In a single day I had crossed half of Arizona and spent most of it above 5000ft. Keeping on hwy.60 and 260 brought me high into the impressive Sitegraves NF and the White Mountains of AZ. So far I've been to three different "White Mountains" ranges in the US. To my west slopes expanses of light tan grasslands stretching to a dry river bed 20 miles beyond. To my left are the 8000 ft peaks. The cedar and pine forest shows much evidence of fire damage in this area, highlighting the delicate balance of moisture and flame in these high western forests. Signs remind the recreational folks to put the fire out and not toss matches.
It is growing late as I wind into the forest on two lane highways with blind turns and a 65mph speed limit. Trucks pass narrowly close and the sun begin to sink below the forest rim in a blinding golden sunset. The highway is awash in light and is impossible to see. I join a column going 20mph behind the shade of a semi and chug higher into the forest past 7000 ft. Up ahead I notice what at first looks like a bicycle but that I cannot seem to catch up to. Finally I reach the screaming two stroke engines and a Trek bicycle moving along at 40mph. The two 80cc engines hum along loudly like weed whackers. The rider kicks wildly with his leg and I cannot tell if that means to pass or to stay away. He quickly sees my scooter and motions to pull over. Kyle is on his way to Slab City for a meetup of some sort. All he has is a sleeping bag rated at 50 and a few bottles of water. Along the way he sleeps in small town post offices which are heated at night. We exchange info in case the other breaks down and take off back on the dangerous and dark road. I take off and soon he is gone from my mirrors. That night I camp on Valentine Ridge and enjoy the stars at 6500ft on the Mogollon Rim.
I point toward the crossing of the Colorado River on its western side of the state at Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam. The high speed routes make it stressful and I'm constantly watching the mirror for trucks and wide loads. For 30 miles I had to take the interstate to make it to Kingman but fortunately that is allowed in AZ. North of Kingman is a boring and straight highway through the arid desert and toward the Lake Mead Rec. Area. The vast relief between the lake and the surrounding rim is stunning. If one were to follow it up, it would form the Grand Canyon some 70 miles from here. I camp above the shoreline and enjoy my first bath since Louisiana. Man that water felt good! I meet a Canadian photographer who is travelling the region for 3 days and he camps nearby, sharing some beer and conversation. Good times for my last day in AZ.
Just off the Continental Divide Trail and nearing the Arizona border is the interestingly named Pie Town, NM. The small town consists of a community who wears many hats and may serve on the council and fire department while running a business. The "Pie Lady" welcomed me in to her warm establishment at 8am and beckoned me to choose from the case. Prepared were blueberry, apple, pinõn nut and green chili and blackberry pie. I chose a good old fashioned slice of apple and she sent it back to be made while pouring another cup of coffee. Seating was family style and I enjoyed chatting with a couple from Gillette, WY heading down to Phoenix in their RV. The pie soon came out and was indeed phenomenal. The whole piece filled me up and was of the finest ingredients (local apples, love and lard!) If you're ever on the Divide and need a slice of pie, head on over and see the Pie Lady.
Okay, bear with me. I'm currently in Altura, CA working on updating the last few days of travel. Things are moving quick and I haven't even updated my travel journal. The road has called loudly.
Perched on the rim of the Valley of Fires, I could see the black lava flow below like an ancient river of magna. The melted black rocks and heat fissured spaces made holes and bubbles in the sides of it. Ocotillo and small cacti grew in the most spartan crevices.
Over the day, I'd fall to the Rio Grande river, my lowest elevation, then rise on Hwy.380 up toward the continental divide. The dramatic colors of New Mexico are earth tones and hues of red, pastel sky blue and light tan fields. The transition from 95 degree heat in the lower valley to mid 50's up toward the Continental Divide came quickly as I climbed up to the Very Large Array, a Y-shaped system of telescopes spanning miles across a 7000 ft high plain basin. They serve a similar function to those back in Green Bank, WV, also part of the NRAO.
Camping was easy on this leg of the trip with the Cibola NF offering miles of trails and campsites. My only concern was temperature at higher altitudes but wound up sleeping at 7100ft again, this time among the Ponderosa pines. It felt comfortable making my way west in a near perfect weather window.
My heart kept telling me to head west and keep on the throttle across the great plains. I knew that the high mountains of New Mexico awaited me with streams, Ponderosa and Pinõn Juniper after climbing out of the arid scrub brush, creosote bush and cactus. In Tatum, NM, I heard the hiss of an air compressor and made a new friend when he offered to blow out my air filter. A cloud of Louisana dust swirled on the wind and we both laughed about increased fuel economy. I made a crash landing in Roswell for supplies and got out before the locals could put a price tag on me for sale to any aarp cardholder. Only 20 miles west on 380, I heard a familiar clink and grind in the front end. Upon inspection, I found the front wheel bearing was going out. It wasn't anywhere near as bad as the last time on the Top of the World Hwy but I knew it could be. Fortunately I carry fresh bearings and planned to stop in Ruidoso to find an MC shop.
In the morning before sunrise, I replaced the exhaust gasket o-ring which had fallen off in LA at Despino's tire and I found after packing up the gear, made oatmeal then rode over the mountain pass and into town. Your Mother's Motorcycle Shop was closed but I wound up out front of Big Boy Toy's Motorcycle Repair where three brutish put bulls snarled and barked behind the safety of a 6ft chain link fence. Around back I found the proprietor, a wiry and muscular bearded fellow in oily jeans and black t-shirt, who eyed me with suspicion but offered to help. "I normally just beat me out of there" he said and with that promise was quickly hammering away at my bearings. Although the shop manual calls for a bearing puller and my cautious pessimism saw him pounding a hole in me hub, I kept my mouth shut and let the desert cycle sage handle the task. In three minutes or so, he had both bearings out, they fell throuhh a crack in the ramp in a clink of metal on the filthy ground below the shop. I guess I wasn't going to save the one working bearing after all. While he dealt with a local's tire change, I hammered the new bearings home and reinstalled my wheel. Before heading off, I offered my thanks and appreciation, to which he briefly looked up from the 1969 Yamaha enduro he was hammering on with a blank stare.
The front end felt solid again heading north from Ruidoso. La Tortuga climbed up the steep grade to 7400ft at a robust 12 mph but eventually escaped the commercial trappings of town for a NF trail. The road to Bonito Lake was in great condition and the day-use area along the way was just the relaxation spot I needed. The last river or flowing water I saw was the brown and weak Pecos River a few days ago. Honestly I just needed a free bath. After cooling off, I wound along the edge of the mountain past Nogal Lake and up on the edge of the desert and town of Carizozo in the valley below. Alamagordo and White Sands are just south but I'm headed along 380 tomorrow toward the Rio Grande. Hammock camping at 7100ft in October ain't too shabby!
In May 2014 I quit my job to ride a Honda Ruckus over 69'000 mi and counting. Wild camping most nights and cooking most of my own meals, I keep the costs low and the landscape changing.