From Santa Fe we took the Railrunner to Belen. The cheap city train, in addition to make “beep beep” sounds as the cartoon’s roadrunner, was great as we could just shove our bicycles on board and miss some of the busy traffic out of Santa Fe. Our plan was to follow a bikepacking trail –“Apaches, conquistadores and a bomb”– in Southwest/Central New Mexico.
Beautiful landscapes, good camps and a nice trail got us to Magdalena, where we stopped to have some fries, refill on water and bought some extra groceries, though options were very limited other than for snacks and drinks.
We actually wanted to make it to very near the VLA (more on that below) that day but we spent a tad too much time in Magdalena and a very cold wind started to blow as we left. We found a camp not long after. It was a pretty cold night, after all we were at the beginning of November and it starts getting noticeably cooler in parts of New Mexico then.
As we approached the Very Large Array (radio astronomy observatory), we started making out the huge “dishes”, 27 antennas 25 meters in diameter each, whose data is combined to give the resolution and sensitivity of a much larger telescope.
We stopped and did the self-guided tour for 6USD, well worth the visit. If you have any remote interest in astronomy it’s quite fascinating: https://public.nrao.edu/visit/very-large-array/. For more technical information: http://www.vla.nrao.edu/ .
Back on the trail we carried on to Truth or Consequences (ToC) -a town originally named “Hot Springs” renamed from a TV show in the 60s- over the next couple of days. If you are interested in doing both the Apaches, Conquistadores and a bomb trail, and the New Mexico Off-road Runner bikepacking trail one after the other as we had initially planned, be aware that the section from Belen to ToC is pretty much the same on both trails- better take an alternative then to avoid doing the same thing again. By the time we got to ToC however we had decided not to do the Off-road Runner as the weather was turning too cold for it except for the southernmost part.
In ToC, we stayed with a really nice retired couple who hosted us via Warmshowers. Time for me to fix a ton of punctures (15 in total) collected over the last few days and we ended up calling Truth or Consequences the New Mexican capital of punctures due to the number I got just rolling around town. There are a lot of hot pools around from hot springs under the town (hence the original name), but otherwise downtown ToC didn’t appeal to us too much due to the combination of a lot of closed and closing down shops/cafes as well as having to fend off many locals who one after another really, really wanted to tell us about really weird spiritual theories. Crystals and crystal balls, sad and obsessive memories of past lives, taking strange decisions due to a teller’s tellings, you name it, you’ll find someone to tell you all about it somewhere in ToC. Passing through strange places is all part of travelling obviously though and we both smile at the memory.
Out of ToC we set off on a planned detour from the trail I had enticed Ian into- A cycle to the Gila Cliffs via Silver City and Mimbres. We almost thought we weren’t going to make it, due to the weather turning suddenly stormy and cold over the next couple of days to Silver City as well as my bicycle getting many, many flats. A man ushered us into a motel which wasn’t normally taking tourists when he saw us battling the rain/thunderstorm at the end of the first day, and then I spent more time fixing tubes in Silver City once arrived there…In the meantime we had a big pass and then a big hill to ride through, and a cold night of camping.
After cycling along the Santa Rita Mine we finally entered into Silver City on the third day. The Santa Rita Mine is pretty impressive as it basically looks like a mountain has been cut in half for mining…In Silver City we stayed at the “Bike Haus”, a houseshare who welcomes cyclists with open arms and has a funky interior, as some of the housemates are part of a puppet-making collective !
The weather not being extremely warm over the next few days and Silver City picking our curiosity, we ended up sticking around a bit and exploring the town.
We particularly enjoyed riding around in the Boston Hills -without our usual load and less pressure in our tyres- just outside downtown who has some fun and somewhat rocky singletrack and also some mesh-covered old mine pits you can try to ride on… But some areas are getting closed in the BHs now as they are less structurally sound, so be aware of the risks if you go there.
From Silver City to Gila it was a bunch of steep passes on a somewhat windy road but we both particularly enjoyed the cycling and the scenery, and the relative lack of traffic…We also passed a few free campsites on the way to the junction of the 35 and the 15 via Pinos Altos which would somewhat trick us up on the way back down after Mimbres as there are no free campsites on the 35… https://tourofthegila.com/route/stage-5/ shows the approximate route we followed to go to Gila except we started from Silver City and finished in San Lorenzo in a “fork” shape.
It might be where a race takes place every year and the area being well known amongst roadies we met quite a few cyclists hammering it… but we cycled at a leisurely pace enjoying a stop at the Gila Hot Springs Campground at the end of our first day. It was particularly welcome as the thermometer descended to 20F that night (-6C) and we could relax our sore muscles in the hot water under the stars. It’s 8USD per person to camp and soak there, well worth it, but if you go there make sure to book in advance especially on weekends as we were very lucky to show up and just nab the last spot available.
The following day we spent most of our time exploring the famous Gila Cliffs, cliff dwellings built in eroded caves by the Mogollons, a native local tribe, around the 1200s, (https://www.nps.gov/gicl/index.htm )
… before racing up and down again to near the junction to camp. There seems to be a lot to explore in the Gila wilderness off the more beaten paths too, but we had other plans and apart from Silver City there aren’t much resupply options in the area. The following day we cycled to San Lorenzo, where we camped before cycling back to ToC and beyond…
…back on the Apaches, Consquistadores and a bomb bikepacking trail.
We found the trail to be overall much easier than other trails with a similar difficulty rating, quite mellow and an enjoyable ride even on loaded bikes, apart from the last 20 miles or so to the highway junction to San Antonio, by the Bosque del Apache, as the trail good noticeably softer and sandier and we also had to battle a full-on, in-our-faces headwind. The junction is actually were we left the trail for good as the last 40 miles were described as quite hard and I had convinced Ian to do yet another detour !
