Badlands of New Mexico
|The Wind, the Open Road, and My Motorcycle.|
This is my mantra.
Rarely, do I heed a warning before a long-distance ride. This message, however, is from my nephew Ruben, who is a wildlands firefighter stationed in Silver City, NM. A credible source.
His message, "It's supposed to be very windy across New Mexico, starting tomorrow." He is also a biker, so I listen. He adds, with a bit of humor I'm sure, "Hopefully, it will blow in the right direction for you."
He is currently fighting a large fire, outside of Santa Fe, NM where the intense winds are feeding a devastating wildfire. I heed his words as I leave Three Rivers, CA, for the Badlands of New Mexico — "It's supposed to be very windy...."
I'm on a mission, heading for the La Joya, NM cemetery.
Fortunately, the wind is blowing at my back from Mojave, past Barstow, CA to Kingman, AZ. A tailwind is a biker's dream, but that would change.
My first camp is 9 miles south of Ash Fork, AZ on Highway 89. I look intently for the Forest Service Road 38 which is not easy to spot. This is a favorite campsite, which I call Middle Satelite. There is plenty of firewood and volcanic rock for a fire ring. This dispersed camping is isolated and I see only one other camper in the far distance.
|Middle Satellite Camp.|
The stars are bright, almost blinding, as the universe looks down at me. A satellite crosses the entire western skies in seconds. My fire is burning brightly. A can of Hormel Tamales, my gourmet dinner, is warming nicely by the hot fire.
My small transistor radio picks up the Window Rock radio station. It's mostly in Navajo, and although I do not know the language, I listen. I record some of the Navajo chants on my cell phone for my grandson, Kai, to hear.
A billion stars above, perfectly shining their light on me. Or at least that's what I'm thinking — magical, assuring my spot in the universe. Another shooting star passes, pure energy. I love the stars. It's dark and my campfire provides adequate light. I lay awake staring at them, hoping to see another shooting star, but it's pointless, sleep soon will consume me.
Then, I see the unique pattern of stars that I affectionately call, the "Circle of Eight," representing my brothers and sisters. It is peaceful, my fire burns slowly, a perfect end to my first day, a lengthly 540 miles. I think about Ruben's caution, "It's supposed to be very windy...." The stars soon disappear as my fire burns slowly. Morning comes quickly.
The wild winds, for the moment, are calm as I pass Flagstaff, AZ along Interstate 40. La Joya, NM is still a distance away, and I need to be there on Saturday by 2 p.m. Then, as I cross the Buffalo Range, the winds return. My bike rocks violently left, right, left. It's tiring, but I push forward. My destination is El Morro National Monument. It's Friday and the 9 free campsites might be full. As I circle the small campground, there are two remaining campsites. The water has not yet been activated due to the freezing temperatures so I go to the nearby visitor center for water and set up camp.
I think about a story written a few years ago for RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel magazine, called In Pursuit of Wildness: El Morro National Monument. I highly recommend this monument which is rich in history.
|Getting water for my campsite.|
|This suite comes with a ground-floor view.|
|Best breakfast in New Mexico — Huevos ranchero with hot, red chili. |
El Cafecito, Grants, NM.
|I love New Mexico.|
|A cool Ducati pulls up next to me. El Cafecito, Grants, NM.|
A SOMBER MOMENT AT THE LA JOYA CEMETERY
The Rio Grande is flowing quickly. As a 12-year-old kid, I was terrified by the river as it rushed wildly past me. Today, I'm safely on the bridge seeing the wild river from a new perspective. Years ago, I was afraid that I could fall into the raging river and be swept away forever.
|The Rio Grande and my awesome Indian Springfield.|
Today, I see birds flying above the river, protected by the nearby Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. I'm 6 miles from La Joya and it's 1:30 p.m. I can't help but stop for pictures on my journey to the La Joya, NM cemetery. I've got 30 minutes before the services begin.
I love these final 6 miles. La Joya is like a magnet, it's always pulling me back. La Joya is the village where I was born in the adobe house built by my dad. My mom and dad lived here and raised my sister Paula, my brother Leo, and me here.
|6 miles to La Joya. This is a historical, iconic sign.|
|Wow, a Griego Road — Las Nutrias, NM, so near La Joya.|
MY ROOTS RUN DEEP IN LA JOYA.
Our family is already gathered at La Joya Cemetery. I join my sisters, first cousins, and friends to bid our final farewell to our cousin Tudie Romero. La Joya is a small village along the Rio Grande where Tudie was born and raised.
