Day 13 – New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment

Route 78.

New Mexico truly is the Land of Enchantment. Here I'm coming out of the mountains on Route 78 into the Mule Creek Valley. Click on any image to enlarge.

5 April 2011 (posted the following morning). The biggest problem at the hotel I’m staying in is that my room is on the second floor. Coming upstairs to my room just now, after posting yesterday’s blog down in the front lobby, my legs are protesting loudly! I’m spent!

Though today’s ride was probably easier than yesterday’s (at least relative to elevation gain), I had worn myself out yesterday, so today’s ride was hard. I was also bucking a headwind most of the day—though, mercifully, it turned around toward the end of the day and helped push me up the gradual, 1,600-foot climb toward Silver City, where I am now. There was also a section of road today—Route 78 when I came into New Mexico (absolutely gorgeous)—where there are many steep dips and rises. On the elevation profile I have of the Southern Tier route, those level out, and the ride appears pretty-much flat, but on most of those uphills I had to shift into my lowest gear and really crank at 4 mph. Exhausting!

Bundled up

I didn't feel so photogenic for this self-portrait in the early morning. I was wearing pretty-much every bit of clothing I had!

Cole Creek Wash

Though this photo doesn't show them well, it was great to see some real trees again--both ponderosa pine and oaks. This was taken just before sunrise.

But let me begin my discourse of the day’s activities be describing my night of camping. When I decided on what camping gear to bring on this trip I knew that while I was going to be mostly in the south, I would have one or two nights of high-elevation camping where I’d be pushing the comfort zone of my gear. I didn’t get a forecast of the exact place where the campground was, but from the scouting I had done I expected the temperature to fall to the low-40s, maybe into the 30s. Wrong!

I don’t have a thermometer, but judging from the ice crystals in my water bottles and a frozen-stiff map in my tent that had gotten wet from my water bottle during the night, I can confidently conclude that it was colder than that. I’m guessing that it got down to 20, if not into the teens. I started out fine—wearing multiple layers in my sleeping bag (and with the tent’s rainfly providing some extra moderating benefit). But by the early-morning hours I was cold—no two ways about it!

In the morning I kept on the high-performance tights that I had slept in, then put my long pants over those and finally my rain pants over those. On my upper body I had Patagonia Capeline long underwear and a wool shirt-jacket (both of which I had slept in), then put on my down vest and raincoat. For my head, I put on a silk balaclava I have (should have worn it in my sleeping bag). On my feet—the weak link—I had wool socks (which I had worn during the night) and my biking shoes. Oh, and my lined gloves. I managed to warm up, except for my feet, but it took until about 9:30. If I had had matches, I might have started a fire—though that’s a whole other complexity in fire country. When I set out on my bike, I took off the rain gear, but still had everything else on, plus these neoprene overshoes I have for biking (which aren’t very satisfactory).

New Mexico border

Crossing the cattle guard into New Mexico.

Enough on the cold and my camping travails (one might think I’ve never camped!). After leaving the Cole Creek Campground, I reached the New Mexico state line in a few miles, and then had several (chilly) miles down into the valley. After dropping out of the mountains into the valley I quickly warmed so shed most of the extra clothing.

Rolling hills of the Mule Creek Valley

While spectacular, the ups and downs in this rolling countryside wore me out!

Garter snake

A garter snake trying to warm up from the chilly evening--on Route 78.

The route along 78 through Mule Creek was mostly open fields, dotted with pinion pine (I think). I had left the National Forest, and this was private ranch land—lots of acres per animal! Very picturesque and very different from what I’ve seen in Arizona. In the 16 miles I pedaled on 78 in New Mexico, I don’t think more than a dozen vehicles passed me. Interestingly, New Mexicans seem far friendlier than Arizonans; lots would wave, while almost nobody waved in Arizona (or California).

Dae Kim

Fellow traveler Dae Kim, biking from Florida to San Diego. He was putting in a long day!

Just as I was turning onto 180 to head more southeasterly toward Silver City, I saw a bicyclist coming my way. Dae Kim was heading from Florida to San Diego and making great time. He said he had left St. Augustine the first week of March, and he’s averaging 80-90 miles a day. He’s not camping, so has lighter gear, but that meant that today he was having to pedal from Silver City all the way to Safford—117 miles! If he were going east I don’t think that would be possible for mere mortals, but westbound is a lot easier on this stretch. Dae is from Maryland; we didn’t chat long as he had a lot of miles to cover. Great guy. (I think I probably have over 20 or 30 years on him though, which may justify my more languid pace.)

Route 180 was much straighter with less up-and-down, but the wind was not going my way, and the roadway had just been sprayed with some sort of sticky oil. The smell wasn’t so bad, but my tires kept picking up gravel, which would rattle around my fenders—and who knows what VOCs I was breathing.


A curious javalina, with Route 78 in the background.

Javalina with bull

Sharing the watering hole with a bovine friend.

Javalina trotting away

Having had enough of my presence, this javalina, or collared peccary, scampers off.

My wildlife experiences today included passing a snake on Route 78; it appeared to be a rather boring garter snake. More interesting was a sighting along 180, I think near the town of Buckhorn. There was an operating Aermotor water-pumping windmill (these are still being made, in San Angelo, Texas, after 118 years) and a slew where water spilled from the tank. Enjoying this water was a small pack (herd) of javalinas—which I described in yesterday’s post. I snapped a few photos from the road, then got bold and leaned my bike against a fence and went through a gate to try to get a little closer. They would watch me for a while, then scamper off—fascinating, oddly proportioned beasts!

Crossing my old friend the Gila River in Riverside, New Mexico. The difference between rivers here vs. the east is that here they are often bigger upstream--pumping and evaporation deplete them downstream.

Aermotor windmill

An old Aermotor water-pumping windmill, cranking away. These windmills are still being produced in Texas.

Route 180 climbs very gradually about 1,600 feet to the Continental Divide from the low point near Cliff and Riverside, where it crosses—you guessed it—the Gila River. After yesterday’s dramatic pass, with switchbacks and hairpin curves, the approach to this pass was (to my great relief!) very gentle. In fact, aided by the western breeze, I think there were only a few times on this stretch where I had to shift to my lowest front sprocket.

Continental Divide

A fairly undramatic rise to the Continental Divide--but that was just fine with me!

Yours truly

Yours truly at the pass.

Approaching Silver City

That's the state university in the foreground as I approach Silver City from the west.

Total miles today: 65, average speed: 10.8 mph. I’m spent. Total miles to date: 742. Tomorrow (and possibly even the day after) I plan to rest up in Silver City—as close to Brattleboro a town as I’ll pass. On my ride into the center of town, where I’m staying at the old Palace Hotel (I always seek out older hotels with character, rather than the chain motels out by the highway), I passed a bike shop, food co-op, and farmer’s market location. I feel right at home and am looking forward to exploring the town.

I’m also looking forward to some more great Mexican food! I ate tonight at Jalisco’s (just a block from the hotel) and enjoyed the best Mexican (New Mexican) food since I lived in Santa Fe in the late-1970s.