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Robinson Crusoe in New Mexico

The roads that my dog and I were biking on were excellent. I am addicted to not really knowing what the answer is, when I go on a ride. There are no websites to spoon-feed you 'practical' details about these dirt/gravel side roads and two-tracks. (Contrast this with single track riding, where some smartphone app answers everything in advance.)

There were pleasant surprises on today's ride. Granted, it doesn't take a lot to please me, as long as it is a surprise. Recently graded roads, flattish terrain, and nice grazing land with higher country in the background.

I was so contented I wondered why it had bothered me for years that I had to do all that riding by myself, or rather, with just a dog for a companion. I am now longer bothered by it. Perhaps enough years of committing the same mistake makes a guy adopt the attitude of the old horse in the movie, "Babe", who told the farm's malcontents, "The only way you are ever going to be happy is to accept t…

"Zero Visibility Possible"

Normally I don't drive my rig on windy days. But I was doing it today, with the excuse being that I had a tail wind. A brown cloud was visible in the sky over towards the infamous Willcox AZ playa.

But I was already downwind of that, so why not keep going east to New Mexico? Soon there were the famous signs along Interstate-10 warning of  "Zero Visibility Possible." I have seen these for many years, and always had a good chuckle over them.

The first indication of something unusual coming up were state police cars, with their lights flashing. Then the sky ahead looked murky -- but more of a dirty white color than the brown you would expect.

As traffic slowed, the semi-truck ahead of me looked 'weird.' I could see down the entire 'port' (left) side of it, even though I was directly behind, with no turns in the road. Apparently the wind from 'port' was 'quarter aft', and it caused the trailer of the semi-truck to blow into an angle that made it …

Any Way to Get an Authentic Native American Experience?

Long-suffering readers probably think that Native Americans are among my favorite piñatas, but that's not really true. But it is true of the gringo's romanticization of Native Americans. 

Earlier I wrote about how easily charmed I once was by an Indian squaw carrying her papoose around in a laundromat I was using at the time. I insist on believing that she learned that trick from her mother or grandmother, and not from a college course called, "Native American Heritage 101," taught by a professor with a federal grant. This proves I am a bigot with a heart of gold.

The best places to think about this issue of Authenticity versus Romanticization are those where the juxtaposition of the two things is extreme.  Consider the northwestern edge of burgeoning St. George, UT: there an upscale gringo retirement enclave lives only a few miles from a small and raggedy-assed rez. 

Another, and larger scale example, is Santa Fe versus Española, NM. (That latter is a rez town that ma…

The Evanescence of a Trail

It was hard to believe this forest road: it was an official road on the official map. But why weren't there any tire ruts in it? The grass and other vegetation had filled the road space in. But there was a noticeable road space: flat and smooth. 

Where were all the rocks? Credit the geology for that. 

It was strange to think that I had all this to myself, while just a few miles away in Abiquiu, the tourists were burning up in the heat to see the standard things. Perhaps a place like Coyote NM lacks the cachet they are looking for.

The topography was perfect for mountain biking, albeit backwards. When you camp at 9200 feet, you will usually have to start a ride going downhill -- not what is desirable. But in a heat wave, what else can you do? So smooth was this "road." It felt funny to have the grass tickling my bare leg.

I really hoped this road didn't crap off on me, because it would be a long push/walk back up the hill. It is the buggy season, June, if you think that …

Back to Marvelous Dirt Road Mountain Biking

Going back to mountain biking on dirt roads -- rather than single-track trails -- is a straightforward opportunity to think independently of the System, and to reap rewards. Surely, this is easy to preach and hard to practice.

If you limit yourself to areas with networks of single-track trails, you will tend to pin yourself down in more touristy areas. The more uncrowded areas, with the best dispersed camping, have no single track trails, but they have manyregular ol' dirt forest roads. 

New Mexico is under-rated as a place to mountain bike on dirt forest roads. The best feature is the balance between scenery and rideable topography. Look at this photo:


The cliff is pretty high and steep, and therefore fun to look at. But imagine there were a road along the top of the cliff. It would be challenging enough, but at the same time, not too steep. Those are the magic words for enjoying mountain biking, "not too steep."

The land was cooperating with me. Have you spent a little too…

The Second-best Sensual Pleasure Outdoors

Sometimes you just have to slow down and soak it up.  My campsite was broadside to the west wind, coming off a large sagebrush flat near Cuba, NM. It was the hottest time indoors, 4 o'clock. But soon the shade from one large ponderosa pine would cool off my trailer. This was proof of how few trees a summer camper really needs.

