Moto Tourism

Roger Pattison hails from eastern New Mexico, where the remoteness of growing up on a farm fostered independence and an adventurous spirit, quite naturally leading into a life-long passion for motorcycling.  During the past 40 years, Roger has competed in, organized, and lead events both on and off pavement to include observed trials, desert racing, endurance rallies, Iron Butt rides, and national and international dual-sport adventure tours, in addition to spending 15 years as a Motorcycle Safety Foundation certified instructor.  Writing on all things motorcycling is Roger’s latest mission, covering topics such as rider conditioning, motorcycle setup, trip preparation, and travel routes and tips, including interviews with notable motorcycle industry personalities.  Roger currently lives in the high mountains of northern New Mexico with his wife, Kerrie Brokaw Pattison, also an avid motorcyclist, where they work together and, of course, ride together.

Adventurer By Day There’s a big city just over that hill…

“...It is understandably tempting to grill the weekend away in your backyard with some neighbors and just chill out, but does that really provide the release you need to face the next week? You’ve got that motorcycle for a reason!”

The stress level of living in a larger city is a lot higher than is really good for you. From the time your obnoxious alarm goes off, which you need because the sounds of the city have made your ears immune to noise, until you pass out again late at night, it’s hurry, hurry, hurry. Deadlines and commitments, day-in and day-out. It is understandably tempting to grill the weekend away in your backyard with some neighbors and just chill out, but does that really provide the release you need to face the next week? You’ve got that motorcycle for a reason!

Let me share a couple of easy weekend rides around Albuquerque that will get you fired up to be productive again for another week. These are by no means the only routes available, as a study of the DeLorme and Benchmark road and recreation atlases will yield dozens of exploring possibilities. Soon you will be thinking of all the places in New Mexico you still haven’t found.

A really good thing to do first is find some people to ride with. There are a number of motor-cycling groups out there to tap into by searching www.MeetUp.com, so you can decide if you prefer staying on dirt or sticking to pavement. You may like the idea of being able to go almost anywhere, regardless of the road surface, and you’re not alone in that desire. This is the fastest growing segment of motorcycling, called adventure touring. My routes shown here are about 50% unpaved, and are designed to demonstrate how easy it is to get away-from-it-all without actually traveling much distance out of the city.

Burn -out -400Finding others to ride with you increases the safety factor, and usually offers opportunities to improve one’s own riding skills, just from watching how other people do it. Another way to gain confidence in your abilities is to attend a training class of some kind. Check with your dealership about organized riding events, as they sometimes include skills-training sessions.

If it is possible to get away after lunch on a Friday, then I suggest heading east from the city to Tijeras, and south into the Manzano Mountains on NM 337. A great Friday night camping spot is in Red Canyon Campgrounds, just west of Manzano Mountains State Park. Before setting camp however, you should stop over to see Quarai, one of three prominent Franciscan Missions and pueblo ruins in the area. They officially close the visitor’s entrance at 6pm in the summer (until Labor Day) and 5pm in the winter. These missions were built in the early 1600s, and still stand largely intact, with thick mortared rock walls of gray and red sandstone.

There are two parts to the Red Canyon Campgrounds, both with USFS bathrooms and animal proof trash receptacles. Each camp site has a fire pit and picnic table, with ample flat spots for tents. The quiet may disturb your sleep, or is it the tiny sounds of nature that seem so loud?

Starting out the next morning may be difficult to do early because it is just so peaceful in the forest, and lingering over a hot drink is easy. When you’re finally packed and ready to go, the direction is south on Forest Road 422. Some maps don’t show it going all the way through, yet this road is quite beautiful down to NM Highway 60 where it comes out just west of Abo. Abo is the second mission in the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument trio.

Starting in 1623, the Abo mission building was the earliest of the three now-monuments to be constructed. Take a few minutes to stop and see this remarkable structure, which even after nearly 400 years stands as a stolid reminder of the Franciscan’s military backed attempt to convert the natives to their own religious doctrines. These ‘converts’ were working in near slavery conditions during the building of these monuments.

Traveling from here east to Mountainair then south, puts you in range of the third pueblo site, Gran Quivira. This was the largest of the Salinas pueblos, started in the 8th century, and growing to eventually house nearly 2000 people in the masonry structures we see evidence of here. The building of this mission began in 1659, which was named San Buenaventura, an auspicious reminder of our own journey through the countryside. We should make this Saint the patron of motorcycle travel.

This loop gets us out and back, for a couple hundred miles, and now you can go on home or stay out to ride another loop on Sunday. One cool and historic place to stay is the old Shaffer Hotel, established in Mountainair in 1923. The rooms are quiet and reasonably priced, while the dining room prepares some really great meals all day long.

Heading back west on NM 60 the next morning gives you another opportunity to depart civilization. Cross under I-25 and continue on Old 60, then split off right on County Road 12 to get yourself out into some very remote country for most of the day. Loop around to Riley Community “ghost town” and continue south on Forest Road 354, ending up in Magdalena for lunch. Watch for rain in the area, as the normally dry washes can be unexpectedly flowing hard. Otherwise, an extent of dry loose sand will greet you at these crossings.

Leaving out of Magdalena on NM 169 starts you on a route heading northwest toward the Alamo Band Indian Reservation. Divert north instead onto Forest Road 123 following La Jara Canyon past Puertecito. The remote country beyond winds along the Canada Bonita, on Indian Service Roads 54 and 55, all the way to NM 6 near Interstate 40. At this point it is pretty easy to get back to Albuquerque on I-40, or take a spin around NM 6 to get to your house from the south. Take your pick, it’s been a great weekend and there is no wrong route home.

