Thursday, July 31, 2008
Hanging with the Oklahomans next door. Another lazy morning and some sun made this marginal site a pretty good place to hang out. The roaring creek 20 ft away was fun.
I went down canyon a bit to check out the rock formations. It was pure bliss riding in this canyon; warm, no wind and flat. The idiot Oklahoman truck driver ruined all that, briefly.
It was a quick climb back over to Eagle Nest again, and I was headed right into another rain storm! So early today. I decided to head into it and not wait. It wasn’t long that I was through it and into the sunshine. Another blink of an eye and I was in Angel Fire. What a let down. I was expecting more, a bigger ski town than Red River. There was pretty much nothing except a Bald Eagle sighting.
A talk with Elizabeth and we decided that I should go south to Coyote Creek State Park (on the southern loop of the Enchanted Circle), due to the crowded highway toward Taos and weather patterns. What a great choice it turned out to be! Highway 434 was awesome and fun, even though I got pelted by hail on the technical downhill section. The road has no middle line it’s so narrow, and it snaked through the forest like a small trail. At one point I was weaving past an open pine forest, and the next I was cruising through a narrow cliff-lined canyon that held a creek and dense riparian trees.
It ended all too soon when I reached the State Park. I grabbed the last site with a ramada structure. This was key when the rain storm hit, and now everyone seems to want my site. Because I didn’t pitch a tent right away and only had a bike, people thought I might be just having lunch, even though it was like 6 pm. The “traffic” eyeing my site is almost unbearable. I kind of feel like I’m on display up here in my zoo cage ramada! There is a great view of the mountains behind the creek, though.
Elizabeth should be here soon and that will be the official end of the tour. Overall it was a great tour. All this rain has turned out to be very manageable. I’m also happy that the modifications I made to some equipment worked on reducing the pains I had last year. The route was amazing and it seems there are many other choices for a whole other tour!
Bald Eagle - Belted Kingfisher - Warbling Vireo - Mountain Blue Bird -
TOTALS FOR TOUR:
Birds: 80 Miles: 675
Outside Angel Fire
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Oh, I wish my wife were in New Mexico with me!
Well, Matt is about to get his wish. And isn't it nice to see that he thinks in the subjunctive?
After meeting more Tucsonans at the campground last night, Matt hit the road once again. He declared Red River to be a charming mountain town, and full of Texans to boot. Eagle's Nest was much less picturesque, but it did have a gas station with a roof he could hide under as the latest downpour began. He also got to enjoy a burger on the patio of a bar in town.
He headed down towards Cimarron Canyon State Park, but was wary of descending too far, since this part of New Mexico is "where the mountains meet the plains." The first campground, which had water, was full, so he had to continue on to the second, more primitive campground.
Tomorrow morning I'll be leaving Tucson to join him somewhere in the vicinity of Taos and the Enchanted Circle. When we're back, Matt will update all the blog entries with writing from his travel journal and photos from the trip. It'll be good stuff, so be sure to check back in again soon!
Today's route map (who knows what map will show up here. The Google maps are going all wiggety wack -- what's up, Blogger??):
UPDATE FROM MATT
Day 11 – 31 miles, 2:39, 11.5
After fending off the family of raccoons, last night was very quiet on my empty side of the campground. Got to love those sites that RVs can’t fit into! I might have heard (and seen) another Spotted Owl, must check out that call I heard. Decided to have a lazy morning and enjoy the forest. I mistakenly left my loaf of bread (packed away, of course) for a few minutes in the presence of ground squirrels. So, I came back to find one of them had dug into my pannier and chomped on a few slices!
I headed up the road a bit to the little ski town of Red River. I had thought I was about 3 miles away, but found out my quiet forest campsite was only half a mile from town! So I toured the small, but very busy scenic mountain town. Lots of motels, condos, bars, sports stores, etc, and mostly Texans with a few Kansans thrown in. Met some cyclists at the town market, and one of them was from Tucson! Why have I met so many Tucsonans on this trip?
