NM-CO: Mile 152

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On the Taos Plateau, surrounded by the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.

It was clear, studying Kidder’s map and the USGS quadrangle, that Mile 152, up on a 500 foot hill, would offer a wide view of great space. I park at the BLM cattle guard at the state border on Planche Valley Road, and start walking east. At 7:30 in the morning the cool dry air exhales on the landscape, entirely still; a sole coyote sings briefly. At a distance the smooth landscape, with rounded volcanic hillocks, looks like it’s covered with a heather-green fleece blanket; underfoot the grasses, sage and stiff-whiskered four-inch cactus grow sparsely on the dusty pink-gray soil.

Below: N 360 59.7378′ W 1050 48.0471′, elevation 7735

On top of Mile 152’s hill there’s a rich view east: Ute Mountain, a shield volcano, arcs gently a few miles south of the line; just to the north, a narrow brown wiggle marks the Rio Grande in its shallow canyon; also north of the line, beyond the river spreads Sky Valley Ranch. Hard to see in this image, there’s a grid of Nazca lines marking future streets, complete with street signs, a plan for an immense development that never succeeded.

When Katherine Lee Bates was inspired by a view of purple mountains and amber grain from Pikes Peak (the original name of the poem that became America the Beautiful), she was imagining more than she actually saw, I suspect. Here at Mile 152, a much more modest pinnacle, the actual ground cover is less jewel-like. Even here on the hilltop the cattle have kept the plant life short. The occasional transcontinental jet growls faintly seven miles up, briefly interrupting the silence; a breeze flows over the hill now; all of Planche Valley Road is visible, and no one else is about. It’s not often that you find yourself in a place where you can legitimately suspect you’re the only person inside the 200 square miles you can see. No alabaster cities needed here: it’s the majesty of the great silent space in ecstatic air for which I wave my flag.

N 360 59.7381′ W 1050 47.5215′, elevation 8255