I had heard the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife refuge was great for bird watching. Unfortunately on arriving at the visitor centre we were told we had to pay a 5USD fee to enter the park and bicycles could only go on a very reduced portion of the park at that time of the year. Sure bicycles make birds fly away, but we thought they could have made a better effort to include cyclists or reduce the fee, as we don’t pollute as much as cars and this is after all a wildlife refuge. Therefore we figured out there was little chance for us to spot a lot of wildlife there and so decided to eschew the visit. However, the staff at the visitor centre did indicate us a car park on the way back from the Refuge, where at that time of the year we could see sandhill cranes come in flocks to their roosting area for the night…
It was a great experience and in the end we were glad to have made the extra effort to come there. It would be interesting to come in the area at different times of the year as the species of birds you can see change.
We then went to a free camp where we froze our bottles and our asses off again. In the morning we went to a somewhat famous roadside cafe where we met Tom, a Brit walking across the US…
For the back story Tom also took a pic of us, and of course we realized afterwards he captured us in a situation that has been usual in the past few days: my rear tyre was flat again on the picture…
We then cycled to Socorro in the afternoon and from there we took a bus shuttle back to Belen, just in time to catch the train back to Santa Fe again. The shuttle needs to be booked beforehand to make sure they can take bicycles then, and you’ll need to remove your bags from the bike too.
Back in Santa Fe for the last time it was time to fix once for all what had became a very annoying repetitive punctures issue on my bicycle.
The rubber was getting thinner and thinner on my Maxxis which weren’t already very resistant to punctures set up with tubes. After 11000km (6800miles) on those tyres, I was curious to try another set of tyres as well as setting them tubeless…
I can only recommend the bicycle shop in Santa Fe who helped us to set them tubeless, The Broken Spoke.
We had a chance to test out the tubeless pretty quickly as out of Santa Fe, after taking the train out again, we cycled from Belen to Mountainair and camped in between in a place where we had to haul the bikes across bushes of thorns. Success !
I just had to get used to run my tyres with slightly lower pressure than usual. The extraterrestrial are also great for a mix of on-road and off-road as they don’t have a lot of resistance on pavement compared to the Maxxis but still perform great on trails.
From Mountainair we cycled to Gran Quivira where we hoped to visit the ancient ruins…
But alas, we were to be snowed in again that night !
And the monument of course closed for half a day because of the light sprinkling which melted within an hour of the sunrise.
We kept charging to Carrizozo, just as the wind got stronger and it was also Ian’s turn to get punctures.
We stopped in Claunch, a hamlet who used to have a school, a church, and a few dozen inhabitants but we discovered that while most of the buildings were still standing there were only 4 inhabitants left.
No coffee at the communal post office for us then.
We made it to Carrizozo that day, and it was meant to be freezing cold that night. Tired of fighting the wind all day, we asked around for a sheltered spot we could pitch our tent in to gain a bit of warmth. We then crossed the path of Ross, a fellow cyclist, and his wife, who offered to put us up for the night !
Ross and Joan had rescued a few goats and horses and we had time to meet them as they very kindly offered us to stay at theirs the next day…while waiting for the weather to improve. Waiting for bad weather to pass by now had became a bit of a pattern for us…
We changed plans again as due to snow dropping at higher elevations, another bikepacking trail starting in Ruidoso we had our eyes on was not doable anymore.
We decided to go directly to Lincoln and then Roswell.
Lincoln had been on our list for a while being the home of Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War. The historical buildings and houses from the end of the 19th century have been preserved or rebuilt and you can stroll around the town almost feeling as in a Western movie.
We then carried on to Roswell. The picture below is actually a common sight in the US, as folks seem to think that road signs are prefect targets for shooting practice.
New Mexico is quite conservative and rural. While we had toured before in Idaho and Wyoming which are somewhat similar politically, New Mexico was where we really got the occasion to talk with locals on their opinion about guns laws and guns owning. A lot of the people we talked to about it explained that for them owning guns was seen as a question of self-preservation, being keeping their own freedom from the government or able to respond to a burglary for example, as the police wouldn’t be able to get there quickly. It’s compared to having anti-venom stocked at home. As Europeans though we still found the logic a tad strange, but we do live after all in much more densely populated countries overall whose organization is quite different.
Coming back to Roswell, its atmosphere left us quite cold again. A strange city of 30000 inhabitants spread out as is usual in the States, with alien-themed shops, not a lot of services and not much of a character or young community feel. The good part though is that pecans are grown all around Roswell, and we sure had a few. We still stayed a few days there, time for a new cassette to arrive in for me.
After Roswell we still had another cold night camping in Artesia and rode to Carlsbad, and then Carlsbad Caverns, which are several kilometers uphill from a turnoff at Whites City.
We had a nice camp just before Whites City at an iOverlander spot, where we enjoyed the view and could see the oil wells flames in the distance.
Unfortunately it wasn’t the time of the year to see the the bats flight out of the caverns, but the caverns themselves, on the Unesco World Heritage List, are a wonder… The main cave goes on for about 3 miles (5km).
Leaving Carlsbad we had done a big shop as we planned to carrying on to different destinations after visiting the Caverns. We each expected a few days ride before a resupply option. After almost 2 months in New Mexico it was time to say goodbye to the state, its diversity and beautiful trails, hatch chile, and to each other.
Ian was headed for Eastern Texas while I had plans to cycle to El Paso and catch a bus to Tucson there. I considered cycling all the way to Tucson but time was starting to run out, I would have backtracked quite a bit in similar landscapes then and I wasn’t looking forward to a succession of cold nights again. Tucson area was meant to be quite warm however, and I was also craving for a climbing fix which the area could certainly provide.
Before getting there though, there were some headwinds to fight though…