Finally, a pass sign!
Up the steep Bobcat Pass (9800 ft) was short and then I had a long downhill pretty much the whole way to Eagle Nest. The scenery was amazing! Some views of a few of the big Sangre de Cristo peaks (Wheeler I think, the highest in New Mexico) and the descent into the beautiful Moreno Valley which opens up to expansive views of meadows and grassland.
Descending from Bobcat, Wheeler Peak?
After a while I saw my break and went for it, up the steep climb out of the valley and 3 miles to the first campground down in the lush canyon of Cimarron State Park. No room and too many people and RVs anyway. I filled all my water bottles and moved on to the next campground, 4 more miles down the canyon in a light rain. Blackjack is an interesting campground where the sites are spread out along a trail next to a rushing creek. No cars! Luckily there’s a site open (there are only 5 total), and finally, a bear locker to put all my stuff into instead of in my tent!
The canyon here is damp and cool. I may not see the sun for a while tomorrow.
Swainson’s Hawk - Violet Green Swallow - American Crow
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008
The 90-pound steed
Wow, this is a short post to go along with the short ride!
UPDATE FROM MATT
Day 10 – 13 miles, 1:13, 10.4 AVG
Had a very relaxing time in Questa, lots of good eating and TV watching and playing with Avery. Left late today to travel a short distance up the Enchanted Circle highway. I finally made it! Pretty cool so far, narrow canyon with jagged red/orange outcroppings not too unlike Cave Creek in the Chiricahuas. I camped near the rushing Red River, watched the fly fishermen that seem to be everywhere in New Mexico and had some leftover stew for dinner (thanks again, Jack!). I think from here on out I’ll be taking it easier on the bike and focus on staying in these mountains for the rest of the trip.
Must have spent too much time inside today – no new birds!
Yawn, another bike picture
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008
It was very cozy under that spruce tree
Matt met up with another touring cyclist from Arizona today. He was an older man who owns some property in Show Low, but for all intents and purposes is homeless at the moment. They talked for a while over lunch, and then Matt headed over the Rio Grande. The lunch maybe went a little long, because an afternoon storm was brewing. Matt sought shelter and waited for about a half an hour before continuing.
After struggling over more brutal rollers (his least favorite kind of cycling terrain, if you haven't picked up on that), Matt finally had the Questa Q in his sights! He stopped off at the market for some beer, of course, and then slogged up one more big hill to Jack's house. Irish Stew was on the menu tonight, but with a green chile New Mexican twist. He'll enjoy some Gleeson hospitality this evening until tomorrow afternoon when he'll hit the road again.
UPDATE FROM MATT
Day 9 – 70 miles, 4:47, 14.2 AVG
A great morning at the mountain meadow campsite. I rolled down hill for a while until the road hit a very large level valley that I had to climb out of. More up than I was expecting. I ran into Neil, a touring cyclist from Tucson, who was resting on the climb with a beer he had just found on the side of the road! Neil was “reinventing” himself after a divorce and was heading to Taos to see what he could stir up.
Neil and his free beer
After the peak it was a long slow downhill all the way to the Rio Grande and the beautiful bridge that spans the deep gorge there. It was a great place for lunch and I had the best view around. Not surprisingly, Neil caught up to me, so we had some lunch together. We watched as a huge cell of storm clouds moved in from the south. I decided to take off and try to get in front of it, while Neil told me he usually pitches his tent and jumps inside at the first sign of rain. I was hoping it would push me right into Questa. Not long after I left I knew this wasn’t going to happen as I pedaled real hard into the fierce headwind it was generating. I tried riding on the narrow sidewalk going across the bridge to take a photo over the edge, but the wind nearly blew me into traffic. It was still scary just standing up against the railing! The storm was looking pretty mean and had started to produce lightning, so I waited it out inside a warehouse along the highway.
