Thursday, 11 December 2014

New Mexico and Arizona

By Sanne

We were officially in New Mexico, the state of the first nuclear bomb, aliens and Breaking Bad.
After having ridden through a nice bit of dirt ranch roads that took us from Texas to New Mexico we arrived at White Sands National Monument. White Sands is an area with sand dunes as white as snow rising up in the middle of the dessert. We got in for free, I think because it was late in the day, and had a wander around. We met a really cool local family with the two funniest boys who talked about how creepy Ronald McDonald was. White Sands sits right next to a missile testing range and nearby is the spot where the world's first nuclear bomb was tested in 1945.

The woman at the park office told us about a free camp spot only a few miles up the road and as we are ever trying to save money we took the opportunity to camp there. There wasn't much there but it was free and no one around except prariedogs bustling around after dark. Prairie dogs aren't actually dog for those of you who don't know, they're a rodent who looks a bit like meercats. This is what they look like.

Next day we rode further west to the town named: Truth or Consequences. The story goes that this small town used to be known as Hot Springs but changed its name after a radio show named Truth or Consequences did a competition to see if they could get a town to rename itself after the name of the show. Here we decided to stay in a motel for only the second time in the US. We were lazy and though we needed a treat basically which I guess we deserved after freezing out butts off so much lately. It costs about $45 so it wasn't massively expensive anyway. After a nice and warm night's sleep, only interrupted by the rants of some crazy woman in the hallway, we left Truth or Consequences to ride through Gila National Forest which proved to be one of the most scenic rides so far in the US. The road took us up into pine forests and was so windy that I actually became motion sick! In my defense I had already been a little nauseous in the morning but this road did definitely not make it any better! So I was glad when the road turned into dirt and started stretching out a bit more. The weather was great, blue skies and the sun warming our skin under our heavy motorcycle gear. That was until we hit the snow line and the road in front of us was ice. We rode carefully over it and luckily the ice didn't last for long as we started descending again. This was thanksgiving weekend and many hunters were out and about, always dressed in top-to-toe camo gear of course. We took a small track off the road and set the tent up next to a firepit and then started collecting a massive pile of firewood to last us through the cold night. We ended up needing less than half of what we had collected but at least there will be more than enough for the next person who comes through!
We woke up in the morning to shots in the distance from hunters but we're pretty used to that by now, having camped in so many forests and it being hunting season. We just hope they don't mistake us for deers!

We crossed the state border to Arizona and rode to Grand Canyon. We always imagined Grand Canyon to be a giant hole in the ground in a big flat landscape but we were surprised to see thet it was surrounded by mountains and forest! We came in late in the afternoon so we camped just outside the park boundary and came back the next morning to take a look around. And it really is a stunning place. The sheer scale of the Grand Canyon is quite overwhelming. Carved by the Colorado River the canyon is 446 kms long, up to 29 kms wide and nearly 2 kms deep. If we had had more time there I would have liked to go down into the canyon and camp down there. Inside the canyon it is about 10 degrees warmer than at the top.

After Gran Canyon we rode south again to Flagstaff which was freezing, did our shopping at the local Walmart (which by the way has been very disappointing in the lack of freaks as seen on People of Walmart) and then on to Sedona which we thought was going to be warmer but sadly wasn't. It was getting late and so we pulled in to a campsite next to the road and found out it was $20 per night for nothing more than a spot to put your tent. We were about to head off to find another place to camp when the woman running the camp offered to cough up $10 to halve the fee. We declined but she insisted - she did not want to see us riding into the night (it was already dark by then) trying to find a place to camp. So because of this kind woman, Steph, an astronomer from New Mexico, we had a place to sleep for the night. Here we also met a really cool couple from Colorado, Jamie and Lea who were there to ride their mountain bikes around the Sedona area which is meant to be a great place for mountain biking. We all kept warm in front of the campfire of two Texans who invited us all up to have a "Dutch Oven" which we found out has an entirely different meaning here than where we come from - here it simply means baking a cake in a casserole on the instead of getting high we had a bread and butter pudding! We had some interesting discussions on guns (what else!?) and I was glad to finally have met some Americans who are anti-guns (not the Texans obviously) as travelling through the South you can be forgiven for thinking that every American is pro-gun. It seems that the closer we get to the coast again people's attitudes are changing slightly. Which is good! It was a really cold night again and Jamie and Lea very kindly gave us some heat packs to keep us warm which I have tried before. Well, now I wish I knew about these things when I was in Ushuaia! They are awesome. I stayed warm and toasty that night and Jamie and Lea gave us another six the next morning to take with us that's how cool these guys were!