Map

Moto Tourism Trails

The following trails represent various disciplines of street legal motorcycle riding. Our range of selection begins with: the lightest bike appropriate for the open road -retaining as much of its off-pavement worthiness as possible, and goes to: the heavyweight tour machine -delivering sublime comfort for days on end at freeway speeds. It may surprise you just how many categories this wide range is divided into.
Dual-Sport trail— Typically these motorcycles are as light as practical, meaning that compared to a machine designed to be ridden strictly off-road, they are built stout enough to withstand miles of repeated rough road riding without failure from fatigue. This durability and strength results in some justifiable weight gain to begin with… and then the bike gets loaded down with traveling gear.
Pat Wright is very lightly loaded when you consider he is headed from Taos Ski Valley to Tierra del Fuego. See the spare fuel cell hidden under his soft saddle bags?
For some people this category is about extreme adventure and exploration, with a minimalist approach, staying as light and nimble as possible and riding as far away from pavement as can be. For others it means being relatively light, in order to handle difficult situations, while understanding that making any headway across countries or continents means keeping to fairly improved surfaces.
Adventure _aAdventure-Tour trail— As a backcountry touring motorcycle outfit gets bigger, heavier, and more powerful, and is therefore generally set up for much longer-distance trips, it gains entry into the adventure-tour category. This setup is not the best for deep sand, big rocks, or tight technical routes, at least when fully loaded. An adventure rider’s goal is to be completely self-sufficient in any sort of situation that could be encountered while riding around the world, so their machine is fully packed.
These guys are clearly traveling around the world. They look to have been on the road a while! That fuel tank holds about nine gallons, and should be good for over 350 miles between fill-ups.

Dual-sport and adventure motorcycles will have more aggressive, blocky treaded tires, in order to handle low-traction or rough surfaces. Even so, enough rubber meets the road for the bike to feel stable when leaned through paved curves. The longer travel suspension on these bikes is set to be very compliant, for a plush ride over semi-rough surfaces. Manufacturers of modern adventure motorcycles now go several steps further by adding computer-managed suspension, braking, and traction-control systems. This bundle of technological advantages inevitably creates a higher-priced overall package.
The adventure motorcycle touring market is experiencing a rapid growth in popularity, and suitable equipment is developing technologically, at a faster pace than in most other segments of the industry. Adventure traveling by motorcycle to the ends of the earth is a lifelong dream for some. The idea of embarking on a trip like that, however, is almost always more romantic than the actual experience.
A true world traveler, and even the continental sojourner, learns that overcoming unexpected obstacles thru good preparation is all part of the daily life of an adventure rider. You really don’t have to go very far away to find true adventure, however. With the vast expanses of remote territory right here in New Mexico, it is possible to travel in isolation for days, with feelings of being in another country.

 

Standard trail— The “standard” is what most people expect every motorcycle, except Harley cruisers, to look like. A standard-style ride is usually in the lower end of the price range, sips its gas rather than slurps it, and is economical to maintain. You can see there are no frills here. This is the typical short-range commuter or errands-about-town machine, so lack of wind protection is usually not an issue. Storage capacity isn’t that important either if you’re not going far; so smaller detachable bags (or even just a backpack or courier bag), are good enough for light grocery hauls or other short trips.

Many riders start out on this style motorcycle. Bill Brokaw still likes them after 70 plus years of riding.
It is hard to go wrong buying a standard motorcycle; because the seating position is upright and comfortable, and at a height which allows riders with an average inseam to plant their boots solidly on the ground at a stop. This style of motorcycle comes in a wide range of engine size, overall weight, and sticker price, so a standard model can be found to fit about anyone’s needs.
As many specialized motorcycles are costing more and more, due largely to cutting-edge electronic controls and expensive suspension components, there is still a very important market for “affordable” equipment. The standard models are plainer looking, yet not all the technological advances in the industry are withheld. As time moves on, tried-and-tested technology does get more affordable, especially with electronics. For example, e-fuel injection is installed on about everything now; providing tuning precision in any climate and elevation, and automatically delivering amazing economy.
Cruiser trail— This category is probably the most familiar group to most people. The most popular cruiser has been the Harley-Davidson brand for many years. Their old rival from the early 1900s, Indian, is back in production and once-again challenging for the honors of “America’s best-made motorcycle”. Time will tell if the new/old brand can make a significant dent, again, in the market Harley has dominated for so long.
Cruisers  have maintained the same basic design style since they first became popular, with the more laid-back sitting position, raked-out front end, and chrome. Even this style of bike has gotten an infusion of new technology, from fuel injection to GPS trip computers. You might see cruiser riders traveling in a group, or riding in formation as part of a large gathering. For many motorcyclists, much of the appeal of riding is in the commaraderie, and in the social value of riders from all around gathering together.
An annual gathering in Red River brings riders from far and wide to cruise northern New Mexico.

Some sport-bike riders enjoying a quick visit at the gas stop while riding around Cloudcroft. Many riders come up from Alamogordo, El Paso, or Las Cruces to experience these great curvy roads.

Sport -Touring _aSport-Bike trail— Sport-bikes are generally thought of as production replicas of road racing motorcycles. Intense competition on the international circuits has promoted development of the most advanced new technologies in the world. High-speed demands on machines built for this level of competition hone these mechanical marvels into razor-sharp tools; therefore, these race-replicas are being produced with the latest technology commercially available, showing improvements and upgrades every year.
This style of motorcycle sports an aggressive seating position much like a road bicycle; and can become uncomfortable on longer trips. This is another segment of the market that tends to create gatherings and group rides. These folks know all the best motorcycle roads in any given area, and they get together to ride; usually not wanting to just sit around and talk about it. There is an old motorcyclist’s saying: “Some ride to go, some ride for show.”
Sport-Tour trail— Sport-touring is touring on a sport-bike; with some important modifications for enhancing long-distance comfort and carrying gear. The riding position is nearly the same as on an ordinary sport bike, the “attack” stance, which can actually get pretty tiring after a few hours for most people. My lower back begins to hurt and my knees stiffen up from being bent for too long.
The advantage for those who choose a bike of this style and ride it very many miles is the sporty handling; which is quick and light in the corners. If a person does not overload the machine, or get the weight poorly distributed, handling will remain nimble; however, an overloaded sport machine may exhibit some really strange behaviors in the curves.
This motorcycle in particular has many thousands of miles on it, and the lady in red, Voni Glaves is smiling her way through her second million miles. This is Voni’s favorite style of motorcycle, and she owns more than one like it. A support truck is following with the rest of her stuff. Just kidding Voni!

As Keith Ingram demonstrates, a grand-touring machine has enough storage capacity to keep everything neatly packed away. These machines are built for many miles of comfortable riding, in all kinds of weather. In his case, the odometer might read over 200,000 miles before he passes this bike on.

