After two days of touring the Carlsbad region, it was time to head north. We pulled out of Brantley Lake State Park without ever seeing or talking to a New Mexico park ranger. We would wonder if they even existed, but we did see state park vehicles driving around, so we had to assume that they were working around the parks and not in the actual visitor center or in the campground.

We watched the Chihuahuan Desert transform to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains the closer we got to Santa Fe, where we would be making our first non-state park stop of the trip. We pulled into the Santa Fe KOA, dropped the kids off at the playground, checked in, and were parked and completely set up within thirty minutes. We took the dogs to the small campground dog run and the kids found the game room, keeping themselves entertained until we decided it was time to load back up and head out for a couple of hours.

Since no one in our family had ever been to Santa Fe, we headed downtown, deciding that an evening of eating out and walking around the city center was a good way to spend our single-night stop. After our second night of New Mexican cuisine, we were definitely convinced of one thing: New-Mex and Tex-Mex might be related, but they are both unique cuisines. While I enjoyed my two New Mexican dinners, I definitely prefer the Tex-Mex at home, but the sopapilla that accompanied my meal was more than a little appreciated by everyone but our son.

After our delicious dinner at the Famous Plaza Cafe, we checked out a couple of shops, stopped in the city plaza for a couple minutes to listen to live music, and then headed out to make a stop at Sam’s Club since we were starting to get low on supplies. Since shopping while we are supposed to be vacationing is one of my least favorite things to do (and our son’s, as demonstrated by his attitude when we told him we had to stop at the store) I forgot one of the most important things we needed to buy: gas for the truck.

We returned to the campground with enough time for all of us to get showers and for me to do a load of laundry before crawling into bed. The biggest mishap of the night was when I returned from the shower with our daughter and I heard what appeared to be the sound of a Michigan fan CD. By the time I showed up at our camper, the older gentleman next door was already pounding on the door, scaring our oblivious little boy (who was alone because he headed back before Jeff was done in the shower) and riling up the dogs into a barking fury. I probably reacted to the situation more strongly than necessary, but he had turned on a CD at a volume I wouldn’t have tolerated if I had been inside, not outside, and he had both indoor and outdoor speakers turned on. He’s also used to the space that we normally have when we stay in state parks. It was late, he felt bad, we gave hugs all around, and we all headed to bed, fully aware that we were going to be heading back down the road the next day.

Because we didn’t get the truck fueled up the night before, when Jeff got ready to hook up he decided that he needed to get gas before we left, giving the kids a little more time to play in the game room and me time to make sure we really were all packed and ready to go. We got back on the road and continued to head north, the mountains changing to the desert and, as we got closer to Colorado, back to mountains again. As we neared Colorado, we pointed out the snow-capped mountains, which currently have more summer snow on them than I have ever seen before. Our kids, who saw the Smokies before they were old enough to remember, who have driven through the Ozark mountains multiple times, and who had just seen the Guadalupe Mountains in the middle of the west Texas and southern New Mexico desert, gaped in awe at the majestic mountain ranges of the American West. For the first time ever, they were seeing the mountain range that their mom had fallen in love with when I was just a little older than our daughter is now.

Jeff piloted our way through the foothills and mountains, testing the limits of both truck and camper. At about the midway point of our drive we drove past an accident involving a tipped-over camper. It was enough to make both of us nervous and to point out to the kids just why we told them to calm down every time they get a little riled up. It was also enough to make Jeff extra cautious as he worked our way to Cortez, Colorado.

We pulled into the KOA with plenty of time for the kids to get out and play at the playground, for us to easily set up, and for the dogs to get a chance to try the campground’s three-acre dog park. The kid weren’t thrilled that we were forcing them back into the truck, but we needed to head up to the Mesa Verde Visitor Center so we could purchase our tickets for tours over the next couple days. Because we got there the night before, we were able to easily book two separate tours, get information on the park, and pick up Junior Ranger books so the kids could start on them whenever they were ready.

We finished the night with dinner, a small campfire, and finally the kids crashed into bed with the warning that we would have to get back up earlier than usual to make it to our scheduled tours. I worked on filling bottles of water with ice as our ice maker worked overtime, got some dishes done, and finished a load of laundry to keep the pile from getting out of hand.

Traveling days are not the most exciting, but that’s not the point. Sometimes we have to have travel days so we can get to the places that we really want to see. But even though we didn’t have exciting stops along the way, we saw all the beauty of the desert changing into the foothills and then the mountains in the distance. By the time I crawled into bed I couldn’t wait to start new explorations with my family, certain that it would be yet another adventure none of us would forget.

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