“I really don’t want to go,” and pouted as I tried to internalize an unnecessary degree of petulance.
Dispensing our warm goodbyes to biking friends in Borrego Springs, we saddled up and I reluctantly turned the key in the ignition. After multiple postponed departures, that is. A heavy sigh betrayed a sadness in parting from the place. Our stint in the Anza-Borrego region hadn’t been terribly long but I liked it here. Uncharacteristically warm days for the time of year agreed with me, the expanse of the beautiful desert below internationally recognized dark skies, where like-minded folks resided under a certain roof. Collectively, they all radiated my soul and although it’s prudent to leave when you’re still having a good time, I wanted to do anything but.
Plans had been firmed up in Yavapai County, central Arizona, where we had more persons of the special variety to honour and indulge. Destination: Prescott, which is a city that’s locally pronounced “Preskitt”. Tickled further when Jason’s mum described our current location to his sister as us being somewhere that sounds like a biscuit—the type us Brits dunk in our cuppa tea. Her rationale ran pretty sure that it starts with the word “Rich” but wasn’t convinced we were located in “Rich Tea”—a national favourite as English biscuits go. No, she surmised, I think it ends in an “O” so concluded we’re probably staying in Oreo. Close enough.
ROAD TRIP TO NEW MEXICO
A house in Prescott, one with palatial splendour home to astutely switched on students, in fact, provided a fine base from which to execute a week long road trip to New Mexico. A southern state not yet explored and sitting just above Mexico, one I was sure was filled with vast expanses of hot arid desert. Nope. The weather blew a bracing, fresh wind for the most part while we wended around a gamut of snow-capped mountains carpeted in pine and spruce. As we inched towards the white sands, we were met with towering cottonwood forests and wildflowers beginning to bloom. Truth be told, there is nowhere else that reminded me of New Mexico.
A quick peek at Montezuma Castle before leaving Arizona, made for a neat half-hour pit stop. Dating back to circa 1200, southern Sinagua farmers built the once-imposing five-story apartment in a cliff recess 100-feet above the valley floor. The process of how was impressively mind-boggling.
From Montezuma Castle at Camp Verde, just 50-miles south of Flagstaff off the I-17our route saw us eat, sleep and ride 200-mile days through Strawberry, Rye, Globe, and Safford, staying parallel to reservation land. Crossing the Arizona/New Mexico border into Lordsburg, we rode through Deming until we reached Las Cruces.
The sky was cobalt blue and the air was still crisp. Spring had sprung but so had an oil leak on Mr. Jangles. A motorcycle trip wouldn’t carry much clout without one roadside repair. Or four, courtesy of Jason. Sympathetic to our transiency, the mechanics at Las Cruces Motorsports immediately tended to the leak; albeit a niggling drip more than a worrisome trickle. Turns out we were using ineffective sealant on the DR650’s valve cover—Honda Bond is the one you want.
WHITE SANDS NATIONAL MONUMENT
Towards the north side of Route 70 about 16-miles southeast of Alamogordo, at the heart of the Tularosa Basin, glistening white dunes rise up from the earth. Unmissable but not immovable, they constantly shift and settle over the Chihuahuan Desert, engulfing 275-square miles of sparkle. White Sands National Monument is a gargantuan gypsum dune site, the world’s largest. Firmer and cooler to the touch than you might think, the dunes make for boatloads of fun sledding down them from up to 60-feet high but between us—hauling a laden rucksack spilling over with camera equipment and more dry bags strapped to me than I care to remember—we traipsed rather than tobogganed in. A mile later saw us set up camp in a secluded spot we’d call home for the next two days. Perfect timing too: the day before a dazzling sea of Spring Breakers descended.
For thousands of years, since the Permian Sea retreated when the shores of an ancient lake that covered what is now White Sands, ethereal lakes, wind, and sun have separated the water from the gypsum, (comprising hydrated calcium sulphate if interested), and formed transparent crystals. Once the wind and water are done, the crystals break down into sand-sized particles. Strong south-westerlies keep the gypsum on the go, stockpiling it up and pushing dunes into incredible sandscapes, displacing wave-like dunes of all shapes and sizes.
But not the kind of sand tsunami that relocates a whole city. Beneath your feet is the adhesive that keeps this vast dunedom tethered—water, just finger-deep below the surface. Long droughts or not, the gypsum stays moist, which prevents it from drifting away. Fascinating how the water becomes more saline with age at the centre of the dune field, which scientists are examining why such a phenomenon happens upon this gypsiferous land. I was quite bewitched, as though I found myself in a field of unicorns.
Upon hours of exploration on foot, I often emerged panting and depleted back at the tent, the wind blowing cold in our faces. My nose, fingers, and gums were numb in no time, it was an ill-wind that blew nobody any good, blasting your skin and gnawing your bones. A place of extremes, when it wasn’t blowing a hooley giving the sand free rein to penetrate every nook and cranny, and exposed bodily orifice, the sun shone down with a fierce intensity.
Unforgiving rays bounced excitedly off the sand, which coupled with the midday sun’s atomic heat, meant I had to cling to the shade like a vampire. It was brutally warm as if the sun was focused through a magnifying glass. To gain a moment of refreshment, I washed myself with wet wipes as if sanding down a wall. With no movement of air—where was that invigorating breeze I’d banished?—the afternoon grew hotter. I might as well have been on a salamander grill. Becoming increasingly aware of my skin’s flawless ability to leave me with the complexion of Jabba the Hutt, I dived under mesh and canvas.
