Following great visits to Deanna and Christian in Phoenix and then Colleen in Tucson, right now I’m bouncing between homes. I’ve crossed back into New Mexico headed east a ways. New Mexico is easily becoming one of my favorite states, with friendly people and sights and food, none of it to be missed. I rode and then had to hitch the final few miles into Las Cruces to the home of the Currys, who welcomed me in just as a storm came rolling into town. If anyone finds themselves in the area, Coas Bookstore is go-to destination. Headed next to Ruidoso to investigate word of a delicious little hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant, leaving the towering pecan trees here to return to the pines before crossing a reportedly empty stretch to Lawton, OK. After that, Texas bound. I’m ever so slowly finding my way south to Mexico.
From the high mountains to tacky mud and rocky mesas. The Southwest provides a change in scenery.
The change from trees to rocks happens nearly right after crossing the Colorado border.
The warnings in the Divide maps for New Mexico are all about rain, which apparently changes the dirt here into an impenetrable mud. Storms brewing diverted me to a lot of road alternates for this section of the Divide, which ultimately worked out well. Here I pitched my tent for the night with Kirk, who has been hiking his way south from the Canadian border in June along the Continental Divide Trail. The CDT sticks as close to the Continental Divide as possible, whereas the Great Divide biking route sticks more to dirt roads that parallel the Divide. Kirk would be the first of the CDT hikers I got to meet, for while there aren’t many bikers riding the Divide this late in the year, November is apparently when many of the southbound CDT hikers get to New Mexico. Fun group of people, and interesting to see some of the differences between long-distance hikers and bikers. I think we both raised our eyebrows at each others’ paces.
Goats in Abiquiu, where I got to spend a day resting with Santana’s family.
And a backroads route away from their home, getting in a dirt fix.
Mostly firm dirt or slick rocks, with a few patches of sand mixed in. Good riding.
Abiquiu Dam, one of the only pockets of surface water I saw in New Mexico. Thankfully it wasn’t too hot, or carrying a lot more water would have been necessary.
And in Cuba I got to stay with more family. What luck, and thanks to all! Chopped up plenty of wood with Eddy to keep the house warm through the upcoming storm.
On the road from Cuba to Grants, amidst an ever-changing sky.
Mesas, jutting out one after the other, providing relief from an otherwise flattish landscape.
When the road turns to sand, wider tires are better. Here I probably should have let more air out to make the going easier.
The area is also known for old lava flows that have hardened and are now used as waking paths.
Heading for Pie Town, my final destination on the Divide. Getting close. Pie Town is home to two cafes renowned for their pie, of course. Legend has it the town was started when an entrepreneur found out a highway was coming through the area, and decided to sell pies to the travelers coming through. Now there’s a huge festival dedicated to the pies earlier in the fall, but a well-connected community lives there the rest of the year. One woman, Nita, leaves a house open for all the bikers and hikers coming through, making the town a great meeting and resting place. The pie certainly helps, too.
If you ever needed a reminder that this is still the West…
Sampling the delights at the Pie-O-Neer Cafe. A slice of cherry to start…
Followed by a piece of New Mexican apple. Apples cut up with pine nuts and green chile, for a little kick. Would definitely have been a good one to have a la mode.
Nita’s house is called the Toaster House, and anyone in town can give you directions to it. With beds, a kitchen, showers, laundry, and food in the fridge, I think we all ended up staying a day longer than we planned. Four CDT hikers were enjoying a day off when I arrived, and another arrived the following day with word of 3-4 others a day behind him. The hikers are very organized, to the point where they shipped all (or at least most) of their food supplies ahead at the start of the trip and pick them up whenever they get to a town. Luckily for me, many were progressing through New Mexico faster than expected, so they had a lot of extra food they didn’t need. I’m now trying some of their homemade dehydrated foods (rice and beans or Tuna fish casserole anyone?) for my camp dinners.
In front of the Toaster House, saying goodbye to a fun town in a unique state.
After a month and a half of freezing nights, it was almost a shock to get to New Mexico and pitch the tent in a rainstorm rather than snow. How warm it must be! But leaving Colorado was enough of a roller-coaster ride up and down one pass after another that riding down onto the New Mexican plateaus was a nice change.
