Day 12 revisited

It turns out that after a long day of riding blogging isn’t the first thing I want to do – imagine that!  Well, I’ll be staying here at the Hilton Garden Inn for the next 4 days so I’ll have plenty of time to catch up on the past few days.

Day 12 – Taos to Farmington – was a long day, a memorable day, and a day of contrasts.  I knew it would be long so I got a nice early start, a huge breakfast at the Taos Diner, then south out of town on the low road.  This drops down to the Rio Grande river and follows it out of the gorge.  It was very lush with all the spring run off and is home to lots of river expedition companies.  The two main recreation industries here are skiing and rafting, so they get the water coming and going.

A quick trip through Ohkay Owingeh and retracing yesterday’s route towards Ghost Ranch got me to Hwy 96, a nice road that wound its way through a small mountain range.  Where I turned onto 96 is the Abiquiu Reservoir, an unexpected sight in an otherwise dry land:

Abiquiu Reservoir, home to a large Scout camp and lots of boats, jet skis, and camping

As an aside, just before the reservoir I passed Dar al-Islam, an Islamic community that flourished in the 80’s and 90’s and is now mostly a center for Islamic studies.  New Mexico has attracted a lot of religious groups and communities over the years and I passed several Jewish and Hebraic, Buddhist, Taoist, and Christian centers/camps/communities/etc.  I also went by a very large Earthship community, which looked quite strange.  Toss in all the artists, hippies, and such and New Mexico is a state of all types, mixed together in interesting towns and surrounded by beautiful lands.  Their slogan is “Land of Enchantment” and it’s clear a lot have been enchanted over the years.

My only goal for the day was to visit Chaco Canyon, an ancient settlement from 850 – 1200 AD.  It’s rather remote and requires a long drive down a dirt road but is something I wanted to see.  After 15 miles of gawd-awful washboard, I was lucky to be able to see anything.  On a motorcycle washboard roads take on a whole new meaning and much of the time I was just holding on and letting the bike go where ever it wanted.  I’m told the county doesn’t want to improve the road because it would mean even more tourists and they want to control the numbers.  The road goes through Navajo reservation land and along the way were many homes, often a modern structure with a tradition hogan next door.

I make to the Chaco visitor center and who’s there but Mike and Jesse, the guys I met at the Rio Grande gorge.  We talk about the road and the possibility of taking a different road out but they weren’t sure the road went through.  I went in to pay and when I came out they were gone, so I headed into Chaco Canyon.  Click the link for a full description, but suffice it to say it’s an amazing place.  The design, detail, and engineering at Pueblo Bonito is incredible and the fact that so much is still standing after 1500 years is a testament to their skill.

There are remnants of building all over the landscape.

The surrouding cliffs had a good supply of flat sandstone for building, but they soon used them all up. Quarries have been found over 100 miles away that were used for some of the final building.

Might not survive an earthquake but a thousand years in New Mexico - yep!

Windows? Check.

How old is this log? 1,000 years? 1,500 years?? Like the stones, the Chacoans quickly used up all the surrounding timber and had to further and further to get more.

This shows the basic wall building technique - large, irregular rocks in the center with smaller, finer stone on the outside. All the walls were covered with adobe and painted, so it must have been a beautiful sight.

A small part of Pueblo Bonito

Another example of the engineering - the wall is thicker on the bottom to support the weight of multi-stories, showing it was designed initially to be this size. There were several sections that were 4 stories high.

The stones were all held together with mortar, and the abobe covering helped protect the mortar. The great thing about adobe is it's easy to apply and repair, making it a long lasting finish.

Recent studies show that very few people actually lived here, maybe 50-100 full time. The pueblo was probably used for ceremonial and religious purposes and there were sleeping quarters for up to 200 people. The whole area is built to align with lunar movements.

Imagine this with an adobe finish and painted. Not much different from today's houses.

That large pile of rubble is 'Threatening Rock', a huge stone pinnacle that stood right behind the pueblo. For some reason the Chacoans built right there and even built large stone supports for it and surrounded it with prayer sticks. It worked until 1941 when it came down and crushed a good chunk of the buildings.

