Thursday, September 30, 2010

Santa Fe, Taos and Chama

After leaving our quaint village style motel with floral murals and small mosaics we visited the Sante Fe Plaza. Although the town architecture was Abode in style the population was a mixture of Mexican and English speaking individuals. For the last two or three weeks we have not seen abundant strip malls or huge supermarkets. Fresh vegetables were limited in some places so we assumed people grew what they needed in their back yard. People would have a very different style of eating which included chillies and lime juice. If you knew what to ask for the new flavours would be quite exciting or refreshing. Mexican and Indian food, art and architecture predominate in this area. Shops around Santa Fe Plaza are small, personal and highly individual. The 'deep south' feels quite alien to the rest of America. A total change in cultural experience.

The Burrito Co. Cafe, located just off the square, served traditional bacon and eggs, and made a light , fluffy bacon and egg tortea with potato folded in. It worked well. We then inspected the numerous jewellry stalls displayed under the cover of the Palace of Governers walkway

Our next visit was to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. As an artis she loved to draw inspiration from the beautiful landscapes of the area.

One of the beautiful Adobe style buildings comon to this area.

Frida Kahlo's work also features in this area.

As we left Sante Fe we could not help but notice the beautiful Indian and Mexican designs on the bridges and walls along the freeway.

One of the churches along the road. Adjacent cemetaries are totally packed with floral tributes. Roadway casualties have a similar treatment.

Heading out of Espanola we travelled on gravel for a mile or two where they were upgrading the highway. The breezes are quite cool in the morning and it is not until you stop at roadworks that you realise that this beautiful clear blue sky can be quite hot.

We turned off the road on TX76 to Chimayo, passing through several sleepy villages, some with large trees. You realise that they must be on a river as the other side of the road is a desert.
(Road upgrade metioned above)

The TX518 turnoff took us to Taos, another Adobe style village with a central square.

Carpet design outside a store.

A mural in the parking area.

Pottery and carpets.

The central square has plenty of seating.

Stopping for a drink at Noula's Cafe we noticed some striking artwork by Miguel Martinez in the foyer of the hotel next door.

The outdoor sculpture by Charles Collins also had some interesting features.

Taling US 64 to Chama we stopped at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. This stunning gorge can really give you vertigo if you are that way inclined. The bridge is 650ft above the river. You could feel it tremble as the trucks rolled across it without slowing down. Just past the gorge there is the Earthship Project where sustainable homes, made from recycled materials can be viewed from the roadside. These homes are embedded in desert conditions, yet completely off the grid.

We followed two motorcycles crossing the San Juan Mountains. As the elevation increased the landscape changed from small desert (Rabbit and Sage) bushes, to stunted Cedars and eventually int fully grown furs, pines and Aspens which were changing into a brilliant yellow. Autumn has set in in the highlands. The road followed a small winding creek which glistened in the sunlight. Cattle and horses had a regular, clear supply of water.
The highest point was about 10,500ft, after which was a spectacular view as the road dropped much more rapidly than it rose, giving views of a colourful and never ending valley below.

The other two motorbikes stopped for fuel while we continued on our own to Chama NM, arriving just in time to book our Cumbres to Toltec Scenic Railroad Trip for tomorrow. It must be popular because accommodation was not easy to find. We finally found a very reasonable motel on the outskirts of town with a flaky Wi Fi connection. The High Country Bar and Restaurant was packed and we hadto wait almost an hour to get a table. TThe meals were excellent and well worth the wait.

Walking back to our motel in the dark we had the weird experience of each street light switching off just as we approached it. Spooky! (We aren't anywhere near Roswell are we?)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Back on the road again

We woke early to ensure we could be at the BMW dealers when they opened at 8:30 am.

Chris took the bike there while Wanda stayed back at the motel. Fortunately the service manager was sympathetic to our situation and took our bike in to have two tyres fitted even though we had not booked it in.

Chris walked back to the motel – 10 minutes away and with Wanda walked down to the dealers with our computer. The motel we stayed in was not able to give us access to the internet, but the BMW dealer had wifi for its customers. We were able to download emails, check banking arrangements and catch up with the latest news from Australia and the rest of the world. We were ready to go by 9.30am.

We rode back to our motel on new tyres and packed our belongings. Before checking out of the motel we walked across the road to Weck's diner to have brunch. It was a hearty meal that sustained us through to dinner. Jason was a friendly character. He had shared a room at college with Luc Longely, and travelled with him to Sydney and Perth in Australia, so we had something to talk about.

