WanderlustBy Sam Lepore

Subject: WanderLunch 4 - Page, Arizona
Date: Sun, 23 May 1999 20:30:55 -0700

New Mexico backroads are why I ride a motorcycle.

        It is so wonderful to "find" roads that have been there all along. And to find them on a sunny Sunday, find them free of traffic, find them in good repair, and find them full of curves, is to find them truly enjoyable. I "found" some incredible roads today ... but much of northern New Mexico is like that. Instead of putting up the main route from Santa Fe to Taos, I let Street Atlas select a 'scenic' route from Espanola. It chose NM 76 and a series of two lane back roads that followed the ridge of a bluff, then curved through a river valley, coming in from the southeast. NM 76 is a road to remember. And I will!
        The reason for going through Taos (I never take the most direct route anyway :) was to retrace another road I "found" about 7 years ago when I wandered down from the Four Corners area. Listen up here! If you EVER find yourself in northwest New Mexico, you *must* take US Route 64 from Farmington to Taos ... or from Taos to Farmington. It has some of the most delicious back to back 180 degree 70 mph sweepers that I've found in the USofA. I would rate this in the category of the famous Lolo Pass route. It is definitely on my short list of favorites. Pay attention to the weather if you do this, because between Chama and Taos the road climbs through 10,200 feet. Storms get nasty quickly there.
        And don't be tempted to do any of this in the dark. Even if you miss all the deer and sheep that graze on the road, you will also miss the fabulous little Rio Grande Gorge ten miles west of Taos. The high plateau is nearly flat there, then suddenly there is a 650 foot drop straight to the river. The bridge over it is reputed to be the second highest (water to road) in the US highway system. Anyone want to guess the highest?
        One more Taos tip. My favorite breakfast spot is Michael's Kitchen and Bakery just north of town center on Route 64. Today's belly weight was some huge red (raspberry?) gooey pecan roll. Their omelettes are too big for me on a serious riding day ...
        One last thing to mention about backroads. Something that is common in the west is nearly unknown to easterners (like me before I moved west). There are a lot of dips where the road passes through a drainage culvert. These unimposing little gullies fill rapidly almost beyond imagination with the slightest rain. I passed through one that had a trickle of water dribbling across the road - and around a car that had tried to make it through after yesterday's afternoon thunderstorm. Or so the tow truck driver said as I waited to avoid riding through the mud "plowed" around the car.

        Just north of Taos, Route 64 turns west. That was a turning point for me emotionally, too. In every trip there comes a moment or a place where suddenly you realize you are "heading home". Some look forward to this, others ignore it. True, as Yogi Berra would say, the trip ain't over till its over. But turning home turns my thoughts to the home that is no more. There is no little one waiting as there used to be - one for whose happiness at my arrival was reason enough to return. But return we must, though with this turn in the road comes a tear of remembrance. - - - When you are done reading this, take a moment to go hug someone who is special, be they two legged, four legged, furred, feathered or family.

        Earlier I mentioned the Rio gorge. If you go that way, slow down a couple of miles west of the river and be amused by the "Mad Max" houses. There is an entire community of energy efficient houses buried in the terrain. They face south, have windmills on top, plus solar water panels, plus solar electric panels, plus turrets and "designs" that make them look like the Australian fortress in the Mad Max movies.
        What is it about Texan pickups that they can't stay on the road proper? When you take a pickup license road test in Texas, does the inspector drive beside you in the 'real' lane to watch how you drive on the shoulder? This practice seems to be common only in Texas, but they take it with them ... today I did not want to pass the Texas pickup because I was going fast enough and enjoying the road. He insisted on driving on the shoulder for several miles (we're talking 65 mph, here folks). Finally I could not stand the gravel being spit by the right tires any more. Either these guys don't realize what they are causing - or that's the reason Texas trucks have a lone star pattern in their windshield.
        When US 64 climbed high, I noticed the deciduous trees above 9,500 feet hadn't wakened yet. Do trees even know there is a winter, or is it just magic that it is always warm when they awake? The evergreens must talk to them about winter, no? Or do not all trees speak a common language?

        Many people automatically think "stereotyping" is bad. Like anything, it can be misused to prove a bias or prejudice, but you know stereotyping is rightly the collection of common - if not conclusive - observations. It is stereotyping to say cows are brown. Many are, some are not, but we accept it as understandable. How now brown cow. So it is that I made stereotypical conclusions observing bikes on the road today. In the show off areas of the cities there were all forms and all brands of bikes. (Although there were an over representation of ape hangers ... bikes with seats so low some of them needed palm pegs to rest their hands without dragging knuckles on the ground :) Out on the road, however, I saw only stereotypes. Counted three separate clusters of Harleys parked beside a self-proclaimed Cowboy Bar (remember, this is noon-ish Sunday). Counted six immaculate Gold Wings (all with trailers) parked beside the BBQ joint at the north edge of town. Saw a total of about a dozen other bikes "out there", being ridden, packed and travelling. Ten were BMW, one Yamaha Venture, and one I didn't catch. BMW uses the advertising line of "adventure touring". It's working.
        Quick observations: Shiprock has food. Five or so years ago I came through there expecting to gas and eat ... it is an Indian reservation "town" where the population is spread over a wide geographic area - but there was only one gas station and no place open to eat. Now they've joined corporate chain America. Burgers, fried chicken, and even Chihuahua Chow (Taco Bell).
        Picked up a nasty headwind on the Navajo Mesa. After having carefully calculated being able to ride my current tank to the end of the day, I watched the FuelPlus miles remaining drop from 169 to 127 in the span of 10 road miles. If you have a K bike and do not have a FuelPlus, you are foolish not to be fuelish. It saved me by "suggesting" I stop for more before the last 90 mile dry stretch.
        A chicken and egg conundrum: near Kayenta, Arizona is the Peabody Western Coal Company. (Appalachian natives and bluegrass fans will recognize that name.) Mr. Peabody's coal train is electrified here, and it's sole purpose is to carry the coal to the Navajo Power plant near Page ... so the coal can be used to generate the electricity that among other things powers the train. So, idle mind wonders: How did they start this self feeding cycle?
        Approaching Page I saw a road sign "Page 10". I didn't see any more, but I don't doubt that if there ever was one that said "Page 2" some Paul Harvey fan somewhere is happy now.
        Finally, I ended up in Page looking for a motel. After cruising through town twice, I decide to be adventurous and try "Uncle Bill's Place" - the sign that said ROOMS $29. Turns out Uncle Bill rents rooms in what were row houses on a back street two blocks from the main drag where motels are two to three times that. My very nice private bedroom is across the hall from the bathroom he said I had to share with the two young Austrian girls in the other room. Uhhh. ok. :) :)
        (Check out Uncle Bill at http://www.canyon-country.com/unclebill )

Fuel Plus 494 miles, 8:44 engine, 54 mph average
Espanola NM76 NM75 NM518 NM68 US64 US160 AZ98 Page

Sam Lepore, San Francisco
Wanderlust Rider

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