It was a very hot day and I wanted to get to Farmington before the afternoon winds picked up, so I limited my time at Chaco.  It would take an entire day at least to explore all the ruins and the surrounding area, so I guess I’ll just have to come back again.

I asked the rangers about the other road out and if it was better, and they replied “It depends on your definition of better.”  No washboard to speak of but rougher.  My bike’s built for it so I decided to give it a go.

This road is better? Actually, yes. You can see some of the washboard, and that's cattle guard right up ahead, and then the horizon.

Where the other road in had been pulverized by countless rental cars and motor homes, this road is barely used so it was more ‘rustic’.  It was rocky, rough, rutted, the cattle guards were best taken at speed, and in many places I was riding on the bed rock. There were 17 miles of this and the only other vehicle I met was a school bus.  A brand new, shiny school bus.  I wonder how long it will stay that way?

By the end of the road my confidence and skills had gone up again and I was glad I went that way, but I wondered if Mike and Jesse did.  If so, their bikes would probably look and sound differently ’cause they weren’t set up for this kind of road.

At the stop sign I noticed the gas gauge was blinking Empty, so I headed south to Crown Point, one of the only towns in the area and a major town for the Navajo Reservation.  I’ve been reading the Tony Hillerman Navajo mystery books for a while and it was great being in places mentioned in the books.  I almost expected to see Lt. Leaphorn and Joe Chee.

What I didn’t see was a gas station.  I passed a shopping center, schools and a college, and housing, but no gas.  I finally stopped and asked a guy standing by the road and this is when I realized I was in another country.  He was 100% Navajo and barely spoke English, but between his few words and hand gestures he got the idea across that the gas stations were up this road then left into town.  Obviously I was bilagáana, not Diné.  (You figure out what that means!)

Gassed up, I headed pretty much due north.  This was good because the winds had picked up and with a tail wind I made good time.  I also went through the oil and natural gas fields, then the irrigation district with all the green farmlands.  Once again, a study in contrasts from the traditional hogans in remote areas to the high tech of oil wells and distribution, to the higher tech water distribution and farming methods.  One thing you won’t find in the entire Navajo reservation, however, is a casino.  They made a decision a long time ago to not profit from gambling, instead to use their skills and people.  They’ve invested in their schools and businesses and while it’s helped them they, like most other Native Americans, still are haunted by alcoholism, diabetes, and chronic unemployment.  I heard that they are considering a casino so I guess they’re being tempted into easy money.

To finish my longest day, I pull into Farmington and the Motel 6 and who do I see?  Mike and Jesse!  Without knowing it I’ve been following them across New Mexico.  I talked to them about the road out of Chaco and they ended up going back on the washboard road, which I tell them was a good thing.  This was to be our final meeting, the three of us were heading separate ways the next day so we wish each other a safe trip and I head to the laundromat.

The end.

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Oops, couldn’t stay awake

Hmm, I tried writing some stuff last night but kept falling asleep at the computer.  Guess it was my longest day.

Going back to day 11, I did a loop out of Taos into central New Mexico for no reason other than Hwy. 64 was supposed to be great.  And it was.  What made the ride better was that I didn’t have all my bags and gear on the bike so I got to ride naked.  Sure makes the bike a lot more fun.

First stop was the Rio Grande gorge just outside Taos.  The gorge is 800 feet deep at the bridge:

The river's down there somewhere...

Oh, there it is. This is the same Rio Grande that forms the border between Texas and Mexico

It was here that I first ran into Mike and Jesse, two other riders who were interested in my bike.  We talked for a while then went our separate ways.

Hwy. 64 travels pretty much flat and straight until it crosses Hwy. 285, when it immediately starts climbing and twisting.  It gains height rapidly as it crosses a mountain range, hitting about 9,000 feet elevation.  It was cold, very cold.

An alpine lake surrounded by snow

The view north, probably seeing the Rockies in Colorada way in the distance

Yawn, another curvey road.

From here it was a long ride south on 84, where I stopped at two interesting places:

Echo Amphitheater, from a river gouging out the sandstone

I noticed this band in the cliff - it sure looks like the colors and patterns found in a lot of the native pottery around here. Coincidence??

