New Mexico Backcountry Discovery Route: The Desert Crucible

Riding Adventure Motorcycles on the New Mexico Backcountry Discovery Route: The Desert Crucible
The purest art of creating Damascus steel, that extraordinary blade with the wavy design seen in antique knives and swords from the Middle East, is lost to mankind. Speculation suggests multiple layers of metals were forged, folded, and welded together to form a single blade of exceptional quality. Certain aspects of adventure travel have a similar effect on men and women.

I am one of a dozen men from three countries on a tour of the New Mexico Backcountry Discovery Route (NMBDR). Our staggered formation is led by Scott Lee and Michael Bielecki of Colorado Motorcycle Adventures (CMA). David Gibson rides sweep. It is 106 degrees as we approach Cloudcroft, NM. Even my Klim Induction mesh jacket is stuffed into a pannier on my BMW R 1200 GS, leaving only a thin jersey for protection. I gaze ahead at the mountains, hoping for cooler temperatures higher up. It’s mid-June and the route has been open only a few weeks as snow lingers long in the passes.

Riding Adventure Motorcycles on the New Mexico Backcountry Discovery Route: The Desert Crucible
Down from Cloudcroft toward White Sands we could feel the temperature rise with every foot of descent.

The Best of the NMBDR

The NMBDR is a 1,290-mile amalgamation of mountain vistas, rocky stream crossings, long, dark canyons, quaint villages, and desert sands. For us, it is also a means to an end. CMA hosts riders from around the world who want to explore a chunk of the American West within a calculated timeline. Few folks have the luxury of an open-ended schedule, and Scott and his team have consolidated the sweet spots into a six-day tour. What happens once a tour begins is the part we all hope for, yet secretly fear. What challenges will we encounter in the unknown expanse ahead?

Riding Adventure Motorcycles on the New Mexico Backcountry Discovery Route: The Desert Crucible
Chloride Canyon is one of the more technical sections of the NMBDR, but well worth the effort.

Hurry Up and Wait

Despite the most diligent planning, off-pavement travel by motorcycle can be risky. Things will happen that may not be covered in the brochure, and the real adventure is in how we deal with the unexpected, how men and women stand up to the test. We are faced with our first delay as we attempt to leave Cloudcroft an hour early to get ahead of the heat. A flat on Rich’s Husqvarna 701 proves fussy to fix. The pinched tube sets us back an hour.

After Cloudcroft, the sometimes-graded dirt road twists and turns like an anaconda with an attitude, plunging some 3,000 feet before climbing again over multiple passes, finally topping out near 9,000 feet about 20 miles past Ruidoso. Before lunch, Malcolm’s GSA pulls up lame. Michael deploys a well-stocked repair kit, plugs the rear tire, and we are back on the road in a jiffy.

Motorcycle & Gear

2015 BMW R 1200 GS

Helmet: Touratech Aventuro
Jacket: Klim Inversion
Pants: Klim Mojave
Boots: Sidi Discovery Gloves, Klim Mojave
Luggage: Mosko Moto soft luggage

We stop for lunch at Abuelita’s in Carrizozo and enjoy what will be one of many tasty green chili-laced Mexican dishes prevalent in New Mexico.

Different Strokes

A westward run down Highway 380 leads us to Broken Back Road, and dumps us onto ranchlands paralleling the highway. Narrow two-track and high desert vistas sprinkled with cattle and wild horses urge us to linger, but the blistering afternoon sun convinces us to keep moving.

Here the differences in skill and categories of machines begin to show. Some race ahead, staying within sight of the leaders, and others fall back, calmly putting the miles behind them, not risking overriding their capabilities or that of their motorcycles. We ride a mix of big bikes ranging from BMW’s R 1200 GS to Honda’s new Africa Twin, a Triumph Tiger 800 XC, and a smattering of KTM 500s, a 690, and the Husky 701. Our ranch road rejoins Highway 380 at the Blanchard Rock Shop, a desert rat’s dream collection of crystals, petrified wood, and artifacts from the nearby Trinity Site, where the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945.

Riding Adventure Motorcycles on the New Mexico Backcountry Discovery Route: The Desert Crucible
Road conditions vary by moisture content, ranging from fast and dusty to wheel-stopping glue.

All’s Well That Ends Well

Our attempted early start allows us to finish the day on schedule in Socorro without undue pressure to ride faster than we should. The gang relaxes over a cold one, watching Cleveland beat Golden State in the NBA championship, before turning in for the night. Michael’s lovely wife Tara pops in and graces our gathering with fresh pies from Pie Town, an iconic stop along the Continental Divide Trail.