My bike likes to pose, Rio Grande Gorge
The Gleeson family, Questa, NM
It was a great time meeting Jack’s family, shooting hoops with the Sangre de Cristos as a backdrop and eating a fine Irish/New Mexican stew prepared by Jack.
Spotted Owl - House Finch
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains and a whole bunch of sage brush
Avery is ready for a career in sports!
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Monday, July 21, 2008
Today's ride was less than 60 miles, but included 4,000 feet of climbing to reach the Hopewell Lake Campground, just past a 10,000 foot pass in the mountains. The first leg climbing up 2,000 feet into Tierra Amarilla, or T.A. as the locals call it, was into a headwind. T.A. wasn't much of a town, but it had a gas station with a mini-mart and a pay phone, and therefore had everything Matt really needed before he headed up towards the pass. He also got to talk to a local cyclist, who assured him he'd have no problem with the ride.
Yet again rain was threatening, but it only sprinkled. Matt reached the top of the pass before he thought he would. The campground was situated on a lovely meadow in the forest. Tomorrow he plans to head down, down, down and across the Rio Grande to Questa to see our friend Jack, his wife Heidi and their baby girl, Avery! The timing is great because Jack will be heading out of town on Wednesday.
UPDATE FROM MATT
Day 8 – 67 miles, 6:18, 10.6 AVG
My Ghost Camp
Well, it was hard to leave the Ghost Ranch. I met so many people and the vibe was very relaxing. If I wasn’t trying to meet Jack I think I would have stayed another night. But I pushed on and upwards. I didn’t think it was going to be so up to Tierra Amarilla, but turns out I climbed 1800 ft into a headwind. Definitely the whole area has a very mountain forest feel, even though it was only PJ (big PJ).
I roll into T.A. and find no market in town but do find only the biggest and scariest thunderhead I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It towered over the valley, bright white at its top, rain pouring out of the bottom. I would have tried to take a picture of it, but I knew it was pointless to try to capture that. Now I regret that I didn’t try. It did make it into this photo, though:
Tierra Amarilla politics with gigantic cloud in background
Anyway, I talk to a couple of the town drunks and also meet a cyclist who lives nearby. He gives me the lowdown on the huge pass I’m about to head over (and have already started to worry about). I feel better after getting some info on the climb and where a campground is that has water. Never can tell who you’ll meet at the local True Value Hardware/community center!
Why do I ride into this?
So I start off on this 28 mile, 2500 ft climb staring up at a dark wall of clouds hovering over the Tusas Mountains. I pretty much assume I’m in for some rain on this one as I jam up the lower slopes aided by a nice tailwind and the whole package of ham I had for lunch. I’m getting up there and the switchbacks start and the climb really kicks in. Also the rain is moving in on me from all directions, multiple cells cracking off lightning here and there.
Scary, but beautiful stuff
I’m really losing it toward the top, sweating like crazy but freezing, almost certain the downpour is about to begin. But I turn a corner and suddenly recognize that I’m near the top, and surprisingly, the other side of the mountain top is all clear of rain! Not being quite sure how this possible, I take advantage of the situation and decide to take in the view points, snap some pictures of the alpine meadows and get a good look at the Brazos Cliffs, 2000 ft vertical quartzite monoliths that tower over the valley below. Also, I take note of the scene of the infamous “Matt loses the car keys in the snow and Beto almost freezes to death waiting” incident of 2002.
Still not sure where exactly this campground is, I begin to worry as I’m still riding and go up and over some pretty big hills on this massive plateau on top of the Tusas. Finally I reach it and not long after the skies clear and the sun warms me and the meadows up here at 10,500 ft. It was a very trying day, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to feeling so vulnerable out there on the open roads.
The top of the Tusas
The view from my site, Hopewell Lake Campground
I’ve got a great site, and it’s a beautiful, calm and clear night in the forest. I’ll fly downhill tomorrow and meet Jack in Questa.
