimarron Canyon State Park. The Cimarron River flows through here through the canyon and also has good fishing, but it was not my destination. Leaving the Canyon, I look for the Tooth of Time, a uniquely-shaped landmark that let’s me know I’m getting close to the town of Cimarron.
This is where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. Heading east out of Cimarron, you’ll enter the Plains and understand why they were often referred to as the “Sea of Grass.” The Plains in New Mexico are particularly stunning because rather than being pool-table flat like west Texas and Kansas, there are the remains of ancient volcanoes like Sierra Grande and Capulin Mountain dotting the landscape. I often try to imagine what it must have been like when those volcanoes were erupting.
Photo by George Morse
Driving through the plains, it’ practically a sure thing that you’ll see groups of pronghorn antelope. A species unique to North America. The pronghorn is the second-fastest land animal on earth after the cheetah. With amazing eyesight and oversize lungs and heart to sustain that speed over long distances, they are supremely adapted to life on the open plains. I often see herds of buffalo along the road on the drive between Cimarron and Raton.
Pronghorn antelope. Photo by George Morse
After checking into my motel, I made a short drive up to Lake Maloya in Sugarite State Park. Lake Maloya is a pretty little lake that’s well-stocked with rainbow trout. The state Game and Fish Department makes several plants of big rainbows averaging 18-20 inches in Maloya. I had just a little less than an hour to fish, but the trout were rising. I caught several trout and some small yellow perch, that I released on a fly-and-bubble rig.
Photo by George Morse
That night I ate at a great local restaurant called Bruno’s Pizza and Wings. It’s located in an old hotel downtown and has a nice, historic interior. Because I couldn’t eat a pizza by myself, I had a calzone and Caribbean jerk wings. Both were excellent. If the pizzas have the same crust as the calzone, they should be good too. I’ll be back the next time I’m in Raton.
By the way, if you get gas in Raton, go to a station that’s away from Interstate 25. You’ll save about 20 cents-a-gallon.
The following day, I went over Raton Pass to fish Trinidad Reservoir in Colorado. The drive over the pass is scenic and the view of the Spanish Peaks and Sangre de Cristos Mountains on the Colorado side is always beautiful.
The water level at the reservoir was pretty low. Trinidad has fishing for rainbow trout and a variety of warm water species like bass, walleye and catfish. It was not an ideal day to fish because of the full moon and record-setting warm temperatures, but I managed to catch a few nice, holdover rainbows, keeping one to take home. I’d like to make another trip here after the weather cools down a bit.
I wanted to take a drive on a forest service road I’d never been on through the Spanish Peaks over 11,300 foot Cordova Pass into a little town called Aguilar that afternoon, so I only fished at Trinidad about three hours. Taking the Highway of Legends, itself a beautiful drive, I crossed over Cucharas Pass. It was late in the afternoon when I started down the dirt road (Forest Road 46) that led over the Cordova Pass. It’s a long drive, but the views were worth it. Along the way, I saw some birds by the side of the road. I initially thought they were blue grouse, but they turned out to be ptarmigan. Colorado is the only state other than Alaska where you can hunt ptarmigan. They are a small, grouse-like bird that prefers to live at and above the treeline in sub-arctic environments.
Ptarmigan, Photo by George Morse
It was getting dark as I left the mountains and drove along the Apishapa River towards Aguilar. I’m going to have to make that drive when the suns out, as it looked beautiful even in the twilight. By the time I got to Aguilar, it was dark and I stopped at a liquor store to ask directions to Interstate 25 and head back to Raton.
I was trying to decide whether to go fishing again or do some sight-seeing the following morning. Mother Nature made up my mind for me. The wind was blowing hard and I didn’t want to fight it while fishing. I decided to go over La Veta Pass and go to Great Sand Dunes National Park.
I had never been to Great Sand Dunes, but had flown over them a few times. I finally was on my way there. Driving by imposing Blanca Peak on the other side of La Veta Pass, I was full of anticipation.
I was a little apprehensive when I approached the entrance to the Park. The entry fee was $15 and I only had $13 in cash. However, a very nice young lady at the entrance asked me if I was over 62 (I’m 69). She then told me that for $10 I could buy a senior pass that would not only allow me into the Park today, but would let me enter any other national park or monument for the rest of my life. Talk about a deal. That made my day.
The Great Sand Dunes were awe-inspiring and unique. It was quite exhilarating to walk towards them and then into them. Sculpted by the wind with an ever-changing collage of shadows cast by the sun, they were something I’m glad I got to see in my lifetime. I plan on going back, especially now that I have a senior pass.
On my way back home after leaving the Great Sand Dunes, I stopped in Taos for dinner at 5 Star Burgers. The road trip had given me everything I needed. I’d seen some beautiful country-some new and some familiar. I’d eaten at a new restaurant and talked with some new people. I was reminded of how fascinating the world around us can be. I felt more alive than when I’d started