Leaving Alberquerque we headed for San Ysidro where we turned onto TX 4, a scenic roiute heading north east. We turned off onto State route 485 an impossibly beautiful ride up into the red mountains and the Gilman tunnels, two short tunnels that allow the road to wind through the narrow canyon. Not far beyond the tunnels the paving stops and the surface reverts to gravel. We turned back and continued along TX 4 to the funky town of Jemez Springs. Compared to the towns around the area, Jemez Springs was alive with people visiting art galleries, diners and taverns.

From Jemez Springs the road climbed relentlessly to a high ridge that we followed for a few miles before beginning a steep descent into White Rock. This had a huge supermarket and a fancy playground with a skateboard park for children in the middle of nowhere. We stopped there for drinks and a break to stretch our legs. We set the GPS to take us to Santa Fe, our stop for the night. The shortest route bypassed Los Alamos and had us in Sante Fe by late afternoon.

Motels near the centre of town were out of our budget, so we ended up a few miles away in a motel of great charm but few amenities – not even internet access!

Our first priority was finding a coin laundry and while our clothes were being washed, a supermarket.

We returned to our room with clean clothes and all the makings of a great dinner – the supermarket had Alaskan crab legs, a delicacy we haven't had for quite a while.

A Harrowing Ride

Yesterday when riding up the Devil's Tail, Chris noticed the bike felt ”squirrelly” - particularly on left hand corners.

Inspection of the rear tyre revealed it was severely worn, and more so on the left side. It had deteriorated very badly in the last day or so. We set our itinerary to take us into Alberquerque where our GPS said there was a BMW dealer and we could expect to get a new tyre. It was "only" 250 miles away.

Before leaving Alpine, we said farewell to the friends we had made last night and ate breakfast at the Bear Wallow Cafe.

We left with enough fuel for at 154 miles according to the bike computer but found none until we reached the tiny town of Datil 84 miles away at the intersection of US 60 and NM 12, at which point the computer indicated we had about 14 miles left to empty. We also wanted to put some extra air in the rear tyre to save the little tread that was left, but the air compressor at the service station there was not working.

By this stage we had well and truly left the lovely high altitude hills of Alpine with its green cattle pastures and weird elk noises heard from the pine trees. The land slowly became dryer, then low bushes, then scrub and finally flat, bleak yellow grass plains with very dry looking mountains in the far distant background. Cattle were trying to find shade under trees, they curled up under low bushes, but on the plains they had nowhere to go. We saw two or three groups (about six in each group) of deer congregating near the waterholes that were available to the cattle. On our journey we had noticed that most farmers had provided shelter for their animals. Even in cooler areas a few cows huddled under tents provided by the farmer. Only a few horses were seen in enclosures with no shade. Where shade was available the animals used it. You could see them under a tree, next to a barn, or poking their noses out of a barn door. These hot, dry flat plains offered nothing.

Closer to Alberquerque we followed the Rio Grande which was very green because of intensive farming. The lush tree line indicated the flow of the river. All the tributaries however were nothing but dry river beds at this time of year. Surrounding the river is desert.

We rode the 26 miles to Magdalena at reduced speed to hopefully reduce tyre wear. The first service station we stopped at didn't have air – vandals had cut the air hose and damaged the inflator some time ago and the proprietor's response was simply not to fix them.

A little further on, at a repair shop, we increased the pressure from 40 to 46 psi.- 4 psi above the recommended value.

About 30 miles further on we reached I-25 in Socorro and turned north to Alberquerque. The speed limit was 75 mph. Given the condition of our tyre, Chris chose to ride at 60 mph, but with all the other traffic doing 80 or more that was a bit scary...

We reached Alberquerque at 4 pm, and wasted 45 minutes trying to find the BMW dealer which we ultimately did – 0.3 miles from where the GPS took us. We had hoped to get the tyre replaced today, only to find the bike people don't work on Mondays (doh!).

We went looking for a motel. The first was $130 or so + tax – no thanks! We phoned a few more around the same price or more before finding one close to the BMW dealer for $55 including tax. The room was large, with a kitchen and comfortable.

We were really exhausted after travelling over 250 miles in temperatures that climbed into the mid 90's as the day wore on. We could walk to the Oasis restaurant which was next door to our Studio 6 motel. Apart from being a real dining experience with white tablecloths, wine glasses etc., the food was really good, and we came out feeling more relaxed, and happier than when we went in.

