New Mexico - Colorado - New Mexico

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6/15/2007  Welcome to New Mexico & The Road to Nowhere

We packed up our gear and headed up to ‘The Merc’ to take advantage of their free WIFI and coffee.  The place is an interesting combination of general store, lunch café and museum.  The museum portion of the store consists of multiple fossils of extinct animals and dinosaurs, various geological pieces as well as more recent knick-knacks from early 1900’s.  We hung around for a while and split a burger from the café.  While we were there, Donn and Jody (the retired travelers we had met at Black Mesa) dropped by for a coffee and invited us to stay with them at their home in New Mexico during our travels.  We are looking forward to taking them up on the invitation in the near future. 

We finally crossed the border into New Mexico!  It felt like an accomplishment to get across the 700 plus miles of Oklahoma.  Darren was eager to get back on the dirt, so he used the GPS to navigate us along a dirt road that would lead back to the trail. 

At first the dirt road looked legitimate, but after a few miles, there were ranch gates that had to be opened to proceed.  There weren’t any ‘No Trespassing’ signs and the GPS referred to it as a public road, so we continued through the gates.  As we continued, the road condition fluctuated between rocky uphill climbs, worn tire paths through grassy fields and areas were the road was barely visible beneath the encroaching grass and cacti.  I was not feeling very confident about where we were headed and the rocky inclines are still very challenging for my skill level.  We also did not have enough water with us to battle the rising heat of the early afternoon.  We were nearly 15 miles into the road when I stalled my bike and it would not restart.  We push-started the bike and continued on.   Soon afterwards as I was heading up a rocky incline, I dropped the bike on the left side while in first gear going about 15 mph.  It was a hard drop on my left elbow and hand.  My left foot was stuck underneath the bike, so I had to wait a moment for Darren to lift it up enough for me to slide my foot out (no injury).  Other than some nasty swelling and bruising (both to my elbow and my ego), both the motorcycle and I were okay.  We dragged it around to face downhill and lifted it up.  Once again we push-started the bike to get it started.  Darren checked the GPS and figured we had 12 more miles on this road.  Unsure of what lay ahead and realizing that we were not fully prepared for the challenge, we decided to head back the way we had come.  We were both extremely hot, dehydrated and feeling quite tired.  Darren was sweating so much that his glasses became fogged and he failed to see a muddy hole in part of the trail.  I was riding in front of him and did not know he had dropped his bike.  He foolishly lifted the bike by himself, further taxing his strength.  We slowly and carefully made our way back to the paved road we had diverted from 3 hours earlier.  We were both feeling pretty crummy. 

We rode along state highway 456 for a while, which for 17 miles turned to a well-maintained gravel road between ranchland.  The scenery was impressive, but we were too tired, hot and demoralized to really enjoy it.  When we finally came to the intersection with the TAT, it was nearing 6:00pm, so we decided to head for the nearest camping area rather than try to continue on the trail.  We rode to the small town of Capulin and stayed at a privately owned RV park that had a grassy area for tent campers.  The family that owned the campground was extremely friendly, allowing Darren and I to relax for a while on their front porch before setting up our tent.  Their five or so children were extremely well mannered and offered to help us without being pests.  We both enjoyed showers in the cleanest bathhouse before going to bed early beside a busy highway that did not bother our exhausted sleep.

 6/16/2007  A Volcano, Trinidad & A New Friend

 We woke up feeling much more refreshed and took the 3-mile ride to the Capulin Volcano National Monument.  This extinct volcano erupted about 60,000 years ago.  This particular cinder cone represents the last stage of a great period of volcanic activity that began 9 million years earlier, which was the creator of the Black Mesa and many other smaller mesas throughout the area.  The mesas were actually lava flows of the volcanoes in the area.  When the lava solidified, the lava-rock was far stronger and protects the underlying sediments, which would have eroded away through the years, leaving these plateau-looking black covered mesas.  We rode up our motorcycles up the mountain and took both the hike around the crater rim, reaching over 8,100 ft., and the walk to the crater vent inside the volcano.  This is one of the few places in the world where you can walk inside a volcano. 

Darren’s motorcycle needed new rear brake pads and he had contacted the Valcom Motorsports Kawasaki dealer in Trinidad, Colorado a few days earlier to ensure that they would have them available.  So we headed along I-25 into Colorado to collect the parts before lunch.  We followed a recommendation for good Mexican food to Mission on the Bell, a small restaurant located in the basement of a small office building found in the center of the main street.  The food was quite spicy and very good.  It was good to have a meal in a restaurant again!  Trinidad is a strange city.  It has a picturesque main street with some very long-standing pubs that could be very quaint, but unfortunately it seemed to be occupied by dirty, drunken, mentally ill people.  It seemed that every block consisted of at least 2 or 3 of these people.  Another traveler had previously informed us that Trinidad is the gender-transformation capital of the United States, so you can imagine that would attract a number of unique people to the area. 

