If you drive NM Hwy 68 from Sante Fe north towards Taos, there is a small community known as Pilar. There is also a National Recreation Area known as Orilla Verde. The land is owned by the US government and managed by the Bureau of Land Management or BLM as it is usually called. If you make the turn northwest on county rd 570 to enter the recreation area and continue the six and a half mile drive you will soon be in the very bottom of the Rio Grande Gorge and alongside the Rio Grande River. The elevation is 6,100 feet and the canyon rim reaches 800 feet above that.
There are small campgrounds along that route. Three are primitive with no hook-ups for water or electricity and the remainder have RV hook-ups with water and electricity. No sewer. The river launchings offers river rafting through companies who rent the rafts and you can hire a river ranger to guide you. There is a nominal fee for day-camping and overnight camping. For the RV hook-ups its around $15 per night with a 14 day limit. There are also two large group shelters that can be rented for $30 per day and $40 per night: one at Taos Junction and one called Rio Bravo. There are hike and bike trails along the way. This area has been used for centuries by Ancient Peoples and you can find petroglyphs on some rocks and sometimes find fossils but it is against the law to damage or remove any of those. There is trout fishing and if all else failed you could watch beavers swim and build a dam. Of course the BLM Rangers probably have to tear those out.
Because of the diverse geology the wildlife and plant life is most interesting, Raptors and ground squirrels and deer. And the sweeping views offer photographic or painting opportunities all along the way. In fact, Pilar is an art colony and they have an annual show and event. Many artists come out especially to paint canvases of the ever-changing scenery.
The last campground which is at the deepest part of the Gorge is named Taos Junction and that's where my late husband Elmer and I spent 3 summers as camp hosts. Years ago a bridge had been built over the Rio Grande and a hotel built on the northern side, The hotel was later bulldozed but you can explore the ruins. The camp ground is on the south side. A serious gambler, entrepreneur named Long John Dunn had a vision and a dream for years using the bridge as a good way of making money He finally was able to buy the bridge. People would ride the train up from Sante Fe, and catch a stagecoach from the rail line then cross the river, spend the night in the Taos Junction Hotel and ride the stage on into Taos the next day. Long John charged a toll bridge fee, a hotel overnight fee and a fee to be taken driven into Taos. Dunn did more to promote the town of Taos than almost anyone. Nowadays there is a steel bridge built in the 50s that has the steel framework up and over the roadway. This steel bridge is still there and the campground's name of Taos Junction is obvious. And this is the setting for murder and mystery.
Elmer had taken on the overseeing of our little campground and I worked four hours a day, for four days a week at the nice modern Visitor's Center at the highway intersection of HWY 68 and 570 It was a wonderful summer job and I met people from all over the world. You could cross the bridge to our side (camp ground location) and drive up the other side of the gorge rim to hot springs spa area known as Ojo Calente or another route south to Sante Fe or roads west and north.
We were sitting at our table having lunch one day and we noticed there was an ambulance, a police car, a state highway patrol vehicle, a fire and rescue vehicle and also a helicopter flying low along the river bank. The river was about 200 yards away from our RV and there was also an embankment that added another 20 to 30 feet. Elmer said, guess I'd better go see what is going on out there. He came back in a few minutes and said the Incident Captain in charge told him they were looking for a body. Wanted to know if the group shelter could be used for family members. Of course, Elmer said, yes.
Turns out two guys, one a brother-in-law of the other, had been drinking, using drugs and arguing and one pulled out a gun and shot and killed the other. The killer called his brother who came over and they continued with drugs and alcohol trying to decide what to do with the body. One of them remembered there was a bridge at Taos Junction and told lawmen they threw the body off this steel bridge and into the river. They searched for two days but never found a body.
Finally, the killer admitted they had thrown the body into a dump site in Los Alamos. The story went that these guys thought if no body was found, then they couldn't be charged. They didn't know the law very well. I never heard about a trial or exactly what happened to the killer. I assume his brother was only charged with disposal of a body.
I kept saying for two or three years that I wanted to write a story about this murder mystery but never did. Maybe this little blog will inspire me to eventually come up with a good story.
One other little tale of mystery at Taos Junction. On morning, Elmer came inside and his face was white and he looked just about ready to barf. When I asked what was wrong he said, "I think someone was murdered out in the group shelter last night. There is blood everywhere. It looks really bad". I went outside with him and it did look bad. But after searching around we couldn't find any other evidence. I called up to the RGGVC and who and got one of the Rangers to come down and look at our group shelter. By the time our Ranger got to Taos Junction, Elmer and a couple of men who were Game Wardens had been after some poachers who were killing and skinning deer. It was out of season. The three of them had found animal remains close to the river edge. That murder was solved.
Elmer and I were quite relieved. However, you can see why being married to a mystery writer often makes you suspect the worst when you see blood all over a concrete floor. I would love to spend a summer at Taos Junction again. Unfortunately, I sold my RV five years ago.