26 – 27 June 2007
back to santa fe in tom’s plane rather than the neighbour’s, a beautiful little twin-prop turbo. rocky sat in the aisle quite comfortably with the panniers belted into seats. flight back was fabulous. huge desert vistas, near ship-rock at the meeting of colorado, new mexico, utah and arizona. flying higher – 21 thousand feet – smooth and nausea free! tom took the plane off auto-pilot once we’d reached cruising altitude and let me fly it (well, steer it anyway). easy enough to keep on the compass bearing but of course you have to think about up and down as well… the plane climbs a thousand feet a minute so it’s unnervingly easy to drop or climb into somebody else’s airspace before you know it. tom let me do the runway approach before taking over to the sound of air traffic asking if we’d seen the coyote on the runway, a tiny buff figure against the long asphalt strip.
goodbye to tom, and the off up airport road. various cell-phone related errands in santa fe and out onto the big, hot wide road, an absolutely glorious fast run, slight tail wind, gorgeous heat, 25-30 mph almost all the way to espanola. stopped at the only source of food, disencouragingly called ‘dandy’s burgers’. inside, a suprisingly large selection of vegetarian food due, as i learned from a turbanned fellow customer, to espanola being a centre for sikhs and a huge sikh pilgrimage.
i’ve learned that the fastest way to ensure a change in weather conditions is to let the thought, at this rate i’ll be at such and such by so and so a time, slip into your mind. as i was thinking, at this rate i’ll get way beyond today’s destination, the wind changed, the road inclined uphill and we were back to the 7mph slog. the sky darkened and the wind blew harder. at abiquiu, where georgio o’keefe lived and worked, i sheltered in the tin moon gift shop, looked at some extremely tempting paintings and chatted with the dutch owner who runs the shop and also writes local walking guides. rain hammering as i left and the air distinctly cold. cold! another chunk of miles and a wild camp, or a motel night? i rode back to the abiquiu inn and rather sheepishly checked into the last of the cheaper rooms. feeling wimpish, but glad for the early stop, warmth, shower, time to catch up. at tom and rosalind’s ”d written a blog update, hit send and watched it disappear. gone. here, i talked my way into using one of the front-desk’s computers and rewrote the same section. hit send…. and watched it disappear. ‘your session has expired’… vanished. aaaagh!! so from a blog point of view i am still in el paso.
breakfast next morning very busy. full of people saying things like, i need you to fly me out on the 3rd so i can deal with issues on the ground in mongolia. i talked with a young woman in the queue. the crowd was a film crew, working on ‘the dinosaur hunters’ about uncovering dinosaur fossils.
on the desk at check out, light-weight, laminated brochures of new mexico birds. perfect! bought one and cycled off, stopping on the bridge just outside abiquiu to look at extraordinary rock vistas. a maroon subaru pulled up. the man from the tin moon jumped out. you’re still here! i checked your website… he took a photograph of rocky and i on the bridge and left. i turned to take the view in the other direction – and the battery on the camera announced itself totally flat. damn!!! just spent the whole night recharging the cell-phone that has no reception. from then on the scenery was the most spectacular so far. the chama valley, big khaki river and lush strip of land around it, then up into extraordinary rock landscapes. flat-topped mesas and huge buttresses rearing out of pyramids of loose rock. stripes of cream against dark terracotta and salmon pink, all thickly sprinkled with scrub. thousands of wheeling birds my brochure allows me to identify with confidence as cliff swallows.
was just thinking, goddamn! i need a way of recharging my camera battery, when the ghost ranch information centre came into view, right by the road. ‘this is going to sound a bit odd, but could you do me a favour….?’ they let me plug my charger in, no problem, and i spent a happy hour or so exploring the centre, dedicated, not to georgio o’keefe as i’d assumed, but local natural history. i learned how aspen survive forest fires, lead the new growth and provide shelter for young conifers and habitat for hundreds of birds and insects. i learned that rattlesnakes give birth to fully formed snakes that hatch from eggs while still inside the mother – and gawped at a HUGE stuffed specimen that looked more like a boa constrictor. quite a lot of material about the need to take responsibility in relation to how we use resources, to support nature conservation bodies and how the future of the local ecosystems depends on our decisions. nothing about global warming as such. as i left this morning, a group of women on tour – yoga in the morning and georgio o’keefe in the afternoon – told me they thought the al gore film was fantastic. but that most people ‘are in another world’ and not engaged with the issue at all. or, given how much the government rubbishes the issue, think, why should i do anything about it? or think that someone should do something – but at government rather than individual level. just then the film crew turned up for lunch. i cycled off with great good-will from the staff – paula even gave me her home phone number in case i needed help for any reason – wondering why an educational conservation site might not even mention global warming and thinking about what would encourage us most a individuals to take responsibility for global warming in our own lives and decisions . . .
miles later in a very small town i stopped at the shop cum bar, very hungry. the only substantial food was burritos, and they were all chicken or beef. bought a twix and some gummy bears and a tiny packet of ‘string cheese’. chatted to the three elderly men in the bar. heading for del norte? don’t go over wolf creek, chama pass much more direct, and easier. shortly after, i ran into roadworks, the road surface removed. a single lane thick with gravel. just as i was thinking, hmm… an official roadworks truck pulled up and offered me a lift. 8 miles of deep gravel? – sure. rocky in the back on top of road signs. their job is to rescue cyclists, remove other things that might obstruct the traffic and put the marker barrels back up after the local lads knock them down each night. heading for del norte? oh definitely, wolf creek pass, much more direct than chama pass….
crawled into chama after miles of headwind. stopped at a gas station to ask about local camping. but then discovered i was 49 miles short of pagosa springs – which should be the beginning of tomorrow!! can’t do 49 miles and then wolf creek pass. early evening by this time, and not thinking straight. tired and nothing but sugar all day. here again, only junk food or beef burritos. bought one cinammon roll (why one?!) and forgot to refil water bottles. and then headed towards cromo (‘a wide spot in the road’ according to the roadworks truck-driver). the headwind eased and the road opened out and starting turning into colorado – huge meadows, open spaces, big hills in the distance, evening sunshine, bird song. a sign said i was crossing the continental divide at around 7 thousand feet. i suddenly remembered passing the sign about 17 years ago, cycling in the other direction. 17 year old memories unexpectedly came back. a cowboy had been riding the fence line alongside the road and we’d exchanged banter about whether he’d exchange his horse for my bike.
started looking for potential camping spots but most of the small roads gated and locked. finally reached cromo, very tired. tiny rv site with one rv and two harley davidsons whose owners told me i should be able to find tom in the trailer. no sign of tom. no intention of going any further. put up my tent – on grass! then i did find tom, a large man with huge round face and curly hair who told me how his grandmother had died in february and the family were gathering to cremate her now. (really? in june?!). he said he didn’t cater for tents, no facilities. but to stay anyway. beautiful clear, cold night, big stars. decided to save my only food, the cinnamon roll, for morning, crawled into the beautiful warmth of my down bag and fell asleep to the sound of whiperwhool wing-beats in the dark. slept like a log.