Grand -Touring _aGrand-Tour trail— This style of motorcycle is the one to have if you really want to load it down and travel far, with plenty of room for a passenger and their gear too! The grand-touring machine is built for long distances in luxury. Some people have even referred to this model as a “two-wheeled Honda Civic convertible”! The full-coverage windscreen, heated seat and hand grips, high-end audio and navigational systems, huge storage compartments, cruise-control, reverse, and back rests tell you this bike is ready for serious travel.
While most at home on the interstate highways, these large touring machines are also surprisingly limber on the twisting parkways or backcountry routes. If you do have to go up a gravel driveway they are not allergic to it, but the low ground clearance and lack of rock protection limits the amount of time one would want to spend off the pavement. Most people will completely avoid sand or mud at all costs when riding a heavyweight grand-touring machine, with good reason.
Oddball trail—
People just want to ride, and at times; anything will do. Motorcycling inspires adventure.

Scooter trail—

Scooters are the most numerous two-wheeled, motorized street machines; in the entire world.
Custom trail— While a scooter may be the most utilitarian of this entire range and -in parts of the world, for many families- represents the only household transportation; custom motorcycles are specialized products which are many times created more for show and display than actual use. Custom bikes are making a big splash in some circles, becoming a unique and expressive art form.

Here are several examples of one-off customs. All created by Denny Berg, especially for Cobra Mfg..

Electron Trail— A relative newcomer to the industry is the serious electric motorcycle. Actually, all attempts over the years to build an effective electric bike have been quite serious efforts; however, it is only recently that any of them could really be taken seriously as a functional motorcycle. During early development, most off-road models were only bicycles with electric motors adapted. Ones intended for on-road use were heavily burdened with lead-acid batteries, yet still unable to go far between charges.
A shining display of the electric cycle’s potential –while still in early development- was performance on the drag strip, where weight is less an issue and the distance easy to cover. A sudden surge of torque right off the line translates into mind bending acceleration. As technology advances into lighter, smaller, and longer-lasting batteries, the electric motorcycle begins to look realistic for everyday use.

ZERO’s “Standard” style electric motorcycle. Photo courtesy of ZERO-  http://www.zeromotorcycles.com/
A least ten new USA based motorcycle manufacturing companies, that have all been formed within the past decade, are producing electric bikes. Development is fast and furious, and last-year’s equipment is usually obsolete. The newest electric models now look and feel very similar to ordinary gas powered motorcycles; with impressive power output and astonishing acceleration.

“Standard” and “Sport-Bike” electric motorcycles are very popular for commuting, and medium length rides. This trail of electric motorcycles is already getting pretty exciting to follow, and the equipment will only get better as new advances in batteries, and their management, continues.

This is a lightweight, electric, “Dual-Sport” model from ZERO Motorcycles, with a lot of promise. The weight is located as close to the center of mass as possible, while the center of gravity is still quite low. Photo courtesy of ZERO- http://www.zeromotorcycles.com/

End of the trail-
This concludes my summary of the many different trails that one can follow when it comes to riding a motorcycle on public roads. Clearly, we have not even begun to discuss all the various motorcycles that are not designed to be legal for use on public roads, which are very specialized for all the particular categories of off-road competition, as well as just for the pleasure of riding on narrow, dirt trails.
See you on the road, and, HAPPY TRAILS!

New Mexico Four Corners Tour - Part I Measuring the expanse of enchantment

“...Just looking over a map of New Mexico will tell you that there are a lot of miles of remote country, and help is not always available on these long, lonely stretches of road”

Some riders just like to go further, for longer, than you would expect anyone to on a motorcycle. There are these particular self-described groups of “iron butt” riders that can simply not get enough. I enjoy a long day or series of days in the saddle, but my biggest distraction is the scenery and the unique, interesting places to stop in and spend time studying.  A person can see and do so many different things in one day, that the possibilities for a week-long tour are mind blowing. The diversity of New Mexico is the best part.

The idea for this ride evolved from thinking about how big the state is, and wondering how long it would take to travel the roads around the perimeter of the entire state without actually leaving New Mexico. The first question was how many miles it would involve. Here comes Google Maps. The answer was approximately 1700 big ones. I better get started!

Since I live in north central New Mexico, heading either east or west on US 64seemed like a good way to start. Highway 64 twists its way through the northern landscape for over 400 miles, almost every mile of which provides beautiful scenery. The routes to the east, south, and west will be less direct. One objective is to stay off interstate highways, if possible, just to add to the backcountry feel. Most people driving through the state do so in the fastest possible way, on the Big-I, usually going east or west, thereby sadly missing the beauty and diversity that New Mexico has to offer.

In general, this roughly hatchet-head shaped route takes us through Farmington, Gallup, Silver City, Hachita (of course), Las Cruces, Cloudcroft, Carlsbad, Clovis, Clayton, Raton, and back through Taos. This loop passes by so many attractions that it will be a challenge to make any miles at all. Even if you only averaged three stops each day, it would take a good week to get around the loop. This trip could easily last a month if you fully experienced all the interesting places, as they properly should be.

What should a person who plans to ride a motorcycle through such hugely varying climates and conditions over a week’s time take with them? Let’s assume you already have a completely waterproof outfit with a variety of vents.  The advantages of such gear are obvious, because stopping to put on extra rain gear is usually always done after getting wet, whereas if one can just push right on, more often than not they are out the other side of the storm before they even know it: warm and dry.

But wait, what about when it is too hot to wear full-coverage gear? This, absolutely, is when you should do it anyway, and I mean a wind resistant shell, not just a long sleeved cotton t-shirt. Tests have proven that no matter how much water a person drinks, the body will dehydrate much quicker if left exposed to the open air and sun than when covered up. The warm wind passing by isn’t just drying you out it is also increasing your fatigue factor. These situations will compound themselves during the day, potentially resulting in heat exhaustion, or even worse, a debilitating heat stroke.

“But still, it is really hot!” You say. Yes, I know, but that can be managed much easier with a full-coverage riding suit. First, buy lined gear with a lot of venting, so you can get plenty of air circulating within. Next, wear only a thin layer made of silk or polyester material, silk being more desirable because of its natural ability to breathe, underneath the outer waterproof shell. This alone will actually take care of a lot of the discomfort when you are moving.