The Devil's Tail

Can it be we have only 6 weeks left to complete our journey? We are suddenly at an exciting point, with many great motorcycle roads to discover in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona.

Our ride today initially took us northwest out of Silver City on NM 180, This road took us through familiar hill country, with low scrubby ground cover and omnipresent mountains lurking off in the distance.

We turned west on route 78 which took us across the border into Arizona. The change in vegetation was sudden and profound as we rode into the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest. The road suddenly started twisting as we bagan a dramatic descent of several thousand feet down to the junction of US 191. A few miles north on 191 lies Clifton, an old town set deep in a canyon. Clifton has a real character that is hard to define. A lot of its old architecture has been preserved, and with the cliffs and hills all around it just seems to nestle comfortably in the lanscape like a chook in a nest. We stopped there for lunch and a well-earned break.

From Clifton, the road leads to Morenci, site of the largest open-cut copper mine in the US.,

US 191 climbs 5,000 feet over the next 60 miles heading north to Alpine AZ. It has no towns, no services and virtually no traffic. Once designated US 666, this road has become known to bikers as the Tail of the Devil, a not-so-gentle prod at the much-hyped Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee. Trucks over 40 feet are turned back by advisory signs.

Along the wat the vistas were breathtaking - from 4000 feet above the valley floor you can (we are told) see peaks 100 miles away.

The 2000 ft descent towards Alpine was on a more open road that allowed for much higher speeds and we made good time getting there, The town is appropriately named. In the space of a few hours we had travelled from desert to wildflower filled alpine meadows at 8000ft altitude.
We went to several motels before we found one to our liking and budget. The afternoon was still young, so we walked into town, checked out the shopping and had a beer before returning to our room.

There we met three Americans (Stan, Mike and Tom) and a Swiss lady (Barbara) all travelling together on motorbikes. We chatted for a while before heading back into town for dinner. We shared one meal- which was just as well, because the steak was too big for one person to eat.

On returning to the motel we picked up again on our conversation with our new made friends, until we all decided it was ime to bunker down.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Gila Cliff Dwellings

We left Truth or Consequences in New Mexico this morning and backtracked 10 miles south on I-25 before turning west on NM 152 towards Silver City.

Rather than go directly there, we elected to follow some scenic routes, first turning south on NM 27. Initially we crossed broad flat plains covered in low scrub, but for a few miles found ourselves winding through a range of hills before emptying out onto flat plains on he other side. At the intersection with NM 26 we turned right and headed into the town of Deming, where we stopped for lunch at

Our route then took us north on US 180 for about 20 miles on a gun-barrel straight road. We turned off onto NM 61 that took us past the City of Stones State Park and another hot springs resort in the middle of the desert.

We crossed NM 152 and continued north on NM 35, This was a road that started out through the sleepy little town of Nimbres but soon led into the Gila National Forest. The road started twisting through the stands of pine trees, some huge, that grew everywhere around us. After several weeks of riding straight roads and high speed highways, we are finally back on roads that remind us why we are doing this trip on a motorcycle.

At the end of the road we turned right onto NM 15 to head for the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.  NM 15 is a great road for motorcycling: it crosses a mountain ridge at almost 7500 ft and the climb up and run down the other side follow the profile of the hills, winding back and forth with breathtaking drops and huge views on either side as we rode the crest of the hill..

The view from the top of the climb was spectacular.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings are an amazing place. To reach them involves a hike of a mile, with some steep climbing along the way, but the effort is richly rewarded. The Mogollon people built an city of stone and mud buildings inside a series of caves approximately 700 years ago.

From there we headed directly to Silver City. This meant retracing our path for about 10 miles on NM 15. Rather than turning back down NM 35, the road we came in on, we stayed on NM15. This road climbed steeply up onto a mountain ridge in a series of switchbacks and tight corners. Most of the way the road was a narrow strip of bitumen with no centre markings and lots of blind corners. For a while the road followed the ridge where it was almost straight, before heading down again through more switchbacks and tight turns. Motorcycle heaven!

We arrived at Silver City at 5 pm, found a motel and supermarket, and settled in for the evening.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Laundering Money

This man had to take a long journey with his pups.

We left Van Horn Motel 6, heading west on I-10. The land was fairly flat and barren, albeit with rugged mountains in the distance.

