I’ve been in New Mexico for 5 days. It’s hotter, higher, more colorful, and drier than the Plains. The daily afternoon temperatures are in the high 90s. You bake in the dry heat. It cools to the low 50s at night. My first night was even cooler. The lowest elevation in New Mexico is 2,842 feet, the highest 13,161. Lots of geologic uplift here over the eons. Ancient volcanoes dot the landscape.
Distances between towns is just as great or greater than the Plains. But here there is no reprieve, no safety, from the sun. It is desert and sage brush, rattlesnake country. Multicolored hills, mountains, and mesas keep the long days interesting.
Below is a compilation of notes I made over the last few days. A lack of electrical connections and low battery power kept me from writing at length and uploading. Today, I am in a motel in the town of Chama, just south of Pagaso Springs, Colorado. It is a day to recoup, recharge, write, and rest.
photo by Andre Durand
Day 53 – Friday, July 19
Clayton to Cimarron Canyon State Park, New Mexico
About 135 miles
85° Light Winds, Cloudy to Sunny, Rain at Camp
Freight Trains starting @ 1 a.m. – little sleep.
Two routes out of Clayton, took longer, nearer mountains. Windy, but not as bad as day before. On four-lane road for first 70 miles.
Visited Capulin Volcano National Park. Drove up to rim, 7,877 ft.
Turned southwest in Raton had wind at back for first time in days. Had to drive on Interstate for five miles then Highway 64 to Cimarron. Now on Santa Fe Trail.
Decided to push on into the first mountains I’ve seen in weeks. Beautiful, newly paved mountain road. Loved laying the bike over to make tight turns. That’s what bikes are made for.
Found Cimarron River Campground at the western end of Cimarron Canyon State Park. The campground was designed at a time when RVs were small. Now it is filled with 5th wheels and four door pickups. It was very cramped. Several sites had cancellations or I would not have been able to stay the night. Picked one about four feet above the river (more like a quiet stream.) The open areas were filled with large rocks. It was clear that few people actually tented here. The canyon is narrow with thick trees running along the river. The hills are steep, barren half way up. This is where the rocks come from I’m sure. I set up before the rain, but rain it did.
Lightning flashed along the top of the canyon. A moment later the valley floor shook with thunder. People disappeared into their RVs. I stood around until the rain came, then I too had to seek shelter.
The storm raged then passed. Thunderstorms here come and go. They are not lingering cold fronts. Children came out to ride their bicycles. The man next to me came over and apologized for the loudness of his generator. That was far down on my list of complaints.
The nearest food was 3 miles over a pass (the top of the canyon) in the town of Eagle Nest. I hustled up and over the pass and found a gas station with enough supplies. On the way back the engine gave out. I nearly panicked. A major storm was crossing Eagle Nest Lake. I got Ruby started and nearly made it back, when the engine conked out again. If dying and disappearing into the universe were an option, I would have taken it. Somehow, I got it started again and made it back to the campground.
A second storm arose and forced everyone inside. That was it for me that night. I conked out like Ruby’s engine. No restart.
Day 54 & 55 – Saturday & Sunday, July 20 & 21
Cimarron Canyon State Park to Bandelier National Monument
95° Sunny & Hot, Rain at Night evaporated by morning.
It rained most of the night and the temperature kept dropping. I ended up sleeping with my pants on, a jacket, and a wool cap. At dawn the rain stopped. I emerged from the tent to a very soggy world. I was glad I picked the highest site I could, because the little stream raged.
I packed the campsite up and was on the road at 7:00 a.m. Ruby started and kept running up over the pass and down into the town of Eagle Nest where I hoped to find breakfast. I found an open place who’s owner had moved there a year before from Vermont. The little place filled fast. I had a table for four so offered up some seats to two locals. We had an amusing time talking about dredging the lake for bodies (Eagle Nest has a checkered history), 5th wheels versus scooters, and the best way to attach a pickup truck to the back of an RV. We didn’t solve any world problems, but I felt better for the encounter.