We wanted to use the Internet, so we headed over to a McDonalds.  Darren walked outside to check for something on the bike and noticed a fully loaded KLR across the street at the Visitor’s Center.  He went to investigate and found Mark, a Canadian that was traveling for 3 weeks.  We decided to camp together and have a hearty cookout together.  We rode over to the Trinidad Lake State Park and found that they were completely full.  It was quickly heading into the late afternoon and the attendant wasn’t able to give us very many alternatives.  Saturday night camping near any city is always a pain in the rear.  Luckily there was a gentleman in the State Park office that happened to be the owner of an RV park about 15 miles south, just across the border back into New Mexico.  He called to confirm that they had space for us and gave us directions. 

We picked up a feast of steaks, potatoes, corn, broccoli, onion, beer and wine and headed to the camp.  The place was really an RV park.  The area they referred to as a ‘tent meadow’ was actually a small mud-rutted area under a ridge behind the RV park and campfires were not allowed.  However, the owners did have a large covered patio with a few grills that we were able to use.  So after setting up the tents, we headed to the patio to enjoy our food and drinks. 

 6/17/2007 Colorado State Parks

 After a night of drinking, none of us were feeling eager to make an early start.  We all showered and packed up very slowly.  We grilled some sausages for lunch and sat around discussing a plan for the next day.  Darren and Paul both wanted to get on some more challenging dirt, while I was grateful to remain behind for a day or so while the boys played rough.  So while they discussed possibilities regarding which areas to ride, I used the phone to call home for Father’s Day. 

Late in the afternoon we finally left the camp and headed north back into Colorado.  We headed to Lathrop State Park near the town of Walsenburg.  We were surprised and disappointed in the cost of the State Parks in Colorado.  We expected Colorado to be a great place for these parks, but they are actually very expensive to enter – charging $5 per motorcycle per day to enter the park in addition to the camping charge, which varies per park.  With 3 motorcycles in our group, it cost $15 just to enter the park and another $18 for the campsite.  At this rate, we could have almost paid for a hotel.  We also discovered that we would need a $10 habitat stamp per person to backcountry camp in Colorado.  It seems nothing is truly free here…

We accepted the cost and set up our tents before riding into town in search of a pizza place.  Surprisingly, the town of Walsenburg lacked a pizza shop, but we did find a Mexican restaurant where we had a relaxed meal.  We returned to the camp with a few beers and sat around chatting for a while before heading to bed. 

6/18/2007 Camping Alone

Darren and Mark decided to do a boys’ ride further along the TAT.  I didn’t mind, especially considering how much travelogue writing I needed to get done.  I knew it would be a good opportunity for Darren to run at higher speeds and we could both use a bit of personal space.  So we decided to swap tents for the night so the guys could backcountry camp in the 3-man tent and I would stay by myself in Mark’s smaller tent in the State Park.  They headed off in the morning and I put up a tarp over my tent site for some shade.  I spent all day writing and rearranging the tarp against the strong winds and moving sun.  I finally finished about 4 pm and decided to ride into town for an early dinner.  I still had a craving for pizza and nothing else that I passed by looked appealing.  I ended up at Pizza Hut where I fulfilled my craving with a personal size pizza that was still way too much food!  I followed a local’s directions to a privately owned movie rental shop where I rented a movie to watch later in the evening before picking up a liter of Coke and heading back to camp.  When I pulled up I saw 2 other motorcyclist were setting up camp right across the lawn from me!  I pulled off the helmet and went over to say hello!  They were probably in their 50’s, from Texas and on BMWs.  They were clearly not interested in holding conversation and I took the not-so-subtle hint.  They were actually quite rude.  I took a little walk around the campground and was invited to sit with a group of related senior citizens who had a good fire going in front of their RV.  They roasted marshmallows and insisted I partake in the treat.  As it began to get dark, I excused myself and set up my movie.  The movie I watched was called ‘The Secret Life of Words’ staring Tim Robbins and it was a good pick – an emotional mystery of a movie.  I would recommend it and was actually a little disappointed that Darren missed out on it.  It is an awkward thing to camp alone in a state park where everyone else is accompanied.  Everyone looks at you like you are some kind of threat, even as a woman.  It is very isolating, a little unnerving and not what I had expected.  I didn’t really mind staying alone there, but I could never imagine traveling alone all the time. 