In really warm weather, begin wetting down the undergarments just before departing from a stop. With the shell vents open, just a little moisture will cool you right off, and the water only needs to be re-applied about once an hour. If you are headed out into extreme heat, invest in a good evaporative cooling vest (ECV) from your choice of the many brands available that will allow you to benefit from even more moisture retention for longer periods of time. These ECVs work so well that you may feel downright cold, even while riding in 110+ degree weather!

It pays to keep all parts of your skin covered during long days in the saddle. The weathered look may be fashionable among hardcore bikers, but it is pretty easy to get a bad burn, even if the only places exposed are a couple of thin racing stripes between your gloves and long sleeves. The back of the neck is another place often overlooked until it becomes burned brightly enough to serve as an auxiliary tail light. Obviously, shorts and a halter top are a bad choice of riding gear at any time.

On the other end of the temperature scale, having ample layers on hand to stay warm is very important too, especially if the weather changes drastically. Riding around New Mexico, it is possible to see many temperature and weather extremes in the very same day. When it comes to riding clothes for a long trip, be prepared for anything.

Just looking over a map of New Mexico will tell you that there are a lot of miles of remote country, and help is not always available on these long, lonely stretches of road. Having a complete tool kit, and knowing what to do with it, is a great comfort. There is no need to carry tools that don’t fit your bike, so go through your kit carefully. Imagine scenarios you could encounter and be sure that you have what it takes to fix these problems. Some spare parts are really great to have along, while other component failures probably wouldn’t leave you stranded. The need to travel light is almost as important as being well prepared.

One of the most critical skills for a motorcyclist to have, in my opinion, is the ability to fix a flat tire alongside the road. A lightweight air pump, a patch kit, and some tire tools are the basic needs, but you’d better practice how to use them in your nice, comfortable workshop or front yard. If you start a journey with good brake pads, fresh oil, clean filters, and plenty of other fluids, you should not need to carry those things unless you really do plan to be gone for more than a week.

To Be Continued

We will continue this discussion of circumnavigating New Mexico soon, with tips regarding mapping, navigation, personal locator beacons, and situational awareness. We want you to see all of New Mexico, and the better you prepare, the more you will enjoy your travels.

Thrilling rides on Navajo roads!

“...Great motorcycling, abundant and diverse recreation, and fascinating remnants of an ancient civilization – all are characteristics of the Four Corners region.”

My motorcycle and I sail in a long, sweeping arch between two long, red bluffs jutting vertically out of the high-desert sands. My eyes are scanning ahead and I catch glimpses of the narrow ribbon of highway as it rises over the waves of variegated landscape rolling toward me. The lonely road is all the evidence of human habitation I can see, and abruptly, it begins to climb the escarpment onto the plateau.

My focus is entirely on the ride. I am totally in the moment, and nothing else in the world matters. It’s me, the bike, and the road. The one thought briefly occurring to me is how amazing it is to cross over this country at these speeds, by motorcycle, as compared to travelers coming across these same hills some centuries ago on horseback or walking.

As the pavement rises sharply up the side of the rusty hued sandstone, I begin leaning quite hard into a right-hand curve, with no shoulders or guardrails alongside. As I look ahead and attempt to see through the corner, there is nothing in view but a cloud-speckled, azure blue sky. I have no idea which way the road will go next. My heart hurtles like a piston into my throat, and, before I can see anything ahead, I nearly choke on the adrenaline rush.

As the ground and curve pop suddenly back into view, my heart rate slows slightly and I roll on through the turn. In that instant, my heart leaps back between my tonsils as I realize the road is taking a sharp plunge to the left, around a tight, downhill, blind curve, again with no indication of which way it goes from there. I am traveling right at the speed limit, yet it suddenly feels too fast. Still, I look ahead, hold my line, and maintain smooth throttle control.

Whew! This is why I ride. Now, what was it I was so concerned about when I left the house? I have no idea anymore. Riding motorcycles is good for cleansing the soul.

There are many finely paved roads around Farmington, with a few going north into Colorado, others winding south through the red bluffs of the Navajo Nation, and, to the east are several exciting routes around Navajo Lake. There are many vista points along the road, which are difficult to pass by because you are trying to look off the side anyway, so go ahead and pull off to get a photo! There is one sign at the reservoir, however, which you simply cannot ignore, even as you might like to. It says: “No stopping on the dam!”

Great motorcycling, abundant and diverse recreation, and fascinating remnants of an ancient civilization-- all are characteristics of the Four Corners region. Fortunately, this describes much of New Mexico, so for our next trip, we will be riding a little further south, exploring more of the state’s beautiful and enchanting countryside.

More Information and Interactive Map

There are a number of fine campgrounds to stay in on either side of Navajo Lake if you want to relax in the shade or even do some fishing. In fact, some of the finest “Blue Ribbon” trout waters in the country are in the river below the dam! This is a licensed catch-and-release area, and there are several guide services nearby to take you to the best holes. These trout can get BIG!   emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/navajolakestatepark.html
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Farmington always has a surprising variety of events planned. Check them out at the town website: farmingtonnm.org/index.html A fascinating art exhibition has been on display this summer, continuing into the fall, at the Gateway Park Museum, featuring well-known works of Andy Warhol and others. 
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Surrounding Farmington are some of the best preserved examples of an early civilization usually referred to as the Anasazis. Take some extra time to go to these areas, visiting the ruins and studying the ancient culture. Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelly, and Chaco Canyon, with Chaco Canyon featuring long, gravel entry roads (nps.gov/chcu/index.htm), are must-see destinations, so plan the time if you can. The remains of these mysterious people living here from the ninth to the thirteenth century A.D., well-preserved as they are, offer few clues as to where they came from, how long they were here, or what happened to them.

Four Days of Taos Area Culture Sport touring from the desert to the sky

“...Spectacular motorcycling may be what draws you in, but your off-bike experiences within this enchanted zone could keep you coming back forever”

Early travelers discovered a peaceful and serene spirit in the place called Taos. Still today, Taos has an especially unique feel that presents a strong calling to some. As far as motorcycle riding destinations go, there are few finer choices than traveling to north-central New Mexico.

If the scenery doesn't distract you to the point of just pulling your motorcycle over to absorb it all, the culturally interesting sights, scents, and sounds just might. Spectacular motorcycling may be what draws you in, but your off-bike experiences within this enchanted zone could keep you coming back forever. It will take many visits to uncover all the rich layers of appeal this area has to offer.