Some snapshots of the ride:
Leaving Mantiou Springs, the plan was to ride Forest Service roads through the Pike National Forest to Canon City, then head down to Westcliffe and from there cross over the Sangre de Cristo mountains, at which point I’d be on Hwy 160 in the San Luis Valley. The Valley is a pretty flat high altitude basin, promising a quick ride to Del Norte, where I could reconnect with the Divide. But some parts of this plan were destined to change.
There’s lot of evidence of flood damage around Manitou. This road, just outside of Colorado Springs, was officially closed due to a portion of it washing away. Local hikers and mountain bikers were taking advantage of it being car-free, though. Roads and skies were looking good, so I pressed on.
And then the next morning woke up to this. Considering that there were 2-3inches of snow with more still falling, and that I was only at 7500ft, continuing on the mapped out trail to 9500ft didn’t seem like such a great idea. Maybe with a fatbike… Instead, I backtracked to Colorado Springs and took the highway south to Canon City. Down at 6000ft, the ground was clear.
From Cañon City, I got back on the planned route to Westcliffe, where after a particularly cold night in the city park I met Jewel, Pierre, and Alex in the hopping Have A Nice Day Cafe the next morning. They knew about a legendary local castle nearby and were going to check it out, and took me along for the ride.
Joe Bishop’s Castle. Building started in 1969 and is still going, all work done by one man, Joe Bishop. At the beginning, the castle was on National Forest land. After a while and a few wild parties and court fights, Colorado decided they didn’t want liability for the castle and sold Joe Bishop the land the castle was on, for very cheap. The castle is an impressive monument to one man’s vision and dedication; structural-integrity wise, it could’ve used more-lots more-planning. But a cool site to walk around.
Back on the bike, time to go over the Sangre de Cristo mountain range back to western Colorado. Two more days of riding to get through the San Luis Valley, then back on the trail at Del Norte.
Just out of Del Norte lies the start to perhaps the longest climb (4000′) to the highest point on the Great Divide route, Indiana Pass, at 11,910′. The turn-off to Platoro, a few miles down the trail, was covered in snow and mud, so I missed it. After descending for a few miles and realizing my mistake, I took what was left of the afternoon to make my way back up to the last trail marker to find the right way.
The snow does not make the Divide impassable this time of the year, but up in the mountains, there are some shaded portions of the road that never see sunlight. These spots stay snow-covered and frozen, making it harder to find a spot to set up the tent.
But not impossible. As long as you’re willing to brave leaving the warm embrace of your sleeping bag in the morning, the colors of snow-covered landscapes easily justify riding at this time of the year.
The road to Platoro, a town of maybe 20-30 homes, but with a cafe or two for vacationers. One cafe had already closed for winter, and the other was in the process of being cleaned and organized to close in two more days. I got a sandwich and a Coke and rode on, spurred by reports of another storm coming in that night. After Platoro, I crossed into New Mexico above Chama, and right away warmed up with a quesadilla filled with the famed New Mexican green chili. Colorado was a great state, and I’m looking forward to going back sometime.
Other highlights, from off the bike:
Pikes Peak looming over Manitou Springs; having this mountain in constant view was a good reminder of what lay ahead. Also, the Incline path, carved out just to the right of center in the trees, was a good off’bike workout. Thanks Sukie and Bob for showing me around!
In Phoenix for a week or so of rest. Drinking water, lots, iced, because Phoenix is hot, dry, and sunny. Acero is currently sitting on the apartment balcony getting a tire change. Losing the knobbies that got me out of Colorado’s snowy slush and mud, back to the slicker Mondials that took me everywhere prior to Manitou Springs. For anyone interested, the Mondials are 2″ wide, and were fine for the Divide. There were a few descents where knobbies would have been appreciated, but not necessary. It’s also time to check brake pads, and maybe replace my cracked mirror. Will talk about this and more in some posts coming soon, as well as about the ride from Colorado to New Mexico to Arizona. But here’s some of what rest life looks like.
Carbs. Gotta get in a pizza fix since (at least so far) my Arizona route hasn’t gone through Flagstaff, home of Pizzicletta.