I also stopped at Ghost Ranch, most famous as Georgia O’Keefe’s home for many years.  These cliffs facing the ranch inspired much of her landscape paintings, as well as all the other artists who stayed there.  It’s a truly beautiful place.


Heading back toward Taos I went through the town/pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh.  This is a small town with a very big part in the history of the area.  It was from Ohkay Owingeh that Popé led the Pueblo Revolt which overthrew the Spanish rule in 1680.  The Spanish never really came to grips with the pueblos, which is why many of the tribes still live today in the old ways, speaking their original language, and worshiping the old gods.  Very cool history here.

Speaking of history, I retraced some of my previous day’s route so I could stop in Chimayó and visit the Santuario de Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas.  From Wikipedia: “A private individual built it by 1816 so that local people could worship Jesus as depicted as Esquipulas; preservationists bought it and handed it over to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 1929. The chapel is now managed by the Archdiocese as a Catholic church. For its reputation as a healing site (believers claim that dirt from a back room of the church can heal physical and spiritual ills), it has become known as the “Lourdes of America,” and attracts close to 300,000 visitors a year, including up to 30,000 during Holy Week (the week prior to Easter). It has been called “no doubt the most important Catholic pilgrimage center in the United States.”

After this I rode the high road back to Taos (the low road follows the Rio Grande) much of which I rode the day before.  Without all the weight on the bike and very little wind, it was a fantastic ride.

Dinner was at a local Mexican restaurant that was barely adequate, disappointing after the previous night’s ribs at the Alley Cantina, housed in the oldest building in Taos, almost 400 years old!  The building, not the ribs.

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My longest day

Day 12 – Taos to Farmington


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Taos to Taos

Day 11 – Taos to Taos


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Catching Up

Day 10 route – Santa Fe to Taos

I’ve got some catching up to do, so once again I’ll let the photos do the talking.

Back up into the hills, with some clouds on the horizon this time. In the far distance is eastern New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma.

An interesting memorial in Truchas, NM.

At Sipapu ski area, they had over a dozen hummingbird feeders set up and the air was alive with all the birds. They make a great buzzing sound when they fly, you can't miss them.

The roads here are great!

BTW, I passed 6 ski areas on this loop, that gives you some idea of the elevation and the amount of snow they get here.  I also went through the town of Red River, the town that toppled Bellingham from the #1 spot on Outdoor magazines best city list.  It’s cool and all, kinda like Leavenworth without the kitsch, but it’s no Bellingham.  Guess they felt the had to award some other city so they don’t look biased!

The entrance to Coyote Creek State Park

They had a snowy spring up here and there were lots of these temporary alpine lakes, and the streams were roaring. Nice to see it so green and lush. This was about 8500 feet.

The tall one is Wheeler Peak, NM's highest point at 13,161 feet

My highest point, Bobcat Pass at 9820 feet.

Looking west across central New Mexico. That's the Rio Grande gorge in the foreground.

It was at this point I visited the Taos Pueblo, the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America.  People have been living here in the same pueblos for over 1,000 years.  I didn’t pay the extra fee to take pictures but did spend some time talking to a few inhabitants, who have shops set up in some of the rooms.  It was very cool to see how the rooms are laid out and to get some very small sense of what it was like to live there.  Very civilized, if you ask me.

After that it was into Taos and the Adobe Wall Motel.  The motel gets good reviews but the owner gets bad ones.  I can see why, it seems like us customers keep disturbing her from more important things – customer service on a Godzilla level.  The rooms, however, are quite funky:

Yep, that's a purple fireplace. In the winter you get Presto logs to burn. Considering Taos set a record low temp of 27 the first night I was there, perhaps I should have asked for some.

I got to spend a bit of time in Taos, it’s a pretty cool town.  It’s much smaller than Santa Fe, has way fewer galleries and artists, has some excellent restaurants, and was Kit Carson’s home for 25 years.  It’s very laid back and has a hip feel to it where Santa Fe seemed more tourist oriented and had a big town feel.

Day 11 is next – riding naked.

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In Taos – with no wifi

I think I found the only motel in town with no wi-fi, so I’m sitting in a coffee shop (drinking pinon coffee – very nice) trying to get something down before another long ride out to the Navajo Reservation.