 6/19/2007

I took a shower in the morning and found a tree for shade to read my book under for a while.  The heat was quite stifling and I was doing all I could to avoid it.  I finally decided it was time to find some shelter from the sun, so I rode in town to the Internet café.  It was a very cute place owned by an older gentleman, while his wife ran the ‘Yarn Shop’ next door – selling various yarns and custom crochet creations.  They sold various art in the café, as well as coffee, espresso and light food.  I spent a few hours updated the website and answering emails before Darren arrived.  He was exhausted from a night of playing too hard with the boys.  He was excited to tell me about his experience of seeing a black bear cross the road in front of him.  He stopped the bike as it scurried up an embankment.  Then the bear stopped and turned back to look at him for a few seconds.  As Mark pulled up quickly beside him on the trail, the bear ran away.  I must say I am a bit jealous!  I would love to see a bear in the wild (from a safe distance, of course!).  He reported that they didn’t really get far enough down the TAT to reach the higher mountain passes, although they did get over 10,000ft in altitude, and the riding never got terribly technical.  We spent a few more hours in the café and then walked across the road to the supermarket where we picked up some ingredients for fried rice for dinner.  We enjoyed the mellow meal and chatted a bit before heading to sleep. 

6/20/2007  Returning south and fishing for the trans-gendered

We decided it was time for us to split ways from Mark.  He had other areas he wanted to see to the north and we didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to visit with the couple that had invited us to their home in New Mexico, Donn and Jody.  So we said our goodbyes and exchanged contact information.  We are really looking forward to seeing Mark again in the future! 

We headed along Hwy 12, a scenic drive along a 2-lane highway with various minor  (at least to us) tourist interests along the way. There were a few small towns with historical western heritage and some interesting geological rock formations, as well as a few lakes with gorgeous snow-capped mountains in the background.  We stopped to take a short break at North Lake.  Darren arrived first and as he was pulling off his helmet, a rather large woman was walking towards him with a fishing pole as if she needed assistance.  I parked my bike, removed my helmet and walked over to see if I could help (knowing Darren was not terribly familiar with fishing rods).  She remarked in a rather husky deep voice that her husband usually handles those things, but he wasn’t there right now.  As I approached Darren quickly backed off and said he knew nothing about fishing.  The knots that held her bobber (or float) in place had come loose and she wanted help replacing them.  It was a remarkably simple thing to need help with.  She offered to use her brown cigarillo to burn the fishing line if I needed it cut.  As I finished fixing it for her, I looked up clearly into her face for the first time.  It was very tanned and angular with a sharp jaw line and firm lips that held the dark brown cigarette.  Her hair was amazingly blond and huge – like Dolly Parton.  Her chest was almost equally as impressive as Dolly…There was something not quite right about her…

When I returned to the motorcycle where Darren was busily snapping photos, his eyes were huge.  He asked if I had fixed it and I said yes, I helped her.  He tells me that that was no woman – at least not originally.  I wasn’t certain, but considering the close vicinity of Trinidad and its reputation for the Trans-gendered, he was probably correct.  Highway 12 was definitely more interesting than the Interstate, but only marginally.  It led us back into Trinidad where we stopped into the Valcom Motorsports Kawasaki shop (13840 Hwy 350).  The staff was unbelievably helpful and actually allowed Darren to do his own oil changes on the bikes in some of their spare warehouse space.  They were great and we would certainly recommend them to anyone passing through the area.

We both agreed that we didn’t want to spend another expensive night in a Colorado State Park, so we headed back over the New Mexico border to Raton and nearby Sugarite State Park.  This was our first visit to a New Mexico State Park and considering it’s close vicinity to the city of Raton, I was very skeptical.  I am glad to report that I was wrong.  The area turned rural very quickly and the winding road snaked beside a calm river where people fished in the late afternoon.  We found a camp spot for only $8 and set up camp.  The camp host was an extremely nice older gentleman with a great sense of humor.  Darren went into the tent to arrange his bedding while I stayed up reading in my camp chair beside the picnic table.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw something move and when I looked in that direction I jumped with a short yelp at the white tail of a skunk moving under the table beside me.  My sudden noise and movement frightened the animal and it ran quickly back to the high grass of the nearby forest.  It was time for bed!

