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Month November 2012

Rio Arriba, then northwest

You may wonder why this blog has no coverage of the cities I pass through. Several reasons.
I don’t like spending time in them on a bike – when I have to pass through, as a stop over, or to get Lucinda looked at, I just want to get back into the country.
Traffic experiences have been horrible. Atlanta was beyond belief.
They’re dangerous to ride in.
I tried. Ottawa, Montreal, Savanna, Atlanta, Austin. I don’t need cities.
I live in the best city in the world.
All this might change, but for now I just follow my gut.
So off we go, north, leaving Santa Fe without even a pic. Oh well.
And Lucinda is gas station centric and they’re better in the country. Our entire social circle is/are gas station employees. So we have brunch ($20 in gas for her, she likes a big meal to start the day, it sees her through until mid-afternoon) at the first one that looks right.
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Very shortly, headed due north towards Chama, we run beside the Rio Arriba
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There’s something magnetic about alluvial plains. Primitive food source, where we could reliably stalk and spear/stone game to drag home to our significant other.
We ran by coloured bluffs. Blue
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And gold
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And back onto the high plains, about 8000′, spotted with failed roadside ventures
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Then the scenery, at about Tierra Amarilla, changed completely to agricultural land and stayed that way until Farmington. Nothing large scale like we’d seen in the south, midwest or even eastern Washington. No operation was bigger than a family could handle I’m guessing. Around Farmington, farms were subsistence scale.
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We pulled in for a late lunch before Chama and puppies!
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As we approached Dulce things became greyer. In the age of search I’ll keep most negatives to myself, but this was not a happy part of the world. At least not the day I was there. Frankly it was bleak.
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The dam and lake above the town
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Then, for 50 miles of great riding through open fast twisties we gradually descended into Farmington, but the grey never lifted. Which is another story.
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Track: El Paso to Santa Fe

Jemez

Going out to check the bike as soon as I wake is the normal routine. The temperature has dropped again. It’s 22F, nearly -6C. This is a shame because I’ve another reasonably long day ahead. So I decide I’ll leave as soon as it’s 0C, measured by smoke/no smoke and go back in to call DT to chat about tires, etc.

It’s about 150 miles to Jemez before another 125 to Santa Fe and we cross more beautiful desert on our way to Cuba, our first gas stop, passing more sandstone escarpments.

And pass horses and mules occasionally. I’m not sure if they’re wild or not. No fences, so maybe wild.

The escarpments get bigger.

Then we’re into the hills and shortly before entering the Jemez canyon, the town of Jemez. This all you get because the town is on the other side of the street and there’s a big wooden sign that says:

No photographs

No video cameras

No cassette recorders (I’ll have to ask Siri, my new BFF, if she knows what this is)

No sketching

It’s an Indian reservation and old, dense and lived in, like a favorite pair of shoes. Washing hangs out to dry across the streets, dogs sit in the sun, kids totter on bent bikes, homes are randomly aligned, power cables are haphazardly supported, bright red peppers hang on strings everywhere. Gorgeous. But no pictures.

Then into the canyon

And down to the river

The road is twisty and leads to the ruins of an old mission church. Built in 1621 and designed by a Franciscan priest, it burned down in 1623.

There’s a point on the road after the town where hot springs rush up and flow under and across the road and join the river above these falls

Then the unexpected perfect riding thing happened and we were in twisties for miles, gaining altitude until at 9000′ the trees opened up and a high altitude grassland plain appeared, the Valles Caldera. It was one of those moments when I Whoop! in my helmet.

Then after topping out, the road descended through very tight twisties. It was several degrees below 0 and I was concerned about tire temperature but we let her rip a bit.

Then a special diversion, to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Much larger than I’d imagined, there are over 10,000 employees on a campus at the edge of the forest in pristine buildings, pouring out to their cars;  I’d arrived at 5:00. I was passed through security without any questions and headed down the main drag, brilliantly named Bikini Atoll. That’s the spirit guys!

On the highest point of the campus was a dominant building, where all the very cool ideas are cooked up no doubt.
Then on to Santa Fe, as the sun set.

Plains of Agustin

The temperature’s been dropping daily and we’re off to a cold start to the Cibola Forests. About 50 miles from Socorro, it’s a climb up and over hills to the Plains of Agustin (correct spelling) which is vast and beautiful, 50 miles by 20 at 7000′. Antelope, hare/rabbit things, very bloody cold and flat. Smack in the middle of this enormous plain is the Very Large Array.

There were also some dirt roads.

VIDEO

After leaving the Plains it’s through more hills and into the Cibola forests. Not so much a forest, but trees where there have been none for days.