Looking out, the soft silence was periodically interrupted by the odd fighter jet, which would dart across the horizon, blazing across a cloudless sky. Those would be from the White Sands Missile Range, surrounding the monument. Late one afternoon, we hiked over the sandy banks when a series of them glommed together. Military aircraft long gone, the dunes were, I now realized, layered and daunting, impenetrable and comparable to nothing.
After a lovely swathe of afternoon approaching dusk, moments before the sun dipped below the dune field, Jason hollered at me to run towards the last vestige of golden light. With the utmost dispatch! Urging me to cling to it like the ship-wrecked cling to the hull of an overturned ship. Locating where the cat had put my tongue: “The dunes have changed colour. They’ve turned b-l-u-e!” stating the obvious to Jason as my head spun into the tungsten twilight. This was radically different, the gypsum must absorb every colour of visible light except blue, so it reflects a pure powder blue back to us. That, and a winter-blue light mingling with the cold, I mused.
“I know, you should see the pictures coming straight out of the camera. No one will believe I haven’t tweaked the images.” I smiled and stood casually and there, with the great lilac hue taking over the place flaring like potassium in the low evening light, I just gawped. My brain roaring from all the colour. Startled just as much by the scale and intricacy of the wind-blown rippled patterns. It felt like all the world’s pleasures were mine for the taking. This was a fine day. The good ones always sneak up, unexpected.
Back to Las Cruces saw the same honorable gentlemen make a second attempt to seal up the returned leak. No matter, the resultant oil refused to dry up and instead diminished to a glistening spot, which I, and more importantly, Jason could live with.
CITY OF ROCKS
Splitting off the 180, the City of Rocks rolled around to meet us. Located halfway between Silver City and Deming, it gets its name from a striking mile-wide geologic formation of volcanic rock. Over millennia, erosion has sculpted columns and pinnacles into a “city” rising to 40-feet and separated by pathways. As I rode along the lanes resembling city streets, I noticed nature’s infrastructure and tried to imagine this place at its inception 40-million years ago. A beautiful little add-on in the Chihuahuan desert region of southwestern New Mexico.
Sluggish with a happy fatigue induced by brisk days in the saddle and even colder nights camping in succession, we both craved something to shake us up. “How about a portion back on the dirt?” Jason suggested, pinpointing a section of New Mexico’s BDR (Butler Map’s Backcountry Discovery Route). Famished for some off-road fun, proceedings kick-started on the Pueblo Park Road off Route 180.
NEW MEXICO BDR
Enlivened, we cruised northwesterly of the Gila National Forest for around 40-miles, twisting us around a serpentine course of compacted dirt some of the way, tracks more gravelly than rutty, and a little construction work grading the road thrown in here and there. Swinging a right on an unnamed road brought us out onto Saddle Mountain Road and back onto the 180 towards Luna. It was thrilling, getting my dirt legs back was always exhilarating, even in rude temperatures just above zero. Adrenaline barely kept the burning cold at bay in my summer-gloved fingers but the dexterity of “feeling” the bike trumps heated winter-gloved digits any day on dirt.
“Ooh, look at you, Lisa!” discerned Jason with boisterous good humour at my newfound capacity to slip straight back into “giving it some”—critical term. With that came a pleasant sense of self-satisfaction, as if I’d discovered that I was still capable of performing a forward roll. I’m sometimes a tangle of limbs with the grace of a three-legged dog before I straighten myself out and get on with it. Once the muscle memory kicks in, I am always so much more willing and malleable. I’m happy Plasticine.
While the ride became finger-numbing taking on the severity of a slow acid burn, my almost reckless swagger extinguished, it was anything but mind-numbing. On the contrary; woken out of a sleepy stupor, my blood pulsed gratifyingly. It felt good and essential to my well-being. Motivated by pure curiosity and a sense of play. It was just terrific fun, and I hooted my bicycle bell, apropos of nothing, Mr. Jangles charmingly sure of his place in the world, and on the dirt.
At an elevation of over 7,000-feet, a smattering of snow intersected our route dictating we push on. Particularly through tiny villages that were more of a gathering of buildings, if not struggling towns which continued to prevail because at some point long ago they set out to exist. For some time, we toyed with the idea of whether to take the stoic route and camp cheaply, or bed down in a cozy motel. Our sense of frugality bristles at any want or need for comfort, at times.
The temperatures plummeted and the smidgeon of flakes became a flurry; the prospect of solid walls became seductive, whatever the cost. I’d read somewhere that the great virtue of defeat, once accepted, is that it at least allows one to rest. No longer troubled by splurging a day’s budget on a bed alone, I outlined the reality of a warm and comfortable ending, to which Jason soon succumbed.
I dismounted the bike only to discover my knee joints had ossified. My hips ached as if I’d hiked across a dune field with my body weight in dry bags hanging off me. Hurting, I hobbled into the office with a robot’s gait and vowed I wouldn’t return without a room key in my hand. An evening of centrally heated warmth and subsisting on comfort food before I’d have to extricate myself. Sucking up electricity and Wi-Fi like a free diver coming up for air. The prospect was blissful. It was transformative. Engendered by several bowls of hot food, I soaked in a hot bath and have never enjoyed the sensation more. The place was aglow all around us, as though sharing our happiness. Lulled by the most wonderful, unshakeable feeling that comes from a springtime road trip to New Mexico.