Sedona was a nice area but because the weather wasn't the best we didn't hang around too long and started heading north west towards Vegas where we had an ADV rider to stay with. We rode a bit of the Route 66 which is now split into other roads so it's not the easiest to find but we did manage to get a photo taken of the Route 66 painted on the road. We were headed for Vegas, baby...

 White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Some hilarious kids we met

Another free camp spot

Yucca plant, very common in the dessert

The oddly named town 'Truth or Consequences'

Gila National Forest

So who's idea was it to travel through the US in winter anyway???

 Setting up camp

Thank god for firewood!

We never saw the sign when we entered the state so this is actually taken as we leave New Mexico

And then we cross into the next state: Arizona!

Grand Canyon

Camping outside Sedona - here with Jamie and Lea

A cold and grey day on Route 66

Sunday, 30 November 2014

These colours don't run

By Mark

After crossing into Texas the weather deteriorated even further with the mercury dropping with each mile covered until we had just had enough. Our plan was to camp in a state forest but it was not going to happen in this weather. So we headed straight for the nearest motel. We were wet all the way through and were in need of warming up. We found a cheap enough motel with a big warm comfy bed and endless hot water!

After making good use of all amenities we stuffed our faces with snacks and enjoyed the comfort of a warm dry place to lay our weary cold bones. Our neighbours seemed to be the local drug dealers with cars coming and going all evening even to the point of being woken up by them at 4am the following morning. We did however wake to lovely blue skies but the temperature was low so we rugged up for our ride to Austin.

The ride to Austin was noting noteworthy, we left too late from our motel room wanting to get our monies worth but it back fired when we arrived  smack bang in the middle of peak hour traffic in Austin. We had lined up another place to stay through ADV Rider Tent Space and were met by Paul, the friend of our host Luke who was also visiting. Sorry for taking your bed Paul! Our time in Austin was spent getting some new spares for the bikes, a new water proof jacket (could have done with that the day prior) and changing brake pads. Sadly we did not get to see much of the city but our host said that really there was not a whole lot to see and being mid week no gigs to go to either which Austin is meant to be well known for - its live music. We enjoyed Luke and Paul's company and of course Bruce, Paul's very friendly dog. We had decided that we would keep heading south west down to Big Bend National Park after Luke saying it was well worth a visit, that and also because it should be much warmer.

After two lovely warm nights in a dry warm bed we were out on the road again finally finding some twisty sections of road. As far as the riding here in the southern states goes it has been kind of boring with long straight stretches that have been wearing us down and our rear tyres very quickly. Finally we were in the Texas Hill Country with a few twists and turns to keep us happy for a lovely day's ride. We have been using another website lately called and it has become very helpful so we put it to good use staying at a 24 hr rest areas among other places. At this one particular 24hr site there were a few signs saying that you can stay 24hrs but there is to be no erecting of any tents or shelters, great! Well we paid no attention to it and went and set up camp behind some trees way up the back and had a peaceful night's sleep apart from the local police doing a lap of the rest area shining their flood light looking for anyone who might be up to no good or soliciting of one's body! We we were doing neither.

