47.4 Miles; Coyote Canyon Wash to Hatch, NM to White Gap in the Sierra de las Uvas - Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks NM
The night rang silent and still with nary a breeze to rustle the Triplex. Morning brought diffuse and washed light to the land as Sun rose along dust-bidden peaks and mesas into a smear of cloud. It was cold, but not too bad, so we sat among the creosote eating cold soaked breakfast oatmeal. When breakfast was done, we saddled the last of our water and gear on our bikes and descended to Coyote Canyon Wash proper. The air was tightly cold here, wrapping the yucca studded dust trail in the blur of timid light.
We rode along a truly sandy wash. Janna's 3" plus tires gave her the extra plush needed to float over the loose ground. My 2.8" did it, but with a little more force and less forgiveness. We entered a short box canyon studded with red granite walls before climbing a few hills and settling at a cattle tank. We stripped off cold layers as sweat was piling with the climbs. From there, a sizeable, but gradual climb ensued. Pedaling hit the swagger of the big back cog until I jumped off my bike and started pushing the rest of the way uphill.
At the top of the mesa, a strong wind blew head-wise, slowing my progress and forcing me to alternate between a wind jacket and naught. Clouds stayed smeared overhead. The road turned 90 degrees and then straightened into the distance, seeming to land at the cradle of the peaks in the distance. Janna and I alternated between chasing cows off the road and shouldering the lead in the headwind. We passed a few rusted out cattle troughs and then began a long, fun, and cold downhill back towards pavement and out of the national monument.
From here, we turned north and spun off onto a sandy wash that spilled us out on another levee along the Rio Grande. I paused while Janna ate a snack and heard a series of deep throated calls overhead. Looking up, the silhouettes of 30 or more large-winged birds flapped above us, swerving, and spiraling along the flows of the Rio Grande. Suddenly, I realized I was observing some sandhill cranes all gathering along this riparian zone.
The levee shot straight along the Rio Grande. The number of sandhill cranes grew larger and larger as the surface water in the Rio equally grew. Large flocks stalked about recently plowed cotton and chili fields. As we approached on our bikes, they swooped large and raucous into the air, turning and coming back, crossing the levee and moving ahead before settling back down in the banks of the Rio, only to be repeated as we crossed paths again.
The levee met up with the state highway where we turned and biked into downtown Hatch, NM. Chili stands, dried chili ropes, and restaurants with chili fare bustled along the highway. It was around noon and we beelined straight for Sparky's, which is the most famous of the bunch with their green chili cheeseburgers. As we rode up, another cyclist out on a large day ride from Las Cruces excitedly walked up to us. Turns out he had ridden the DangerBird 350 only a few weeks before (and done the route several times). He was stoked to see some bikepackers on route and asked if he could eat with us. He provided some excellent beta on the upcoming section was dry of water from Hatch until back in Las Cruces - thus, we needed to saddle up 8 liters each to get us through the next day and a half. As for the food at Sparky's, it was excellent and I chose to get a real green chili cheeseburger and fries. Satiated and with electronics recharged (I found an outlet nearby for our cell phones), we grabbed a few evening food items from a convenience store before rejoining the state highway.
The cloud cover really began to thicken. Semis passed us as we rode the shoulder of the state highway for 10 miles. We passed a solar array with panels incredible and large. I kept catching myself thinking of riding along paved highways all summer in car-congested traffic; it reminded me of how much I enjoyed bikepacking on dirt roads where I didn't need to look over my shoulder every 10 seconds.
Before long, we turned south off the highway and jumped on a dirt road. According to the route guide and the cyclist we spoke to earlier, the next section would be the most rocky and legendarily degraded of the route, all the way to White Gap. We now pedaled south on the northwest side of the Las Uvas. Dirt road crumbled to babyhead stubble where my pace slowed to 1 mph. The rocks were large, unavoidable, completely consuming of all lines, and saturated with sand in-between. But honestly, Janna and I loved it. It provided a change up of terrain, some different thinking and skills, and broke up the smoothness of the day. Plus, we're accustomed to Southwest gravel which would be mtb-worthy anywhere else. It didn't hurt that much of the dirt road riding we do around the Grand Canyon is precisely this primitive two track material. What made it better was that it wasn't punctuated by any steep climbs. Instead, the uphill was gracefully gradual.
Suddenly, the dark of the sky softened as the sun burst through and some blue lit up a backdrop to the golden grass studded hillsides and plateaus of the valley we traveled up. We passed an old stone skeleton ranch house with windmill to tout. Grazing cows wandered around dispersely grazing. The afternoon wore on, the landscape got more beautiful, the yuccas more plentiful, the grass more golden, and the route steeper and rockier. I could see where the switchbacks of the old road bisected the wilderness area and provided our only bike-legal passage up and through White Gap, a cleft in the mountain top. Pushing and pushing and pushing. Rockier and rockier, the sun slinking away behind dirty golden plateau margins. My arms and shoulders aching as I took one step up, pushed with all my might, and then hit the brakes to hold the bike in place while I took one more step forward.
And then I crested the top and peered into the high Uvas with careening valley and curved ridgelines carving out a small desert bowl. The last light of day was fading behind those same rock escarpments, beckoning me down to some state trust land that would afford us some camping. But as rocky as the up had been, the same could be said for the down that followed. This meant I needed to walk my bike down a road that seemed more stream of babyheads than anything. When the rocks began to waver, I jumped on and sat on my brakes, feathering down some real chunk shit in the gathering dusk. We would down desert washes and around hills looking for a flat location above a low spot to avoid the settling of cold air. In the very last twinges of discernible light before dark, I took a side dirt road going nowhere I knew but that seemed to head into a flat spread studded with prickly pear. Perfect. We setup camp in the dark with headlamps, watched the distant glow of Las Cruces on the continuing cloud cover, and enjoyed what we thought as a rather warmer winter evening up in the desert peaks.
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