Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Traveler at Home: Spruce Hole Yurt

There are places in the world that you know you will eventually return to. You don't know when, but you do know that it will be a much better experience the second time around.

The Spruce Hole Yurt was just such a place. About six years ago, I went there with three other women, and we came very close to spending the night in a blizzard and potentially dying.

We spent a Friday night at the yurt after an easy run over thick cold snow. The next day we packed up lunch and water, a few necessary things like chap stick and toilet paper, and headed out for a three hour tour. Just like Gilligan's Island......

After an hour slogging through 8 foot snow drifts between trees to get to the top of a ridge, we skied down into a giant white bowl of snow, the Spruce Hole. Two of the women had been here before and so we headed up another ridge to find the road that would lead back to the yurt. We had no map. When they'd been there before, there was less snow, and the road was visible. This time it was not. By 2:00, we'd found no trace of a road, no fence line (buried), no road signs (buried!), and the sun would be setting at 5:30 with almost pitch darkness by 6:00. Time to back track.

The weather gods were not our friends that day. A storm had been moving in slowly and by late afternoon it was gloomy and starting to snow. The wind had picked up and obliterated our tracks at the top of the first ridge, making entry back into the forest over our original path almost impossible. We had no map, no headlamps or flashlight, no matches to start a fire, no emergency space blankets, no chemical hand warmers, no shovel to dig a snow cave. We had no way to survive the night.

Darker and darker with failing light and thickening clouds we worked our way into the woods till we came across a road and followed some ski tracks we hoped were ours. I had never been out hiking in the woods for more than a few hours at a time, certainly had never skied for that long, and now over 8 hours had passed since we left the yurt. I was on the verge of total exhaustion. In the gloom, off to the left, I spotted the yurt and almost cried. We were saved.

Inside, the fire in the stove was dead. We clomped in, took off our boots and descended on the chocolate bars.

Ah, but was a very different story.
The Spruce Hole yurt, nestled in the forest.

Momo, one of the organizers in the Mountaineer's Club wanted to do a snowshoe/ski trip into a yurt, so last fall he picked a weekend in the spring. The weather was nice, a bit windy, but not bad once we got into the trees. It had snowed a day or two before so there was about 4 inches of new snow, wet and heavy, but enough to cover the bare spots that had developed during the prior weeks.

The snowshoers had no problems, but for Jim and me, the snow was sticky and slow in the sunny places, slick as glass where it had melted and refrozen in the tree shadows. I only fell, a major face plant, once, on the way in. I was pleased, because I hadn't been on skis in three years and wondered how I'd manage the balancing act of slick skis with a heavy backpack.

We made it to the yurt in two hours. Dave was a consummate fire starter and had the yurt warmed up quickly. Everyone unpacked and took a nap. Momo loves drama, so they all planned to hike up the hill behind the yurt to a viewpoint to see the mountains in the sunset. I bagged that and went for a walk instead. The snow was only a few inches deep, except under trees where I had to swim through on my knees with ski poles in each hand, laid out flat on the snow for support.
Sunset shot

Each of us brought our own food and had some nice dinners, played Hearts till midnight and finally went to sleep with the stove packed with logs for the night. The yurt has an interesting feature, a plastic dome on the top for light. In the very center is a tree, held in place by guy-wires and the poles that also hold up the roof. You can climb the tree and sit in a swivel chair perched up there with your head sticking up in the dome. The 360 degree view is nice and the dome pops open slightly to let in fresh air.

The next day, the two snowshoers hiked up over the hills we'd skied around to meet us back at the truck. Jim and I attempted to ski out. The man was a saint because I fell about every ten minutes, and took ten more minutes to get up with the heavy pack. He could ski ahead and fish-bone his way up some of the hillsides for a short run down while waiting for me to catch up. About a quarter mile from the truck, I fell and couldn't get back together. My hip just didn't want to flex in the way I needed it to. It took way more than ten minutes, and the last time I stood up, one ski slid fast downhill and back down I went. So I bagged it. Jim carried the skis for me and I hiked the rest of the way.

Still, sore and bruised was better than potentially frozen to death. Both trips were great, but so much better the second time around.

Patient Jim on his tele-skis

Dave, cameraman and fire starter

The necessary.....

Site of the last fall. Who'd have thought I couldnt' ski this?
A baby could ski this!!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Traveler at Home: Ojo Caliente

I am back home now, in New Mexico, for two reasons. One was to celebrate my 60th birthday with friends and family, and the other was to finish a book. So far, I've completed only the celebrating.

The outdoor swimming pool
My friend Suzanne offered to take me to Ojo Caliente, a hot springs resort north of Santa Fe, for a birthday present. In my world view the best of all presents are experiences, and this was one of best presents I've had in a long time. Not only did it take us an hour to drive each way, chatting and laughing the whole distance, but then we spent another three hours getting sunburned and soaking in mineral pools.

The facility is beautifully maintained and much larger than it was years before when I last visited. Most of the cars in the lot were from New Mexico with a few Colorado license plates. Most of the clients were women, and most of them older than us. They were there to relax, read books, have a massage and/or a mud bath. The mud area had instructions for "lathering" up with mud and lounging in the sun on chaises stained ochre. A reddish brown pool in the middle of the mudbathing area was meant for washing off the residue.

There are several pools, all of different temperatures and a few with a high concentrations of some mineral like iron or magnesium. One pool is inside a building for the sun avoiders, others are solar extreme. A large swimming pool is relatively cool, but next to it is the hottest pool of all so you can hop from one to the other. April is barely spring in northern New Mexico, and the stiff breeze made pool hopping a chilling experience.

Scattered around the pools were ramadas, a traditional structure of tree trunks holding up poles and sticks that provide shade and support for numerous hammocks.

The resort has small rooms for overnight guests, the size and shape of monk cells. In the older building there is an excellent restaurant, and in the lobby is a perfect rock fountain. Over many years I've seen attempts at rock fountains where water flows over a smooth edge down the face of the rock, but always there is a flaw, a place the water won't flow, leaving a long dry island. This fountain featured a flawless surface with a thin sheen of water in a constant silent decent.

It was an exquisite birthday gift, thank you Suzanne!

Most unusual fountain in the lobby

Men's bath house and traditional ramadas for shade