6/21/2007  Pronghorn and Ute Park

We headed west from Sugarite State Park to Raton where we stopped at McDonalds for lunch and use of their free WIFI access.  This was the busiest McDonalds!  There were a ton of tour buses stopping to have lunch there.  Unfortunately the WIFI had some kind of problem and we were unable to get access. So after we ate we moved down the street to the Best Western to use their computer.  After checking our emails, we headed across paved roads to the small community of Ute Park.  Along the way we passed multiple Pronghorn grazing.  Entirely unique, the Pronghorn is a deer-like creature and is the only animal in the world with branched horns (not antlers) and the only animal in the world to shed its horns, as if they were antlers.  The Pronghorn we saw had shed their horns and had small nubs branching up on their heads.  Another interesting fact - the Pronghorn is the fastest animal in the western hemisphere, running in 20-foot bounds at up to 60 miles per hour.

We arrived in the small community of Ute Park in the late afternoon.  Donn and Jody invited us into their home and treated us to a home-cooked meal of Enchiladas made Southern New Mexico style.  It was quite different from the Enchiladas I grew up with in Georgia.  A corn tortillas was laid flat on the plate with a filling of grilled onion, green peppers, red peppers, chicken and cheese spooned over it and another tortilla placed over the top.  It was very tasty and we appreciated the meal, conversation and comfy bed! 

6/22/2007 Cimarron Canyon, Eagle Nest Lake & Taos

Donn and Jody treated us to breakfast before we headed off to explore the area.  We sincerely enjoyed their company and look forward to keeping in touch with them as we continue our journey.

As we entered into the Cimarron Range, we began to see the appeal of this area.  Cimarron Canyon was a haven from the heat of the surrounding desert areas with steep rocky bluffs and tall pines covering the surrounding hillsides. We knew we needed to secure a good camp spot early because it was Friday and the weekend campers were quickly moving in.  We camped in one of the many campgrounds within Cimarron Canyon State Park, across from a small pond where families were fishing. 

After setting up camp, we rode down Highway 64 past the Palisades, impressive 400-foot high crenellated granite formations.  After taking a few photos, we continued down the road past Eagle Nest Lake, a lovely scenery of color from the blue water, green fields, greener pine forest and rocky mountains.  We stopped in the town of Eagle Nest to have lunch at a local pub advertising free WIFI access.  We had a hardy lunch before heading on to the town of Taos.  

We passed through the modern artistic town of Taos as we headed to Taos Pueblo, an adobe Pueblo community with about 150 full-time residences whose economic base is tourism sales and traditional crafts.  I wanted to learn a little more about Native American culture here by visiting the Pueblo.  However, when we arrived we realized there was a fee for us to enter the Pueblo – and a fee for our camera!  It would cost us $25 to enter with a camera.  Considering the nature of our budget travel, we chose not to enter the Pueblo, but look forward to exploring more affordable opportunities to experience Native American culture.  We headed back to the modern artsy tourist town of Taos and walked through the various craft shops.  We entered a camping store where we met another motorcyclist and invited him to the Horizons Unlimited meeting – hopefully we will see him down the road in Colorado. 

6/23/2007  Valle Vidal

We headed back along Highway 64 past the town of Cimarron to find a dirt road that Donn and Jody had recommended.  It led through Valle Vidal (Valley of Life), a lush mountain basin located in the heart of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  This 100,000-acre area was donated by the Pennzoil Co. to the People of the United States through the Forest Service in 1982.  The land is managed by the Carson National Forest.  The first several miles of the road were uncomfortably rutted – really rattling our bikes as we passed through the area.  The PVC pipe attached to the rear of my bike rattled loose and we had to stop to reattach it.  Otherwise the road was well traveled, level and ranged from one-lane to a wide two-lane.   We stopped at the first campground we approached and stopped for lunch.  The campground had small horse corals located near many of the campsites.  This is the first horse-friendly campground I had seen.  There were flies everywhere!  We ate quickly and uncomfortably before heading further along the path.  We were hoping to see elk in the area, as this is the home of the largest elk herd in New Mexico, but we were not that fortunate.  We camped in Cimarron Campground where the friendly camp host rode up on his ATV with a beautiful black Labrador riding on the front.  He told us about the bear he rode up on the previous day.  When he yelled out ‘bear!’, the dog jumped off the front of the ATV and the owner unintentionally drove the 4-wheeler over the dog.  The dog was a bit scrapped up, but otherwise okay and very friendly.  We took note and made sure to hang our food and toiletries from a tree across the road.  We gathered firewood and went for a walk along a trail to nearby Shuree Pond.


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