I woke up the morning of the third excited for two things: it was the first day of free travel and my eighteenth birthday. While other teenagers may wake up on their eighteenth birthday in a dorm room or resting at home, I got to wake up to the beautiful mountains in Jemez Springs. The cottonwoods were changing colors to a patchwork of gold and red. It was a very surreal beginning to my birthday. For breakfast we treated ourselves to pancakes; this can be quite a feat while camping. I also got two jars of Nutella as a present from Angie and Benji. I’m the kind of person who can put Nutella on anything. Once we were all finished with breakfast, it was time to go to the hot springs. The Jemez Springs hot springs were something we all looked forward to – especially after all of our long hikes and hours of work. We all needed the afternoon to relax. The main issue was getting there. San Antonio Hot Springs is hidden up in the mountains and is not for the weak. It was a feat getting up to the top but well worth it. We hiked in about a mile from the road to get to the springs. A few new friends were already relaxing in the springs when we arrived. It was a chilly walk in but we instantly melted when we entered the water. Tucked into the mountainside, one can see out across the valley. The view was breathtaking. I almost don’t want to give away the location because I want the place to be a secret next time I go. It was the perfect way to begin free travel. We bathed in the hot springs for several hours when we decided to come back out. Several of us decided to tour the town afterwards and went around to coffee shops and eclectic stores. The night finished with us playing a game around the campfire. Even though it was bittersweet being away from home for the first time on my birthday, I could not imagine a better way to spend my birthday or better people to spend it with. I could tell that we were all looking forwards to the next few days of free travel in Los Alamos and Sante Fe.
By Jane

Free travel was neat. Neat in the sense that free travel was all around amazing. There are very few words to describe how much fun it was. As this story goes, we started off our traveling, the free traveling, upon our departure from Chaco Canyon. From there we took a rather long trip into the bowels of New Mexico. As far as bowels go, these where incredibly beautiful. Mountains covered in a fine layer of pine trees marked either side of the road. We landed in a little town by the name of Jamez Springs.

Jamez Springs happened to be a quant little town bordering the middle of nowhere. While a little desolate it did have the pleasure of being close to a number of hot springs. These hot springs provided the town a source of tourism. Save for a few cafés, restaurants, and a very cute little store that sold a collection of funny bumper stickers, Jamez Springs catered exclusively to those who came seeking the hot springs. It seemed silly at first, but as soon as I sat down in the invigorating waters, it became apparent what all of the hubbub was about.

It is important to note here that Jamez Springs is not a hot spring. It is simply a town named after an abundance of nearby hot springs. There were some places that charged for a bath in a spa like environment. They used spring water inside a bathtub to simulate a natural hot springs experience. We found this to be a little confusing, as there where free, natural hot springs, that where only a hike away. Apparently some people will pay upwards of twenty dollars for something that isn’t even real. Of course this should not be too much of a surprise, with the popularity of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and all.

It took us a bit to actually work out where these springs were. After getting directions from a very friendly librarian, where deduced the location of a natural hot spring that got great reviews. These reviews came mostly from the Librarian, but we took his word for it. As it turns out, he happens to have a great taste in hot springs. We where going to go to the hot springs that night, but night was drawing near, and hanger (hungry anger) was setting in. We made camp, made dinner, and went to sleep.

The next morning we left searching for these illustrious hot springs we had heard so much about from the librarian. The springs took a long time to locate, as Google maps failed to state that the road we where looking for didn’t look like a road at all, and more of a very dirty series of protruding rocks, roughly in the shape of a one lane drive way snaking up a mountain side. The drive up the mountain felt like going up a rickety roller coaster on a cart that seems to not be entirely on the tracks. The same kind of roller coaster you find only at the county fair. The one that is set up in a day’s time, and hasn’t been tested for safety since 1964. The one whose frame shudders every time the cart goes down the tracks, as if it where to collapse at any moment. The one where you know there has been a well-concealed death or two on at some point. That kind of roller coaster.

Needless to say we made it to the parking area more or less alive. It took a good two minutes for my muscles to unfreeze enough to remove my white knuckles from the seat in front of me. We began the one-mile hike to the hot springs. It was a long and arduous journey. Long and arduous in the sense that it was not long at all, and extremely easy compared to some other hikes we’ve been on. It took very little time to reach the side of the mountain that the hot springs flowed into.

Just looking at the springs was enough to make one think they where in some sort of dream. A good dream. A series of four or five steaming pools looked out over the hillside into a valley, where the current of the springs flowing down the pools formed a mountainside brook, where the greenest grass grew. (The grass though, was still greener on the other side.) The river was right in the center of the two mountains, flowing through the valley, a scene that would make even the most pastoral paintings pale in comparison. Bob Ross would be inspired.

When we reached the springs we discovered that they where already being inhabited by another group of people with a similar mindsets to our own. We became quick friends. It was a pity too, as this story could use a conflict or too to emphasize its narrative nature. Alas, these people where far too friendly to be our antagonists. We talked and talked, and bathed until we wrinkled. After awhile it was decided to grudgingly leave the warm waters, and abandon the stunning view to return to the van.