We kept heading south and were happy to keep getting beautiful blue skies where ever we went including our next stop just outside a small city, Del Rio on the border with Mexico. Just outside the town was a free campground by the lake, well it used to be by the lake but as the years have passed the level has dropped to the point you can no longer see the water hence the reason it is now free to stay. It was a well set up place and we had it all to ourselves bar a few local deer wandering through. We had ourselves a lovely camp fire to keep ourselves warm that night and we also got a visitor by a local cop. He was friendly though, just wanted to check out our fire was OK and to ask a few questions as to what we were up to. We went to bed with clear skies and awoke the following morning to what one could only describe as being right in the middle of a huge cloud, at least it was not raining. One thing we have noticed since getting down near the Mexican border is the amount of border patrol vehicles patrolling the roads along with a few border patrol check points which we always have to stop for and show our passports.

After more long boring rides in outback Texas we finally made it to Big Bend NP. Little did we know we had arrived at one of the busiest times of the year, Thanksgiving! Many people take a long weekend or the whole week off and even some schools even give kids the week off. So trying to get a campsite was not so easy as many of the campsites were already reserved. We intended on going bush and staying in the back country camp spots but were hoping for a shower first. Little did we know that was not an option so paying $14 a night for a patch of grass was a joke really. That night we met a young Aussie, Dan who arrived just after us on his ole XL600 loaded up high. We got chatting about his travels and he was on a mission to travel through all 50 states and had only been on his bike for the past 4 days but seemed to be loving it. It was great meeting and chatting with him and we exchanged places to stay and possible routes to take. He had met some locals a couple of days earlier who had taken him under their wing, also trying to convert him into getting rid of his bike and buy a cruiser, we warned him against such a thing and glad to hear that he also was not interested. I must say that I am so happy to be here on this trip with my best friend and girlfriend but boy, after meeting Dan who's travelling at a tender age of only 19, I really wish I was out in the world at his age. I wish him all the best for his future travels.

After our first night in the 'organised' campground we headed for the ranger station to get our 'back country' camping permit. This is where we learnt you cannot just go pick a place to camp and set up. You have to pick a place, reserve it and hope that it is available. Well we had no idea of where to stay or how long we would stay. After a little help the ranger sorted us out with a few places but was very sure to warn us of the many dangers in the park, was it the chance of being eaten by a bear, ravaged by a mountain lion or poisoned to death by a rattle snake but the most dangerous thing? The Mexicans! Transporting drugs and guns. He really made it a point to tell us that we had to be extra careful in these back country camp spots as they run along the Rio Grande which divides the US and Mexico. We were also told to contact authorities if we saw anything out of the ordinary. Well, lucky for us we had no such problems. Unless we had to watch out for the 'Mexican Singing Jesus' sitting on his rock on the other side of the river singing to the tourists on the American side. We did see a few Mexicans crossing the river on a regular basis to set up their little 'stores' so to speak selling hand made souvenirs of local fauna etc. They sit on the other side keeping watch somewhere in the bushes and just leave a small container as an honesty system to potential buyers. There are however many signs in the park telling visitors NOT to buy these souvenirs. But everyone needs to make a living some how right?

We finally did get our shower, or one could say a sand blast type shower where it feels the skin is being ripped from your body from the high pressure of water streaming out from the shower head. At least it got rid of the worst of the smell. We set off on the back roads for the next 2 nights of blissful camping away from the hoards. We were on the look out for the dangerous Mexicans but had no run ins with them. Our only problem was not treading on the cute little Kangaroo rats running around our camp looking for food. Later in the night we were awoken by the howls of Coyotes, but again no dangerous Mexicans. We hit up the local hot springs to soak the weary bones before heading further west into the park on the 4x4 roads. It was a nice change to the long straight roads we were getting used to here. Even better there was no traffic out here and the weather was beautiful. We had another peaceful night's sleep right out in the middle of the park with a spectacular view over the mountains and not a soul around for miles. No mountain lions, no bears and no dangerous gun toting Mexicans.
While there we met a couple from Houston on their two BMWs and we had a good long chat with them and hopefully we inspired them to take the jump and go for a big bike trip, they seemed pretty keen when they heard our stories anyway. As always we got asked: Do you carry protection? Our answer as usual was: No, we don't need a gun! They seemed puzzled by this. We asked them if they were carrying a gun with them right now; Yes, they had one handgun in their panniers and another one back at their tent! They somehow thought that a day trip in a national park required a gun! Better watch out for those Mexicans...which they warned us about too. Further up the road we stopped at a small store and the second Mark stepped in the door a little boy looks at him and says: Don't shoot me! He thought Mark looked like a special forces soldier! It's all about the guns...