Santa Fe was great, there is so much to see and do it would take a week non-stop to take it in.  Sunday I went to 4 museums, a historical site, visited numerous galleries, and ate some great food.  After that I was totally overloaded and went back to my motel for a long nap.  Here are some misc. photos, I’ll try to write more when I get the time.

The Silver Saddle Motel - a great place with great owners

One of many old (300+ years) churches in Santa Fe

Another old church

A modern church - 19th century

A 20' tall sculpture in front of the Musuem of Native American Arts

Feature from a 300 year old doors (these aren't behind glass, the whole building is just sitting outside)

The plaza in downtown Santa Fe. Food, arts, music, and tons of people all day long.

After 3 days in Santa Fe, it was time to head to Taos, of course taking the long route.  The road was once again amazing, ranging from 4-lane highway to a single lane wide ribbon of asphalt that wound between tree (and this was a state highway!)  I hit my highest point so far (Bobcat Pass, 9840 feet, and yes, I have the photo), passed 4 ski areas, looked out over the central plains then a few hours later looked out over the central basin (meaning I rode up the east side of the Rockies and down the west side), and so on.  And yes, the wind was the worst of the trip.  I one point I stopped in the protection of a road cut just to get my breath back and stop shaking.  When you’re riding down the center line of the road one second and on the shoulder the next, it’s time to stop!

The good news is the front has finally passed New Mexico (Taos set a new record low temp last night of 27) so the next several days are supposed to be calm.  Today I’m heading west on Hwy. 64 to Tierra Amarillo (Yellow Land – you just learned a little more Spanish!) then south on 550 to Espanola, and back to Taos.

Gotta go, the temp is rising!

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Jemez Springs, Los Alamos, and Santa Fe

After a day off in the big city it was time to hit the road again.  This time my destination was Santa Fe via the scenic route.  Several people told me I had to go to Jemez Springs, which just happens to be on Hwy. 4, a road I was told I had to ride, so that’s what I did.

Getting out of ABQ without using the interstate was a long, hot affair, driving north on Unser Blvd. (I looked for but didn’t see the Al Unser Jr. Treatment Center or the Bobby Unser Anger Management Clinic – I don’t expect many to get the jokes) and it took almost a 1/2 hour to finally reach Hwy. 550 and the road north.

Hwy 4 lived up to its billing, a great winding road up a river canyon with lots of trees, cliffs on both sides, and small farms lining the road.  I passed the Zia and Jemez pueblos and museums and found myself in Jemez Springs.  This area is known for its hot springs (ojos caliente) although in talking to some locals there are also cold springs (ojos fria) and warm springs (ojos calentito).  There, now you know a few words in Spanish!

Jemez Springs is also known for artists and galleries, and a few nice restaurants.  I wandered through a few galleries and in one (a very high-end, fine arts gallery) I found a wonderful print, so I bought it and am having it mailed to me at home.  The others were a bit kitschy so no purchases, but some iced coffee and a pecan tart temped me.  This is where I talked to the ‘locals’, they had moved there about 10 years ago but also have a home in Spain.  And a 911 Turbo in the garage.  And they’re lesbians.  So maybe not so local!  They said if I wanted into the area I better do it quickly because it’s changing fast and all these rich people are moving in and building big houses.  That made them laugh ’cause they just described themselves!

This whole area of New Mexico is volcanic and there are lots of unique features.  One is the Soda Dam, a giant deposit of minerals brought to the surface by heated water over millions of years and which created a dam in the Jemez River.  One description called it a giant hard water deposit.

Soda dam - and this is only half of it!

Following this was many more miles of twisty, up and down road, passing by the Valles Caldera, a 7-mile wide collapsed volcano that is now a conservation area that supports a wide variety of animals.  The road also wound through the Los Alamos National Laboratories, where all sorts of cool things have and are being done.  I backtracked into the town of Los Alamos and went through the Bradbury Museum of Science, which naturally features a lot about the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb.

Then it was a blast down some 4-lane roads to Santa Fe and the Silver Saddle Motel where I’ll be for at least 2 nights.  This place gets very high reviews and I can see why – it’s definitely shabby chic but very well kept up.

The Silver Saddle Motel

Tomorrow is downtown Santa Fe, a Native art show, rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, and all that.

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