At 80 mph we passed through El Paso (no pun intended) after an hour and a half. We stopped just north of the city for brunch and a well earned rest.

From there we took off on a series of roads that led up the valley of the Rio Grande.

A few miles north of El Paso we crossed the border into New Mexico. The valley was broad and flat, and the land obviously fertile. The fields were planted with cotton, pecan, chilli, cabbages and other crops.

We rode straight past Las Cruces and on to our planned destination of Hatch. We arrived there fairly early in the afternoon, to find the only motel had closed down. This necessitated a change in plan, so we rode on up I-25 to the town of Truth or Consequence.

Originally called Hot Springs, the town changed its name in 1950 as a publicity stunt for the radio program of the same name hosted by Ralph Edwards.

We arrived there quite tired and found a motel that was confortable, if basic It's best feature was that it had a bath house fed from the hot springs that gave the town its original name, and use of the baths was included in the tariff.

Our first priority was to do our laundry. We threw all our clothes in the front loading washer and started it up. A loud clunking noise alerted us to the fact that there was something in there that didn't belong. It was Wanda's wallet with all her money, keys and crdit cards. We stopped the machine, but it had an interlock that prevented the door from being opened until the cycle was complete. Wanda now has the cleanest money in New Mexico! The credit cards and other "plastic" seems to have survived OK, but unfortunately the wallet came off badly and needs replacing.

We returned to our motel and had a soak in the mineral springs before walking across the road to buy our dinner in the local supermarket..

The maximum temperature of 90 F was reached late in the afternoon, but the evening soon cooled off. We can definitely sense the seasons changing and the weather seems to be cooling. We even heard reports of the first snow up in Colorado.

Westward Ho!

Architecture outside the Riato Inn.

We went back into central Marfa to post a few items home.
It is remarkable how parts of Texas
closely resembles various desert areas of Australia. A few days ago we were travelling acros flat open land covered in low grey bushes (Sage bush) that resembled saltbush. Other parts were covered in low scrubby trees (possibly stunted Cedars) reminiscent of the Murray mallee. The vegetation is sparse but this reveals the soul.

Today we first crossed broad grassy plains as we rode east from Marfa towards Alpine. A few miles out of Marfa we stopped at the Marfa Lights viewing area to see what we could learn of this mysterious phenomenon first reported in the 1880's. (Any thoughts of going there last night were put aside when it started raining). These lights apparently dance around merging and splitting and changing colour. No one has been able to provide any explanation for them. Atmospheric effects would seem to be involved, but contemporary suggestions that they are light refracted from the headlights of cars on Highway 67 seems unlikely, since neither cars nor Highway 67 existed in 1883...
We rode on without solving the mystery and were soon in the town of Alpine, one of the larger towns in the region. Interestingly, Alpine is only 30 miles west of Marathon where we stayed 2 nights ago - our trip to Big Bend essentially took us on a huge loop.

Wanda was keen to have a hair cut. We parked the bike outside Eva's hair and nails salon purely by chance. It was too good to be true that she could simply walk in and have it done immediately. Eva's next customer was due in less than a half an hour so she kindly fit Wanda in.

Chris wandered a few shops down the road and walked into an art gallery owned by a group of 20 or so artists who have formed a cooperative. Marjie Erkkila who was minding the gallery is a talented sculptor and jeweller. It was interesting to note that each of the artists in the cooperative had a distinct style in which they worked.

We particuarly liked the unique styling she has in her bronze pieces.

When Wanda's haircut was finished we had coffee and shared a gigantic, fresh, cinnamon scroll in a cafe between the hairdresser and the gallery. It's a good thing for our weight that all the bakeries are not this good. The dress shop next door was quite creative too.

From Alpine we headed north to Fort Davis, another interesting West Texas town that forms a triangle on the map with Marfa and Alpine.

A stellar attraction about 20 miles northwest of Fort Davis is the McDonald Observatory, home to one of the largets telescopes in the world

Our journey continued northwest on TX 118 which had the relatively modest speed limit of 70 mph. When we reached I-10 and turned west the speed limit picked up to a serious 80 mph. The 38 miles to Van Horn, our overnight stop, quickly passed underneath our wheels.

Van Horn is a truckstop town servicing the Interstate traffic. It is pretty much spread out along a single road parallel to the Interstate and has about a dozen motels, lots of mechanics shops, a few Mexican style restaurants and a gas station.
We ate in a restaurant that didn't promise much but had great home made corn chips and salsa.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Big Bend

Big Bend National Park is in a remote area of Texas and right on the border of Mexico. Having been stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint yesterday and dig for our passports, Chris decided to pack them in a more accesible place.

