Posted from Nogales, Arizona, United States.
(Or: Cabernet and Cacti)
To view the photos from this part of the journey, click here.
Back in September when in Seattle, we spent the afternoon with our friend Lyndee and her family. Astute readers will remember (honestly, if you remember this, then you may need to consider getting a hobby) that Lyndee served us wine from her aunt and uncle’s winery. Being somewhat vineyard and wine obsessed (you can watch us stomp grapes in Oregon here), when she told us the winery was in New Mexico we asked if it might be possible for us to spend time there and hopefully partake in any winery tasks in exchange for an indoor place to sleep. New Mexico wasn’t originally on our agenda, but seeing as it wasn’t that far out of the way we could definitely alter our schedule if this arrangement could work out.
Fast forward: On Sunday, November 27, upon leaving the 10-day meditation retreat in Twentynine Palms where we pledged not to imbibe intoxicants, we headed for a winery in New Mexico to potentially imbibe intoxicants for the next 14 days. The trip took two days in total with one night of camping and was unbelievably scenic. Almost as soon as we crossed into Arizona we were greeted with battalions of saguaro cacti, which had thus far not appeared on our journey. Why not? Because they pretty much only exist in Arizona. The tall, stately desert dwellers capture your attention and steal your focus as you examine the stunning landscape. They are all tall and slim, each is unique, and they just plain look cool.
Also on the drive, we enjoyed the colossal rock formations that would randomly appear on the sides of the roads, the mesas that would stretch out high above the Earth and flatten out on top, endless layering of colors that would paint the rocky surfaces of ridges and mountains, and even the unexpected miles of green, lush, forested hills that were reminiscent of driving through Vermont. Our path must have been a popular one because we were joined (and passed) by travelers from all over the country, including two from Wisconsin and one from Minnesota. And we were thrilled when, after being greeted by the “Welcome to New Mexico” sign, which was charmingly decorated with a red and a green chile, we purchased gas for…$2.93 per gallon. Awesome.
Monday afternoon we arrived in the small town of Turley and at Wines of the San Juan, which is truly a family-run enterprise. The owners (Lyndee’s aunt and uncle) have several of their children, children-in-law, and grandchildren pitching in. The vineyard is in the northwestern corner of New Mexico and is literally across the street from a high rocky ridge which is gorgeous (especially at sunset) but often blocks the sun depending on the time of year and where you are standing. And that, obviously, affects where the grapes are planted and how they grow. We went straight to the tasting room to check in, but instead of a list of tasks we received a list of samples to taste. So we very smartly began our stay with first-hand research into the wines produced there. They grow some of the grapes on site and purchase grapes from other regions, but they produce all the wines there. They have some dynamite dry reds, but what sells best for them in that region are sweeter wines. So they have a couple of sweeter reds, including one that is a knockout when mulled with spices, and several sweet and sweet-ish whites. Everyone has preferences, but good wine is good wine. And these wines are good.
That evening while getting oriented, we were summoned to the wine making room, where the owner and one of his sons were taste-testing a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend for acidity. They were experimenting with the pH levels, had several samples lined up, and asked for our opinions. How fun is that? We tasted the samples, and our opinions lined up well with theirs, which made us feel good about our Minnesota wine palates.
After that excitement, we made our way to the house where we would spend the next two weeks and met that part of the family: another son of the owners, his wife, their daughter, their ward, the wife’s mother, the wife’s grandmother, two dogs, many cats, about a dozen peacocks, several guinea hens, and other assorted wildlife that roamed freely around the grounds. The house, which they designed and built themselves, was spacious and colorful but slightly incomplete. Most noticeably: although most bedrooms were on the second level, there was no indoor staircase to take one upstairs. There were stairs outside that lead to the upper deck and that was just fine – at least for the first few days when the temperatures were mild. But we always had to watch every step on the way because the peacocks frequently left small, brown piles of surprise on the deck and stairs.
Because the winery is closed on Tuesdays and everyone was out doing other errands, we decided to “go into town” to accomplish our two big tasks, getting our malaria pills and buying the additional parts for Apollo that we planned to bring along. “Going into town” from the vineyard means driving at least 30 minutes to the city of Farmington, where most major businesses are located including the only Walgreens in the area. Going through the entire saga would be way too boring, so here is the short version: acquiring the car parts was neither easier nor more challenging than we expected, and although the overall cost was more than $600 (super ouch!), it was still less than we anticipated. Walgreens, on the other hand, made our lives a little more difficult: it took three trips to that store in order to get the prescription filled (they totally dropped the ball), and when you have to drive 40 minutes each way, that is so not cool.