Sometimes it works well to stay in one town and do “cloverleaf-style” routing, riding off in a different direction each day, although this is not the best option in this case. I suggest you carry your overnight things with you for at least two of the days, and change your sleeping arrangements a couple of times. Outside of Taos proper, my best recommendations are to stay at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, and in the Village of Taos Ski Valley (see sidebar notes). Camping can be a good alternative too, with some very nice Forest Service, BLM, and State Parks managed grounds to pick from, if you come prepared for that.

While the map is filled with curvy route options, the elevations will also vary dramatically, with the temperatures and scenery changing accordingly. Thrill-filled rises in the roads that expose sweeping views, with convenient highway pull-outs to stop and enjoy them, are regular features of these roads. With so many photo opportunities, it is worth the time it takes to preserve a few memories.

The most noticeable landmark in most communities you pass through on this ride will be the church, some of which were built in the 17th century and have been used continuously since. Some special ones you should not miss seeing are located in Chimayo, Trampas, Abiquiu, and Ranchos de Taos. The Taos Pueblo is another worthwhile visit, being the oldest continually inhabited community (for over 1000 years) in the United States. The ruins of the original mission at the Pueblo date back to 1619.

When the summer has most of the Southwest heated up, riding and staying at higher elevations can be an enjoyable experience. If you like color, alpine wildflower viewing peaks in July and August, and Aspen leaves are turning golden in September. If you are an amateur mycologist (and are sure you know what you are doing!), edible fungi are usually prevalent along the forest trails during August. Don’t forget your fishing pole and camp grill, if you are so inclined!

For this extra long weekend trip, I am laying out four riding loops. Two of them are in the lower hills west of Taos, across the Rio Grande Gorge, and two are among the higher peaks surrounding Taos. The routes shown are my personal favorites, but don’t let that stop you from exploring some other roads too. In fact, there are so many fun rides in this part of the state that you can easily create several more loops for yourself.

Happy riding, and see you next time further west!

More Information and Interactive Map

Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa is a unique destination west of Taos that allows two days of riding in that area, while letting you take full advantage of the regenerative mineral hot springs. The spa has been a well-known traveler's layover for centuries, one of only a few special places in the world where so many different pure mineral springs are emerging. After a day or two of swiveling your head and upper body repeatedly to look and lean, through countless twists in these curvy mountain roads, your bones will no doubt appreciate an opportunity to relax on such a serious level. http://www.ojospa.com/

If you are just passing through the little town of Ojo Caliente you’ll want to stop at El Taquito Café for a quick, but delicious and authentic, New Mexico green chile cheeseburger. http://www.yelp.com/biz/el-taquito-cafe-ojo-caliente
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Riding in the mountains warrants giving special attention to preparation. Remember those layers of clothing we have talked about before (/moto-tourism/#article83603)? Be able to adjust your comfort zone up or down about 40 degrees F (outside temps) through the use of layered undergarments of various material densities. The sun can be piercingly hot in the high, clear air, just as quickly as the winds and rain can bring plunging temperatures where no escape is available. Add to this equation the thermal effects of wind chill at any riding speed.
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Once you are this close, it would just be wrong to miss the experience of staying in the highest elevation incorporated municipality in the nation: Taos Ski Valley. Next door to the state's tallest peak, at 13,161', and with municipal limits rising to over 12,600', the Village of Taos Ski Valley sits up quite a bit higher than most of the rest of New Mexico. You will be walking around at nearly twice the elevation of the surrounding countryside where you have been riding.

If your trip up to this point has seemed at all warm, you are sure to feel a big change among the tall pine trees. In fact, even in August, you should bring along a fleece jacket or sweater for the cool evenings. There are many summer and fall activities to enjoy in this small community, so check out the event schedule and plan to stay a little while. http://www.taosskivalley.com/
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Hidden behind the old La Cueva Mill, at the intersection of NM518 and NM442 (SE of Mora), resides the Salman Raspberry Ranch Store. This is another classic waypoint for rest and refreshments, and you will love sitting in the shade eating their famous home-made ice cream.  www.SalmanRaspberryRanch.com

Cloudcroft area weekend ride: Planetary cruising, high in the Sacramento Mountains

“...The beautiful asphalt winding generally southward from this cool mountain village, through the Sacramento Mountains of the Lincoln National Forest, has always been a hidden riding gem for motorcyclists in the know. ”

Surprises are always fun.  Especially, like maybe on your birthday, when you already know things are going to be good, but then all of a sudden you receive what you have always wanted as an unexpected gift. This weekend of riding around Cloudcroft carried exactly that sort of feeling for me.

The beautiful asphalt winding generally southward from this cool mountain village, through the Sacramento Mountains of the Lincoln National Forest, has always been a hidden riding gem for motorcyclists in the know.  Often coming from the hotter desert cities of El Paso or Albuquerque, or the eastern New Mexico flatlands, to spend all day just riding up and down this one 16 mile stretch of exquisite pavement leading to Sunspot. This particular trip however, held a wildcard bonus for me as I arrived at the end of the Sunspot Highway and discovered yet another 14 miles of amazing new blacktop, that terminates at the remote town of Timberon, called the Sacramento Canyon Road.

You say you don’t like traveling down “dead-end” roads? Let me assure you that if you are unwilling to make an out-and-back journey or two, you will absolutely miss some very fine riding opportunities in New Mexico. Some of the very best paved roads in this state lead to a small village or other obscure destination in the middle of an otherwise unpopulated viewscape. An adventure rider can usually keep going far past the asphalt, but that is a different story.

Don’t be led to believe that I am suggesting you go to Cloudcroft and spend the weekend running up and down the same 60 miles of back and forth. There are several nice loops to be made otherwise, that get you into a variety of interesting country. The best part of riding this area is the sense of discovery around every corner, with unexpectedly good pavement and fascinating places to stop and visit.

The previously mentioned Sunspot highway takes you past multiple overlooks, picnic or camping grounds, and the famously unique solar observatory, to the equally impressive stargazing through the renowned Apache Point telescopes. The remarkably clear skies above the Sacramento Mountains create the perfect stage for this research. The top of this hill is also good for observing the relatively close expanse of gypsum, equally as mysterious in its own way.