Blue Gray Gnatcatcher - White-crowned Sparrow - Canyon Towhee - Western Scrub Jay - Dark-eyed Junco
More Tierra Amarilla artwork
The high plateau of the Tusas Mountains
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This time he was able to outrun the storm as he headed downhill in a tailwind. He ended up at the Ghost Ranch visitor center, asking about another campground nearby. But it turned out that Ghost Ranch had its own camping facilities with showers and even dinner! Matt dined on prime rib that night and said the food was great.
The Ghost Ranch was still a dude ranch in 1934 when Georgia O'Keefe first stayed there. It is now associated with the Presbyterian Church and most guests are there to attend seminars of various sorts. Matt met a couple who was there for an archeology dig -- he was actually camped in their usual site, as they come back to the Ghost Ranch yearly. They took the site next to him and didn't mind "sharing" their usual spot with him. He also met a friend of Matt & Sarah's from Tucson!
UPDATE FROM MATT
Day 7 – 67 miles, 4:48, 13.9
Don’t know where to begin. Another classic tour day!
Had a great rest last night with Oceans 12 and Girl Interrupted on TV. Left Cuba without a hitch and started out on the beautiful Hwy 96. Slowly uphill but not hard through valleys of pasture surrounded by the archetypal northern New Mexican sandstone cliffs. Going up one big hill, what do I see, not one or two touristas coming my way, but a group of 13! Too bad for the hill, they didn’t want to stop and talk. Why would they? They each had 12 other people they could talk to whenever they wanted to!
Formation outside of Gallina
Another big cell came in, so I decided to move on when it turned into a monster. A loud thunder clap right near me filled me with the adrenaline I needed to make it up the hill to the turn off for Hwy 84. Again aided by tailwinds and the downhill, I quickly outran the storm.
This is where the day got very interesting. I was shooting for the Echo Amphitheater campground but wasn’t sure how far it was. So, stopped in at the Ghost Ranch visitor center where I was informed that the campground was closed due to trouble with the camphost. Great. But, they tell me, there’s a campground a mile back at the actual Ghost Ranch, which is now a large conference center. Sounded perfect to me; a chance to check out the historical site made famous by Georgia O’Keefe and get a shower!
No wonder Georgia O'Keefe loved this place, Ghost Ranch
The old dude ranch is now owned by the Presbyterian Church and many church retreats and conferences are held here (even though there is a very hippy-ish feel to the place, at least in the campground). Just so happens that a two week camp is about to begin, and I meet Brandon from Tucson who is taking part as a teacher. Oh, also there is a prime rib feast tonight. Couldn’t pass that up!
So, I go down to eat with my new church friends and find that Brandon used to live right across from Matt! and Sarah, my co-workers who are now on a world tour! Small world. I take in some sightseeing on the ranch grounds, checking out the historical buildings and looking for some new birds.
I got back to my campsite and found that I have neighbors, and they like to hang out, in my site! Oh well, this is what a tour is about, in large part, so I oblige. Turns out they’ve been coming out here for years, just like the church people, only they’re here for an archaeology dig and seminar. What an interesting place and mix of people! So, Howard, who is a cyclist of sorts and once rode from San Diego to Palo Alto, is quite the character. He tells me I have taken their campsite, the one they use every year. Anyway, his son worked at Hughes Aircraft in El Segundo, and we figure he and my dad probably know each other. We both vow to find out. Some more talk of Burning Man and bike commuting and there you have it. A classic day.
Neighbors for a night, Howard and Mazzie Schwitkis
Bush Tit - Yellow-rumped Warbler - European Starling - Lark Sparrow - Chipping Sparrow - American Coot - Mallard
The original dude ranch structure, the Ghost House
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Saturday, July 19, 2008
Unfortunately, most of the land was fairly rocky and dog poo, presumably from the 2 dogs roaming around, was quite prevalent. When it started to rain, he decided to set up in front of the laundromat near the road, so that he could stow his bike under a roof. He thought he'd be alone there for the night, but was glad when the older couple who owned the laundromat locked the gate after the business closed and went into their nearby house. Due to its dilapidated state, Matt had thought it was abandoned and he was surprised than anyone lived there.
