The Land of Enchantment nearly killed me. Two weeks after moving to New Mexico from my old Kentucky home I made the foolish mistake of taking a canoe intended for lakes into the foaming waters of the Rio Grande with my future father-in-law. We capsized, lost the canoe and I've spent the past 12 months recounting the story to the chuckles and pointing fingers of our families and friends.
With summer upon us and the outdoors beckoning once again I've resolved, like I did throughout the fall, to spend as much time indoors as possible and stay as far away from river water as I can. Tipping over in that ill-fated canoe and trudging barefoot over slick river rocks tested the limits of my fearlessness, limits that were already pathetically low. My death-defying this summer will be limited to navigating through the screeching automotive hell that passes for traffic in this town and going on hikes through the wilds of my living room.
For those still imagining that outdoor thrillseeking leads to pleasure, rather than permanent psychological or physical trauma, here are some ways to kick the old adrenal glands into summer action.
Even when it's taking advantage of your stupidity, the natural beauty of New Mexico is unquestionable. Why not soak up the ample scenery from above in the safety and style of a helicopter tour?
"In a helicopter there's no lost luggage, no bad meal and no security," says Heli New Mexico co-owner and pilot Manfred Leuthard. "It's great stuff."
Heli New Mexico offers charter flights as well as tours that survey the canyons of the Jemez Mountains, the tent rock formations, Bandelier and other nearby natural attractions. The Santa Fe Deluxe tour is a 60-minute flight across town, swinging north to Los Alamos and all points in between, giving passengers a widescreen lay of the land. Safety is, of course, a top priority, with a full briefing required before setting foot on the aircraft. Heli New Mexico also enforces a strict ban on eating, drinking, smoking and even chewing gum on flights, ensuring there's no drunken rage to contend with or pink goo jamming the propellers. For those afraid of spending an afternoon hovering hundreds of feet above the ground in a bulbous flying machine, Leuthard offers these calming words. "People think you get banged around," he says, "but it's as smooth an experience as you could want. I've never had an unhappy passenger."
Maybe you refuse to ride in a helicopter, preferring to take to the friendly skies in the pressurized hull of a commercial airplane, if at all. There are plenty of things to do with your feet planted firmly on solid ground or, if you prefer, straddling the rippling muscles of a thoroughbred.
I've never been on a horse in my life, a streak I hope to continue to my dying day. You can lead a horse to Jeremy, but you can't make him ride, Kentucky boy or not-the power of those noble animals is far too great for a frail biped like myself. Rather than suffer the fate of some anonymous trampled jockey, I'll walk and encourage other brave souls to visit the folks at the Broken Saddle Riding Company. "It's not uncommon for people to be afraid," says Broken Saddle owner Harold Grantham. "We get people who were maybe thrown as kids who want to conquer their fears." Grantham says his company uses Tennessee Walkers and Missouri Foxtrot horses for their rides, horses known for their pleasant dispositions. "They're known to people in the horse industry to provide a smooth ride."
Broken Saddle provides seasonal rides through the canyons of northern New Mexico, bringing out the inner cowboy in all who hit the trails. Group and private tours for riders of all experience levels include trips to the Madrid Overlook, Devil's Overlook, Cash Entry Mine and Franklin Ridge, taking off from the historic mining town of Cerrillos. Helmets are provided in case the rider or horse proves less than capable, but are not required, allowing you to choose your own security level. Should you opt to shun the headgear, a helmet waiver must be signed.
Ah, dreaded water, that cool, refreshing killer full of fish. For more than a year-since my boating incident-I've avoided any liquid that didn't come from a faucet or plastic bottle. Still, ***image2***despite the fear, embarrassment and comical threat of impending death, part of me wants to hit back at the water and complete the fool's journey that ended a year ago with bruised feet and a humiliating "canoe accident" story in the Rio Grande Sun. I've seen red, orange and yellow canoes strapped to the tops of cars all over town, warm colors of coded warning telling me to keep my wits and stay landlocked to the grass, weeds and gravel surrounding my home.
Should my dry-dock resolve weaken, New Wave Rafting Company can point me in the direction of the white water and give me the skills necessary to tame the river wild. Steve Miller, owner of New Wave, says the snow pack that feeds the Rio Grande is large this year, the wet winter providing thrill seekers with plenty of fuel for the summer. New Wave offers rafting trips spanning both full and half days. The Taos Box of the Rio Grande trip covers 16 miles of the river and is touted as the Company's most exciting tour. The Box features heavy rapids guaranteed to get your heart racing and body soaked.
So what if I hit the rapids with New Wave and hit a rough patch of water, bad memories spilling into the raft with the rapids? What if I panicked? "Once you get a little reality it's not that great a challenge," Miller says. "Most folks can deal with what's required of them, which is paddling on command."
After surveying a list of New Wave's tours, I asked Miller about the treacherous stretch of river between Taos county line and Embudo Station that nearly swallowed me. Do they offer a trip through those sinister curves? "That stretch is used infrequently," he says. "It's considered too easy."