Whenever you take young children on outdoor adventures, there will invariably come a moment when you’ll ask yourself, head in hands, between clenched teeth, possibly on the verge of tears or mental breakdown: How could this possibly be worth it? At the time, invariably, the answer is: It’s not. At least not yet. No matter how gorgeous or remote the wilderness, how soothing the river rushing by, how blissfully tuned out you are from the racket of the rest of the world, you will arrive at this moment. And it will suck.
In northern New Mexico, the Rio Chama cuts a winding path through tawny sandstone walls and banks thick with sagebrush and ponderosa pines. Georgia O’Keefe lived and painted in Abiquiu, near the mouth of this wilderness canyon, for decades. Federally protected as a Wild and Scenic River, the Chama is so serene that an order of Benedictine monks live nearby in a solar-powered, sustainable monastery, Christ in the Desert, they built on the banks. Visitors come from around the world to live in silence for a few days, and on some still mornings you can hear the sound of the monks' chanting rising up above the steady downstream thrum of the river. My husband and I have camped, kayaked, canoed, and rafted here every summer for the past 12 years. Less than two hours from Santa Fe, up a rutted dirt road a dozen miles from pavement that becomes impassable when it rains, beneath buttes shaped like wedding cakes and natural amphitheaters carving themselves into the creamy cliffs, this is our happy place.
Or at least it was until last weekend.