When a trio of my buddies recently made the trip to Socorro of high adventure, I was reminded that a campfire at the end of a long day of vacation will make you appreciate life in New Mexico.
Six weeks of vague planning called for us to gather our kayaks and fishing gear for adventure along the Rio Chama, Animas, and San Juan rivers over four days.
Uel, Lowell, and Thad arrived in the wee hours of the morning after driving all night, fueled by coffee, Red Bulls, and the promise of river kayaking. Never mind the 3 a.m. hour – we would be on the road by 7 a.m. and in Cuba by 9-ish for breakfast.
As the most rested, I was up first that day, but I was slowly lulled back to sleep by the snoring emerging from the front bedroom in stereo.
We made it to the Cuba Café for a “late” lunch, passed El Vado dam, and stopped off to view the upper portion of the Rio Chama. It’s a permitted launch at this time of the year, but we wanted to see what the water flow was like considering the dam is under repair.
I’m not up on the current feet per second and flow rates of rivers, so I won’t attempt to dazzle you with the numbers, but I can break it down into what I call the “gulp factor.”
Bigger than recent snowpacks combined with warm temperatures and some rain had made the river angry, and the Rio Chama was a double gulper. We journeyed to the lower portion of the river and camped out overnight. The thought was that the Rio Chama would calm down some overnight.
The following day, the river had thick white chunks of what appeared to be ice and snow flowing downstream, and the water was up a good six inches. The gulp factor ramped up to 3.5, and it was time to reconsider our options.
A quick discussion about whether we were mice or men ensued as we sat around eating some cheese with crackers.
Wiping the crumbs from our now mouse-like whiskers, we decided to visit a cliff dwelling I learned about as a child. The journey to the dwelling would be a challenging and manly hike through bear country, allowing us to shed the “mousyness” without braving the ice-filled waters of death.
There were still the Animas and San Juan on our calendar, but the lure of the Cuba Café’s good eats delayed us again, and there was a fantastic overlook of town in the nearby hills.
Over the campfire that night, we made plans to continue our quest for kayaking and fishing, but what we had previously roadmapped kept getting refined into little things like a side trip to the Badlands and Angel Peak.
There were a couple of murmurs about going to look at “nothing” until all eyes were cast upon it. Sometimes nothing can be so spectacular that you go back the next day and eat lunch to look at it again.
Ruling out the six-gulper Animas, we finally got onto the much calmer waters of the dam-controlled San Juan. We made a somewhat hurried trip as the fish were busy eating what the recent rainwater had swept downriver and had no interest in the tasty-looking treats we had for them.
We emerged tired, cold, and without a single trout for our supper. Two in our expedition never removed their stowed fishing poles as the nearby bluffs and scenery captured their time.
That night, we gathered up more deadfall wood and built another big fire. Crackers and cheese, cured meat, fruit, and vegetables were shared among us as the cold night nipped at our heels. We discussed past trips, our children, and hopes for the future, including another such trip.
As we pondered our mini-vacation, it dawned on us: we had only done one thing we had planned. We decided the next time around, we weren’t going to plan a single item and at the same time prepare to do anything.
Proving if there’s a campfire involved at the end of the day, it’s not what you do but who you do it with in New Mexico is all that matters.