Taos, New Mexico Shamrock Tour®
The Sangre de Christo Mountains tower like a wall above the Taos Plateau. This will be my playground for the next few days. The sceneis particularly impressive when approaching the range in the late afternoon, when it is lit by the sun from the west—a beautiful sunset is almost guaranteed.
Day 1 Northeast (142 miles)
Around New Mexico’s Highest Mountain
In the morning, I just have to turn right out of the campground and I’m on my way up Palo Flechado Pass. It’s not a challenging ride, just a steady climb up to 9,100 feet. Once at the top I turn left, and Eagle Nest Lake soon comes into sight. A small dam toward the Cimarron Valley catches the water. In the village of Eagle Nest, I spontaneously opt for a detour and take the turnoff toward Cimarron Canyon. This route looks promising on the map—and the paper does not exaggerate. After a ridge with a fine view over the entire lake, the road dips into the canyon and accompanies the Cimarron River. Protected as a state park, there are some day-use areas and a couple of campgrounds along the river but no other signs of civilization. It gets really spectacular when the road leads along the vertical cliffs of Palisades Sill. Soon though, I turn around, because as I crest the horizon it becomes obvious that the road soon leaves the canyon for the plains toward the east. I’m right at the southeastern corner of the Rocky Mountains.
Back up at Eagle Nest, I enjoy the cool mountain air again, which stays with me for a while as Highway 38 takes me through high ranch land further north up to Bobcat Pass. Behind the summit, it gets exciting as the road drops quite steeply toward Red River. The town generates its main income from skiing, but it also offers some lively outdoor activities in the summer. Some of the cafés and small restaurants look inviting, but I decide not to stop. I reach the town of Questa, a completely different world, and I already start regretting that I didn’t have something to eat in Red River. Apart from the rather rough looking Wildcats Den, there doesn’t appear to be any place for food. But sometimes facades deceive. Inside, I get one of the nicest meals in New Mexico, with perhaps some of the best tacos the state has to offer.
I head south again, going as far as Arroyo Hondo. A road to the left grabs my attention. I follow it up a green valley to Arroyo Seco, a very small but pretty village. I opt to save a stop here on the way back. For now, I’m keen on riding this lonely road into Taos Ski Valley. Perfect corners take me up while a lively creek runs down the mountain. Towering rocks above the road look as if they would tilt down the slopes any minute, but thankfully, they don’t. Finally I end up in the famous ski area at Wheeler Peak. At 13,161 feet, it’s the highest mountain in New Mexico.
Motorcycle & Gear
2011 Kawasaki KLR 650
Helmet: Shoei Hornet-DS
Jacket and Pants: Rukka AirPower
Gloves: Rukka GTX X-Trafit Raptor
Boots: Meindl hiking boots
Tent: Hilleberg Nammatj 3
Luggage: Ortlieb Rack Pack and saddlebags, Touratech Tankbag
Day 2 Southwest (166 Miles)
Two Roads, One Direction
Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos is the goal for today. Little did I know that the saying “the journey is more important than the destination” would end up proving true on this loop. My course is supposed to go along two parallel routes. On the map they look quite similar, but I will soon find out how different they really are during the course of this long and exciting day.
To go south I decide for the more westerly way following Highway 68. For the first minutes it takes me along the foot of the Sangre de Christo range, but not much happens until the road drops dramatically into the Rio Grande Gorge. In Pilar, I’m finally at the bottom and reach the riverbank. Not only has the scenery changed, but also the temperature. It’s about 12 degrees higher than on the plateau. A little later the surroundings change once more. To my surprise I’m suddenly riding through the finest wine country around Dixon and Velarde. After I have crossed the Rio Grande in Espanola, an inquiry at the tourist office in White Rock reveals that my initial goal, Bandelier National Monument, is off limits. The massive wildfires a couple of months ago are to blame. The park’s staff is afraid of flash floods occurring due to the missing coverage of the burnt trees. My visit to the office is not completely without success. A friendly employee directs me to a point in town where I can get a great view over the valley of the Rio Grande.
The failed visit to Bandelier gives me one advantage: more time for the way back. I will need it. After the densely populated corridor of Highway 285 north of Santa Fe, I follow the sign, “High Road to Taos.” This is a simple and magnificent ride that automatically takes me to places along the route well worth a visit. El Santuario de Chimayo is the first one. Thousands of people make a pilgrimage on Good Friday to this lovely little adobe church between the green meadows of the valley. Today only a couple of visitors dot the countryside.
Afterward, the road climbs further, offering plenty of corners and views. I wonder where the village of Truchas (Spanish for trout) got its name, because it’s situated right on top of a ridge. I continue along the fun road until I hit the next village. Maybe it was this sunbaked, dusty, and lonely appearance that inspired Robert Redford to film The Milagro Beanfield War right here in Las Trampas. The unique local church itself is definitely worth a visit. The beautiful adobe building was made famous by a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. It unmistakably catches the eye while riding along the empty street.
The endless corners of the High Road take their toll. The sun is getting very low and bathes the mountains in high-contrast shadows. The last few miles become almost surreal. Just before dusk, I’m back in Taos.