White Sands, and rain, rain, rain

Day 7, Ruidoso, NM to Alpine, AZ

Hal and I had breakfast of warm muffins that were kindly provided by the motel at which we were staying in Ruidoso. We packed the bikes while finishing our coffee, and soon we were on the road. We had only to ride down the street, fuel up, and then negotiate a confusing traffic “triangle,” and we were out on the main road, highway 70, in no time.

This day was to be a somewhat “long” riding day, second only to the mileage of our first day of this trip when we rode from home to Durango. I was ready for a nice “juicy” riding day of some long miles, and maybe an adventure or two. I would get my wish!

It took us a while to drop in elevation from the Sacramento Mountains in which Ruidoso sits. I had not pictured Ruidoso as being a mountain town before I visited, and now I have a much different impression of it. It goes to show how a person can have misconceptions about a place before he or she actually visits it. I highly recommend that you travel to as many places as you can to know what they are really like. I know that is my aim in life!

Soon we descended into a long flat part of the road that ultimately led to White Sands National Monument, one of the places I wanted to see on this trip. As we got to the edge of White Sands Missile Range, there were signs warning of long delays if a missile was launched. Highway 70 goes right through the middle of the missile range, hence the need to stop traffic while a missile is being launched. We did not have to stop, but while I was riding there, I questioned the logic of placing the highway right in the middle of that zone.

Before we rode through the actual missile range, though, we stopped at White Sands National Monument, which is north of and adjacent to the range. First, we walked through the Visitor’s Center, and then we rode into the sand area, parked, and walked the boardwalk through the dunes. The sun was high and bright overhead, the worst lighting for shooting photographs, but I didn’t have much choice what time I was going to be there, and I made the most of it. It was VERY white, and consequently, very bright. It was an interesting place. But hot.

Since I was mostly riding all day and didn’t stop to get many photographs, White Sands Nat’l Monument is where I got the images for the day. Here is a representation of what we saw:

After shooting photographs and walking around, we got back on the bikes and rode farther down the road. It turned to hard-packed white sand. We only rode a few hundred feet into the sand and then we turned around. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to ride on that surface, but time was running wild again and we had lots of miles to cover before the end of the riding day.

Hal and I continued on highway 70, toward Las Cruces. We missed the turn onto the I-25 on-ramp, but we immediately found a Chevron gas station on the correct side of the road for an easy turn-around to get back on track. We debated going through town, but neither of us likes riding on unfamiliar, congested surface streets. We had only a short way to go on the I-25 to get to I-10, which would take us south.

Not far out of Las Cruces, we stopped to put on rain jackets again. We were eyeing the sky, which was absolutely black with storm clouds that draped rain in silver veils over the far mountains. It wasn’t a question of “if,” but “when.” Putting on rain gear proved to be a most fortunate decision, because when we got into the rainstorm, it was very intense!

Once it started, the rain slashed across the road nearly sideways, borne by the wind. The clouds formed into odd shapes, the ones I know cause intense lightning, and produce strong winds. We rode into both of those things. By then, we were on I-10 toward Deming. In several places, the gusts of wind were trying to have their way with my bike by pushing it all over the road, but my bike hardly moved. I mention this because my bike, even with me on it and fully loaded (as it was), is still relatively light, and for it to be so stable in an intense storm was very comforting.

Trucks passed us, sheeting rain from their wheels, the road grew shiny and full of water. We kept going. The rain was alternately heavy, and then a drizzle. It increased again, stinging, driven by the wind. After a while, we even passed several trucks, and maintained the speed limit in many places. I worried briefly about hydroplaning, but the tire technology is so good now that I didn’t. I have the stock Bridgestone Battlewings on the bike, the ones it came with! They have worked out really well so far and are not worn, nor are they dry-rotted. I am pleasantly surprised, and it speaks well of that brand of tires.