By 2:00 p.m. the next day he had reached the town of Cuba and was checked in to the Del Prado Motel. Once again he was enjoying the wonders of cable TV (and always searching for Versus, which never seemed to be there), but was looking forward to a meal soon at El Bruno's!
Tomorrow he'll head back into the mountains near Abiquiu. Stay tuned!
UPDATE FROM MATT
Day 6 – 52 miles, 4:14, 12.1 AVG
This was a pretty short day but was very painful on certain body parts for some reason.
Turned out to be a good night at the laundromat. Dinner was rushed as a massive rain cell moved in and threatened. So, I moved my operation under the roof in front of the building and had one young woman ask, “Are you going to sleep there?” I talked with the owners when they got home to shut the gates, and they were super nice. I didn’t realize they actually lived on site in a dilapidated trailer, so I felt a little safer to pitch my tent in sight of the highway. When I left in the morning the place was packed with kids and parents doing laundry and taking showers. I realized this was a great community asset (and meeting place) since many of the people have no running water.
Black-throated Sparrow - Yellow-breasted Chat
Chaco Wash camp
The ride started off into a headwind and slowly going up over some large rollers. Made it to Torreon and found more Mariettas Fig Newtons (my new fave snack) and an egg/sausage biscuit sandwich that saved me. This was also where the highway turned from SE to NE, giving me a sort of tailwind. The ride wasn’t very hard, but this is where the pains set in for some reason.
I made it to Cuba and got some info from the ranger station. Found the El Prado motel and had a New Mexican feast at El Brunos, a longtime local landmark. Also found that the ranger I talked with worked there. No wonder she plugged the restaurant! The green chile burrito was spicy and I’m stuffed. Time for a nap.
Today's map here.
Matt nixed the idea of heading along I-40 (note that he would've been riding on a frontage road, not on the actual interstate as I said in the last entry) and decided to head up into the unknown lands near Chaco Canyon.
Always stylish, Matt even sports bling on his bike.
It was a 91 mile day, most of it over brutal rollers that seemed to climb very high, but never descend enough to get a downhill. And he was riding through uranium mining territory, so instead of the mostly traffic-free roads he had been enjoying since his tour began, he was passed by a semi every few minutes.
Luckily a ranger at El Malpais had told him about the oasis town of Pueblo Pintado, because it was not even on Matt's AAA map. Several of the towns that were named on his map never appeared in real life, so checking with a local for information really paid off. The area around Pueblo Pintado is populated mostly by Native Americans, and Matt said that everyone was very friendly to him when he inquired at a small market.
There was a chapter house with a shower nearby, but it had closed for the day. Matt was told that he was welcome to camp anywhere in the area, but the call of a shower was strong. Fortunately, there were more showers at a laundromat 5 miles further up the road, so he was most likely going to head there.
His bird count for the day was low, but he was very happy to pick up a rock dove in town.
UPDATE FROM MATT
Day 5 – 92 miles, 6:28, 14.3 AVG
Finally an epic day!
So, I wasn’t alone last night after all. An RV came in and generated for a long while, and then two separate campers came in and camped right next to me even though the rest of the campground was completely empty! Oh well, I don’t mind the company right now.
Malpais camp in pinyon/juniper
Back at the visitors center, another ranger gave me the lowdown on Pueblo Pintado, the only “town” that had any services on my route today (but wasn’t even on my map!).
Hit Grants, the largest city I’ve gone through so far, and it turns out the big “Fire and Ice” motorcycle rally is going on this weekend. Too bad I’m the wrong kind of biker. A band was warming up with some Judas Priest, and the burgers were smelling good.
