Crossing the Continental Divide. Threeway to Silver City (83miles)
I was up early, but not 4.30am, more like 6.30am. Contrary to the forecast, it had been cold again overnight, but I suppose that is to be expected. After all this is the desert!
I went to the grocery shop where I bought a breakfast of coffee, fresh fruit and a fruit pie. I also purchased another pair of woolly gloves as I was finding that my hands were the only part of me that was feeling the cold. I’m not really surprised as I am aware that I have poor circulation in them. Back home, for about 9 months of the year, when out jogging, I have to wear gloves to stop my hands from getting cold. I also bought another bandana, this time in the American Eagle colours. I’m hoping to wear it once the weather gets consistently warmer. Yes, yesterday afternoon had been hot but the mornings, evenings and nights are still very cold.
As I set out after breakfast, not for the first time, I was beginning to doubt myself. Was I mentally tough enough to make it to Silver City today my intended destination? Never mind mentally tough, was I physically up to it?
There are various types of roads in the USA: Interstates (prefixed with I), US Highways (prefixed with US), State Roads (SR), County Roads (CR), Farm Roads and Ranch Roads. The road out of Threeway is the State Road 78. It rises steeply from about 3500 feet to nearly 6300 feet and for me was the first real ‘mountain’ road. It is full of twists and turns. It is a beautiful route through the Black Jack Forest, where there was still ice and snow on the road. The scenery definitely makes up for the toughness of the climb.
Over the top and 6 miles down the other side and I entered New Mexico, “Land of Enchantment”.
Lunch was pizza at the Last Chance Saloon in Buckhorn; pretty soon a huge black cloud appeared on the horizon and was to follow me for the rest of the day. So far I have been lucky with the weather. OK so it has been very cold at times, but I haven’t had any rain yet.
After Buckhorn the road is relatively flat for about 20 miles through Cliff, Riverside and Mangas before climbing steeply for another 14 miles, up and over the Continental Divide at 6230’.
Silver City is a short drop a further 2 miles on. Located in the midst of rich mineral deposits, Silver City was founded in 1870 after silver ore was discovered in the location. Silver mining at the nearby Phelps Dodge silver mine is still the basis for the town’s economy today. The Apache Chiefs Victorio and Geronimo also figure prominently in the town’s history.
When I arrived it was bitter cold and the traffic was heavy. In fact on my arrival I did not rate this town at all. However, my impression has probably been tainted by the weather and traffic. Other people that I met later on my trip all thought very highly of Silver City. On reflection I didn’t actually see anything of the old town, just a couple of big name motels and a gas station. Maybe I should have taken a trip into town to find a laundry but it was too cold and windy. I don’t have many regrets about my ride, but I think that I missed out on what appears to be a very quaint old town, with historical ties to mining and ranching and with a number of architecturally aesthetic buildings.
No, I don’t carry a gun. Silver City to Hillsboro (56miles)
Last night however something did happened. This morning I awoke to snow. It hadn’t been a rain cloud that had followed me all of yesterday afternoon; it had actually been a snow cloud. Although the snow had stopped sometime overnight, it was still thick on the ground and judging by the temperature of just 33° it was going to be around for quite sometime. My only hope is that it will warm up on the other side of the mountain. Today I am climbing the highest peak of the entire trip; Emory Pass at 8828’.
The start of the day isn’t too bad, through Central (also known as Santa Clara) and Hanover before climbing up past the Santa Rita Copper Mine. Copper was first discovered at this site in 1799. The mine itself opened in 1805 and at the time the Santa Rita Copper Mine was only the 2nd such mine operating in what is now the USA.
The Santa Rita Copper Mine is one of the largest open pit mines in the world (it is one mile across and 1600 feet deep) and runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Since 1910, over 2 billion tons of copper have been produced from this mine. As the pit grew over the years, the town of Santa Rita was forced to move several times. Just after the town moved in 1957, heavy rains washed boulders and mud down into the town’s new site. The town was finally abandoned in 1967. As I stood looking out over the open pit I began doubting myself yet again this morning, and was contemplating calling a taxi to take me over the mountain. But where would I get a taxi from? Silver City is 15 miles away and anyhow I didn’t have any cell phone coverage. Stop being a wuss and just do it.
After some moderate climbing there is a fabulous downhill section leading all the way to San Lorenzo at the base of the Black Range Mountains and the base of the Mimbres Mountains upon which Emory Pass is situated. I stopped for some snacks and mentally tried to prepare myself for the 18 miles of up hill cycling to the top.
