Riding the Back Roads of New Mexico & Texas
By Len Robbins

 

I finally got out of Tucson much later Friday than expected, as I had some work things come up at the last minute.  Having pulled out of Oro Valley around 2:30 p.m., I knew I wouldnít get too far that first day.  With that in mind, I zipped out I-10 to Lordsburg, and then up to Silver City to spend the first night at the Bear Mountain Lodge.  This trip was as much a vacation and sightseeing trip as it was just a pure ďsee how many miles I can do a dayĒ type of thing, so it was no stress to have shorter days like this.  In fact, as the trip progressed I found it fun to stop a little more often, take pictures, take in a nice meal here and there, and strike up conversations with the local folks wherever I ended up that day.

 

After a very pleasant evening at Bear Mountain, they served a most excellent breakfast.  It was real first class cooking, and a great way to start the day.  Then it was off to Carlsbad by way of Las Cruces, White Sands, Alamogordo, Cloudcroft and Artesia.  Pulling into Carlsbad, the plan was to stay at the Super 8 on the south side of town.  It turned out to be much further from the main part of town and any real food to speak of, so that was a disappointment.  Then, upon checking into the room, I found that the sink in the bathroom was broken.  Looking into things a little more carefully, I pulled back the bedspread to find blood on the sheets.  A few phone calls later I found myself checking into the Hampton Inn, which turned out to be a really good move.  As I mentioned, this was as much a vacation from work as it was just a riding trip, and the few extra dollars spent on the room turned out to be worth its weight in gold.  I had a large, clean, modern room with king sized bed, a Jacuzzi and pool downstairs, a first class breakfast setup each morning and lots of really interesting guests staying there that I got to know over the four days I used this as a base of operations for touring the area.

 

The next day, from Carlsbad, I went back north through Artesia to Roswell, where I got to take in the museum there on UFOs and aliens.  It was a real hoot.  There were very in depth exhibits with all kinds of letters, testimonies, depositions and investigational reports about the incident just north of Roswell, and the ensuing cover-up that all the accounts seemed to be pointing to.  Believing it or not didnít really matter, it was just fun to see all those pictures, documents and 3-D exhibits.

 

From there it was west to Ruidoso and the Sacramento Mountains in the Lincoln National Forest.  The roads were beautiful, twisty, and the air cool.  The only unfortunate thing was that ever since coming into eastern New Mexico, pretty much everywhere I went there were Hot Shot Crews from all over the western states camped out in large numbers, putting out the remnants of many large burns.  From Ruidoso to Big Bend, there wasnít a day I didnít see thousands of acres of charred forest, grassland or desert.  It was really sad in some areas.  Folks in some places told me that they hadnít seen a drop of rain in 6 months.  Things were REALLY dry.

 

Heading south from Ruidoso, I went back down through Cloudcroft, and further south and east to a little town called Pinon.  Thatís where the tar part of this dayís riding ended.  I started on the southbound gravel and dirt roads there, and didnít see tar again for nearly 100 miles, until I got on Route 137 in El Paso Gap, on the southwestern flank of the Guadalupe Mountains.  Then, heading northeast on Rt. 137, I worked my way back to Carlsbad.

 

The next day was a cave day, with all the trappings of a typical tourist adventure.  If anyone reading this has never been down into Carlsbad Caverns, I would highly recommend a side trip there if they are ever in the area.  There are a half dozen individual tours with a park guide that a person can sign up for, with costs running from $7 to $20, on top of the base $6 entry fee.  The cave is amazing in size and diversity, and well worth the few dollars to see it.

 

Then it was off to Alpine, where I would stay for two more days as I explored Big Bend and the surrounding Texas mountains.  On the way down, I went through Ft. Davis.  The roads through this area were a real blast, with little to no traffic, and very good road conditions.