I would never give my bike away! Grants biker rally
I got out of there real fast, as the “big” city was wearing on me. Heading out into the middle of nowhere I noticed the clouds were building early, and sure enough, the rain came and chased me along for most of the day. Also, noticed an awful lot of semi trucks passing me in both directions, and then remembered the ranger had told me that this was a major uranium mining region. There were a lot of trucks, and it was getting very annoying.
Middle of nowhere, HWY 605
After about 35 miles, I finally passed the last mining area and suddenly the road was all mine! I was traversing some awesome terrain that was very challenging to ride. Very long rolling hills were wearing me down as the trend seemed to be mostly up hill. But the beautiful mesas, cliffs and red rock were the perfect eye candy to keep my mind off the work at hand.
Lunch spot on HWY 509
Canyon outside of Pueblo Pintado
Toward P. Pintado I dropped lower into very desolate and dry rangeland, and I really felt like I was lost in the desert. One very steep but short climb dropped me into a more lush canyon surrounded on all sides by amazing red rock cliffs. This canyon led right to P.P. and the very nice people at the market/gas station. I’m not on any reservation here, but the majority of the people are Native American. Many Divide mountain bikers pass through here too, and the people at the market were well versed in laying out the nearby camping options. I find out that there are showers at a laundromat, the Chaco Wash, about five miles up the road, and I can camp there too. With a tailwind, I couldn’t refuse this offer!
So, now I’m camped behind a laundromat in the middle of nowhere with the Disney Channel on inside and a pack of dogs outside. I’ve got an awesome view of rain squalls moving in at sunset.
Rock Pigeon - Killdeer - White-winged Dove
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Thursday, July 17, 2008
Mmm, what's for dinner tonight?
The motel stay last night was fine, but he felt like it was a little early in the tour to stay in a motel room. He would rather be outdoors!
He had the choice tonight to camp right near the visitor center at El Malpais, right in between the parking lot and a building (the rangers took pity on him), or at a campground 2 miles back up the hill he just came down. He needed to come to the visitor center to get water anyway. He insists that the key item he needs at camp is a picnic table, so that he has someplace to sit down. There is a picnic table at the visitor center, but it's not right next to the area where he could camp. It sounded like he was probably going to be heading back up that hill.
Matt had not made a final decision on tomorrow's route yet. He'll be calling from a town he'll pass through to let me know where he'll go. The choices include his original planned route north through some very tiny towns, or a trip down I-40! Riding a bike on the interstate is legal and he's done it before in Arizona, making very good time in fact. We'll have to wait and see which way he decides to go.
UPDATE FROM MATT
Day 4 – 75 miles, 5:17, 14 AVG
Had a restful night in Quemado motel. Loaded up on water and headed north. Ride today was awesome. Great scenery through PJ and open plains and lots of rangelands. Very green.
No towns out here!
No towns today, but lots of downhill! And even some tailwinds. Flew into the Malpais and tried to sightsee a bit, but most sites were too far off the road (except La Ventana). Saw the prairie dogs though! The volcanic activity is pretty old here, and I didn’t get to see much anyway since the road skirts around the lava flows.
La Ventana Arch, Malpais
Had to pass the campground for the visitor center to get more water. The rangers there must have had a good laugh at my expense. I was so indecisive about where to camp (the Great Divide mountain bike trail passes nearby, and some riders have chosen to camp at the visitor center), but I eventually back tracked the two miles to this lonely BLM campsite. Alone again! But I’ve found some shade and a pair of Juniper Titmice to keep me company. And I’ve got pot sherds in the site! I’m sandwiched here between the Acoma and Zuni pueblos. The terrain is now starting to look like the typical northern New Mexico mesa and sandstone bluff.
Juniper Titmouse - Says Phoebe - Rock Wren - Loggerhead Shrike - Northern Mockingbird
Let the sandstone begin! Malpais
Today's route map:
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