I had plans like everyone else.

I wanted to take a spring trip to Canyonlands, the largest and least-visited of Utah's five national parks, to backpack among the towering sandstone spires of the Needles District. In the summer, I had hoped to visit the Canadian Rockies for the first time on a two-week road trip filled with camping and hiking, hitting Banff and Jasper national parks along the way.

The best of the desert and the best of the mountains. I was salivating at the thought.

But also like everyone else, my plans were obliterated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Facing a 14-day self-quarantine upon returning to New Mexico following an out-of-state trip and barred from even entering Canada thanks to our country's abject failure to control the spread of the virus, I haven't left Northern New Mexico all year. And honestly, I've had a blast.

We need escapes in these tumultuous times when the lines of home, work and school are blurred and our opportunities for social gatherings largely eliminated. Thankfully, they can be found in abundance across the diverse landscapes of our stunning corner of the world.

I've never felt confined by New Mexico's borders during the pandemic. Rather, I've been overwhelmed by the prospect of all there is to discover within them.

My weekly routine has consisted of this - get through the workweek without going mad; scan Google Maps and the AllTrails app Friday night or Saturday morning for a new destination to explore; get on the trail (if one exists) and immerse myself in the beauty of the land; return home and rinse off the dirt; repeat. Again and again and again.

The excitement of a new adventure helps snap me out of the fog created by the repetitive nature of life in the pandemic. Without it, I shudder to think where my mind would be.

In the spring, I found myself continually drawn to high desert wonderlands near San Ysidro, about an hour's drive southwest of Santa Fe, while waiting for the snow to melt at higher elevations.

White Ridge Bike Trails was my gateway hike, entrancing me with its fascinating geology, kaleidoscope of colors and breathtaking vistas.

Next was San Ysidro Trials, with its nondescript access directly off U.S. 550 that leads to a slick-rock open world adventure where hikers plot their own paths through slot canyons and around tinajas, depressions in the rock that fill with snowmelt and rain from monsoons to form pools.

Finally, I roamed the Ojito Wilderness, an area that encompasses nearly 12,000 acres of canyons, badlands and mesas, and features petroglyphs, sprawling views and pastel-colored hoodoos.

Summer, of course, was spent in the mountains.

While I certainly made several trips to the Santa Fe ski basin to hike to my favorite lakes and peaks of the Pecos Wilderness, I spent most of my weekends seeking out less-trafficked trails to the north.

Highlights included hiking an obsidian-paved path in the Valles Caldera backcountry, following creeks along the gorgeous stretch of highway between Questa and Red River up into the peaks north of Taos Ski Valley, and spotting a mother bear and three rambunctious cubs close to the Río Pueblo on a hike near Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort.

Fall has thus far consisted of squeezing in more time in the mountains before the cold takes hold.

Driving along Río Costilla through a beautiful narrow canyon and emerging in the remote and majestic Valle Vidal district of Carson National Forest was a trip to remember. After roaming around the mountains and meadows of the "Valley of Life," I tucked into my sleeping bag at an elevation of 9,300 feet and listened to the elk bugle as a warm day turned into a chilly night.

A couple of weeks later, I met two friends near Cabresto Lake (which requires a high clearance vehicle to reach) and hiked the Latir Peak Wilderness loop trail. We saw no other hikers on the 14-mile trek that includes a long, spectacular stretch of ridgeline that offers incredible views of Colorado's San Luis Valley to the north, and Río Grande rift to the west, and more mountains in every direction.

There's a thrill that comes with getting to know a place for the first time, to walk the earth and feel its presence.

In a pandemic that has reduced the opportunity for human interaction, finding and developing a connection with nature has become all the more valuable.

Our plans may not always be reliable, but the land will always be there. Explore it all, I say.

This story first published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, a sibling publication of Taos News.

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