Above: the Dunes under an approaching storm.
July 7, 2015
I did not sleep well last night in South Fork, CO. There was a mosquito buzzing around my head in the middle of the night, and when I killed it, it burst with blood. I couldn’t sleep, then, and I started reading one of the murder mysteries that I had on my iPad. After that, I had weird dreams that combined, in a very macabre way, both of those things.
Yet I was ready to go early the next morning, and after our free continental breakfast, Hal and I loaded up, geared up, and headed out of South Fork. It was overcast and cool; later, I would regret not putting on enough layers of clothing. I was still very afraid of being too hot, the main thing I was trying to escape on this trip. I was also trying to get as far away from Phoenix as I could in the limited time that I had.
Once on the road, I was excited because we were on the way to Taos, NM, another favorite place of mine. The weather was rainy and cool, which made me very happy, and before we got on the route to Taos, we were going to take a slight detour to Grand Dunes National Park. I was not optimistic about having scenery to shoot, due to the weather, but I did not care. I was on the road, on my bike.
Hal and I rode through flat rural farmland under a dark sky and intermittent rain. We were going to the Dunes via “the back way,” and we went down a narrow paved road, “6N Lane” or something like that, to get to Hwy. 150, and the entrance to the Dunes.
It was something of a letdown because it was raining. I was like, “Oh wow, a big pile of wet sand.” Yep, that was my impression. I took a few photos anyway, just to prove (maybe to myself) that I had been there. I will probably go back to the Dunes someday and hope for a sunny day because it looks like it could be a great photo opportunity.
The actual dunes (BIG wet sand!):
We rode on to Alamosa where Hal had promised to pick up some beer at a brewery for some friends. The brewery is called the San Luis Valley Brewing Co. in Alamosa, Colorado. More information is here:
We parked off Main St. in town, and walked to the brewery in the rain. We were carrying or wearing all of our gear, and most of it was wet. Hal got a couple of bottles of beer for his friends, and I got some Oatmeal Stout for my husband.
I do not drink beer, it has never been a taste that I’ve acquired. It’s one of those things, like coffee, which I do love, that you either get the taste for it, or not. Luckily, the brewery “gets” that because there is a “roastery” as part of it that caters to coffee drinkers like me! Hal and I had a coffee there, and some lunch. Here it is:
It was a good chance to dry off a bit and warm up. I had been on the verge of cold all day, and it wasn’t going to get warmer. I had another thin layer to put on, but aside from dismantling my pack on the bike, it wasn’t easy for me to get to a heavier jacket. I wasn’t going to give in, though. I am sticking to my statement that I would rather be too cold than too hot! The only worry I had for the rest of the day (and perhaps the rest of the trip) is, would the beer make it home intact so Desmond could enjoy it?
We left Alamosa in the continuing rain, and rode to Antonito, where we found the street torn up by construction. The construction zone was paved, but very uneven, and I told myself to watch where I put my feet if I had to stop. I didn’t have to stop in it, until we got to the gas station to fuel up, and it was even pavement near the pumps.
Once outside Antonito, Hal and I couldn’t make a decision about whether we should take the 285 directly to Tres Piedras, the shorter way to Taos so we could have time to relax in the afternoon, or take 17 over Cumbres Pass, possibly ride through more rain, and get to Taos later. After much discussion, mostly because we both wanted both things, we chose to ride 17 over Cumbres Pass. “When in doubt, choose the longer route,” that should be our guiding phrase.
We made good time through the tight turns on the way up because they were still dry, but the rain was coming, or more accurately, we were riding into it. Soon, it was wet and rainy, and then, as we stopped and looked down into a valley, we were surprised to hear and then see the steam train chuffing along, on its way home to Chama.
Is that the sound of a steam train that I hear in the distance?:
After stopping briefly at the overlook, we realized it was heading to Cumbres Pass, and we might be able to make it there in time to catch the train at the crossing. We were faster than it is, so we got to the pass quickly, parked the bikes, and, taking care to keep the cameras dry, we waited in the rain for the train to arrive.
It was worth the wait. We stood there in the pouring rain under the dark sky and shot photos of the train as it came through. And waved at the passengers who were having fun on their scenic train ride that originates in Chama, goes to Antonito, and then comes back to Chama.
After the train disappeared around the bend, we put away our cameras and got back on the bikes. We enjoyed the sweeping turns down into Chama, a short distance. Just north of Chama, we could see the steam issuing from the locomotives that were already home for the day. The steam was dark against the already leaden sky, and looked even more dramatic.
More information on this steam train excursion is here:
We slowed as we entered the north end of Chama. We usually stop for pie at a little restaurant here in Chama, and sit and admire the locomotives while we eat it. Today, though, we wanted to get to Taos, plus we’d already had our coffee break in Alamosa.
Once through Chama, we turned at Tierra Amarilla, and then we climbed up to Penasco Amarillo (summit) on the twisting secret road that gives us a brief glimpse of the Brazos Cliffs as we come over the top. The sunlight slit briefly through the clouds as we passed, sending a golden shaft to highlight the cliffs to the north as we flew by. Heavy clouds darkened down after that, in shades of purple and black, to the south.
As we descended, the road was still dry so we were able to keep a brisk pace through the two sweeping turns that are my favorites – a long right hander followed by a long left hander, and then we swooped into the rest of the descent.
There was lightning up ahead, and more dark blue clouds. We were riding toward it, the storm advancing toward us, the Sangre de Cristo mountain range near Taos becoming more visible in the distance as we drew closer. The sky was growing more threatening, and I hoped we’d make it to Taos without being pelted by hail, or hit by lightning.
Once we got to the Tres Piedras intersection, the wind started blowing harder. We were on the high plain between there and Taos, and there isn’t anything to impede the wind. We rode quickly past the unique Earth houses. The dark clouds to our left (north) were advancing on us. We crossed the Rio Grande Gorge, and people were still standing out on the bridge, the wind whipping their hair, the storm bearing down, as we crossed.
I was still damp from the last rain I’d ridden through, and now more rain hit us. This time it was sideways from the north, and there wasn’t any way my big windscreen was going to protect me from a crosswind. I was still only wearing mesh riding pants (I don’t like putting on my rain pants), and my left leg got soaked in a few minutes. Usually, I am protected by the fairing on the bike, and the windscreen. Rain water started leaking down the inside of my mesh pants into my lap, and that was not very comfortable!
This stretch of road is long almost-flat open country, and I felt very vulnerable when riding it in the middle of a thunderstorm. After a few minutes, we rode ourselves out of that portion, but we could see more coming in the form of a silver sheet of rain draping from the clouds. Finally, we were at the turn-off to another secret road, the one that skirts the west side of Taos and avoids the stop-and-go of the downtown area. The speed limit on it is 25 mph (ridiculous), and we had to crawl along. I let our speed creep up as I could feel the storm bearing down behind me the way you can feel the eyes of a monster boring through your back. I could see its darkness and fury in my rear view.
“Hurry up!” I said to Hal as we rode along as fast as we dared. I wanted to get to the hotel before the sky opened up.
We reached the last turn, the wind now in our faces, and quickly we turned into the parking lot. We parked, and with relief, unpacked the bikes as fast as we could. It wasn’t long before the rain came, but we were able to watch it from the protection of the hotel, the bikes safely covered and “put up” for the evening.
Worth riding through the rain: the sunset over Taos at the end of an amazing riding day:
Our dinner that night was one of many lovely ones, starting with a glass of Merlot, and ending with a piece of chocolate cake!
Next: should we stay or should we go?