We grow to kind of like Springfield. We eat dinner at the Trail End Diner – grilled cheese and French Freedom Fries, with the word French scored out – and even though the lighting makes it look like a poorly maintained youth club, circa 1970, it has a certain scuffed charm. Although the town looks as if it is one more of the kind you should speed through, with lots of closed up shops and petrol stations, in a side street, we discover a tiny cinema. It’s only just re-opened – the previous owners apparently owned a burrito factory and when it burned down, they perished in the fire. The girl behind the till kindly shows us round – the walls are lined with squares of carpet but the seats are original velvet and wood from the 1920s. She shows us the projection room where they are still using a huge antiquated projector. We’re going to tear out the seats, the girl says and put in some new ones, reclining ones. I tell her that in London theses kind of places are treasured. I’d love to go to London, she sighs. I’ve lived here my entire life.
The motel room is cold. And the sheets are too thin. The bed is small and we can hear various air conditioner heaters in the other room switch on and off all night. We wake before dawn with the hunters. It’s a freezing cold day and the sky has clouded over. After all you can eat pancakes – I manage two and a half – we chat to the waitress who tells us that the ground is usually covered with snow from Halloween onwards.
And so we hit the road once more, heading out of Colorado towards New Mexico. Out here it is so flat and empty that sometimes, when we stop and take a look around, we can see nothing but the prairie in any direction. We pass only a handful of cars. The towns on the map are barely towns at all, just a few houses clustered together with a school and a post office. And outside the wind blows hard and incredibly cold.
After about an hour, a mist descends and it starts to rain very softly. Now we can see virtually nothing, just the skeletal shapes of abandoned ranches looming out of the white. The waitress told us that we’d pass the Mesas but we can’t see them. Suddenly we drive out of the cloud and in front of us is a wide open plain with tree covered mesas, or flat topped hills covered in trees on one side. Here, there are rocky gullies and small dried up stream beds and every few miles roads to ranches, fifteen miles or so away. Up ahead, in the palest of blue at first, the Rockies appear.
We stop in a town called Trinidad and after lunch and coffee decide to take the scenic route to Santa Fe, via a small town called Taos high up in the mountains. The road takes us up and over a small pass and then high above a wide sandy plain. The Santa Fe trail runs alongside us and at one point, under a small tree, I spot two small slabs of upright rock under a tree; gravestones.
For miles and miles, we drive along the base of a line of crags. There are no roads, no houses, no sign of any habitation – the place is wild. I try to imagine the Native American tribes who had once nomadically roamed back and forth across this landscape. Even though it’s incredibly beautiful, we don’t know how to live here anymore. The sky is a brilliant blue apart from in the direction we’re heading. Here, low clouds cluster.
Pine trees lean inwards as the road switches back and forth up the mountain and there is a sign for an Elk crossing. Suddenly it starts to snow and within a few minutes the twisting road up is completely white. P mentions he feels like someone who is climbing Ben Nevis in a pair of gym shoes and we begin to wonder if we have made some fatal error. Almost every other vehicle is a four wheel drive.
We reach the top of the Cimarron Canyon to a small place called Eagle’s Nest and there is a huge lake. Here the gritters have been and so the road is a little better. We drive on, through thick snow and start to head down to Taos. About ten miles outside the town, there are signs for artisan products and art galleries. Everyone here, it seems, has come to paint or make sculpture or relax in spas or retreats. There is a not a cowboy hat in sight, at least not one worn in an un-ironic fashion. After a sustaining coffee, a latte, not the brown stuff they serve with powdered creamer, we head down the mountains towards the lights of Santa Fe.