Back on the road I continued to follow Highway 64 west, now dubbed “The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway”. It goes to Taos. The highway rolled up and into the mountains. The highest elevation I could verify was 9,100 feet. Ruby preformed well, not fast, but well. Traffic was light. On the downhill side I did the speed limit all the way swooping (safely) through all the wonderful turns.
The town of Taos was very busy. A festival was underway. The free parking area was not free. I rode around for a bit and then decided to ride on. I visited Taos before many years ago. The charming old downtown looks the same. No photos this day.
I planned to drive to Los Alamos. South of town I refilled the gas tank. It was now very hot. A mile or two from the gas station on secondary road number 518, the motor cut out. I pulled into a lovely ranch’s entrance. I let time pass, I played with wires, nothing worked. I decided to open Ruby up. I hadn’t done this since Louisville. Off came the bags, off came the seat. Sweat poured out. Everything looked fine. What gizmo was out of whack? In time the engine started and I moved on. This uncertainty is driving me crazy.
I followed secondary roads 518, 75, 76 called “The High Road to Taos” to the city of Española. From there I drove to Los Alamos, home of the nuclear bomb. South of Los Alamos is the former home of Ancestral Pueblo people, Bandelier. Today, it’s a national monument. The campground has three sections. I hoped I wasn’t too late to get a site. No worries. Section C was nearly filled with RVs, but sections A & B were virtually empty. I picked my site and set up. The landscape is rolling and sandy with stubby Juniper trees. It feels like rattlesnake heaven, but none appeared.
You have to take a shuttle bus to get to the actual Bandelier settlement. It is deep in a canyon with little parking. It’s worth the trip. The high cliff dwellings and common stores are fascinating to see. Walking through places where another culture at another time lived and thrived is a heady meditation.
I camped two nights at Bandelier. It was incredibly peaceful.
Day 56 – Monday, July 22
Bandelier National Monument to Carson National Forest
98° Low Humidity, Mostly Sunny until late afternoon
Left Bandelier at 7:40 heading back to Española then north for Heron Lake State Park. Changed oil at an O’Riley’s Auto Store with two KTM riders doing the same thing. Mapped out a route first on Highway 84 then looping into the Ortega Mountains for a picturesque time among the Ponderosa.
The vast areas along Highway 84 have names like Chama Wilderness, Kit Carson, and Santa Fe National Forests. But is 95% sage brush. There is only sage brush. It was hot. For the first time Ruby began to overheat.
That picturesque time in the mountains? Didn’t happen. The road turned to gravel 18 miles in. I had to backtrack. Had lunch at Bode’s in the town of Abiquiu. Bode’s is the Dan & Whits of New Mexico, except Bode’s has a restaurant (my Upper Valley friends will get the reference, all others will have to wonder.) It is THE place to stop. Many serious off-road motorcyclists stop here as do all the RVer’s going down the highway.
My good deed for the day was helping rescue a horse that had gotten loose and was wandering the highway. I was a cowboy for 30 minutes.
Ruby has developed a new problem from the heat. Turning the ignition key on causes the starter to go without touching the start switch. I’ve developed a new starting technique, but wonder if this portents greater problems anon.
Short of the state park massive thunderstorms popped up in all directions. I pulled into a real forrest of trees and made camp before the deluge. Just made it. Long evening & night in tent, but I am worn out from the heat, so it’s relaxing.
Day 57 – Tuesday, July 23
Chama, New Mexico
95° Sunny, Light Breeze
A peaceful night in the Carson National Forest. It rained early, but by morning everything was bone dry. I woke at dawn and broke camp. Ruby’s starting issue continued. It was cool, about 50°. I wore a wind breaker. The town of Tierra Amarallia was 15 miles ahead. All indications pointed to a place for breakfast. However, there were just two gas stations, both closed when I passed through. I pushed on to Chama, another 10 miles. It was supposedly bigger.
I get my information from two sources, my primary mapping program, Apple Maps and the official New Mexico highway map. Both have limitations and are open to interpretation.
From Chama, New Mexico to Page, Arizona is about 300 miles of desert driving. I’m not sure Ruby or I are up to the task. So today I took a break to evaluate my situation.Y Motel, Chama, New Mexico. Amenities: Pay telephone in the last telephone booth.