 

The first evening in Alpine found me having dinner in town at one of the local restaurants, the Reata.  Upon finishing my meal, a gentleman from El Paso walked by my table, saw my helmet, and asked what I was riding.  A few minutes later he was inviting me to join him and his riding buddy to make a quick after dinner ride over to Marfa to see the lights.  I donít usually like to ride after dark, but it was promised there would little to no traffic, and it was quite pleasant outside, so I agreed to join in.  20 minutes later we were winding our way back west to Marfa, where we stopped at the very nice visitor center that was built there just for seeing the mysterious lights that sometimes danced over that part of the desert plain.  Upon our arrival, we asked the only other people who were there (a young couple) if they had seen anything, but ďNo such luckĒ was all they replied.  No sooner had the words come out of their mouth, than there, right before our eyes, three lights popped up over the horizon.  Then two.  Then one.  Then three again. They danced about, up and down, slid sideways over and under each other.  Sometimes going up, sometimes down.  They got very, very small, then occasionally they would grow to what must have been enormous dimensions as seen from that distance.  The builders of the visitor center have three very nice sets of commercial grade binoculars mounted on piers, much you would find at the Grand Canyon, or on the top of the Sears Tower.  After looking at the lights with our naked eyes for a while, I started looking at the lights through a pair of the binoculars.  Even with the high powered help, it was still not possible to determine what could have been making those lights.  Sometimes they were orange, sometimes white, and sometimes yellow.  They seemed to fade and shift without rhyme or reason.  It was a truly interesting experience.

 

The next day it was off to Big Bend.  I went to the visitor center, drove along the Rio Grande, took a couple of side trips, did a little dirt road exploration, and popped out on the southwestern part of the park in Presidio, TX.  I suppose if someone had never seen much of the western US it might have seemed exotic.  I felt that there were a dozen more attractive mountain ranges and valleys right here within an hourís drive from Tucson, so the long drive down just wasnít worth it to me.  Checked that off the list. It just seemed like an awful lot of time in the saddle for what one got out of it.  The area around Alpine, however, I thought was really nice.  The mid-sized mountains around Alpine and Ft. Davis were a real joy to ride.  Winding two lane roads that ran along river beds with sycamore, cottonwood and ash, with javelina, deer, and elk, made touring in that area a real highlight of the trip.

 

Upon leaving Alpine, I again went through Ft. Davis, this time to the northwest on Route 118, past the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains.  This was another highlight of the overall trip.  The roads through this set of mountains were just a blast, and the scenery of juniper and spruce, rolling hills and rounded mountains was just outstanding.  After dropping out of the hills, it was back to I-10 to tick off the miles up past El Paso and Las Cruces to Route 52, for my last night in Kingston.  There I stayed in the Black Range Lodge.  It was a wonderful way to end the trip.  My last night in many ways was the best, as the rustic lodge, the very friendly inn owner (Catherine), and the locals of the valley all conspired to make a person feel immediately at home.  There was no pretense, no expectations, just a very relaxed and laid back ďcome as you areĒ attitude.  The rooms were simple, but very comfortable.  The views out the back were of the Black Mountain Range, and the alpine forest all around gave the air a fresh, clean smell.

 

They serve breakfast the inn, but not dinner (yet, although Iím told there are plans in the works for that).  So for dinner, it was recommended I go 9 miles back down 52 to Lynnís Kitchen in Hillsboro.  Lynn is a fairly famous local figure who is a rather accomplished chef.  He writes cooking articles for the three major papers in southern New Mexico (Silver City, Las Cruces and Albuquerque).  I spoke with him after my most excellent meal, and among other things told me he has over 100,000 readers every month.  I highly recommend a meal at his place if you are ever in Hillsboro Tuesday through Sunday at mealtime.

 

After 8 days of traveling, 6 of them spent riding, I covered a little over 2300 miles and took 192 pictures.  Iíve assembled some of those shots for you to enjoy along with this article.

 

See you out there!

 

Len Robbins

 

Shortly after leaving the I-10/Lordsburg exit, the cooler climes of higher elevations give a nice break from the heat that day.  This is on the way to Silver City, NM, after getting hung up in town and having to leave much later than expected.  (That work thing knows when you want to go away on a trip!)

 

A little history along the way to Silver City.