Leaving the beautifully appointed Marathon Inn we rode south on US 385.

The road gradually wound into some hilly country that became more rugged the further we travelled. By the time we reached the park entry at Persimmon Gap we were entering rugged country.

We almost collected a grey deer.

Here's a trip for the serious traveller - having a National Park Annual Pass meant we did not have to pay to enter. This Annual Pass cost $80, and is saving us $10 to $20 every time we enter a National Park. It is well and truly saving us money.

We asked about where we could buy food in the park, as we had not yet had breakfast. The attendant at the entry station told us there was a restaurant at Chisos Basin, and that we should definitely go there if only for the views. Almost anywhere else we were able to obtain refreshment. Here, in the remote corners of Texas, there was nothing for miles. Fortunately the sky was overcast most of the day,  keeping us relatively cool. Food markets had limited fresh supplies and as a result food was more expensive. Perhaps there were sources over the border. We are not here long enough to explore that possibility.

The scenery became spectacular as we continued to Panther Junction where we turned right at the T junction. A few miles later we turned down the road to Chisos Basin, 6 miles away. As we climbed into the mountains and down into Chisos Basin the scenery became breathtaking. It is a time when you realised the forces of nature are phenominal, almost beyond our grasp.

Peregrine Falcon sculpture by Bob Coffee at the visitors centre.

Our lunch was relatively expensive, but we were so far from any civilisation, it could easily have cost more in hindsight. The waitress commented on two turkey vultures with distinct personalities vying for the same space.

A few people work in this tiny village. We were unsure if they were permanent residents. There were very few visitors.

After lunch we took a short and easy walk to Window View, high mountains giving a view of the tiny world below.

Returning back to the main road through the park afforded more incredible views of the rugged Chisos mountains.

We left the National Park about 15 miles along the road, and stopped in the dusty town of Terlingua.

 We had been given the names of some people to meet there, but only the answering machine connected, so we rode on. A few miles further was the Old Terlingua Ghost Town.

This is a collection of ruined adobe dwellings with a few modern dwellings. At the centre of the town is the old Starlight Theatre, now a restaurant and bar.

TX 170 or the Camino del Rio(river road) continued west through the town of Lajitas on the Rio Grande. As the road followed the course of the Rio Grande it twisted back and forth and rode up and down like a roller coaster, the scenery rugged and spectacular.

We stopped briefly at the Contrabando movie set, a group of crumbling buildings in a spectacular location on the banks of the very fast moving yellow river, and a background of spectacular mountains. This set was used in a number of movies.including Streets of Larado, Rio Diablo, and the 1985 western comedy, Uphill All the Way.

Following the Rio Grande was done with a little apprehension. It is the border of Mexico and Texas but very spectacular.

The going was quite slow.The road was like a roller coaster at times. Eventually we reached the town of Presidio where we stopped for fuel and a drink while admiring the mural next door.

We turned north onto US 67 for the 60 mile journey to Marfa. The road has a 70 mph speed limit so we made good time. There was of course a border patrol on the way as Chris predicted. This time our passports were accessible. Our top box did not have to be reorganised, a real hastle in the wind. We arrived in Marfa shortly after 5 pm. (Chris has a theory that the town was supposed to be called Martha, but it was named by a man with a lisp.)

Our GPS suggested the nearest lodging was 20 miles away, so we called in at the Chamber of Commerce which was still open. They put us onto several places where we could stay. We picked the better value, which was reasonable.

We enjoy B&Bs but find no great pleasure in spas, etc. so these add up to an expense we do not need. We would never get away if we succumbed to this way of life every night. Often these places do not have suitable parking and no internet.  There are places with reasonable rates that offer internet, a fridge, microwave and/or coffee maker. It amazes me when some also offer breakfast, swimming pools, spas, laundry facilities, and a lovely seating area for outdoor use. A few places ask exorbitant prices for a beautiful room and nothing else. These are not up to date with the modern travellers' needs. There are places of course where the price reflects the facilities or location. This keeps most people happy.

We went into town to an Italian restaurant for dinner. It was rather upmarket: the least expensive bottle of wine was $42, the average about $60. At least the beer was affordable.

As we rode back to the motel some serious looking weather came over and we caught the leading edge of the rain.