The short range birds-eye views one can get from off the rim of the mountain range’s westerly shoulder are quite impressive. Gazing out across the expansive White Sands National Monument literally gives one a chill, just thinking about the 30 degree higher temperatures out there in the desert so near. Spending time in the cool, and sweet smelling, mountain air is a welcome relief when the dry summer warmth covers so much of the southwestern United States.

Starting again from Cloudcroft, I rode out early one morning, heading north on the Mescalero Apache tribal road number 244. While they are open to the general public for cross travel, it is prohibited to wonder off these “through” roads. No need to stray anyway, as this route provides plenty of curvaceous entertainment. Turning west then south on NM70 lets you wind down to the desert floor in Tularosa, where a visit to the local pistachio orchard will reward you with a short rest and nutty snack.

South to Alamogordo and up the hill again (on NM82) alongside the route of the famous Cloudclimbing Railway brings you back once again to the pleasant alpine air. A quick stop for pie at the Apple Barn in High Rolls is well worth the time, as is considering a late breakfast or lunch in Cloudcroft's famous Western Bar and Grill. One alternate route for some exciting, well paved, turns is to jog uphill through La Luz and climb the canyon roads (Laborcita and Fresnel) all the way to High Rolls. There is one gravel water crossing right in the middle of this diversion to watch for however.

Along about 1900, the demand for railroad ties and mine timbers was great enough to create an entire logging industry in the Sacramento mountains. These huge old-growth trees were shuttled to the Alamogordo sawmill for processing on the railway built for that purpose. Soon, tourists found seats on the train to take them out of the heat into the cool pines, where a lodge was eventually built.

There are a lot of special places in New Mexico, and the Lodge Resort and Spa  in Cloudcroft is one of the best. I stayed there two nights and even the ghost stories would not keep me away again. Rebecca’s Restaurant is worth the trip alone with an amazing menu, and a peaceful night’s sleep is assured in the large comfortable hotel rooms which have been decorated similarly since the 1911 construction.

This was wild and untamed territory before those days. In 1855 for example, a wild chase from northern New Mexico culminated in a bloody battle on these slopes between the Apaches and the band of solders trying to recover lost horses. The predictable results were several deaths and few salvaged ponies.


More Information and Interactive Map

After enjoying a good lunch, or just restocking on water and snacks at the convenience store in Cloudcroft, the afternoon is a good time to embark on a longer ride into more remote country. Riding southeasterly on Hwy 130 (Cox Canyon Hwy) or straight east on NM82 either one is a great way to start this figure eight route, with Hwy 24 as the bottom loop. Expect to be gone three hours, or more, passing through the Villages of Weed, Pinon, Dunken, and Mayhill.

Gasoline can usually be found in these tiny towns, as long as the general store is open. Sometimes it is good to know where to find help too, and these ranching communities are full of friendly folks. All these routes are pretty isolated, with the ride and scenery being the main attractions. The large varieties of wildlife are not used to seeing much traffic either, so stay alert!

Silver City Area Weekend Ride Touring the twisty isolation of the Gila

“...How one arrives in Silver City is open to each individual’s own discretion, but once you get in the area, there are some roads and places a person simply must experience.”

“Hey Buddy” I hear. “Where are you (pick one):
-“riding from” -“riding to” ?
“Oh” I reply, “I’m coming in from the (pick one):
-“east” -“south” -“west” -“north”
“Cool” they say, “Sounds fun, I have (or “used to have”) a (pick one):
-“BMW” –“ Harley” –“Honda” –“any other brand”
“What is your favorite motorcycle road in New Mexico?” I usually ask at this point.

This is about the time when a common interaction at the fuel pump or restaurant generally turns pretty interesting.  Motorcycling is a bond that tends to bring people together from all walks of life. The intrigue of the ride seems to bridge interpersonal ravines like no other topic.

I am never sure what it is about my outfit that inspires people to ask about my travels, but I suspect it is the fully packed machine that gives me away as a serious traveler. Or, it could be that my riding suit, while by no means ragged with wear, sports plenty of the stains of experience. A committed motorcyclist more often than not looks the part, so people many times cannot withstand their curiosity, and overcoming any shyness they may possess, just have to ask, “Hey, where did you come from?”

This trip to Silver City was made more fun by the fact that there is no real straightforward route to get there from the north. Riding roads are about the only thing I prefer to be -less than straightforward- so I was happy about this. How one arrives in Silver City is open to each individual’s own discretion, but once you get in the area, there are some roads and places a person simply must experience.

The best known and well loved destination around here is perhaps the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. The site was established as a monument in 1907 by President Teddy Roosevelt. As one of the first National Monuments, the ancient dwellings and other cultural evidence of the Mogollon people, and others who came later, were therefore protected for generations to come.

City -of -rocksI also visited the City of Rocks State Park, which is a geological phenomenon to be sure. It is believed by scientists that these several hundred rocks the size of houses were spit from a volcano over 35 miles away near Emery Peak, and that they all landed right here in this one place. Many centuries of erosion has sculpted the volcanic stones into the soft lemming-like shapes you see today.

Choosing to ride into Silver City from the east is a good start to your southwestern New Mexico visit, as NM152 between Hillsboro and San Lorenzo, passing through the Gila National Forest over Emory Pass, is thought by some to be the most amazing road to ride in the entire state. If you can stand a little stop in the action, be sure and go to the Emery Pass Overlook, just a short way off the summit.

Silver City has a good selection of nice hotels and camp sites, making it a good choice for a two or three day weekend stay.  Naturally, there are also many fine places to eat here, and numerous activities to enjoy when not on the motorcycle. As you come near town, stop and gaze at the Santa Rita Copper mine, wow, what a hole.

The second day of riding can take you south on NM180 to City of Rocks, and then north on NM61 out of the cactus covered desert into the foothills. NM35 winds its way north around the low lying hills as it begins to climb into the alpine atmosphere. The air cools pleasantly as the road ascends into the Gila National Forest. Stop for a rest along the shores of Lake Roberts, and take note of several fine campsites along in here.