I hardly ever sit outside in a chair, therefore I was paying Mother Nature a genuine honor to move a chair into the shade of that lone ponderosa, and do absolutely nothing. Normally it is more comfortable and useful to be inside my little igloo on wheels. Usually people don't use 'windy' as a compliment, but they should: not only does it cool you, but it keeps the bugs off.

But this afternoon I just sat there, indolently and contentedly, in the shade of that lone ponderosa, and took a wind-bath in la brisa fresca from the west. Since I dislike heat, and this was the hottest day since February in Yuma, it was easy to appreciate the cool breeze almo…

So What Happens When You Miss Your Turn?

I was getting that sinking feeling that I had missed my turn. Sure enough, I ended up 60 miles away from where I was "supposed" to be. It happens every now and then. So what?

You can't be lost near the edges of the Plains of San Agustin in central New Mexico. It is unique, or at least rare. It's a chance to escape the sameness of mountains.

Lately I've been doing better than usual at having good camping experiences in places that I tend to neglect. Why the neglect? Is it just internet addiction? There is usually wi-fi somewhere, although it is expensive to use it unless you have a will of iron to resist eating there.

But I have it easy. What if I was a real city-slicker with some extreme, ideological diet? How would you survive with the tiny grocery stores? Western Family, and Shur-Fine brands are the only things that aren't priced at a confiscatory level. There are a few staples available, and with a tub of dry goods and canned goods in the rig, you should be a…

Thirsting for a Special Type of "Beauty" in the Badlands

Reserve, NM. I was up to my old tricks on a hike when I became aware of an unusual thirst and satisfaction. By 'old tricks' I mean choosing hiking over mountain biking on unusually cold days, leaving early, walking up canyons with my dog, and avoiding marked trails. Obviously I never take my GPS gadget or study Google Earth before going on an outing: no cheating is allowed!

What was unusual was the badlands topography: one arroyo and ridge, leading to the next. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. I had never noticed before how extreme randomness in a landscape creates a desperate thirst for some kind of order or pattern. 

Looking at badlands has somewhat the same effect as looking at "Medusans" in an episode in the third season of Star Trek: the Medusans were reputed to have the most sublime thoughts in the galaxy, but their bodies had evolved into a formlessness so ugly that the mere sight of them would drive human beings insane.

For awhile the only …

Travel Envy

For whatever reason I continue to glance at bicycle touring blogs frequently. Usually it only takes a glance to gong them, and for reasons you can easily guess. Nevertheless it is almost worth the daily discouragement in order to experience occasional bliss. And I'm doing that now, with a blog by a cycling couple from the San Juan Islands, who are touring a park northwest of Seville, Spain.

Why do I enjoy the Griffins' blog so much? In part it may be that their lack of tent camping spares the reader a lot of repetitive details. But I even enjoy their photographs, which I usually dismiss in travel blogs.

Perhaps the route itself gets some of the credit. They are riding medium-fat-tire bikes on dirt trails in what is almost a national park. The trails are usually mild -- an under-rated pleasure in bicycling, if there ever was one.  Remember that there is no mountain biking allowed in national parks in "freedom-loving" America. The scenery is much like New Mexico, except…

"Kabloona" at the Four Corners

Last week I went to Utah to pick up my new cargo trailer. It was a long drive, so I decided to spend the night in my tow vehicle (a full-sized van), and pick up the trailer the next morning. How odd that I had never done this before! It was pretty uncomfortable sleeping in the back of a van with four bicycles inside. Nobody wants to roll over in bed and plant their face into a greasy bicycle chain.

But after a bit of obsessing over 'space' I started to grow suspicious that this reaction was too conventional and easy. Perhaps I was mislabeling the problem. The real problem wasn't space per se, tight as it was. The problem was 'transitioning.' 

People (like me) who aren't any good at transitioning can easily dislike conventional travel. It never occurred to me that the problem wasn't travel per se, but rather, packing and unpacking, looking for everything, zipping and unzipping, forgetting stuff, learning and unlearning daily habits, etc.

The real breakthrough i…

Why Climb Mountains?

"...it is not sufficiently considered that men more frequently require to be reminded than informed."  [Samuel Johnson, Rambler #2, available at Quotidiana.org]Few better examples of that aphorism could be found than that of a traveler, moving up into Colorado for the summer, who rereads Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air."  And so I did, just before climbing Mt. Taylor near Grants, NM.

It might seem silly to read about somebody's hard-core adventure before heading off to our own soft-core adventure. But is it silly for somebody walking along an ocean beach to wade out, ankle-deep, into the incoming foam? It helps them connect mentally and philosophically with the ocean. 

