44.03 Miles; Las Cruces, NM to Coyote Canyon Wash in Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks NM
Following a fall slammed with life and events that spooled out itemized to-do lists, all I wanted to pursue was a backcountry adventure. With Thanksgiving Break approaching, I decided on a southern desert bikepacking adventure; immediately, the Monumental Loop came to mind. The Monumental Loop is a 257.3 mile bikepacking route based around southwest New Mexico in the Las Cruces area. It hits up all four units of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, rides along the Rio Grande for several portions, hits up stellar food and famous green/red chilis, and traces several desert wilderness areas.
Wrapping up a slammed week of school, we slept in on Friday and then began the 9 hour drive down to Lac Cruces. The weather for the area was slated to be mid-60s and sunny for the most part - perfect weather after a summer of heat riding. Unexpectedly passing through Pie Town, we pulled off and took a side look at the Toaster House where I had stayed during my 2019 Great Divide ride. The owner's cousin was now semi-permanently living there; he came out to meet us and walked us through the property while nostalgia pumped ever-quick through me. The Toaster House still serves CDT hikers and GDMBR riders and was much cleaned up from when I rode through. He snapped some pics of us before we rolled over to the pie shops in town.
The pandemic had wiped out two of the shops, but the remaining one was doing well - rebranded as Pie Town Cafe. The owner talked and reminisced about riders, the burgeoning loads of users on these trails, and she informed me that they had purchased the famous, now-closed, Pie-O-Neer Café. The Pie-O-Neer is open and now serving their famous pies again along with a number of meals in a full-serve restaurant. She sent me down the road to the Pie-O-Neer, informing the cooks to let me in to see the place. The community had rallied and the namesake pies were coming back after COVID's economic hit.
Back on the road, we arrived in Las Cruces right after dark. We stayed the night at the Lundeen Inn of the Arts, which was just a block or two from the start of the official route. Not only that, but the owner agreed to let us leave our car on their property for the duration of our ride for free.
Morning came, breakfast was served, and we packed up the bikes in the Inn's parking lot. Saturday morning was crisp with desert autumn, every deciduous plant baked gold and curled with brown. The official route start was in the downtown plaza that was conveniently closed to cars and chocked full of the crowds for a local farmer's market.
We slow pedaled down drowsy streets studded with historical homes smattered with Earth-tone stucco and adobe. The route eventually led to a bikeway that sped along canals. As rurality grew and urbanity receded, the blacktop drifted into crushed gravel, sand, and dirt along dusty canals filled with the dry stems of brittle yellow grass. Farmer's fields sped by along with rows of harvest-ready red chilis glinting in the sun. The Organ Mountains proper stood sketched on the skyline, their granite-pocked faces textured in a gorgeous autumn sun.
After a quick gas station stop, we pedaled up some neighborhoods where lawn xeriscaping gave way to open Chihuahuan Desert. Tread hit dirt and we rolled into the outskirts of the Organ Peaks-Desert Mountains National Monument. The route here turned into smooth, curvy, rolling singletrack as we made our way towards the distant desert peaks. Gaining them, the singletrack began to decay into a sandy wash with crumbling granite before meeting up with a well-sanded power line road. Miles sank easy as our plus tires sped us down to pavement along pecan grove. Here, we met the Rio Grande. Sucked dry (but still flowing subterraneanly) by pecans, cotton, and chilis, we jumped up on a flat levee and pedaled the dirt road hugged between jagged peak, sandy river, and leafy nut grove.
Several off-leash farm dogs raced out to us, barking intensely. We hopped off our bikes, calmly pushed by, and I yelled "NO," with alpha authority to get them to chill down. We pedaled onwards back to pavement. Here, we headed slightly off-route to hit up active-decay ruins at Fort Seldon National Historical Park before riding to a Family Dollar. We bought several gallons of water, each of us carrying 7 liters, as this would be our last water supply before sometime tomorrow.
A mile or so later, we peeled off the highway and began into the Las Uvas mountains, another unit of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. The route hit steep grade, forcing us to hike-a-bike up the ascending dirt road. I felt that warm peace that comes from soft light, dry silt, miles of desert dirt road, and that combination of deftly jagged rise and gently rolling hillside. It was gorgeous.
The sun began to sift through layers of thin cloud basking everything rightly, accentuating shadow and form, softening hard edges, making plant and rock the best versions of themselves. The dirt road held traces of bike tires recent. The road itself was fantastic, chunky, and fun for variety. We passed a dirt cattle tank recently dozed and filled full of water. We pushed bikes up steep climbs and skated down dusty smooth descents.
The Sun began to dip with the winter hours around 4 pm. We pulled off on a mesa filled with cement-white earth and evenly spaced creosote to camp for the night. We didn't want to sleep low in the wash where the road led to avoid the settling of bitter cold. Cloud cover built steadily while we felt alone in the smooth world of winter desert; the moon was full and diffuse with the clouds. Even in dark, the world was bright with its light. Janna and I sat for a long time in the dark, talking about life, letting our food digest, and avoiding the 14-15 hours of dark ahead.