Once again turn north, on NM15, known as the Trail of the Mountain Spirits National Scenic Byway, to climb even more before descending into the canyon where you find the cliff dwellings and the naturally occurring Gila hot springs. Camping is available at the hot springs, or return to Silver City for the night after visiting the ancient ruins. Give yourself plenty of daylight to make this 146 mile loop, as the road is narrow and twisted, and darkness hides all manner of creatures ready to rush out into your path of travel.

The next day is a good one to start early if you plan to come back to Silver City. Taking the road to the northwest toward Reserve, turn east at Glenwood to go see the spectacular Catwalk Rapids of Whitewater Creek. Runoff waters rush headlong down a narrow canyon accessed for viewing only by a catwalk built into the wall of the cliff. You should not miss it.

When you get off the catwalk, go back to NM180 and continue on northeast to the sparsely inhabited not quite ghost town of Mogollon, an old mining village named after the folks that used to inhabit the area in the late 1200s. The road back to Silver City can be interrupted by an out and back trip down NM78, to just past the Arizona border. An aside is that if you are going home now to the west, you should experience Arizona highway 191 going north from Morenci to Alpine. Spectacular riding to be sure.

If you are returning home to the east, I encourage you to ride back across Emery Pass to Hillsboro, because after all, the best roads are completely different in the opposite direction. If you have an extra  four hours or so, another bonus is to ride out to Beaverhead on the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway , where the pavement ends going west on NM52/59 from Elephant Butte Lake, (I25 exit 83), and then ride back. It is 142 miles (round trip with no guarantee of gas, although Winston usually has it), of more really fun pavement.

Information

Make your way back to Silver City if you are staying and find one of their cool happenings that weekend. A whole calendar of festivals and shows is available to plan around on the tourism website. This is very helpful when looking at lodging and dining options as well.

Stay tuned for more riding. Next time, we will travel to the mountain village of Cloudcroft!

Photo and Story Credit: Roger Pattison, New Mexico native and moto-tourism advocate.

Silver -city -4

Carlsbad to Cloudcroft Dual Sport tour of the Guadalupe Rim and the Sacramento Mountains

“...The Guadalupe Rim is soon in view and it is actually a rather tall and very wide escarpment.”

Starting a Dual Sport tour of New Mexico in Dell City Texas may seem to be an unlikely scenario, but it is about the only way to begin at the New Mexico border without backtracking. What we did was run south to Carlsbad, New Mexico and found a place to spend the night, and then got out early to ride down to Dell City the next morning.

The services in Dell City are minimal, with no lodging we know of. Camping spots are available in the Guadalupe National Park and in several places within the Lincoln National Forest. Here in this small town with a farming history, as in “the farmer in the Dell”, we met two riders from Anthony, New Mexico coming to join us. We all filled up with gas for the long trek.

All four of us were on heavier dual sport motorcycles, or, you could say lighter weight adventure bikes. Three of us had 650cc single cylinder bikes and the other was on a 700cc twin. We were carrying the extra weight of spare fuel, tools, extra parts, and even camping gear. The destination from here is Cloudcroft, which is achievable in one day, or it is easy to split this 225 mile backcountry route into two segments if you plan on seeing everything more closely and are set up to camp. Which you should be…

It seems as though when you head north from the Texas border that the world is flat. It doesn’t take long for the terrain to dispel that impression however. The Guadalupe Rim is soon in view and it is actually a rather tall and very wide escarpment.

There is no way up the west side, so it is necessary to ride along the base toward the south, and climb up the less steep southern end. Soon it is clearly a bit cooler and you will begin to see impressive overlooks of the valley you just left. You have already climbed over 3000 feet. (Img 0628)

This is part of the Guadalupe Ranger District of the Lincoln National Forest. This is one of the three island districts that make up the Lincoln, which was established in 1902, and totals 1,103,897 acres. Predominately grown up in scrub oak, pinon and juniper, this is all pretty dry land here in the south. (Img 0620)

Continuing north back off the rim and further west will eventually have you twisting along on SR24 for a short way, into the Sacramento Ranger District, and then off pavement again toward the small town of Weed. This is a ride where you should be prepared to go 225 miles before needing fuel, even if that means carrying a small container on the back seat. Weed sometimes has gasoline at the Weed Country Store, but don’t count on it. Things you should count on when you stop in there are a little conversation and some nice snacks. (Img 0635)

Continuing further west through tall stands of pine (Img 0639 and Img 0644), you eventually hit the Sacramento Canyon Hwy, which goes south from Sunspot to Timberon. This is a nearly new piece of pavement and it is pretty nice, with almost no straight sections anywhere in its 15 or so mile length. You will only be on it slightly more than a mile this trip, before cutting over to the West Side Road, with some 30 miles of twisty gravel heading north into High Rolls. (Img 0652)

When you turn back east from High Rolls there are only eight miles of beautiful asphalt into Cloudcroft, to wrap up this 320 mile route. This trip, we stayed at the Aspen Motel in Cloudcroft and ate at the Western Bar and Café. Both places are clean, homey, and friendly.

Special places to visit not far off this route are: Carlsbad Caverns; Guadalupe Mountain National Park; and the Sunspot “Apache Point” Observatory. Mostly the attraction of this part of New Mexico is the vast openness, and beautiful solitude. Remoteness can be harsh if you are not prepared however.

Passing through high desert to alpine climates sometimes requires several layers of under and outer clothing. In remote areas, always be wary of quickly changing weather. Be prepared with a good pack of tools and gear. There are no services or immediate help in most of these places.

More Information and Interactive Map

The Cloudcroft area is full of wonderfully paved roads through the Sacramento Mountains, and I will be back soon to cruise around on them and savor the cool pines and sweeping vistas.

“Good Signs” Backcountry discovery near Cochiti

“...Crossing a wide dry arroyo when you can see dark skies around you is never a great idea. If there is no other way, then at least look well upstream for signs of water approaching before riding off across the dry sand. ”

I was looking for any sign of spring. There were some to be found, and signs of other things too. My first dual sport ride in New Mexico for this season seemed to take forever to get here. Leaving home, it was snowing, but surely there were flowers somewhere in April, I thought.

It was also snowing in Las Vegas, where the plan was to look for these illusive flowers, so instead I headed further south. Finally turning off of North NM-14 just south of Golden onto the Puertocito Road, there were suddenly a lot of signs, but slightly different in nature than I had thought to look for. What followed was a good refresher on the rules of backcountry motorcycle touring.

