All work and no play is no fun at all, so we decided it was high time we took a break from the daily grind which was beginning to feel like it was grinding us up into lifeless pulp. We needed time to unplug and refresh our outlooks with some sunshine and fresh air.
We considered camping and hiking in the desert canyon BLM lands southwest of Moab, Utah, but since we’ve been there and done that many times, Clay and I agreed on riding our bikes through a portion of southwest New Mexico where we’d never been before. We invested in a couple of New Mexico maps and planned a 507-mile circular route beginning in Truth or Consequences (known also as T or C). The name of our starting point should have been a clue of things to come.
Day 1 – T or C to Hillsboro via Hwy. 152. Not 15 miles out of the gate, I had mechanical issues. My chain got sucked up into the front derailleur twice. I was really disappointed as I had my bike tuned up at my preferred Fort Collins bike shop before leaving. I may rethink my preference.
Hwy. 152 happens to be part of the route cyclists ride when traveling cross country from California to Florida and we met our first through riders on this leg. We shared a bottle of wine at Hillsboro’s Black Range Vineyards with a 60-something couple from Switzerland who were traversing the U.S. from Florida to California. Really impressive! I will note that by the time we arrived in Hillsboro, the winery was the only establishment “sort of” open where we could get some food; we ate all they had. We enjoyed cheese, crackers (they even had a gluten-free rice variety), some amazing homemade chutney, and chips and salsa. We also enjoyed the company of Brian O’Dell, the owner, and his newly rescued dog, Cali. After our feast we walked around town up to the old court house and jail site. While doing so, we met a young man from North Carolina making a solo west-to-east bike trek. He rode a Surly bike like Clay and towed a really cool trailer complete with a full-sized tire pump and Crazy Creek folding chair. He was going to camp in the town’s park that night with only peanut butter and bread for dinner. Since Clay and I provisioned in T or C, we gave him some of our food so he could enjoy a tastier meal (which you’ll soon read didn’t serve us well, but we’re so accustomed to feeding hungry kids that it seemed the natural thing to do). That night we stayed in Hillsboro’s only motel which was right next door to the winery. It was decorated in a 50s-something sort of way (the TV had a rabbit ears antenna), but was clean which made it great in our book. Note: Hillsboro’s community park is open to public tent camping and the locals are used to bicyclists staying there, but we didn’t learn this till after paying for our motel room.
Day 2 – Hillsboro to San Lorenzo (still on Hwy. 152). We fueled up with breakfast at the Hillsboro General Store Cafe. It’s a very clean establishment with tasty fare. The first town we came to outside of Hillsboro was Kingston…if you can call it a town. Regardless, it was the beginning of our nine-mile ascent of Emory Pass. Between Hillsboro and the summit, we gained about 3,000 feet of elevation, from 5,250 to 8,230 feet. The ride reminded me very much of grinding up our local Rist Canyon (Colorado). Even though I downed two granola bars and a bag of peanut M&M’s up the hill plus plenty of water, I arrived at the summit depleted and feeling queasy as I do after strenuous activities like running marathons. Clay arrived a few minutes later and said his legs were “spent.” We both thought the downhill would offer a break, but were sorely disappointed when we encountered 30-35 mph head winds on the back side of the pass. I also encountered more derailleur troubles and had to manually shift gears on my front chain ring. Clay and I tried making a few adjustments, but failed to get it right.
So, remember the young man we fed? We thought of him here because we would have found a camp site on the west side of the pass if we hadn’t given him our food suitable for a dinnertime meal. Rather, we pushed on through the gales to San Lorenzo.
By the time we arrived in San Lorenzo, we both felt wind battered and I was really disgusted with my bike’s performance. Thankfully, we found a restaurant/gas station/general store combo run by a friendly German couple. Their restaurant had fresh food and booth seats which made for a perfect respite from the wind. We considered pitching our tent in the town’s Methodist church yard that night rather than riding to Silver City (our planned destination). After all, the church’s sign read, “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.” What would they do? Kick us out? But we accepted a ride for the remaining 24 miles to Silver City from the nice couple sitting in the booth behind us who were going that way. They dropped us off at a Rodeway Inn, which was NOT up to my standards, but seemed our only option without riding further west into the relentless wind.
Day 3 – Silver City to Buckhorn. First thing in the morning, we pedaled into town to find what seemed like THE bike shop where I could have Thelma (my bike) looked at–Gila Hike & Bike. Bill, the mechanic, expertly adjusted her derailleur, which made a big improvement. It still wasn’t perfect, but much better. Then it was off to breakfast at Nancy’s Silver Cafe (so-so) and re-provisioning at the Silver City Food Co-op, conveniently located right next door. We exited Silver City via the appropriately locally named “Snake Hill.” It was a good warm up for the day’s 40-mile, headwind-riddled ride. This day’s miles were scenic and uneventful except for the one inconsiderate driver who buzzed us both with a diesel fog and barking dog in his truck bed. It amazes me that anyone would think giving cyclists only one to two feet of space at 60 mph is a good idea. If either of us needed to make one little swerve to avoid a rock, crack or glass in the road while he was passing by, we could have been killed.