It was a strenuous but beautiful ride through the Ponderosa Forest with little traffic. This was another, what I call “European mountain” type roads, reminiscent of the Col d’Aspin in the French Pyrenees. I don’t want to overplay how tough it was but despite having a smallest gear of just 21 gear inches, I was at times only grinding away at 5mph, although this was mainly due to the weight of the fully loaded bike rather than the gradient. However, I don’t suppose the headwind helped or the fact that six miles from the top, the incline becomes steeper and then just for good measure it really ramps it up for the last three miles.
At just under 9000 feet above sea level Emory Pass is the highest point on my entire ride. Exactly how high is 9000 feet? Well at that height FIFA (the International Football Federation) require international footballers to acclimatise for a week before playing any matches.
The photographs that I took at the summit show a clear blue sky, but even now as I think back I can remember having to seek shelter from the biting wind behind a couple of snow ploughs where I could change out of my sweat soaked clothes (I was even wearing the woolly gloves bought at Basha’s store in Peridot a couple of days earlier). The views however were awesome. I love tree lined mountain passes.
After taking the obligatory photo of the Emory Pass Historical Marker, it was then an eight mile ‘hoon’ down the other side towards the tiny hamlet of Kingston. The wind was definitely calmer on this side of the mountain, and in the sunshine it felt almost warm.
About 3 miles past Kingston I met two Canadian girls who were cycling in the opposite direction. Sylvianne and Marianne had set out from New Orleans on the about 6 weeks earlier. I was hoping to be in New Orleans in about three weeks time. They were taking it easy, only riding about 30 miles a day on their way to San Francisco. Today their ride was almost over as they were ending in Kingston.
I didn’t recall seeing any accommodation in Kingston as I had cycled through, but they told me of a website called ‘Warm showers.com’ on which cyclists offer other cyclists anything from a bed for the night to somewhere to pitch their tent. The two girls had made a contact in Kingston through this site. Hhmm, maybe I can make use of this site, if not on this trip then maybe on a future one.
One of the first questions that the girls asked me was “Do you carry a gun?” At first I was a bit shocked by this question, but then they explained that they had been asked it so many times whilst riding through Texas and that they thought Texans were obsessed with guns. Actually, they were probably being asked the question as they were two young, pretty girls riding alone through a huge state, miles from anywhere.
Sylvianne, the prettier of the two pretty girls, was riding a Bianchi road bike and pulling a B.O.B Yak trailer (BOB stands for Beast of Burden or Back of Beyond, depending upon which website you look at). I was interested to know how she was coping, she pointed ahead towards the mountain and said, “I’ll find out tomorrow when we go over that” I guessed from her response that their route so far had been relatively flat. It made me wonder how they had avoided the west Texas hill country.
We said good-bye after about half an hour chatting by the roadside, and I’m still kicking myself for not getting their contact details!
Five more easy miles of pedalling in the afternoon sun and I arrived at Hillsboro. All pessimistic thoughts that I had had about today’s ride were gone and I felt pleased with myself that I had overcome my negative frame of mind.
The Canadian girls had told me that Hillsboro was pretty and they were right. Now almost a ghost town with a population of about 150 residents, Hillsboro was founded in the 1870’s after gold and silver had been discovered in the Black Range Mountains. It soon developed into an important mining and ranching centre and served as the seat of government for the Sierra County. Hillsboro is said to have had the last operating stagecoach service in the USA.
At about 2.30pm I wandered into the Barbershop Café. About 50 years ago, as the name suggests, you could get a shave and a bath here. The original barbershop mirror is still hanging in the shop, advertising “Baths, 25cents”. But today it is a quaint café selling very nice food by very nice people. The waitress although originally from Chicago, had arrived here in Hillsboro after a spell in Phoenix. She and her husband had bought an old building in the town which they were renovating. The café, like everything else in Hillsboro closes at 3pm but they very kindly cooked me some food and after booking me into the motel (which is attached next door) allowed me to sit in the dining room long after 3.30pm.
I spent the afternoon washing my clothes and then hanging them out on a tree in the sun to dry. I then wandered up the hill to the cemetery which, apparently, is the only place in this small town where you can get a cell phone signal. I still was unable to, but I did find the library. The library opened at 6pm, in contrast to every other business in town which seemed to have shut, and so for the first time on the trip I was able to log on to the internet and catch up with some of my e-mails before retiring to bed.
Into the flat lands. Hillsboro to Las Cruces (80miles)
This morning it feels milder than of late. Although there are three venues in this small town that sell food, only one is open for breakfast, the Hillsboro General Store & Café. Like the Barbershop Café, this is full of antiquities from days gone by and retains an ambiance of the late 19th century.