Rule 1- Stay on the road. While there are many roads in rural New Mexico that are open to the public, they usually all go through some stretches of private land, or Pueblo lands. A “No Trespassing” sign usually means just that; Stay on the Road! Private property notices should remind everyone to resist all temptation to wander off the designated route.

Rule 2 – Give all cattle and wildlife the right-of-way. They are usually bigger than you, and way faster. Signs of livestock on the road are pretty noticeable, including hoof prints and poop. Slow down when animals, or their signs, are spotted, and wait for them to move off the path of travel. Keep an eye on them as you pass by too, because they can change their minds and direction quickly.

Rule 3 – Never go through a closed gate. A gate is not only to keep the animals inside a fence. It also screams “Keep Out” to everyone else. Most gates will be locked, but even if not, don’t go there. Signs saying you will be prosecuted for trespassing are True.

Rule 4 – Obey “Road Closed” signs. Even if you can find a way around the barriers, don’t. Most public roads are managed by a public agency, like a County, the State, BLM, or the USFS. Therefore, the jurisdictional body usually has the right to close the access. Most of the time, there is a good reason, like the Elk calving season. No question, there are more and more of these “signs of the times”, but disobedience can lead to permanent closures.

Rule 5 – Watch for signs of bad weather. They say: “If you don’t like the weather in New Mexico, just wait a little while, it will change”. That is never more true than when it is clear, warm, and sunny. Things can turn bad quickly, and catch a rider by surprise. A rain storm ten miles away can suddenly cause a flash flood to come by right in front of you, or the road to turn to mush.

Crossing a wide dry arroyo when you can see dark skies around you is never a great idea. If there is no other way, then at least look well upstream for signs of water approaching before riding off across the dry sand. Get across quickly! If the water is already running past, don’t even try to get across. It is always deeper than it looks from the bank.

Rule 6 – Watch for changing road surfaces and soil types. In the backcountry, things can change fast, and so being able to stop quickly is helpful. Learn the techniques for riding in soft or wet conditions, and practice before heading off into the unknown. While crossing arroyos, the soil can turn from hard clay to deep soft sand. Keeping a good eye ahead can save you from being surprised.

Rule 7 – Take maps, and/or a GPS receiver. Getting lost may be adventuresome, but can also be very scary, especially after it gets dark. Having a well thought out plan will almost always save you trouble.

Rule 8 – Give yourself plenty of time. You should have a good idea how long a route will take you, so use your common sense. Don’t start off into unfamiliar country in the middle of the afternoon, unless you are ready to camp wherever you find yourself when darkness comes along.

Rule 9 – Take someone else with you, and tell people where you are planning to go. Having an emergency locator transponder (ELT) on board, such as SPOT, can get you out of trouble but it might not be soon enough. By the time emergency help responds, you might be dead. Having a good medical kit, and someone along to use it on you could save your life. Preparation prevents pain!

Rule 10 – Be prepared! Think of everything, make a list and take it all. Even with a riding companion, you are responsible for having everything you need. Can you fix a flat in the middle of the road? Do you have a chain repair kit? Got plenty of layers to stay warm, or a way to take layers off to cool down?

A sign of age confronted me at one bend in the road, not my own age mind you, but that of the ghost town of Hagan. cityofdust.blogspot.com/2011/05/hagan-new-mexico.html is a good place to learn more, and also www.ghosttowns.com/states/nm/hagan.html . This once booming coal town had a thriving economy and the railroad coming through in the early 1900s, but like so many towns in New Mexico, was abandoned when the ore played out.

It always makes me feel wistfully distant from the modern world when gazing upon the remains of some bygone era. Never mind that (in this case) if I had listened closely enough, I might actually have been able to hear the sounds of the modern world passing by on I-25. A little further up the road northward are the even more degraded remains of Coyote, also from the coal mining days. Both these sites are on private property, and the signs say: “Stay Out”, so, take your look at history from the roadway.

Signs -int -tent -rocksAfter crossing under I-25, riding north from San Felipe Pueblo on BIA-85, the road peeled off to the left toward Tent Rocks National Monument, so the bike headed that way. These volcanic rocks are formed into stone tipis, and have been shaped by weather based erosion for centuries. There is a very nice picnic area at the trailhead, with tables and trees. Park the bike and take a hike for a closer look.

In Cochiti Lake (the village) gas and food can be found at the RAM convenience store from 6am to 10pm. Gas is typically less expensive in this remote outlet than elsewhere, a bonus of riding across Pueblo lands. Casual dining is also available at the Stone Kiva restaurant, by the golf course north of the village, from 8am to 5pm, and they open earlier in the summer as golfing days lengthen. Covered camping spots with services are available for a small fee, by the reservoir near the dam.

Travelling further north from Cochiti Lake on Route 298, the burn areas from the recent Las Conchas Fire were distinctive, as well as from the slightly older Cerro Grande Fire. The landscape is now almost completely brown, with almost no ground cover, from what has been named the second largest forest fire on record in New Mexico. Erosion is already taking its heavy toll, as the soil is mostly sand with loose rock, therefore highly erodible. Stay on the roadway! Landslides can occur during heavy rainfall.

Evidence says these fires spread so quickly and so far, due to decades of extreme fire suppression practices within the National Parks Service and the lack of active forest thinning, creating dense thickets of undergrowth and ladder fuels. These results have greatly influenced fire containment and forest management policies around the country.

At one point on this road just north of Cochiti, the route goes right down into the sandy river bottom of the Rio Chiquito. Riding in the running water is kind of peaceful in a way, until you see the trashy evidence along the high banks of the furiously destructive torrents of rushing water that are created with heavy rains. Flash floods are no small consideration anywhere in this canyon fill landscape.

Signs -int -flowersWhen the day was about over, I finally found some flowers, on the budding fruit trees near Espanola. Spring really is upon us. The beautifully vivid colors poking out from the gray of winter will brighten any trip. Soon the wildflowers will be adding to the “huescape” along the ride, in remote pockets of moisture, and summer riding season will be well underway.


More

Stay tuned to this page for more information about where (and how) to ride in New Mexico, whether you are on a lightweight backcountry touring bike, or a heavyweight cruiser, we will have several interesting day trips, weekend trips, and grand tours to talk about over the next several months.

Happy riding!

Roger