Within minutes, we had the keys to a small 5 speed Peugeot, and me installed as the only driver (yahoooo!). In an hour we were already craning our necks to see the tops of the mountains out of a narrow slot canyon that somehow had a road installed into it, and by noon we were starting a hike up into the hills. The trail started at a tiny parking lot, and only the small size of our car let us fit into the leftover space. We walked for a couple minutes next to a large stream, with the whitest, clearest water that we had ever seen, rinsed clear by the limestone mountains. We followed the trail as it got higher, inched by some friendly mountain goats, and earned our lunch by sweating our way up rocky scree slopes that the mountain goats probably loved. The weather was perfectly sunny, about 75 degrees, and we shed our jackets and fleece shirts and enjoyed the warmest weather that we have felt all year! And at the top, the view was of deep canyons and steep cliffs on one side of our rocky perch, and snowy huge mountains on the other side.
On the road again at 3, we spent the rest of the afternoon zooming through deep mountain roads that were almost deserted. The summer crowds hadn’t arrived yet, and the weather was unseasonable warm, and we had the place to ourselves. After leaving (our home) in Germany where we couldn’t read any of the signs or speak the language, this place (not our home) felt immediately comfortable, much more relaxed and laid back. And of course we could read all the road signs and chit-chat with the locals.
We found a place to camp for the night at a campground with a river right next to it and mountains behind us. After making one last short drive up an impossible steep narrow road to a great view of a monolith, we returned and fell asleep to the sound of the river and the bells worn by the mountain goats.
The next morning, after the fog burned off, it was another sunny day. We made a long drive into the heart of the mountains, to find a river gorge hike that seemed like it would be breathtaking. The guidebook that we brought along said something about the road being rickety for the last 10 kilometers or so, but as we ventured onto the road, we realized that they should have said “A one lane cart path with sharp turns, steep drops, and 20% grades.” The car handled everything beautifully, until we got to the last couple kilometers, and then we got a little nervous….the one lane path was now a steeply dropping road with a sheer cliff on one side, and a 100 foot drop to the river on the other, absolutely no room to pass another car, which luckily there were none. We got stage fright for a second, realized that we couldn’t turn around even if we wanted to, and kept going. A bit down the path, the canyon widened out and we got to the town we wanted to park in to start the hike. The town seemed so isolated that we couldn’t believe they could get their milk before it soured, but the locals convinced us that even a garbage truck drove down the same path that we had used.
We started the gorge hike at midday, perfect for the sun to reach into the depths and shine on the water. Part of the way was a series of passages carved into the rock, because there was no way to make a trail. And running alongside of us was a canal of water, with signs (in Spanish, of course) that said, “Danger, Fast moving canal water!” We used it to dip our hands into and cool off. It was another beautiful sunny day. As we hiked along, the river kept getting farther beneath us, and the mountains kept getting higher. At one point, the gorge was so narrow that we couldn’t (or wouldn’t) lean over the edge of the trail far enough to see the water hundreds of feel straight below. The whole scene was too cool for words. We took lots of pictures, but even they couldn’t capture the entire scene. Part Yosemite, CA, part Zion, Utah, we both agreed that it was awesome, and we had never seen anything like it.
We turned around before the shadows could fall too far, and I loved the walk back and seeing everything from a different angle, but I didn’t forget that I had to make the steep climb out of there in my 5 speed transmission on the road that wasn’t much wider than our hiking trail. But the drive out went ok, no cars met us on the scary section, and the rest of the day’s trip was another lush, green slot canyon drive where I got to push my fun little car through the corners and make Rob hang onto his seatbelt for dear life.
As the sun was going down, we arrived back on the northern side of the park, and made a short drive up to some beautiful mountain lakes, surrounded by very rocky hills and green mountain grass, the kind that make me want to get out of the car and run around. We had planned on camping up here and hiking the next morning, but the campsite wasn’t open yet, so we changed plans and drove back down the mountain, all the way to the ocean, and set up camp at 10 p.m., just as the sun was setting.
In the morning, we toured a natural cave in the same town, where paintings dating back 14,000 years, of horses and other animals, had been discovered in the 1960’s. Way cool….we couldn’t take any pictures, obviously.
For our last day, we drove up the coast back towards Santander. We found a cliff walk, and toured a Medieval town with a museum of torture devices used in the Middle Ages, and ate Seafood Paella for supper in a small fishing town. We didn’t know what it was, but it turned out to be a stew made with rice and all different kinds of fish and seafood. Suprisingly good, after we dug in with our hands and peeled the shells off of the shrimp and mussels and tiny lobsters. No oysters, lucky for me!
We worked off the stew with a sunset walk on the beach, and set up our tent on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The surf lulled us to sleep.