The first night was spent at the Bear Mountain Lodge, just north of Silver City. Very nice place. Not cheap, but this gets two thumbs up if you want to spend a weekend there with a loved one. The food and accommodations were excellent and well worth the money.

Right outside my bedroom window were these dinner guests. When I pulled back the curtain, we actually both jumped back startled. I laughed, and they went back to their dinner.

Between Silver City and Kingston is the Santa Rita Mine.

Once on the other side of the Lincoln National Forest, I dropped down into Artesia, where they are very proud of their gas and oil heritage.

These two guys are about 10 feet tall. I agreed with everything they said.


A plaque at the monument.

Artesia has a clean and well cared for downtown area.

At trip to Roswell, home to all things alien. Here the fun touristy part of the trip began. This museum is a hoot.

This is the beginning of the exhibit. They encourage picture taking.

So, they aren't green after all!

Of the many "artist's renderings" in the museum regarding the incident just north of Roswell, this is one of the two paintings that seemed to be the most serious. (Many were just silly, almost childlike, tongue and cheek renditions.)

This is the second painting in that series.

They claim this little guy (in real life) was quickly shipped off to Area 51 in Nevada after the initial investigation was held. I understand his family is still trying to resolve his health care insurance paperwork over the whole incident.

I think I could carry about 6 of the little fellas on my Adventure!

Back up into cooler elevations, this was lunch time at Big Daddy's in Cloudcroft, NM.

At last, after all that tar, I'm back off-road just south of Pinion, NM, headed to a little spot on the map called El Paso Gap, on the southwestern flank of the Guadalupe Mountains.

A short break quite literally in the middle of nowhere, and a little fun with the talcum powder-like dust. Everything from the back of my helmet to the tail light was covered.

Google these two towns in New Mexico, and you'll get some idea of where this was taken, about midway between these two bustling New Mexican cities.

GS heaven. More than 2 hours on this road, and I haven't seen a single soul.

Almost to El Paso Gap.  This is the first sign of anything official in more than 3 hours of steady travel.

Once back on the tar and through the Guadalupe Mountains, I had hoped to stop at a hot springs along the road back to Carlsbad. However, the smell in the area from the oil and gas wells was overwhelming. Then, across from the spring itself, was this sign.  I decided to move on.
Where the caving part of this trip all began.
Back in Carlsbad, I had to do the tourist thing and take a cavern tour. It was a lot of fun, very informative, and well worth the 7 dollars to go with a park guide down a section of the cave system that the general public did not have access to.
Back in the "Big Room", I followed the self guided tour route. It also was well worth the time. The footprint of this Big Room is a little more than 6.2 football fields, all about 750 feet underground. If you look closely in the center lighted part of the cave, you can see a person, which gives some sense of the scale here.  Wow!
The foreground... just so-so, but that's a nice background!

 

One of the many giants in the Big Room. For scale, those little stalagmites highlighted in the foreground are about 6 feet tall.
The tall thin formation on the right was about the height of a telephone pole, and the stalactites hanging from the ceiling are about 30 feet long. Overall the roof of the cave is probably nearly 100 feet above the floor of the cave.
Just beautiful.
Off to Texas! Had to stop in Pecos at a replica of Judge Roy Bean's place, the last law west of the Pecos.
It's only about 98 degrees here.
Coming into Big Bend.
Inside Chisos Canyon in Big Bend.
It's 100 degrees and humid here, but I'm making my way out along the Rio Grande on the way to Presidio and back to Alpine via Marfa.
Back in NM, the last night was spent in Kingston at the Black Range Lodge. This is highly recommended if you like reasonable prices for a B&B ($80-$90), in a rustic and very laid back setting.
The entry to lodge. You immediately feel comfortable when you come in.
Simple, but VERY comfortable accommodations in the Black Range Lodge. Best night of sleep I've had in months.
Soaking in the late afternoon sun on the deck outside my room.
Dinner in Hillsboro, about 9 miles down the road from the lodge, was at Lynn's Kitchen. Also very reasonably priced, and first class local cooking.
The restaurant and church next door.
Catherine, the lodge owner, insisted on taking a picture or two before I left. It was a perfect ending to a very good trip.

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