To be honest, the timing of our stay at the winery was pretty lousy for people who wanted to help out with vineyard work. The harvest, crush, and bottling were all pretty much wrapped up, and it wasn’t until a week after we were leaving that they were going to be having their holiday open house. So, in addition to asking a lot of questions about how they did things at the vineyard, we mainly just pitched in with indoor and outdoor tasks that were ongoing at the time. We helped in the reparation of the front entrance wall to the vineyard, which was in a straw bale design (Erik got to use a concrete mixer for the first time); we burned weeds and shoveled horse manure around hops plants; and Erik helped in the maintenance of their huge compost piles (he got to use a fire hose for the first time) and did some minor landscaping. This wasn’t an official Help Exchange, but we definitely didn’t want to be mooching off this very generous family, so we helped out inside the house as well, making food, mopping the floor, cleaning the kitchen, fixing appliances, etc. It was a great house and quite big, so we had fun helping out here or there where ever we could.
But this family loved to enjoy life and the area, so we also had lots of fun while we were there. During the first week, we all went out on a hike that included some mild bouldering – a new experience for us. After filling a cooler with food and beer, we loaded the truck and some of us hopped into the bed and hung on for dear life as we headed up winding hills while ducking the cold wind that would strike whenever we were out of the sun’s reach. And the vehicle of choice was a large, old pick-up truck with a speedometer that hasn’t worked in over a year. (“Does this feel like 55 mph to you?”) It was painful on our bottoms, and we kept sliding around, and the open bottles of beer probably made the whole scene incredibly illegal, but it was unbelievably fun.
We do like to hike but in our previous experience there are trails to follow and the rocks and trees are cleared out of the way. In this outing, after parking the truck, we were shown the destination of an archway in the hills and told to get there somehow. We walked up sandy inclines, dodged trees and cacti, climbed on top of boulders, slid down into and crawled through tunnels on our hands and knees, jumped over huge crevasses, and overall had the most exhilarating time. What made the outing even more special was that it was held on the birthday of their son, who passed away a few years ago. We felt genuinely honored to have been invited and included, and it is one of the most memorable experiences of our trip thus far. That night we continued the celebration with more friends and a big bonfire (and of course, plenty of wine). The next week we went on another hike around nearby Lake Navajo, which was also very beautiful but not quite as athletic. But the snow added another element.
Oh – did we say the “S” word? Oh, indeed. Did you know it snows in New Mexico? Well, it does. Especially at an elevation of 5600 feet. During the first week, while we were outside working on the straw bale wall, the flakes began to appear. Since then, the snow continued a cycle of several days when it would fall at night and then melt during the daytime. When we worked outside, we piled on the layers like good Minnesotans know how to do.
But even the snow and the cold couldn’t dampen our spirits with his happy and generous family who completely accepted us into their fold for two weeks. Amidst outdoor and indoor chores, errand trips into town that lasted six hours, art walks, piano lessons, geography and spelling quizzes, baking bread, learning to play mancala, plenty of good-natured teasing, and lots of eating and drinking, we all enjoyed each other’s company unconditionally (even if they did keep calling Joe “Erik” and eventually just started referring to him as “Erik 2″). It risks becoming a cliche on this website, but we are always amazed at our experience of meeting generous people who were recently completely unknown to us but have now become friends whom we hope to see again in the future. Cheers to that!
Sunday morning we had to part company from these great people, who are going to visit us in South America (if one of them can overcome her fear of flying), and headed back the same way we had driven two weeks ago. The scenery was the same with one major exception: almost everything was now covered in snow, especially the higher elevations, which for a stretch was above 7500 feet. And ’tis the season: we were passed by dozens of pick-up trucks that were hauling Christmas trees back home. Sunday night we spent with a friend of Joe’s with whom he worked in Saint Paul. She and her husband relocated to Arizona, just outside of Phoenix, a few years ago, trading in winter snow for winter sand. We had a wonderful time in their beautiful house, which had a great view of nearby mountains and several saguaro cacti in their yard.
And here we are, Monday night. After a quick trip to the 99¢ store in town (where everything is actually 99.99¢ so they round it up to $1) to buy some art supply gifts for the children in the Mexican village where we will be for the holidays, we continued south, admiring the mountains in the distance and dealing with the sometimes heavy rain. But we considered it a good sign when we saw a big, bright, and very brief double rainbow. We will spend the night about five minutes from the border and cross in the morning. Wish us luck! But don’t be disappointed – we decided to splurge. Joe received some early Christmas and birthday money from his parents and so, in light of the circumstances, including the rain and chilly air and the fact that we want to be at the border crossing at sunrise, we decided to splurge and spend the night in a cheap motel. Please don’t think less of us. Because of tomorrow’s excitement we won’t sleep well anyway, so we might as well be somewhat comfortable while we lie awake. This is, in fact, the first hotel room we have purchased in over six months on the road. Dinner included Merlot from Wines of the San Juan and homemade struedel from our friends near Phoenix.
Coming Up: Tuesday morning border crossing and Friday arrival at a little farm about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, location of our next Help Exchange.
Total miles driven since leaving Minnesota: 15,765
U.S. states visited: 20 - Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin
Number of nights camping in Maggiolina: 45
Number of Help Exchanges: 5 (Total nights: 42)
Number of SERVAS stays: 3 (Total nights: 7)
Number of friends/family stays: 18 (Total nights: 76)
Number of nights in a hotel/motel: 6 Nights that we paid for: 1