Monday, April 2, 2012

Fall Foliage Ride – New Mexico 2011

Lest you’ve been duped into thinking that I’ve been keeping current on my posts this year, here’s one that’s nearly six months behind. Wouldn’t it be nice to be equipped with a fancy netbook for my upcoming big trip?  In any case, I had a few days at my disposal late last October, and decided a foliage viewing ride was in order.  That’s as good of an excuse as any, right?   Northern AZ perhaps?  With low temps predicted to be in the teens?  Try again.  Why not revisit some roads in New Mexico, but this time without the rain?

Not about to mess with perfection, I started the trip the very same way, pointing my two wheels directly at Mount Graham, with its formidable Swift Trail Parkway that rises, via a delightful concentration of steep hairpin turns, from 3,000 feet to over 10,000 in 33 miles.  I can’t think of a better way to warm up the tires.  Except by the time I got there, it was too late in the day to do anything other than settle into camp at Roper Lake State Park.  It’s a tricky transition, that first night out.  Still shaking off the frustrations of the work day and the inevitable packing hang ups, I wasn’t happy to find hoses reminiscent of porcupine quills sticking out of my bike when I dismounted that evening.  My set-up-camp routine was rusty, too, but all those gremlins, along with my disappointment in not having had time to enjoy Mount Graham were soothed by the natural hot springs I knew, from this trip, to be waiting for me.

Sprung Evap Canister Hose
This hose sprang from the emissions canister, another from the top of the vertical cylinder. I shrugged, put them back, and that was the end of that.  Gratitude for small (big?) favors.

Good morning!  It was quite a lively night, between the growling animal just outside my tent that thankfully ambled off in response to a stern “Go Away!,” and the truly unearthly sound of coyotes yipping and singing like far-gone lunatic dogs touched by the moon.  Next stop:  Elephant Butte Lake State Park, carefully selected for its location on the far side of NM 152, and the fact that it and the site I was leaving were the only two spots anywhere within reach not forecast to drop below freezing.  The roads between the two sites?  Without question, the stuff of sport touring motorcycle advertisements.  250 miles, a dizzying percentage of which are twisty enough to be first and second gear material. Signs warning that it will take at least two hours to cover the 45 miles of narrow and windy NM 15 between Silver City and the Gila Cliff Dwellings can only mean one thing:  Good times ahead!

All told, the day’s journey took me seven or eight hours.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I hadn’t had such a satisfying stretch of technical riding (sans traffic and road hazards, to boot!) in, well, maybe ever.  Sweet Ducati, with its sprung hoses of yesterday, all is forgiven! 

Elephant Butte Lake State Park Evening
Elephant Butte Lake State Park was my first real peek at the American Southwest many years ago.  It knocked me flat then (in spite of the centipede I pulled out of my sleeping bag), having never seen anything like it,  and it was amusing to see it again, with eyes that have seen so much of the wondrous west since then.

I knew the ride east would be a long (and glorious) day, which meant the camera stayed in its case, and lunch was a sandwich while re-fueling.  On my return, I decided to skip NM 35 and 15 (“Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway” – such romantic scenic byway names!) in favor of breakfast in Hillsboro, NM and a few photo stops.

Hillsboro, once home to a Labor Day Apple Festival (sadly ended in 2007), is a cute little town on the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway (NM 152), and was just the right place on the map to stop for the first real meal I’d had since I left Tucson.   The hash browns and toast  at the Hillsboro General Store & Country Cafe were serviceable, if not notable, but the “Picante” spicy sausage omelet was a hit, as were the endless antique odds and ends displayed throughout the shop.  In an unusual variation of my solo dining theme, I had the pleasure of a fascinating dining partner, curious miner/cowboy turned photographer, Embree “Sonny” Hale, who, after finding his favorite one stolen, has made it his goal to photograph every petroglyph in New Mexico.  He showed me his nearby studio, and he saw me off as I launched.   Funny how we peered at each other, equally fascinated, as if through a telescope of space and time, me on my red spaceship buzzing with myriad electronic gizmos, he, in his dusty boots and neckerchief, a for-real man of the genuine old west.  I didn’t know it then, but our paths would cross again one day.

Petroglyph Hunter Embree Hale
Embree “Sonny” Hale, Petroglyph Hunter

A little detour onto NM 211 afforded a pretty vignette of the Gila River.  Not quite the fall colors of New England, but since out here any tree at all is cause for celebration as a source of shade and harbinger of precious water, a view like this is every bit as breath taking, and perhaps more meaningful.

 Gila River, Gila, NM

Cotton Fields Solomon AZ
Ducati, Picturesque (in my opinion) Dead Tree,  and Cotton Field, near Solomon, AZ.

The next morning it was time to take care of some unfinished business.  Mount Graham, king of the Pinaleño Mountains, awaits!  Up, down, up, down, up down!  Left, right, left, right, left right!  Until the gas tank was as close to dry as I dared.

Mount Graham Aspens and Ducati
Fall Colors atop Mount Graham: Yellow Aspens with Red Ducati

I had a final stop in mind before heading home, but which would win out?  My phobia of riding the “long dirt road” to get there, or my desire for a slice of pie at Apple Annie’s orchard?

Despite the dramatic internal conflict, I obeyed my sweet tooth.

Apple Annie's Apple Tasting
A crisp cool apple was just the thing after living a few days on camp food.  Check out the road behind me.  I guess “long and dirt” sometimes means “short and paved.”  Unfortunately the reverse can be true as well.  I recently learned that a map indication of “paved” can be open to interpretation.  More on that next post.

Three stars for this trip.  It was so good that I rode much of it again, along with a few new roads, last weekend.  And I won’t take six months to show you the photos.

Recipe:  Put three green tomatoes on the windowsill. Go motorcycle camping. Come home and make up for lost vegetable eating time by devouring an enormous tomato salad.

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