June 8, 2022 Questa, NM Day 2

We were both exhausted from our drive yesterday and took our time getting up and going this morning. We made some phone calls and then decided what we wanted to do today. It was about 10:30 when we made plans to start at the Visitor Center in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. The Monument was designated a National Monument by President Obama in 2013. It includes 245,000 acres of public land. The Rio Grande Gorge is by far the most visited part of the Monument and that’s what we wanted to see. We drove through Questa on Highway 522 north for a couple miles until we saw the sign for Highway 378 towards the town of Cerro.

Cerro is a town of 428 people, established in 1854 by settlers. The residents are very poor and much of their housing is delapidated, but it is the gateway to the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument . From the highway, we could see this light brown area of this mountain and upon closer inspection and some Internet research, we discovered it is a molybdenum mine. The Chevron Questa Mine operated from 1920-2014 when it was permanently closed. Mining operations and waste disposal contaminated the soil, sediment, surface water, and groundwater. While the mine was operating about 328 million tons of acid-generating waste rock were excavated and deposited in nine large waste rock piles. In 2012, the EPA selected a remedy for clean-up. We found out today that the men who are living in this campground have signed a 10 year contract to work to clean up the mining site. It is a huge undertaking! With our binoculars, we could see action at the mine today.

Can you see the excavator on the rim in this picture?

We entered the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument after driving 3.4 miles on the highway and through the town of Cerro.

The park road was well-paved and lined with scrubbrush.

As we drove farther on Highway 378, we could see Ute Mountain in the distance.–the tallest peak in the Monument.

We stopped at Sheep Crossing Overlook for our 1st glimpse of the river.

At the overlook, we could see down the canyon to the north.

Then looking to the south, we could see more of the river.

Our next stop was at the Chiflo Trail.

We walked down the trail a bit to get a different view of the canyon, but from there we would have to take a difficult hike farther into the canyon to view the river.

We continued on towards the Visitor Center along the road which is called the Wild Rivers Back Country Byway. The Wild Rivers Recreation Area was set aside to preserve the Red River and the Rio Grande River in their natural state. As the elevation changed so did the landscape. We were now seeing juniper trees.

We reached the Wild River Visitor Center.

We were told by some hikers that the Visitor Center might be closed today and only open on the weekend, but if that was true, I was still hoping to get a map at the Center which they sometimes have out in a box for people to take. I went over to the building and found a Ranger who just happened to be there today. What luck!

He told me the Visitor Center was closed, but that he could get me a map of the park and he also gave me some suggestions on what to see. He said a “must see” is the La Junta Overlook about 1/2 way around the loop drive. It just so happened that it was already on my list of “must sees”, so we continued on our drive. The road was freshly paved and striped with a brand new guard rail.

Along the way, we got some great views.

We got to the area, parked, and walked down a paved path to the overlook at La Junta Point.

La Junta means “joining” in Spanish where 2 rivers converge. In the picture, you can see the inverted “V” lined by green trees. At the top of the “V” is where the rivers join together.

On the left is the Red River beginning in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at the highest point in New Mexico at Wheeler Peak, elevation 13,161 ft. To the right is the Rio Grande River beginning in the San Juan Mountains at southern Colorado and running 1,885 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. This is a closer view of the convergence.

La Junta, the joining, marks the widest and deepest part of the Rio Grande Gorge at 3/4 of a mile wide and 800 ft. deep.

Red River is shown here. The “joining” is at the top in the picture.
Rio Grande River is shown here flowing towards “the joining”.

This is a close-up picture of the Rio Grande River where I was standing at the overlook, looking down. The Rio Grande has some serious rapids in this area. The black rock lining the canyon is basalt which was formed millions of years ago after various volcanoes erupted creating large flows of lava which hardened into black basalt rock.

There are primitive camping sites in the gorge. I thought this would make a good one.

The La Junta Trail which begins at the overlook was closed which is the trail you could take to the bottom of the canyon. The top part of the trail doesn’t look too bad, but it is rated as very steep and difficult. It was closed due to fire danger.

From here, the trail turns the corner and goes down.

At the overlook, there was a nice campground with 3 campsites that had a canopy over the picnic table, a grill, fire pit, and a spot for your tent. No one was camping here, so we decided to eat our lunch there.

After lunch, we continued on our loop drive. It took us past 3 more campgrounds, so we had to check out another one that had campers in it. It was the Big Arsenic Campground with 6 campsites. Camping is $7 a night with water and restrooms.

There were quite a few people making use of these campsites. The sites sit along the rim overlooking the river.

We finished our loop drive with more great views.

On the way back to Cerra, we saw a huge dust devil out in the flatlands. That’s the largest one we’ve ever seen. It looked more like a tornado. Can you see it off in the distance?

We have seen this distinctive area on this mountain from different directions and found it so unusual. Finally, I could get a good picture of it. Maybe it was another mining operation.

Coming back through Cerro, we noticed this beautiful Spanish design Catholic church.

Across the road from the church was the Cerro Community Cemetery with the beautiful mountains in the background.

The flags in the cemetery were still up from Memorial Day. What a colorful cemetery it was!

We got back into Questa and decided to check out the other RV park a block down the road. It wasn’t bad, but we had the Red River in our backyard. Bob wanted to see the road that we would be traveling on when we leave here in a few days, so we drove up Highway 522 a few miles. It started out good, but it would be a steep climb out of this valley.

We went up one hill, then another, and another. The road kept climbing and climbing.

We finally had seen enough and turned around to head back. We got a great view of Questa from up on the top of the hill. There was definitely a change in elevation which was evidenced by my ears popping.

We got back to the campground and took Auggie for a walk along the river on the River Walk. He loved the grass!

We walked along the Red River to see the path it took behind our campsite.

After our walk, Auggie got a trim and a treat! He looked fabulous! Don’t you think?

We sat outside in the shade listening to the river for the rest of the afternoon and enjoyed the 83 degree temperature.

Our camping neighbors came over after returning from spending the day in Taos. We had a great time chatting with this husband and wife who were both teachers. One was originally from Illinois and the other was from New Mexico. Being teachers we had a lot in common and funny stories to share. It has been a long time since I’ve talked about teaching and it was good for a few laughs. They gave us some great suggestions about what to see and where to eat in Taos when we go there tomorrow. They left to eat dinner in their motorhome and we went in to have the stew I made today. It turned out pretty good I might add.

After dinner, the three of us went for a walk down to the trout pond. It cooled off nicely when the sun went down. We watched some TV and talked about our plans for tomorrow to see the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and visit the city of Taos. (P.S. The Internet here is not very strong and sometimes in the evening when everyone is back from their daily activities and using the Internet, it is difficult for me to load my pictures. It seems to work a lot better in the morning.)

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