Today I was back to eating a cooked breakfast of hash browns, omelette, and bacon washed down with a bottomless pot of coffee. It was excellent value at $7. I know its not ideal cycling food, but there wasn’t really an option. Well that is my excuse and I’m sticking to it. There were four local men in the café, breakfasting. I got the distinct impression that although friendly they were happy to mind their own business and not enquire as to what a stranger was doing in their midst. I wasn’t upset, I entertained myself reading some of the humorous signage in the café: ‘Boomerangs are making a comeback’ and ‘Live shoplifters will be prosecuted’ (the insinuation being that shoplifters would be shot).
I left Hillsboro at 9am the weather getting a bit warmer, but still plagued by a headwind. The SR152 covers some rolling hills through dry rocky terrain and after about eight miles as I reached the top of the last hill my cell phone suddenly sprang to life. The alert tone informing me that not only did I now have cell phone coverage but also that I had a text message waiting. It was my sister checking on my welfare as my family hadn’t heard from me for a few days.
For the next 9 miles the countryside opened up ahead of me, flat prairie land all the way to the Caballo Lake State Park.
At the junction with the SR187 I turned right (south), had I opted to go north the first town that I would have come to would have been Truth or Consequences. What a terrific name. There must be a story behind that unusual name and there is. Until 1950 the town was called Hot Springs. Just another insignificant small town, relying on tourist trade from the spa facilities it offered. NBC Television & Radio meanwhile were celebrating the 10th anniversary of the radio quiz show called ‘Truth or Consequences’. The producer called his staff together and said, “I wish that some town in the United States liked and respected our show so much that it would like to change its name to Truth or Consequences.”
To cut a long story short the residents of Hot Springs New Mexico recognised a way to get some cheap advertising and to rid themselves of a name so common that there are over 30 towns in California alone called ‘Hot Springs’. Although there was initially some opposition to the proposed name change, it has been re-affirmed in democratic voting by the towns residents on no less than four occasions between 1950 and 1967.
A short distance along the SR187 heading towards Arrey and I got chased by a dog for the first time.
This area is very popular with RV users. There are a number of RV parks which overlook the lake with prices starting as low as $100 for a month’s rent (excluding electricity). There is also what can only be described as a battery dairy farm. Hundreds of small plastic shed type buildings lined up in row after row, each one housing a cow belonging to the Caballo Dairy. Extremely cramped conditions.
I vowed never to drink their milk again. It is instantly recognisable in the fridge; it’s a funky shape bottle with a cowhide print on the outside. Yes, I know that milk comes from cows and that they are intensively farmed, I worked on a dairy farm for a summer after leaving school, but at least those cows were “free range”. These poor cows aren’t.
I stopped at a small café in Arrey for elevenses before continuing along the flat road through Derry and Garfield. It’s very easy to see why the locals call this area the ‘Flat Lands’. I should perhaps at this point make it clear that ‘elevenses’ doesn’t necessarily happen at eleven. Sometimes they could be as early at 9.30am or as late as 12 noon. It just depended on the availability of food outlets and how I am feeling on the bike.
Through Salem and I was chased by a pack of three dogs and on this occasion a goat too! They all appeared from the same front yard and I guess that the goat must have been reared alongside the dogs for it to have such an identity crisis.
This area of New Mexico is dedicated to the cultivation of chilli peppers and pecan nuts. Chilli farms and pecan groves compete for space along the roadside for miles upon miles. I stopped for lunch at (yet another) small Mexican restaurant in the town of Hatch, ‘The Chilli Capital of the World’. This town hosts a chilli festival every September which then sees the population of about 2000 swell over fifteen-fold as the streets are lined with chilli sellers. Even the BBC have reported that Hatch grow the best chillies in the world!
After lunch the wind finally got behind me and I cycled through the Leasburg Dam State Park and over the Rio Grande, through more pecan groves and passed by some interesting houses built in a modern day version of Mexican architecture. The pecan groves were devoid of nuts as it’s the wrong time of year, but I was surprised at how immaculately kept the ground is around the trees. The soil appears very sandy and it is almost as if the groves have been swept.
Once more I was bothered by dogs barking at me. On one instance I decided to bark back. What I hadn’t realised was that the gates to the yard in which they were enclosed, were open. Pretty soon I was riding like fury as they chased me down the street. That’ll teach me….. or maybe it won’t.
The road was dead pan flat and straight as an arrow for as far as the eye could see which as it turned out was all the way to my destination for today, the city of Las Cruces. I was unable to find any budget accommodation and so ended up in a full service hotel, La Quinta. Can anyone explain to me why a room with one king-size bed costs more than a room with 2 doubles?