We crossed the Continental Divide at 6,230 feet and proceeded on to camp in the RV park behind Buckhorn’s post office for only $10/person. We had the tent-site area to ourselves, including the site’s bathroom, shower and laundry house. There is a general store about 1/2 mile to the west of the post office. We made our way there for a bottle of merlot. The store also sells pizza and subs, but we preferred to make our Annies’ gluten-free white cheddar mac and cheese with fresh spinach and salsa added for fiber and a kick. We were thanking our sons, Kyle, for letting us borrow his MSR propane stove (vs. our white gas MSR) and Blake, for giving us a kick-butt titanium cook set, perfect for just two of us.
Day 4 – Buckhorn to about eight miles west of Alma. It was another head windy day. We ate lunch at the Glenwood Trading Post. The owner, Wendy, insisted we use her microwave to make quesadillas and gave us some locally made lip balm and 30 spf salve to soothe our wind-burned parts. A Bible and Tibetan prayer flags adorned the store’s cash register area which made it a very spiritual feeling stopover. We pedaled on into BLM desert land just above Alma and the San Francisco River. We felt right at home making camp in there. Clay added some comic relief by packing his “Sam’s good-deal, 24-to-a-box” Greek yogurt covered General Mills granola bars everywhere, including the tent bag and his spares shoes. While lying prostrate in the tent, he also told me “there are easier ways to kill me” and “I just know tomorrow will be a Gold Bond day.” I laughed so hard I cried.
Day 5 – We traveled from our high-desert campsite just above the San Francisco River through Reserve to the Apache Creek Campground. Feeling the need to ration water, we decided not to use any for morning coffee, so breakfast was a Kind bar washed down with cold water. We went over Saliz Pass first thing in the morning and predictably worked up a good appetite. I was happy to see a sign advertising “cafe, bakery, espresso…6 miles” but then was totally frustrated when Thelma’s rear tire went flat not two miles later slowly my progress to the promised noshery. We stopped and pumped up the tire hoping that would allow me to make it the remaining four miles; I made it about 400 feet. We stopped again and patched the tube, but couldn’t get the tire to seat correctly on the wheel. This is what happens when tires aren’t well matched with wheels. So I thump-bumped to the “cafe” to find it closed for the season. Not even the garden spigot worked. Between feeling “hangry” and like I was riding an old jalopy, I almost cried, knowing I had to ride to the next town of Reserve, the county seat of Canton County, population about 400 give or take a few. Thankfully, Reserve had not one, but two restaurants from which to choose for our mid-day feast. We ate at Ella’s and I was grateful to find many gluten-free options. Who knew? After stuffing ourselves to the gills, we moseyed down the main street to Jesse’s Tire Shop in search of an air compressor so we could properly inflate Thelma’s rear tube. It took Chris, who works with Jesse, Clay and I about 30 minutes to get the tire seated mostly right. So off Clay and I went back down the street to the little grocery store to stock up on water and food. Clay was able to make space for some of the groceries we purchased by giving away those nasty granola bars he’d been carrying to some unsuspecting passerby. Poor sucker. So he was rid of the disgusting bars, but we had another issue. My tire was flat again. So it was back to Jesse’s to completely change the tube and then re-seat the tire. It took at least another 30 minutes to get it right so I wouldn’t be riding on a lopsided tire. We finally made our way out of town waving to all the friends we made who were probably beginning to think we’d take up residence there. Our slow progress brought to mind the sentiment printed on a card given to me by my friend Ruth Lytle-Barnaby; it reads “Slow the pace. Enjoy the journey.” This became my mantra to ward off impatience.
In another 12 miles along Hwy. 12, we arrived at Apache Creek Campground in the Gila National Forest. It didn’t offer water so we were glad we’d stocked up. This campsite was the coldest we encountered. We were down in a frost pocket and learned that when the temps drop to below freezing, our Big Agnus zero-degree bags which zip together work best as solo mummy bags. If you camp here, choose a site as far to the west as possible to take advantage of the morning sun.
Day 6 – Apache Creek to Datil. This was a 54-mile day with a very welcome tail wind and a lot of downhill. We crossed the Continental Divide again about midway. Once in Datil, we found that the Eagle Ranch Resort had it all–a store, restaurant, bar, motel and RV park. We decided to get a room for the night and were really pleased to find it was meticulously clean with tiled floors and simple, but adequate furnishings. Dinner that night included a T-bone steak for Clay, cheese enchiladas for me and fresh margs. We enjoyed it so much we decided to lay over another day in this little hamlet.
Day 7 – Rest day in Datil allowed Clay to sleep a bit and rest his sore bum. I did a load of laundry in the motel’s laundry room, thanks to the hospitality of Ellen its housekeeper. She saved me from doing laundry in the bathroom sink and hanging it outdoors on a line I would have strung up between two trees. I was very appreciative. We took advantage of the restaurant, Wi-Fi and warm showers.