I haven't enjoyed a hike this much, in years. Although Mt. Taylor is only 11,300 feet high, it completely lords over a large section of New Mexico. It was oddly calm on top. The lack of wind made for visibility of 70 miles in all directions.

There are certain conditions that almost guarantee a…

Nostalgia on a Shore Line

It seemed like a pretty hopeless place to enjoy water sports: a New Mexico state park. (Heron Lake.) The lake looked like somebody pulled the cork out of the bottom. And yet, the 6 or 8 paddlers, sailors, and fishermen seemed to be enjoying themselves.


I personally never had great success with water sports, despite a fair bit of effort. But the two sailboaters here were putting the New Mexican wind to good use.  Overnight they camped right down by the water, in their small rigs. Even after a night of relative aeolian quiescence, the waves were still making a pleasant music against the shoreline at sunrise.

Isn't that great!? State park bureaucrats actually allow people the freedom to have fun, here. Don't ask me how they reconcile such behavior with Patriotism and America's security needs. 

And speaking of fun. The next morning Kurumi Ted took Chaco, the Labrador retriever, and my kelpie, Coffee Girl, down to a stream that actually had flowing water in it. The lab gave his im…

Verizon Creates a New Camping Mecca

I don't talk about specific dispersed campsite locations and resent it when other people do. Why this should be so might be the subject of a later post. Today I want to tell you about a large area of dispersed camping that is now attractive, thanks to it finally getting Verizon cell coverage. How many times does a huge block of high quality public land open up? Actually it isn't all that often that Verizon adds a whole new tower in a rural area. This is news, folks.

For years it has been a pleasant drive through southwestern New Mexico, going from Silver City to Springerville AZ on US-180. There were many dirt roads heading off into interesting public lands, but I seldom stopped for long, because there was no Verizon cellphone/internet coverage. What a pity.


This year I was delighted to pick up a strong signal near Glenwood, NM. I pulled over to scan the horizon for a new tower. The only one visible was on a tall mountain three miles west of Glenwood. The tower wasn't new; p…

Fire and Ice

Silver City, NM. Today confirms an ever-strengthening prejudice of mine that pain and pleasure are linked in a dialectic, and that Comfort is the great false Idol of the tourist and RV newbie. There is a pleasure unique to a morning like this.

On my drive back into New Mexico I saw tumbleweeds ensnared in the upper horizontal members of utilitypoles. "Only in southern New Mexico," I smirked. But actually the wind has been howling in this entire quadrant of the country. It doesn't bother me as much as it does some people. Still, it does take its toll on you. You begin to feel like you are under constant assault.

And now this. Perfect calm, perfectly blue skies, clean air. At my dispersed campsite, a turkey vulture is searching vainly for a thermal; it is too cold. Until then it can only do languid spiral loops over the grassland. 

The inside of the trailer reached the low 30s F this morning. I slept in until sunrise. Never underestimate the pleasure of morning sun into a fro…

Part 4, Beyond Postcards: Drowning in Earth-Cracks

It was an odd and pleasant experience to walk into the "breaks" near Socorro, NM; and of course that means I have to try to explain it. After all, if I don't think about and write about odd and powerful experiences, what should I write about?

I don't know if most readers caught it, but during the discussion of my last post on this topic, history was quietly made: one of the outdoors-blogosphere's most notorious and incorrigible optical-sybarites (grin) admitted that a breathtakingly beautiful, 1200-foot-high, sheer vertical, redrock cliff is not necessarily 1.3333 times as breathtakingly beautiful as an identical cliff that is only 900 feet high.

It is time to be a good sport and move on. I will nobly resist the tendency to be greedy by also trying to get him to admit that:
We should stop calling things beautiful when they are just freakishly large, and therefore have been made into a national park.The freakishly large is certainly entertaining, but only in a cheap …

Part 3, Beyond Postcards: Gulliver Goes "Break" Dancing

Earlier I posted about learning that I lacked the 'right set of balls' for exploring some BLM land near Socorro, NM. Something else happened that day.

It was an area called the "breaks," which I take to mean interesting topographies carved out by side streams of the Rio Grande. It was a fascinating area. It made me regret not seeing the Missouri Breaks in Montana before I gave up on going north in the summer, after the cost of transportationgot so high. 

As always, I doted over the vertical sidewalls of the arroyos:


Although only 12 feet tall, this sidewall was as vertical and red as any cliff in XYZ National Park that is gawked at by 4.6 million visitorsper year when doing the obligatory "auto loop tour." (Wasn't it Edward Abbey in "Desert Solitaire" who griped about a new loop being added to the park where he was a seasonalranger?)

Conglomerate is a surprisingly durable material:



Further upstream I saw a 'first' for me: a miniature mesa …