With time running out every day to get to the west coast we gave up our last night stay in the park and instead started heading north west again. We had a great time in the park and would recommend anyone heading by that way to check out Big Bend. We had heard about this town Fort Davis that was meant to have some old buildings to check out from the old wild west days. Well, we were quite disappointed when we arrived in town as there was not much to see at all, at least it was on our route and there was no detour just for that. We had noticed however the considerable drop in temperature as the day progressed and the further north we travelled. We had another free 24hr rest area to camp in that night and oh boy was it cold! We froze our arses off just trying to cook and went to bed early wearing numerous layers which still was not enough. What made it worse we were camped in a small valley so we would not even get the sun on us until after 9am. After a very restless sleep we dragged ourselves from our sleeping bags to see what it was like outside as it had been of of the coldest night I can remember on the trip. No snow but all our water in our water bottles and camelbaks was frozen, the alcohol for our stove would not even light so we could make a cuppa and with no sun it was misery with my toes frozen and with each step I took it felt like they would snap off my feet. Thankfully the water in the bikes was not frozen. We later found out that the temperature had been -4 degrees Celsius!

We also checked the temperature of all the other places we were headed and it was not looking good. Every place showed the temp to be below 4 degrees at night. Not so good when you are camping in a summer tent. We checked this at a McDonalds where we sometimes stop to use their free wifi to keep up to date and plan ahead. We got chatting with a woman who was on her break and she talked about how she liked motorcycles and that her husband used to take her for rides on the back of his Harley but not any longer as she is now too big to get on the back. She then mentioned something about some new super pill that is meant to help you lose weight by turning your fat into something else! Maybe her maccas supersize meal might have been a good place to start with loosing weight... Afterwards she dropped her head and started praying before eating her meal (Dear God, please don't let me get any fatter from eating this Big Mac!)

Well we are pretty tough and just realised that from here on in when camping we will have to wear everything we own when we camp each night. This was not so much the case when we went to Guadalupe Mountains NP. This is where the highest point in Texas is, thankfully not where we would be camping but we were surprised at the change in altitude to the campground where we were also hit with high gusty winds and we were happy that the mercury did not drop too low. Thankfully our faithful little tent held up to the battering and we awoke to a still calm sunny day for our ride to our next state New Mexico. Texas had been great with its vast dessert landscapes mixed with forests, its gun-loving residents and not to forget the ever so dangerous Mexicans!

Hanging at Luke's house in Austin

Not a bad place to stop for lunch, Texas hill country

Sunset stroll

Our campsite outside of Del Rio

What we awoke to the following morning

Beautiful clear skies

Part of the Chisos Mountain range

It was great to be back in the hills again

That's Mexico on the other side of the river and some of the Mexican souvenirs for sale

Boquilla's Canyon

A close up of the Mexican's handmade souvenirs

Sierra del Carmen mountain range in the background

Dan and his mighty XL600

The Rio Grande running past our campspot

Lovely bit of back country camping and riding

And not to forget the HOT springs

A Mexican on his way back to Mexico after setting up shop in the US

My mighty steed still looking good after so many kilometres

Looking over the Chisos Mountain range

Another day another campspot

Trying to wake up (and warm up!) after a cool night

Wish we had more riding like this in the USA

Nough said!

This photo does not show how cold it really was!

Camping in the Guadalupe Mountains

El Capitan, Guadalupe Mountains