Eventually, we rode out of the storm, but the pavement continued to be wet, then damp, and then almost dry by the time we reached Deming. We had taken the I-10 west across to Deming, where we exited at highway 180. It was somewhat of a relief, because I knew then that the 180 would take us to Silver City, then Glenwood, past Reserve, and then into Luna, and Alpine, Arizona. There were still many miles between me and Alpine, and I didn’t think we were finished with riding in the rain yet! We weren’t.

At that point, highway 180 is long and unbending as it cuts a diagonal toward Silver City. We passed places like City of Rocks, and Faywood, that we had visited in 2011. We dried out, watched the cloudy sky for hints of more rain, and then we approached Silver City, riding through Hurley, and then turned west at Santa Clara. These are all small towns that we barely realized we were passing through. Soon we were in Silver City, and we stopped at the Chevron where we had fueled up many times during our visit in 2011.

We took a break there, too, because we hadn’t had anything to eat since the muffins at breakfast back in Ruidoso. We got a couple of Clif Bars, which have become a favorite while traveling, and we shared a cup of coffee. We were both feeling a little road weary after passing through the long stretch of stormy weather and we needed some energy to finish the riding day.

Hal and I discussed whether or not we still needed our rain gear. “Let me just walk down to the sidewalk so I can see to the west,” I said. “I want to see what the sky looks like.” I walked to the edge of the gas station’s property and peered around some trees to be able to see the direction we would soon be heading.

“Oh, yeah,” I said emphatically when I got back to Hal, “we’re still gonna need rain gear!” The sky wasn’t black, but it was very dark. Once I am on the bike, I don’t like to stop, as you know, and it wasn’t too hot to be uncomfortable in rain gear. Another good decision that we made that riding day!

Silver City ends abruptly. We were soon riding through the rolling green countryside. We were again riding in rain almost immediately. It was absolutely beautiful as it had been the last time we’d ridden this area. The vibrant green fields and meadows dotted with small buildings, the mountains in the background, the dark blue and purple clouds, were stunning. I was thinking again about how wonderful it was to be out in it, to be on the bike on the road, to feel alive!

There were more challenges on the road ahead. As we skirted the Gila National Forest, the sky was impossibly black, and the mountains were multi-colored in front of it. The edge of the Earth was engulfed by a thick veil of rain as far on the horizon as I could see. To the right, over the Gila forest, there was a rainbow shimmering in the rain. Near Glenwood, we rode through sections of water and red mud flowing across the road. The road is one lane each way, and it twists and turns as it rolls up and down. I had to pay attention, but I was also enjoying the spectacular colors and scenery. I wish there had been a safe place along the road to stop and shoot photos.

We rode through Alma, NM, another place that we have enjoyed in the past, and at last, we passed highway 12, which goes to Reserve, NM. Then we were on the homestretch to Alpine. Highway 180 is super-fun on this stretch with lots of turns to toss the bike into, and more amazing scenery. We had to ride somewhat conservatively, though, because of the water on the road, and a few blind turns that we knew were right next to rocky walls. We were wary of big rocks that may have fallen into the roadway because of the rain.

Finally, we went through Luna, and then we started up the final climb to Alpine, AZ. We crossed the state line, and the temperature dropped the more we climbed. I was starting to get cold because I was wet at that point, but I knew we were not far from Alpine then. But before we got there, we were engulfed by yet another rainstorm.

At last we made it to the lodge where we were staying, and we unpacked the bikes as quickly as we could. Hal and I were both shivering and wet, so as soon as we got unpacked, we made some coffee and stood in front of the heater!

That evening, we treated ourselves to a glass of wine followed by a wonderful dinner at Foxfire, a place that has become one of our favorites for “going out” for a nice meal.

The day had turned out to be a fantastic riding day, with all the “elements” (pun intended) that I love: interesting destinations, riding through lashing rain and gusty winds, beautiful scenery, muddy, flooded, sketchy conditions, more beautiful scenery, cold rain, and a hot cup of coffee at the end. Then, a fine dinner, and restful sleep as rain fell outside. It was perfect.

I will dream about this day for a long time.

Next: Pie Town, NM


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