Looking back towards the Plains.

And into Pie Town. More a tiny village and named after the apple pies they made in the 20’s. Yup, another oddball name, like Truth Or Consequences, NM. The cafe where they originally made the pies still sells them as they were.

Down the road a bit, a more typical building. There’s no-one to be seen. As usual.

And then a 100 miles down, past a sandstone escarpment to San Raphael and Grant’s.

Ride notes: Stop and add insulation and winter gloves when I first need them, not later.

White Sands

Today was about mileage. Mileage days are short on photo’s.

The land surrounding El Paso is surprisingly agricultural, although small scale. Driving a small road out past Las Cruces took us through orchards of old trees.

Then the road wound up over a high ridge and the desert was clear and laid out below hugely. You could see the 100 miles past White Sands to Alamogordo. Nowhere so far has a view been so distant. Looking southeast.

And looking northeast.

Finally, after yesterday’s epic, White Sands. The sand is gypsum, laid down in a salty, tropical sea 275 million years ago. It doesn’t blow away because the water table, incredibly, is only three feet below the surface and the moisture binds it. The dunes are up to 60 feet high. But I arrived after Thanksgiving weekend and they were covered in footprints as far as the eye could see. Not really photo worthy. But I found a section of road that wound through, unspoiled. Very white.

Later, through a lava field.

And after 305 miles, back to the Rio Grande, which we haven’t seen since Big Bend, and is now running north/south, just before the sun goes down.

Ride notes: Why is my GPS dimming when I put it in the power mount? My watch strap is blowing out, add to shopping list.

Stopped

The plan was to visit Hueco Tanks (after an email reminder from TJ) then reverse back to El Paso and head north to White Sands. So far the ride has been completely free of non weather related screw-ups. Today we got two fails.

Arriving at Hueco Tanks we got stopped by a gate and a friendly Parks official. The park, because of the petroglyphs, is protected. The visitor limit at any one time is 70 apparently. She said there were another 30 waiting in the camp site and my chances of getting in today were about zero.
So we took a pic under a tree instead.

So after loosing a couple of hours we headed off to White Sands. According to my GPS mapping software there’s a short cut bypassing highway 70. So off we went. The first thing we see are these, about 5 miles apart.

But for some reason the wording doesn’t make sense, because it’s a road, for vehicles. Part of me says the signs mean no vehicles allowed off the road. But then we see the tank crossing signs and they’re clearly either on the road or off the road and I’m confused. In denial actually. And there’s trouble in the distance.

But we go quickly past the radar buildings and past a series of testing ranges. Clearly we’re off track.
And sure enough we come to a military checkpoint. A soldier asks why I ignored the signs and I stumble through the poor-signage-wording excuse. Somehow he was OK with that. Rather than getting bent out of shape at my bullshit he told me nicely to go back the way I came. I thought better of taking a picture of the situation. So it was back to El Paso and a quick re-planning session.

Exit Texas

This is a post written from a future date so I’ll make it brief. More on Texas another time. I loved Texas and it was the highlight so far. It’s time to leave and head to El Paso.

A last look around Marfa, pretty much the second to last town west on the extreme southern link, before the couple of hundred miles to El Paso. Staying south has been a good decision.
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And swing by the church for the last time
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And off we went, sad to see things for maybe the last time we’d quickly loved, even after a short two weeks. I wish it had been a month.
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Surrounded by military bases as we have been in the desert country, we were on the road from Marja to Valentine with the road to ourselves as usual. I never see anybody on the road. Choosing to travel on backroads or B roads in the late fall, early winter is like this.
However this afternoon we have company. Ahead of me on the right, to the north and about half a mile ahead is this white spot. I’m looking at it thinking it’s a balloon or something but I can’t make any progress towards it, which bothers me somehow. I can’t figure it out. Then all of a sudden I start making huge progress on it and lo and behold it’s a rigid dirigible. Here’s what he looked like crossing me before he falls back.
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Then, to my surprise it crosses the road ahead of me and starts matching my speed, slightly ahead. I think holy shit, it’s a drone. It has two slightly darker spots, one in front and one behind a lower bulb under the main fuselage that look like hardware. I can’t see any propulsion method though and never do. Obviously I’m weirded out that it’s matching my speed so I stop. It stops, quickly, like suddenly. Then I speed up and so does he. Then he falls back and goes into the sun, behind me and to the left (southeast). I look for his shadow but can’t find it. I stop a couple of times to see where he is and he’s in the sun. Anyway I’ve blown off a half hour this way and blast off west. Some twenty-five year old in a room fifty miles away has had a good laugh practicing his skills at my expense I think happily and we go on our way.