The ride down was less terrifying, for if we where to drive off the cliff side and die, at least we would be content in the fact that it had been an excellent day. The next morning we left the little town of Jamez Springs behind, pausing only briefly to stop at a little café serving excellent chocolate croissants. We drove for awhile along a particularly wondrous mountain road, the likes of which can only be described with the word “Wow.” After ogling at the view for about half an hour we arrived at the less stunning, but in no sense unremarkable town of Los Alamos, home to the famed Manhattan Project.

We went directly to the Bradbury Museum, only to find it closed. Fortunately, it opened later that day. We killed time within the surrounding stores. The stores proved to be far less entertaining than the museum itself. There is only so much you can do with twenty dollars at an Ace Hardware. Once the museum opened we spent a few hours pouring over the exhibits. It was interesting to say the least, but the exhibits still held the faint odor of propaganda. There was plenty of information on how the builders of the atom bomb where named hero’s, but very little information on how the victims of its blast where for the most part innocent.

From the museum we got on the highway towards Santa Fe. We arrived at the Santa Fe International hostel just in time for check in (which was anywhere between the hours of seven am, and eleven pm.). We received keys and settled into our cozy little room. After spending the last week camping, a warm bed was a welcome change of pace. That night we where introduced to some of the staff of the hostel, and the other visitors.

I’m not going to lie. I thought that staying at a place where there was so much human contact was going to be tough, and all together miserable. I was wrong. There were plenty of super cool people staying at this hostel. In the brief time I spent talking, and joking with them, I determined that they where wonderful human beings, doing amazing things. This is a title I don’t give out easily. Great job Santa Fe International Hostel. You’re awesome.

We spent the next two days exploring Santa Fe. Santa Fe is a funny little place. It has all of the luxuries of a big city, with the feel of a small New Mexico town. There are plenty of stores. Only some of them sold goods at a reasonable price. A hat salesman told me, in person, that some hats are sold at one thousand dollars. There is someone, somewhere walking down the street with a thousand dollar top hat on his head. Some prick is walking around somewhere with the most foppish of all hats upon his head, content with the purchase of a piece of headgear that is worth the same amount as six bars of gold, twenty three gallons of semi-precious stones, a rare breed of near extinct Pomeranian with rainbow fur, or five Xbox’s. This guy is wearing the equivalent of five Xbox’s on his head. This is beyond baffling.

Besides extremely overpriced hatters in Santa Fe, there are some very nice places. Take for instance the Collected Works Bookstore and Coffee house. This peaceful little shop had solid selection of books, and a coffee shop. It even had a little reading area for those who can’t be bothered to go home before reading. It is a wonderful little corner of heaven.

I could go on giving a review to every single store I visited in Santa Fe, but I doubt that’s what you’re here to read about. If you are here to read reviews for southwestern coffee shops/bookstores, than you have come to the wrong place, but if you are who I think you are, doing what I think you’re doing (that is, reading up on our current adventures and living vicariously through us) than you are in the right place.

Santa Fe was fun, plain and simple. By day three though, it was time to pack up, and move to our next stop. We packed up the van, and got in for a long ride to the Petrified Forest National Park. If the ride to Los Alamos can only be summed up with the type of “Wow” that means “Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever such an incredible view” than the ride to the Petrified Forest National Park can only be summed up with the type of wow that means “Wow, I can’t believe we’ve driven for almost two hundred miles and haven’t seen anything interesting save for some odd looking road kill, and a couple of billboards telling us that Satan is gunning for our souls, and that Jesus is the only one who can save us.” . The ride was long and somewhat tedious, but armed with books, and a vague sense of direction we made it to the Petrified Forest National Park.

We did a drive through tour of the park in the classic American tourist way. We stopped to get out a few times, used the bathroom, and then moved on. The park itself was just a chunk of good-looking desert with a few patches of fossilized wood. It wasn’t a bad place to stop though. There were views there comparable, though not as green, as the ones at Jamez Springs. The Petrified wood itself was particularly interesting for five minutes. They looked much as a normal log would look, but these ones where a couple million years old, and had been replaced with rock. It looked like a band of prehistoric lumberjacks came through, chopped the trees to pieces, and forgot to clean up the mess. It is respectable that these trees have maintained their shape after a couple hundred million years. Most people lose their shape around forty years.

After the park we left on another long drive to our next campsite. We arrived late, all hungry, and with sore butts that had been sitting still for much longer than any butt should. The campsite was the kind of place a zombie movie is set. The only thing that could make it creepier would be if there were a swamp nearby, and an eerie fog. We ate a quick dinner, unpacked only what was absolutely necessary, and slept. It really is amazing how exhausted you can be after a full day of sitting. The next morning we awoke early to get to our next location, the San Carlos Apache reservation to be exact.

The moral of this story here is that free travel is awesome, everyone should do it, and that hot springs are nice. It only lasted a few days but it seemed to have lasted forever. At the same time, it went by too fast. It’s that same paradox time plays on us constantly. Perception of time isn’t as constant as the numbers that we assign it. I suppose this is it for this leg of the journey. Tune in next week (or whenever we get the chance to post the next blog) for the continuing adventures of the Carpe Diem group.
-By Conner