Day 8 – Sunday in Datil means the restaurant is closed and the store doesn’t open till 9am. Since we had 60+miles to travel to Socorro, we wanted to get an early start. Rather then unpack our MSR stove and heat up water for our Starbucks instant coffee (the motel room didn’t have a coffee maker), we used hot tap water and the cellophane-wrapped plastic cups that the room did contain. At that point we knew it was going to be an interesting day. Our hunch proved right as Hwy. 60 is one of the straightest ribbon of road we’ve ever seen and this particular morning there was a layer of haze with the sun rising up through it that gave the horizon a mystical look. Riding east, we came upon the VLA (Very Large Array), or “…the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories, consist[ing] of 27 radio antennas in a Y-shaped configuration on the Plains of San Agustin 50 miles west of Socorro,” according to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. The super-sized satellite dishes made the area look like a set out of a sci-fi movie. It was a little eerie.
A consistent cross wind kept our pace rather slow despite that it was supposed to be “all down hill” to Socorro. I’ve decided that people who only travel by motor vehicle have a whole different perspective of what a hill is.
By lunch we made it to Magdalena which, according to the rack card we picked up at a visitor’s center, had “it all!” I think the card was printed prior to the drought and hard times which basically made Magdalena not too unlike the rest of the nearly ghost towns we encountered all along our journey. Thankfully, one restaurant was open, the Bear Mountain Coffee House and Gallery. We enjoyed a good meal and friendly chat with its owner before continuing down the road.
About five miles outside of Socorro we found the hill everyone must have been telling us about! They also told us we’d encounter a speed trap there. As we sailed down into town we did pass a couple of police cars, but the officers clearly weren’t handing out speeding tickets (not that we’d get one). Rather they had a guy in a straight jacket! This should have been our first clue. The further we rode into town, the more we felt like we were in the heart of the realities of city life we went on vacation to escape.
We weighed our options: stay at a motel that looked like it might rent rooms by the hour or pay to “camp” in the back lot of another less-than-safe-looking establishment. Either way we’d be in for another two days and 80 or so miles of riding on a road that parallels I-25 and we weren’t sure whether we’d be able to find legal camping along the way. To Socorro’s defense, a left turn in the wrong direction would have yielded more choices for lodging and eateries. Considering the possibilities of 80 plus miles along frontage roads with no services, we decided that we should hitch a ride back to T or C.
We rode into one gas station and surveyed the patrons with large trucks that could accommodate our bikes and looked like they might be heading south. There were only a couple possibilities and when Clay said, “both those guys look like they could kill and eat us both” we moved on to the next gas station where we observed an older couple pull in driving a new Toyota Tundra hauling an empty low-sided, flat-bed trailer. Clay poured on his most charming smile when he asked them if they happened to be going toward T or C. They were going exactly there. Perfect! Now to convince them we were harmless. They reluctantly agreed to let us ride in the bed of the truck and put our bikes on the trailer. We were saved.
By the time we checked into the Pelican Spa motel in T or C and enjoyed a soothing hot springs bath in one of their private tubs fed by mineral water, we knew we’d made the right decision to skip the last 80 miles. Our room, complete with a kitchenette and living room, reminded us of the places where we stayed while in Santorini, Greece, a few years back. It had the same cozy, earthy feel to it, but was decorated in a much more eclectic style. At $50/night, which included all the mineral baths we could soak up, we ended up staying two nights. One of those nights, we ate at Cafe BellaLuca which specializes in Italian and seafood entrees. The second night we shopped at Bullock’s grocery store for dinner and dined in our room on a lavish spread of veggies, cheese, hummus, grapes, wine and beer.
Day 9 – Our adventures continued. We drove south to Las Cruces to have lunch at Andele’s Dog House with Stewart Brenegar, one of our oldest sons’ former college roommates. The food and company were both great. From there we drove east past the Organ Moutains to the White Sands National Monument, because Stewie thought we’d like it; he was right. What an amazing landscape of miles of land-locked beach. It felt great to walk barefoot in the warm sand. What felt weird was knowing we were in the valley where the U.S. Government detonated the first atomic bomb in 1945. Both were a bit surreal.
Day 10 – We traveled north to Santa Fe and stumbled upon a historic bed and breakfast. Pueblo Bonito, built in the classic Santa Fe adobe style, had been the home of a circuit judge at the turn of the century. We walked about three or four blocks to the Old Town Plaza and window shopped. We found ate dinner at The Shed, a Santa Fe favorite and a second dinner at the Pink Adobe (we actually were looking for dessert, but the entrees looked so good, we shared one rather than some sweets.)
Day 11 - We meandered our way back north to Colorado reflecting on our trip and day dreaming about our future exploits on Sundown and the bike tours that she will bring us to in other lands.