Camping and hiking in Taos, New Mexico

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When I think of Taos, I think of mysticism. The few times I have looked to astrology to provide profound answers to life's questions, there was always a connection to this area of New Mexico.

Before I left Miami, upon the advice of a friend, I had a natal birth chart read to determine exactly where the planets and stars were the very moment I entered the world. I did not go a couple hundred ($) steps further to have it interpreted so, unfortunately, I don't know what any of that means.I needed a physical journey along with a bit of spiritualism so, I made my way to Taos for some camping, hiking, and exploration of my own.

I learned a valuable lesson about altitude and temperature the first night. It's obvious to me that temperature changes with altitude, but when your campsite ends up being 15 miles outside of town, there can be a 20-degree temperature difference in the forecast for a particular town. The campsite was around 8,000 feet of elevation. I went from expecting lower 60s to 40 degrees! I was chatting with my mom and brother on the phone, my tent was set up, and the fire started when the sun began to dip, and I could see my breath for the first time.

The next morning in town, I quickly made my way to the nearest thrift shop and stockpiled fleece pullovers. The campsite hosts and I had a good laugh later at the expense of campers sleeping in their heated car who weren't quite as prepared as I was with a 30-degree sleeping bag. I was proud to conquer this rite of passage on my own, slightly uncomfortable, but thrilled to be alive.

When I asked if I should be worried about any bears I was told to watch out for elk and coyotes instead. I saw lots of cute little prairie dogs but no large animals. However, I heard one of the most magical and slightly scary sounds one night as I lay in my tent. I awoke from the howling of a coyote, and I soon heard them in surround sound as pack talked to pack.

My hike at Williams Lake Trail[1] in Carson National Forest had a hidden trailhead. After contemplating it in the lower lot and then ignoring the comically large sign that said "NON-FOUR WHEEL DRIVE VEHICLES PROHIBITED," my sedan and I eventually found the upper parking lot. As I passed, I could see the sign also said from "November-May" in small lettering underneath. Though it was September and there was no snow, the drive was terrifying. Loose gravel, switchbacks, potholes, and what I would deem to be unwise inclines all made me question and love every second of it.

The hike was challenging. The AllTrails app claims it to be 3.8 miles out and back with an elevation gain of 1,013 feet. Taostrails.com[2] says the top lot starts at 10,191 feet above sea level. All of this stands to mean an out-of-breath-and-tired girl from sea level. The trail was a spectacular start for my first "out West" hike with a nice combination of forest, rock formations, and an end at a beautiful alpine lake.

Taos itself is an interesting town and a unique landscape compared to towns on my previous journeys. Alas, I didn't have amazing artwork or jewelry alongside the local jerky and coffee on my shopping list, so I decided to skip the stroll downtown for dinner at a bar with tasty and tart prickly pear mojitos.

I also didn't want to get stuck driving back to my campsite in the dark. There was a lot of talk about elk in the area and a story of a couple of locals who recently took a turn too fast and flew off the road. Word on the street says that tow trucks don't even bother to retrieve you or your car from the ditches in many of those cases. I have no idea if that's true, but it seems like a logical story and not one I want to test first hand!

I enjoyed my time in Taos, but it didn't seem like a place I needed to linger. So after two nights, getting reacquainted with car camping and some awesome time enjoying the outdoors, I headed towards Colorado.

[1] Michael J. Mellinger, Taos Hiking Trails, http://www.taostrails.com/williams_lake.html (accessed 11/13/2016)

[2] US Forest Service, http://www.fs.usda.gov/carson/ (accessed 11/13/2016)

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