We leave The First Inn (first of what?) by nine and drive an aggravating loop around Pagosa Spring’s poorly planned uptown, fighting through hoards of vacationing Texans in SUVs. [“Pa” means water, and “gosa”, boiling.] We unintentionally end up the Chimney Rock RV park, some fifteen miles west of Pagosa Springs. On highway 160, a mountain and desert road lined with carcasses. We stop at the Chimney Rock RV park for coffees, for two giant burnt dishwater coffees. The place is from another time, 1963 or so. There’s a coin operated laund-ro-mat sort of attached and an outdoor shower out back. A general store off the main restaurant and bar. Every square inch of the interior is covered with either dead animals or kitschy wooden planks with shoddily carved aphorisms. A few old black and white family portraits. A 3 x 5′ framed photograph of four children in their Sunday clothes. Two boys with horn rim glasses and two girls in frilly dresses. And there is Country Western music, certainly. A Hank Williams’ song sung by someone else so I can’t remember the name. Diner coffeepot burning the same half-pot since seven-thirty that morning. Now it was after ten. There’s linoleum behind the bar, the rest of the floors are knotty old pine, much traveled on.
A little after we walk in, a middle-aged, heavily tanned and dyed blonde comes out from the kitchen, mouths “Hi” (she’s on the cordless phone) and pours us two sloppy styrofoam cups o’ joe. She’s the cook, barmaid and half owner. “We’re a mom and pop operation,” she says when she finally gets off the cordless phone to take my five dollar bill, four quarters and a penny and give me two dollars change. Advises me of the wisdom of keeping a change jar in the kitchen. Then she says a non-committal “Y’all have a good day,” turns, and goes back through the saloon doors into the kitchen.
With our crappy coffees in hand, we look over the state map and decide on Navajo Lake, a man-made reservoir that crosses the Colorado/New Mexico border. A ten minute drive from Chimney Rock RV Park. Pay the leftover (and last) two dollars to the state park honor system, in lieu of seven. Then drive around the lake until we find a low spot in a poplar grove. Or cyprus: I am no good with desert trees. Ten minutes pass and then three wild horses walk by. Gray mare in the lead, white behind her. A real quarter-horse stallion follows them both. Did it escape from someone’s ranch. They stop to graze fifteen feet away and the white mare’s head shoots up and stares at us. They move on. Two day sunburn shrinking my skin at the edges, making the prickly brush and twigs a genuine bed of nails. Groups of bees and black and orange butterflies come and go.
We drive back to Pagosa Springs and buy better coffees and some groceries and then drive east eight or nine miles until we come to a clear cold pond fed by a stream that starts at a waterfall way uphill. Clear cold pond in a grove of spruce trees and sage. Brightly colored stones in the water. Many trout swimming in the pond, jumping up to eat black flies. The tall spruce trees were a sudden change from only pinion pines and Utah juniper.
Driving back to Pagosa Springs for the last time, on the back roads of la Plata county all I can hear are the tatting of locust wings and the lonely wind chimes on someone’s shabby front porch.