"La Joya is like a magnet, it's always pulling me back," he would tell me.
|Arthur "Tudie" Romero|
Nació 1/14/1953 y Murió 3/5/2022.
|1st cousins - Sammy Aragon, Elva "Griego" Esquibel, Robert Griego, Susan "Griego" Aguayo, |
Benjie Moya, Lou Moya.
We gathered on April 30, 2022, at the La Joya cemetery to honor our 1st cousin, Tudie Romero.
|La Joya cemetery.|
Leaving La Joya, the wild winds begin. I'm heading west on Interstate 40 battling heavy crosswinds. Near Gallup, NM I decided it would be better to head north towards Utah to escape the fierce winds.
The winds intensify. With the blowing sand, it is hard to see. The electronic sign says it all, "Visibility may be zero, use extreme caution."
The wind is wild.
The blowing sand across the road is intense. My motorcycle is struggling as it rocks left, then right. I'm focused on the road, keeping my boots firmly on the floorboards while my hands tightly grip the handlebars. Ahead, I see a pickup truck hauling a trailer traveling slowly with its emergency lights flashing. I hunker down and follow closely behind. Otherwise, it's unsafe and I'm afraid that a vehicle will plow into me from behind. The dust dorm lasts for 150 miles. There is no shelter.
Shiprock, an iconic rock formation in New Mexico, should be visible from 50 miles away. Today, I don't see it until I'm within 100 feet. The sand is blowing hard and at times I can't see the road. The gas station ahead is heaven-sent as I pull over to rest.
By my calculations, I have another 80 miles to Bluff, UT where I plan to camp at Sand Island Campground. The wind is relentless. I'm tired. 80 miles may not seem like much, but in a blindly wind storm, it could easily be 800 miles. I cautiously push forward.
The Sand Island Campground appears to be full. I'm disappointed as I circle the entire campground. Then, I spot lucky site #7 which is the last available campsite. It is located next to the San Juan River and is perfect. Exhausted, I set up camp. The wild winds are finally dying down.
|Sand Island Campground, site #7.|
|San Juan River, the view from my campsite.|
ON TO MONUMENT VALLEY AND GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
If I traveled this route a thousand times, I'd always leave with a big smile. The sweeping views take my breath away. I think of Forrest Gump, running across this iconic landscape. I take a million pictures. The winds have stopped, entirely.
I see a young couple doing the same, capturing the moment. "Could you please take a picture of me as I ride my motorcycle past you?" "Absolutely," he says. "I love these moments," he adds. As it turns out, there aren't any cars behind me when he snaps the picture. I thank him as he leaves. It was only miles later that I viewed his picture – priceless!
|These bikers were camping in Monument Valley and out for a day ride.|
|My dependable Indian Springfield. Parked, soaking up the views.|
|I love seeing other bikers riding their dreams.|
|A lone biker riding west.|
|The landscape is priceless.|
|The bikers keep coming.|
|I really don't want to leave.|
|One final picture and I leave sacred, Monument Valley.|
In Kayenta, AZ, I stop for gas and breakfast/lunch — green chili posole and Indian fried bread. A group, of twenty or so bikers, is filling up their motorcycles. They speak French and say they are on their way to Las Vegas. They too are exhausted, and I can see them brushing off the sand.
|Green chili posole and Indian fried bread.|
Their leader explains that yesterday they were hit by a terrible sand storm. They are headed for Monument Valley and eventually Colorado. I explain to the leader that the ride will be awesome. He begins to earnestly check out my Indian Springfield, and then the entire French bikers circle my bike. He explains that he is leading this Eaglerider Tour. "On this tour, we do about 300 miles per day. Yesterday was a rough day for all of us."
I liked him immediately. I call him Big D. We take a few pictures, then the group sets off for Monument Valley. I love these encounters, if only briefly.
|Big D and Robert Griego.|
|Elephant's Feet along the Navajo Trail, Highway 160.|
It's here in Kayenta, after looking over my map, that I decide to visit Grand Canyon National Park. This route, past the Cameron Trading Post, is relaxing. Once near the Grand Canyon, the views are awesome.
There are so many overlooks, and I select Mather Point. The views are breathtaking – priceless – perfect.
|East Entrance to Grand Canyon National Park.|
|Near Mather Point, Grand Canyon National Park.|
|Mather Point, Grand Canyon National Park.|
Arrived home in Three Rivers, CA safely after 7 days and 2,200 miles, I'm still a bit dizzy but it was a heck of a ride.
My nephew was right, "It's supposed to be very windy across New Mexico, starting tomorrow."